10 Questions: Haroula Rose

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Haroula Rose will be bringing her folky melodies and wistful songs to SXSW, showcasing at Stephen F’s on March 16. In the meantime she took some time to answer our questions about her new album,These Open Roads, writing songs and Emmylou Harris’ 11th commandment.

Q: How did you decide to get into the music industry? What other option did you consider?

A: I’ve always been doing music since I was a kid and loved to sing and harmonize and write songs. I’d sing in choirs or a capella groups or bands or playing small gigs here and there, but I wasn’t sure I could really perform my own songs in front of an audience. It was terrifying for a long time. Still is really, but I feel like I’m actually living my dream. I stopped talking myself away from it and figured I can’t have regrets or be scared of putting myself out there.

I fell into a job that revolved around music right after college by accident; I worked at a recording studio for commercial music in Chicago.

But I’ve considered many options because I never knew if it was what I wanted to dedicate my life toward or if it was just a hobby. I have a master’s in teaching that I got while I was still in college, and I had a Fulbright grant thereafter in Spain where I was convinced I wanted to be a writer/documentarian.

I also went to film school at USC for a couple semesters and worked at a film production company. I think all of these things now inform my songwriting and I don’t think anything is mutually exclusive. However, music is the only thing where I haven’t thought of anything else and I work hardest for and am really ambitious about getting to do it all the time….

After getting an EP out into the world in 2009, I wanted to make a full record and that just came out! “These Open Roads,” my debut LP, came out in January. It was the best feeling ever, and I want to do another one already. But I have to tour this one first and I am looking forward to that. I just finished a five-week residency at the Hotel Cafe here in LA to support this release and it was really amazing.

Q: What can you tell us about the new record?

A: I released my full album These Open Roads in January. I recorded it down in Athens, GA with Andy Lemaster (Bright Eyes, Azure Ray, Now It’s Overhead) as producer and he played on most of it too. My friend Orenda Fink (O+S, Azure Ray) introduced me to Andy when I told her I wanted to do an LP and it was a blessing because it was my first time making a full record and he was amazing with everything.

I felt it was really collaborative as well as opening up other avenues in the songs as well, Andy can pretty much do anything. I also felt really lucky about having a whole community of incredible musicians play on my record, including Orenda singing harmonies and John Neff (Drive By Truckers, Japancakes) on pedal steel or Heather McIntosh (Elf Power, Instruments) on cello and friends here in Los Angeles as well as my hometown Chicago – like Sad Brad Smith – playing on it as well. It was really a cool experience and I would like to make another one soon I hope!

Q: Of your songs, which is your favorite to perform and why? Of the cover songs?

A: Hmmm. I like performing all of them for different reasons but I guess “The Leaving Song” is fun because it’s really different every time.

People seem to enjoy “Someday” so I usually play that last; Emmylou said you should always play a waltz at a show, like it’s the eleventh commandment.

Of the cover songs, I have enjoyed singing “Duluth” by Mason Jennings, which is also on the record.

Q: What does your creative process look like?

A: It usually comes from emotions or dreams so it can be pretty unpredictable. I go weeks without writing a song then there may be a day where I write two. I’ve been exploring co-writing lately with different people and that’s been fun and interesting. Really mind-opening.

A lot of time if it’s just me I will come up with the melody first then the words come, this usually feels the most natural. Sometimes it’s an idea that turns into a melody though, it just has to find the right shape.

Q: Besides your instruments, what are the top 5 things that you must have while on the road?

A: My phone, my journal, a book, my boots, and a snack.

Q: What is your musical guilty pleasure, the one artist or album that you don’t admit to liking?

A: I don’t know. Is Gordon Lightfoot a guilty pleasure? Or maybe Chicago….

Q: If you could sit down for an hour and play with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?

A: Janis Joplin. And I would ask her for some lessons in performance. If it was one question though, it would be what was her favorite song she wrote/sang.

Q: What have you always wanted to learn how to do?

A: Be really awesome at playing the piano.

Q: What’s on your mix tape?

A: A few names that come up again and again of the classics lately are Jackson Browne, Sandy Denny, Brian Eno, Karen Dalton, Warren Zevon, Moby Grape, Skeeter Davis, the McGarrigle sisters, Tom Waits, Emmylou. The new stuff – Patrick Watson, Laura Veirs, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Neko Case, Basia Bulat, Great Lake Swimmers, the National, Orenda Fink, John Grant, Sean Rowe, Sharon Van Etten.

Q: Where will you be during SXSW and what are you looking forward to most?

A: I will be staying in a house with a bunch of friends, and performing some showcases. I look forward to the good times spent listening to good music. I have been to SXSW a few times and it’s always a special time. I’ve always wanted to play there, so this is pretty cool.

Photo: Deborah Lopez

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