"I do think there’s catharsis in writing about the hard stuff. For me, it’s important to get it out of my head and onto a page, sometimes into a journal, sometimes into a songbook" We chat with Selena Rosanbalm
After experiencing quite a bit of life over the past few years Selena Rosanbalm is back with her self-titled album. Which is one of the best of 2020. We dig deep with her, into her songs and the themes of the album.
Hey Selena, how’s things?
Things are alright! I’m kind of enjoying the pace of life right now.
Where are you right now? And what have you been up to today?
I’m at home on a day off. So far I’ve taken my dog on a walk (and myself on a jog), did some work on a commissioned macrame piece, and fixed a clogged drain.
Introduce yourself to those who don’t know you.
Austin, Texas is my hometown, but I was born in Colorado and lived in five states by the time I was 10 (Air Force brat). I studied musical theatre in college (Oklahoma City University), moved to NYC for a short time, and came back to Austin in 2009 to start a band.
Tell us one thing about you we won’t find on your website bio or Wikipedia.
I am a huge yacht-rock fan. Sincerely. *Cue Michael McDonald*
What can you tell us about your new album, Selena Rosanbalm, in two sentences?
The new album is a deep-dive into my recent revelations on the human condition and into my post-trauma healing process. It also contains some more outward-facing social commentary.
What was the most interesting thing that happened during the recording of the album?
Honestly, there weren’t many surprises in the studio and things mostly went as planned. But the coolest thing about our time there was how quickly the band synced up. I like to record as “live” as possible, and we knocked out 12 songs in three days (two of those didn’t make it onto the record). Everything just felt good.
‘Gut Punch’ is a cracking song, what can you tell us about it?
The song is actually about the death of my dog. My ex and I were sort of sharing custody of the pup we had gotten when we were together. I was on day one of a summer tour when he sent a text saying Gus (our dog) had been hit by a car and didn’t make it. I was in the back of the van, gutted, holding back tears as we arrived in Denver. I knew my ex was devastated and I was afraid of how he would handle the loss, but he wouldn’t take my calls. I was desperate for information about his mental state and about the accident, but didn’t get any until we returned weeks later. It really cast a shadow on that trip.
I really wanted the sound of this tune to be different from my older songs. Darker, more rock and roll. I love the way the band treated it.
There’s a wonderful guitar solo on ‘Not In Albuquerque Anymore’, which is another of my favourites from the album, what can you tell me about the writing and recording of that song?
Hell yeah, that’s Cat Clemons III on guitar. I wrote 'Albuquerque' six or seven years ago. I lived in Albuquerque as a child and really loved it. New Mexico is one of my favourite places on the planet, but it’s also where my life fell apart when my parents got divorced. The song reflects the chaos (trying to stay in line and out of the way) and beauty (the physical and spiritual beauty of the landscape and my newfound love of music) of my life at that time. The title is a play on Dorothy’s classic line, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
‘How Would You Paint Me’ is a dramatic sounding song, what’s the story behind it?
I wrote this one in response to an artwork by Dorielle Caimi entitled YESNOYESNOYESNOYESNO. It’s about the #metoo movement. It’s about the way women have been perceived historically and continue to be perceived today. It’s about the frustration we feel, how we are seen as either vamps or virgins, and somehow both are “wrong.” It’s a big middle finger to the patriarchy.
The album covers a lot of themes, some quite difficult to write and sing about I’d imagine, is there a kind of cathartic nature to making music, or is that a myth?
Absolutely, I do think there’s catharsis in writing about the hard stuff. For me, it’s important to get it out of my head and onto a page, sometimes into a journal, sometimes into a songbook. This is why my songs are often very personal.
I believe you recorded the album earlier this year, how was making and then releasing the record during a global pandemic?
We recorded this album during the last week of February, so we were only just beginning to learn about COVID. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that everything shut down, so we really got it in under the wire. It was certainly strange to release the thing without playing a public show that I could promote and where I could sell albums and merch. I’m so happy to have had a project to focus on during the last few months, but it does kind of feel like I released this music into a void.
What was the last song you wrote for the album? And how did it fit into the feel you were aiming for?
The last song to get finished was 'Can You Really Be Gone'. There are a few songs that deal with my ex’s suicide on the record, and that one is the most raw. I thought it was kind of a nice epilogue for the themes of loss and authenticity in this collection of tunes.
Who’s your most famous friend? And how did you meet?
Shawn Colvin! I work at a coffee shop during the day, she’s a regular there. She’s always super supportive of my music and is one of the sweetest people you’d ever want to meet. I’ve listened to her music since moving to Austin in 1995.
We normally ask about playing live but there’s not been much of that. So, a topical question instead, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done/learnt during the pandemic?
Well I’ve had a lot of time to learn more about macrame. I’m a casual craft nerd, I really like to make things. I finished my first big piece just this week and have been cranking out smaller ones as well. Seems likely I’ll have an Etsy shop up in the next few weeks.
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
Great question - I think, for some levity and because he’s one of the all-time greats, I have to say 'Speedball Tucker' by Jim Croce. The dude is a master of the character song, but nobody talks about anything other than “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What’s the best show I’ve seen? I feel really lucky to have been able to see some really great music at some spectacular venues, but my favorite shows have been solo performances by Darrell Scott. His songs are so powerful, his voice is incredible, his guitar playing is undeniably great - he’s a total master. I always weep when I see him play, no kidding.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Black, and preferably single-origin (I’m a coffee snob).