Rousseau

By Lisa Diedricks

Rousseau declares herself an imperfect everywoman. Her raw honesty and satirical take on working life immediately mark her songwriting out as something special.  This fearlessness, mixed with her pop sensibility and layered, slow-burning production, defines Rousseau. She’s a subversive pop artist, tackling female stereotypes, twenty-something angst and the human condition, sometimes all in the same song.
 
As a child growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, Rousseau spent hours listening to classical music and opera, or The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel – the only pop music her parents owned. Her relationship with songwriting began when a neighbour introduced her to Lauryn Hill, OutKast, and the acoustic guitar.  In high school she won national recognition for her songwriting and musicianship, before studying economics and philosophy at university.
 
Three years into a career as a civil servant and disenchanted, she quit to focus on music, releasing her first single 'Petra Says' in early 2016. Despite its under-the-radar release, it has had over a quarter of a million streams on Spotify.

How long have you been writing music for?

I was probably about four years old when I wrote my first song.  I think I must have been listening to the radio, and I just got really excited by the stories that were being told through music, and the level of emotion that was expressed.  I was a pretty sensitive wee kid.  But I didn't really do anything serious until I was quite a bit older.

Any other hidden talents you have for us besides that incredible voice?!

Well technically I'm a qualified sommelier (basically someone who drinks wine and knows some geeky stuff about it) so I used to be pretty good at guessing what a wine was in a blinddtasting.  But I don't drink enough to know what I'm talking about anymore.  

Who are the most influential people in your life? Who has shaped you musically?

From an early age I really loved classical music and opera, and I think some of that probably comes out in my music in that I am quite drawn towards the cinematic and the emotive.  In terms of influential people.... I'd say my music teacher when I was a kid at intermediate school was pretty influential.  He played the trumpet and the guitar (so I copied and learnt the trumpet and taught myself guitar) and he really encouraged my songwriting.    

Where do you want to be by the end of this year? The EP seems like a much anticipated release, how long have you been working on it?

I recorded all the songs last year, but I wrote them over a couple of years before that.  In some way it feels like it has taken me all my life to get to this point though, because I've always felt an inclination to write music and share it.  

It's a really scary thing, and I know that this new generation of artists is supposed to be totally down with the commercialisation of our art - we're supposed to be ambitious and pragmatic right?  But I guess for me, the process of releasing my music and all of the ups and downs that come with that seems to have been about slowly letting go of expectation and anticipation, and just trying to come back to the joy and the emotion of it.  So, that's a long way of saying I don't have a goal of where I want to be by the end of this year in relation to music, except that I'm still writing.  

You have a voice that's very different and unique, did you work with someone to help perfect it? Who is the awesome team behind that beautiful voice?

Haha thanks.  When I was in a band at school I wrote all the songs but I always found someone else to sing them because I was way too shy.  I only started getting singing lessons a couple of years ago, and last year I started working with this wonderful teacher called Paloma Bruce who has really helped a lot with my confidence. 

Who's the one artist you would love to sing live for?

That's too hard! I don't know if I want to sing live for any of the artists I really love.  

What are the steps you take to maintain such a positive lifestyle? Does this way of life help you with your creativity? 

I struggle with mental health stuff like negative thoughts and anxiety, but I know that's pretty common particularly amongst creative people.  I think the thing that has really helped me is to notice how I'm feeling and just be with that, and try not to judge myself when I feel bad.  I also find that looking after my mind and body is really important.  It's fashionable at the moment to eat whole foods, and do yoga and some kind of mindfulness or meditative practice, which is great because I've been into all of that for a while and the more popular it is the easier it is to maintain. 

Who's your dream artist you would want to sing/write with? Why?

I'm interested in the idea of working with people who do more soundtrack and classical stuff.  So there's this guy I discovered recently called Bear McCreary who did the soundtrack for this tv show called Outlander which is mostly set in Scotland in the 1700s... I've written this Werewolf song, and I thought it would be fun to work with him to really capture the mood of the highlands, but to experiment with a pop structure.  Another couple that come to mind are Ryuichi Sakamoto (I love the darkness and melancholy his music suggests) and Thomas Newman who did American Beauty, which is my favourite movie ever.  If I had to pick a traditional artist or producer then I'd love to work with Lykke Li or Rick Nowels.

Any shows coming up that I need to know about!?

Yep it will be in an old barn on Tom Waits' farm

Tell me the thought process behind Desert Road?

I was driving back to my home town after an intense time away finishing my degree, and before I was due to move again to another city where I'm living now.  For anyone not from New Zealand, there's a stretch of our main state highway called the Desert Road which is majestic and other-worldly.  Driving it alone intensified the uncertainty and anticipation of what was to come, and the sadness about what I was leaving behind. I could feel in that moment this was going to be a source of future nostalgia.  It felt symbolic.