November 01, 2009

An Interview with Haroula Rose

There’s a disarming sense of purpose about Haroula Rose, a humble assurance that comes through in her songs as much as it does in her desire to share them with others. “I’m proud of it,” she says of Someday, her indie-folk debut EP from earlier this year. “I’m happy when people like it.”

The singer/songwriter has reason to feel encouraged—as the five-track, acoustic-based set is an inspiring first step for what lay ahead—and listeners have good reason to enjoy her creation.

She recently traveled from her home in Los Angeles to Athens, Georgia, where she worked with noted producer/engineer Andy LeMaster (Conor Oberst, Azure Ray) on her forthcoming LP, due out in early 2010. Before she departed, Haroula Rose reflected on her emergence as an artist thus far as well as the qualities she most appreciates in music.

Did you always know you wanted to be a professional musician?

On some level I knew, but didn’t feel necessarily bold enough to go for it until [I had] enough experience to be able to tell stories and be able to offer something. I’ve always loved music and I’ve always been a singer and I was in a couple different bands, a cappella groups and choirs, but I never knew it was exactly what I wanted to do full-time until [in] the past couple years. I haven’t looked back, really. And that’s what indicated to me that I was doing the right thing. Because once I decided on it, things just sort of started to work in a way that, with anything else, it didn’t feel natural or right.

Who did you work with on the EP?

The guy who produced and engineered it was Michael Starr… I remember talking to a couple different people who were more pop-oriented or [who] wanted more control over the songs. With him I never felt that way. It was just like, “Okay, what do you want? And how can we achieve that?” And it was really nice to work with someone like that. It taught me a lot about that process. 

To be in charge of your own creation.

Yeah. I’ve heard from other artists and all kinds of advice from people say, “Make sure you speak up.” Because sometimes it’s easy for other people to start to take ownership of what they’re investing in, but it’s still you and it’s your song and you wrote it. So make sure you feel comfortable with whomever it is you’re working with to say exactly what you want and try to know that as much as you can… That being said, it was fun to work spontaneously to see what [would] happen too, because there are always moments where something might happen that you don’t expect. And then that ends up adding a whole other element. That’s fun too. Like, for instance, the piano was actually slightly out of tune on a couple of the songs and normally that would be something that could stress you out. But then I was like, “You know what? I like the way that sounds.” It kind of gives it this old saloon type of 1890’s feel. And so I thought, Let’s just go for that because I think it adds a nice element to the song overall, like this piece of nostalgia or whimsy that I don’t think you’d have if everything was perfectly in sync.

Then it would sound too polished.

The stuff that I’m normally drawn to isn’t really perfect and the people that I find the most inspiring don’t necessarily sing everything perfectly. There’re some flaws in it. And I think that makes it more human and I enjoy that so much more. Like when I hear someone like Nick Drake or… Tom Waits is a good example. I don’t think they’re concerned with the most perfect performance; it’s just the most human performance.

Are any of the songs on the EP going to be on the LP?

“Love Will Follow” and “The Leaving Song” are both going to be on the LP. We may not necessarily re-record both of them, but add other elements to what’s already there. “The Leaving Song” has a smoother, gentler feel right now. Part of me wants to sing it in a more playful or rambunctious kind of way. That might be interesting to try out, but I’m not necessarily committed to that. But it’d be nice to try. People tend to like those two songs a lot.

Love Will Follow” is my favorite on the EP.

I love that song; it came from a pretty personal place. Sometimes the people you want to help the most are the ones who don’t want your help at all, even though they may be the ones you want to reach. And so, that’s where it came from. In terms of the process of songwriting, the ones that come easiest to me are the ones that people seem to be most drawn to. I don’t know what that is, but my theory is that it comes from a really natural, honest place.

Like a universal truth.

Right. I remember sitting at my kitchen table and writing that song in about four minutes. It just sort of came to me. It was as though something was speaking to me inside my head and I was just writing it all down longhand [and] playing the guitar… A lot of people say that’s their favorite and I’m really happy when I hear that because it feels like an honest place where it came from that speaks to people. And that’s just about the greatest feeling when they say, “That song made me cry,” or “I listen to that over and over and it makes me feel better about things.” That makes me want to cry because that’s the best feeling in the world. That’s what a song should do.