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Melbourne based singer/songwriter Rose Wintergreen discusses the creation of her new mini-album ‘Aurora’ with Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips

Bouyed by her 2013 win as Artist of the Year at the Australian Independent Music Awards (Electronic category) and also as a finalist in the prestigious Vanda and Young Songwriting Competition, Rose Wintergreen set about writing and recording the follow up to her acclaimed debut EP Warm Chocolate Heart. With the assistance of a crowd-funding campaign, in August the Melbourne based singer/songwriter released Aurora, a mini album featuring eight electronic flavoured folk tunes with the aim of “trying to capture that tension and space between euphoria and melancholy,” as she describes the recording’s overall themes.

Rose is an astute observer of life. She gathers and assembles impressions and notions of her surroundings, adds emotion, places her quirky and sometimes unorthodox instrumental spin on them and recycles those ideas as songs. Sure, it’s a modus operandi of many creative minds but Wintergreen’s view of the world is unique. Her sensory levels seem higher than your average garden variety singer songwriter, taking in the scents of her life as much as the sights and sounds. I discovered as much when I asked about the purchase of her first real guitar (which has since been destroyed  by clumsy airline baggage handlers while on tour) and was surprised to hear that the smell of the instrument was quite a consideration in its purchase.

“It was funny because the guitar I purchased was one I hadn’t liked in other shops,” Rose explains. ” There was something about that guitar in particular that I liked. There was some minor variation in the way she was made. She had a warmer sound and just felt more streamlined or something. It had a rosewood neck which was really smooth to play. Plus it always smelled nice when I opened the case. There’s a real ritual about picking up an instrument. I have played other instruments and there’s a nostalgia that surrounds those smells that you don’t find in other settings. Whenever I smell resin, it takes me right back to high school playing viola … or corks … you don’t smell them often but whenever I do, I always think of playing saxophone … but I don’t know why,” she laughs. “My guitar was completely totalled by Virgin on tour so I don’t currently have one unfortunately. I was insured but under insured. It’s not a decision I want to rush, buying another guitar. Every guitar feels different. I will have to spend some time looking through music shops but I won’t rush it, it’s quite an emotional decision to make.”

5094Jessie_Rose_1While many songwriters obtain their songwriting stimulus in a studio or a dedicated writing room, for Wintergreen, she finds the simple act of walking to be a constant source of inspiration.
“If I am walking, it doesn’t matter where but I seem to have more clarity amongst nature,” she says. “Even walking locally to a cafe or whatever. The motion of walking and also if you are walking you need to have your wits about you and noticing what’s going on around you. We spend so much time behind desks looking at computers or looking at phones. When I am walking I try to turn my phone off or just not look at it. Being around water too, definitely inspires me. My folks have got a beach house and every now and then I go down there to get some uninterrupted writing time. It’s not right on the water but it’s just a short drive to the ocean.”

Despite Wintergreen’s sense of loss over her touring guitar and her need to acquire another, she doesn’t consider herself to be a guitarist and it’s not the instrument which generates the majority of her songs.  “No, voice is my main instrument,” she states. “I do a lot of looping.  When I am writing, usually the melodies come first. Sometimes it will start  with a loop or a bass line, a series of chord progressions and I will build up different layers. I use a Boss RC-20XL, a basic model. So without having to use a computer, although I do use Garageband sometimes, I can use a microphone and sing something, record it and have it play over and over. Then I listen to it and come up with sounds which might be a nice combination with it. it’s just building and building. I’ll record it on my mobile phone or Zoom recorder and come back and access it and wonder if it was any good or just fun to do. It’s kind of similar with guitar. I have written a lot of songs starting with guitar but I am not a guitarist. I am self taught and don’t think of it as playing the instrument. I think of it more as exploring the sounds. I will try to find a surprising sequence of notes or a rhythm that I like. When i find it, I video it so I can see what my fingers are doing. I tell myself what tuning I’m in because I like weird tunings, so I will come back to it and maybe write over the top of that. Then I will learn how to play it fluidly once it is written.”

Armed with a batch of songs she felt worthy of inclusion on Aurora, Wintergreen headed to Alice Springs to work with her musical collaborator  David Crowe. “He was the right person to produce,” Rose says of Crowe “We’d worked together before in Brisbane in a songwriting group and we met at a music networking event. He demoed ‘Box’ which was a track off my first record and helped with some of the arranging and it was so on the money. When we went in with Magoo, who produced the first  record … we didn’t change anything, just added a couple of instruments. We both understand how each other writes. I decided I wasn’t going to make this record until I could work with David. It made sense to  go to his studio in Alice than have him come here. He has a lot of gear up there.”

Wintergreen and Crowe had four days to work on the recording and utilised the short period of time as productively as possible. Most of the Alice Springs effort was concentrated on the single ‘Feet in the Sand’, with the basics being applied to the other tracks.  “We did a lot of stuffing around with Feet in the Sand trying to get that mix of a gritty percussive electronic sound that still  sounded warm,” Rose explains. “So we spent a lot of time on that and the rest we did by distance when I was back in Melbourne. Lots of Skype and phone chats. I had to really trust him. He essentially did sketches of full arrangements after I had left for feedback and we tinkered with them from there. He was right on the money with all of them. There was only one song we had to pull apart and reconsider how it was done.”

Due to the limited recording time available in Alice, Rose turned to the works of other artists to assist in articulating her ideas to Crowe. “No matter how well you know each other, it is so hard to articulate what you are aiming for with a recording,” she says. “It is so amorphous and still amorphous when you are referencing. I was pointing a lot to Emma Louise’s release and also Cat Power, her album Sun. I was trying to go for something … I guess cinematic … more like painting scenes than just playing folk songs. I really like having a balance between dark and light. I really love some of the heavy stuff Cat Power does on electric guitar. She really thumps the keys too in some of the songs on that album.”

5042Rose_Wintergreen-3499 (1)The construction and final portrayal of Aurora as a whole was just as important as the individual tracks. It needed to all jell sonically with each song sitting in its rightful place. That requirement led to a lot of reshuffling of tracks and the creation of a new tune. Phosphorescence was purpose-built as an album intro to complete the picture.
“That was a last minute addition which Dave wrote,” explains Rose. “In terms of trying to get the whole album to sit together perfectly, we were really anxious about another track, Red Dust which is a real acoustic sounding track … just guitar and voice. When you have that sitting next to Feet in the Sand, which is entirely electronic, we wanted it to make more sense and also wanted it to feel  more like a journey when listening to the whole record. Dave composed that intro piece and tried to approach it from the perspective of a classical suite of works or an opera, where it has bits and pieces from other tracks on the album plus some new sounds. It’s an introduction to some of the textures and the moods you’re exposed to. He has a Roland Juno and a tape machine which he used a lot.  With most of the tracks, what happened was that he used Pro Tools to edit and to apply effects and to play some MIDI instruments as well as some synths. He would run parts through the tape machine to give them that stretchy feel, it makes things less perfect and puts the timing a little bit out. At the end after he had finished arranging  each track, he would also take the whole track through the tape machine and that’s what has given the whole album that warm feeling. The whole goal of the album was to create that feeling just before dawn when you are not sure what is going to happen next. You know a lot is going to happen very soon but there’s nothing you can do to make it start right now, so you just need to sit there and be. It’s not necessarily depressing but it is not upbeat either. I guess it’s just solitary. I was trying to paint those kind of feelings with the music. If it was a story book it would be a little bit Neil Gaiman, a little bit magical.”

Wintergreen intends to spend her summer by the beach writing for a full length album and planning her 2015. Next year is looking bright for Rose, with more gigs, recording and a potential German tour. Wintergreen is also kept busy with her ‘day job’ as director of Launch Bubble, her own marketing assistance company which focuses exclusively on an artistic clientele. Aurora is out now and is available here. A wonderful video for her single Feet in the Sand can be seen here.

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Watch six more quick questions with Rose Wintergreen below!

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