Published on August 22nd, 2014 | by Nigel Cartner0
JJ ROSA: RIDING WITH THE WIND
If you want to know where the future of pop music should lie then look no further than JJ Rosa, a remarkable talent in her mid twenties who exuberates all the confidence and ability of an artist who is beyond her time. JJ takes a lot of influences from a variety of genres, with Hendrix and Prince being a key two that form the core of her swashbuckling guitar riffs. She effectively fuses funk, hip hop, blues and rock to create a unique cocktail of funkhop rock that’s full of punchy grooves, soulful blues, and sexual swagger. Layering this is her fiery and alluring voice which is befitting of such an intoxicating sound. It combines the soulful, Motown 60s with a modern style that’s captivating enough to hook a wider audience beyond the underground scene – being mercilessly alive with an attitude and drive wrapped in poise and self assurance. Add to this a flamboyance and independence in her fashion sense, which can consist of sequins, cat suits and 70s inspired sparkling garments, and a funky, coloured hair style, then JJ certainly has both the appearance and creative package to shake the music world to its very core!
Originally from Stockport, JJ’s affair with music started as a classical pianist at the age of seven, and that early talent has blossomed to the point where she’s been flirting with London and New York for the past year or two, and more recently been part of the more famed festivals – which is some achievement. This is proving to be a very exciting time for her after a period of perceived quietness to the public eye.
Sonic Bandwagon were able to catch up with JJ to find out all about what’s coming up in her career, why she changed the name to ‘JJ Rosa’ from ‘The Jesse Rose Trip’, and whether she’d choose Prince or Jimi Hendrix to play alongside with onstage.
Well we’ve been working behind the scenes, but we’ve not stopped what we’ve been doing. A lot of people don’t realise that the music industry is a nightmare, a bit of a whirlwind, and it is a music ‘business’, so annoyingly you don’t get to just play music all the time. There’s a lot of stuff you have to do to help your career move. We’ve had a lot of decisions to make in the past twelve months with a change of label and structure. The team is one of the most important things for an artist and you need a good, strong team behind you, so we’ve been working on that, new songs, building up productions, moving down to London, and we recently signed with Fender a few months ago which was a big step up really. We’re doing a lot of stuff with them now which is great and we played at their 60th Anniversary of the Stratocaster show which was brilliant. I never thought I’d be doing that in a million years, but it was a bit daunting and intimidating. But yeah there’s been a lot going on and the festival season has been the best we’ve ever had because we did Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, and opened The Calling Festival for Stevie Wonder, which was a huge deal. But slowly but surely its happening, we’ve got a release coming out soon but we need to do that right.
You said you’ve moved down to London from Manchester, was that purely from a musical point of view?
Yeah pretty much. We needed to be in the heat of it. Don’t get me wrong Manchester has got a great music scene and I miss it to death, but we just needed to be on the doorstep. Because we went over to America so quickly we neglected the UK market and we just wanted to start afresh in the UK and get our name known here. The music industry in the UK is London and we needed to get people’s attention, network, and gig there. There’s only so much we could do in Manchester and going back and forth to London wasn’t really cost effective anymore so we just wanted to stay down and be in it. But I do miss it in Manchester!
You said that you went to America too, how were you received over there?
Yeah it was an amazing reception and we loved being over there and doing what we did. Unfortunately the label we were with at the time wasn’t necessarily for us creatively, so we’ve had to move on from that situation.
It’s about musical integrity and you can go one way or the other in this industry; you can sell your soul to the devil or you can stand by your gut instinct and musical integrity. I chose the latter! Maybe we’ve not necessarily pushed ourselves out yet but I believe that my decision was right. You’ve just got to stick at it and believe in what you believe in. I also felt that I wanted to come back to the UK and get people knowing about us. The people we had just took us over to the States and completely neglected our own culture image which seemed like the wrong way round. America’s still there, but we need to bring it back to the roots and do it right, but it was great playing over there, and the gigs went down brilliantly so we’ve still got an American fan base.
Tell us about the release you mentioned?
We’ve got a song called, ‘Feel Loved’, which was produced by a guy called Alex Cores Hayes who’s worked with Professor Green, Emelie Sande, Paloma Faith and Pixie Lott. He’s a great Radio One pop guy but he knows that I’m about the grit so he hasn’t made me sell my soul. Haha! So we’ve kept the grit about the song, and the old school head nod to my influences.
Your release to date is the ‘Live at The Deaf Institute’ EP, which is fantastic to say the least. It’s a unique EP to release too, but how was it received in general?
Yeah it’s been great but it was quite scary as well. To do something live is a bloody nightmare because it’s just one chance, no going back, no chopping, no auto tune, nothing! We released it with Warner last year and it was very well received, being a free download was quite handy too. It’s helped us a lot actually and given us a step up to release officially. A live EP can’t be put out for radio, but when we get a proper record out people can go back and hear that we can actually do it live.
You used to be known as ‘The Jesse Rose Trip’ – why the name change to JJ Rosa?
There are a few things really but first of all is the ‘Jesse’ thing. The unfortunate side to this industry is that you can get categorised pretty quickly. Whether I like it or not people will automatically compare me to the other two Jesse’s out there. I don’t think that’s fair to either me or them so I think it’s nice to have my own identity. JJ was a nickname I had from when I was a kid and it just came to me to just stick with that. ‘Jesse Rose Trip’ came about when there was no other ‘Jesse’ act out there, but unfortunately other acts did come out. JJ is quite unusual and is a nickname, and Rosa is because my middle name is Rose and my grandma’s name was Rosena. JJ Rosa just had a nice ring to it and it’s stuck, but it’s weird if anyone calls me anything other than that now.
I think you’ve pretty much covered it. Without knowing it all the influences I’ve ever had have infiltrated in, but the guys that I’m playing with make a difference. Jim is quite a regimented drummer, very much into hip hop and electro so you have a very tight drummer as well as a groove heavy one. When it comes to my singing parts I’m a big fan of soul, Motown, old school R&B, funk, George Clinton, Prince, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Donna Summer, and Diana Ross. They’ve all pretty much shaped who I am. I think you can listen back to our stuff and be able to pick out all those influences. What I’ve tried to do is not just replicate what was. I think the combination of influences I’ve had have finally after three years of nurturing the sound feel like us!
Speaking of Hendrix, didn’t you enter ‘Little Wing’ into a Hendrix competition? How did you get on with that?
It was a worldwide competition and I came fifth so I was fine with that. I didn’t expect in a thousand years to win it so I was happy with that final result. It’s good to do things like that and just be part of doing it. I think I could’ve put in a slightly better performance than the one I’ve got, but it was the first time I’ve ever recorded ‘Little Wing’, so now I feel a lot more confident with it.
Hypothetically, if you could pick one to play on stage with who would it be? Hendrix or Prince?
That’s a question!! I think I’d be too intimidated playing guitar because they’re both amazing guitarists…….. It’s very rare that I’m stuck for words but I don’t know who I’d prefer to play alongside…….. I’m trying to think of a good reason against either of them and I can’t. I’m going to say Prince because he’s still alive, even though I know you’re saying hypothetically, but I can’t make a decision. But I’m going to say Prince because if he ever reads this article he knows I’m there.
Have you ever seen Prince live?
I’ve missed the recent gigs he’s done. When he was in Manchester I was playing my own gigs in London, and when he was in London I was in New York. I was absolutely mortified!
Oh god that’s another question! It’s tricky but I was definitely a guitarist before I was a singer. When I was in college I was given the choice of going into a guitar group or a singing group and I chose the guitar. Singing was something I was always going to do regardless, whereas guitar was something I really needed to push myself to do against the guys who were technically brilliant. I guess guitar because I put myself as a musician first. I’m a classical pianist before a guitarist, which I learnt when I was seven. It was seven years later when I first picked up a guitar, but guitar has become my first instrument.
What inspires you to write songs and lyrics in particular?
Just everything I think in general. A good love story is great, whether from my perspective or from my mates as I’m quite inspired by my friends and their experiences. Life experiences, not just from my perspective, are fascinating. A lot of people who you know go through a lot of shit – I mean, ‘Redemption’ is about Amy Winehouse when she died. I guess it’s really just whatever get’s me, touches a nerve, or pulls a heart string.
What’s been the best gig you’ve played to date?
The Glastonbury gig was amazing because the audience were just absolutely mind blowing. ‘The Calling’ gig was great because it was an unbelievable stage. It was the closest I’d felt to being a successful artist. Being on that stage was the real deal and made me taste what it’d be like to play on a huge stage so probably that one was the best.
Definitely a mini tour for when we get the single out which we’re going to do before the end of the year. It needs to ideally be around October. We’ve got Ronnie Scott’s coming up in London which is one I’ve wanted to do for a long time because it’s such a famous venue, so I can tick that off my list. We’ve got Antwerp Mansion again on New Year’s Eve so that’s going to be a riot.
Do you prefer Manchester, London, New York…or even Spain as you had a brief spell there?
England 100%. Manchester and London are so different that it’s difficult for me to say which I’d want to live in. At the moment I live between them so I don’t know what it’s like to live in either of them fully. If I lived in London without Manchester for a few months I’d be gutted but I’d miss London if I lived in Manchester full time. I’d say the UK is the place to live! I love it here and I think people forget what we have on our doorstep. But I do love being home!
Finally, what song past or present best describes you as a person?
Oh shit I’ll have to think about this! That is very hard but a good question……..I’m going to go with ‘Smiley Faces’ by Gnarls Barkley. The reason being that I’m a very good smiler and generally smiling most of the time. Haha!
To read the live review of JJ Rosa at Antwerp Mansion on 15th August 2014 click here
Photos by Philip Howe