Beyond the Record: Welcome. Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you're from, and some insight to your music career!
The Bleeding Obvious:
My name’s Jessica Rowbottom, and I perform, record and produce under the title of The Bleeding Obvious. I’m from Wakefield, West Yorkshire (that’s in the UK) and right now I’m sitting outside a cafe in the city centre, accompanied by a smashing cup of tea and a croissant on a nice sunny day!
BtR: After listening to as much of this project as possible, I gathered just how vast your inspirations seem to be. Can you elaborate on the artists/people who inspire you to make the music that you do?
We’d be here all year if I was going to list all the influences, but it’s chiefly 90s bands such as Chumbawamba, Saint Etienne and Swing Out Sister. I was at University in the early 90s and very much listening to the indie scene of the time, but also harbouring a secret love of art-pop acts such as Pet Shop Boys and Propaganda. I suspect it’s all due to a fascination with the techniques of Trevor Horn, Julian Mendelssohn, Mike Stock and Matt Aitken - those sorts of people who turned non-linear digital production into an art form.
Add into that mix the classical music I enjoyed when I was young, by popular romantic-era and modern composers such as F Lefebure-Wely, Walton, Vaughan Williams, Holst and Shostakovich. Even light music of the first half of the last century, Henry Hall and Eric Coates maybe. If you listen really hard to a couple of songs you can hear popular devices of those eras. I was a chorister at a local Cathedral in the 1980s and that goes in the mix too.
BtR: As far as a genre goes, where would you say you fit in?
There’s a lot of different genres all welded together - I don’t like being pigeonholed as it boxes you into a corner when you want to expand. I do have this little battle with myself every time I try and pick a genre on iTunes or whatever because for instance, a song can have a bit of electronic dance in it, along with various bits of prog, maybe some classical and a peppering of (say) dubstep. How do you define that?
My partner Helen calls it “bipolar”, but I prefer “schizophonic”!
BtR: There's some talk about you working on a new album. Tell us the direction and approach you are taking to this upcoming release.
After the release of the debut album and the themes therein, I wanted to write something a bit happier. The trouble with that was that everything came out so vapid and devoid of feeling, exactly the opposite of what I wanted to achieve. I had quite a few other songs off the back of those sessions though, so picked them all up and realised they formed a theme; after a while the work became known as Rainbow Heart.
BtR: And what is exactly the meaning behind "Rainbow Heart." Where did you come up with such a name for this record?
Rainbow Heart started as a working title which stuck, but it’s since become a celebration of diversity in gender and sexuality, a search for self-identification.
OK, think of it this way: everyone is on a spectrum, the entire population of the planet are in a grey-area between the polar opposites of what you think of as male and female, hetero- and homosexual. They might not realise it but everyone has a rainbow heart inside somewhere.
Maybe it’s a coming-out album. There’s a song on there called Spectrum whose words are based on San Fransisco lesbian queer dating small-ads and the language therein - stud, femme, switchy queerdo, even including Victorian underground words like “tommistry”. There’s a whole genderqueer lesbian counterculture which deserves celebrating.
It might even form the basis of a show at some point. I haven’t really decided yet. It has a synopsis though which I’m keeping fairly close to my chest.
BtR: Let's touch a bit on your personal life as well. Take us through some of the lowest moments, not only in your music career, but also in your personal life. This could be in most recent past or quite a long time ago.
The death of my maternal Grandparents is the big one (the first album is dedicated to them). I’d never really encountered bereavement before and it set in process a tsunami of life changes which haven’t stopped rippling yet. Loss is a continuing theme I work with, but with the knowledge that loss can be dealt with and you can come out the other side intact.
More generally, I try to turn my low points into music or art on some level. It doesn’t always work, the worst bits nowadays are when I dry up creatively; there are times I’ve laid in the studio on a night curled in a little ball wondering what the hell I’m doing… I think every creative person would understand that feeling on some level. At least I don’t flounce any more - there was a time a few years ago I was so annoyed I dismantled the entire studio and left the room empty for a couple of months - that’s an extreme example though.
BtR: Would you say being open with your sexuality for the first time was at all difficult? Did you feel a sense of relief? What struggles do you face with this? Why are gender and sexuality recurring themes?
I’m not sure my sexuality is that open, because I’m still unsure as to what it is: one of the themes of Rainbow Heart is that labels are unnecessary so it’s become a story about searching for an identity.
If I were to nail it down to popular terms, I’d suggest “genderqueer lesbian” - it’s like a pendulum, there are rare days I feel more masculine than feminine which translates into a musical schizophrenia. It’s personally a hell of a rollercoaster but I’ve got a wonderful support network, our local lesbian social group played an important part helping discover and validate that identity and finding out I’m not alone in being variant.
BtR: On the flipside, what are you most proud of? What did you achieve that others around you thought you would never be able to do?
Released an album and performed live! *laughs*
I’m most proud of working with some of the most astonishingly talented musicians. There’s nothing quite like standing in front of an assembled orchestra, hearing them record live parts I’ve composed and scored - students who’ve scattered now and gone onto greater things, playing in the Hallé Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic. I’d hoped to recreate it for the new work but I think that’s an experience I’ll be unable to repeat. I’d love to do it properly live one day though.
BtR: Why aren't you quite content with just making and writing music? Why does it always have to involve other media?
I’m of the firm belief any art should cross multimedia - not just in the sense of involving computers (multimedia being a big buzzword from my youth) but in terms of involving all sorts of methods and materials, whatever feels right.
To take examples from the debut album, there are 15 pieces of artwork, each one a teardrop which represents each song. One involves my own DNA fingerprint, another the view from a window in watercolour, things like neon and stained glass. With different genres it felt the right thing to do.
It’s not all about visual multimedia though! There’s a little side-project I’ve been working on called Swoon, which is a collaboration with a poet friend Ralph Dartford - it’s the story of Terry and Julie from the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset” if you know it. Ralph threw a big pile of poems at me and said “see what you can do with those, Jess!”, and the end result was soundtracking a multimedia experience in a way, words set to a backing of all sorts of things, sound samples from cafes, weird sound-bending, audio concept art. We’ve been touring that! It’s smashing fun.
BtR: Going back to Rainbow Heart. Can you give us an inside look as to what the recording process was like?
It’s all still in progress obviously, but continues to coalesce into a single work. It usually starts with a sequencer or a beat, although those may be created in the oddest of ways: something in progress right now uses short-wave radio sweeps triggered by a toy drum machine. Increasingly I’ve gone back to composing on a piano though now I have a decent stage model (a Korg SV-1) which sits in the dining room away from the studio itself.
My car is littered with CDs of studio output in varying states of disrepair. I spend long journeys working out what I might want to do with individual motifs. It’s a long process, and I never like rushing it because obviously I want to come up with the best work possible.
As with the debut album and Swoon, I’ve been teaching myself new techniques and instrumentation to try and get out what’s in my head: the other week for instance I was sitting at 4am learning to play electric cello. I am rather thankful my neighbours are deaf…!
BtR: One last question. Where can fans find your music?
Go to http://bleedingobvious.uk/music - it gets you links to iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other digital stores. The debut album is also out on vinyl and CD and you can get it from http://bleedingobvious.uk/shop. I’m touring Swoon with Ralph at some festivals in the UK this Summer, and doing some LGBT Pride events where I’m performing some new work from Rainbow Heart.
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