ROSA RENDL has been part of the experimental pop duo LONELY BOYS for ten years now and wanders between the fields of music and visual arts as a singer, producer and classically trained pianist. Recently her solo debut single “Okay Now” was released, in which a special kind of immediacy is created through fragility and reduction. In autumn her debut album will follow on “Seayou Records”. ROSA RENDL spoke with Ada Karlbauer about musical restraint and intimacy, about a “you” as a fictional counterpart, the refusal of the happiness dictate, the desire to expand the scene, the distortion of the voice as a veil of security and doubts about streaming concerts.
People already know your work from the duo Lonely Boys. What made you decide to work as a solo artist?
Rosa Rendl: For a long time already I had the wish for a more direct expression with simple means, just piano and voice. The music of Lonely Boys is very much based on experimenting with samples, sounds and effects. In my solo project the focus is on an immediacy of expression through improvisation. During an artist residency in New York in 2016 I started working on the first solo tracks.
2016 is already a while ago. What were the reasons for this long lapse of time before releasing “Okay Now”?
Rosa Rendl: Between 2016 and 2017 I composed almost all the tracks of the upcoming album. In 2017 I had first talks with “Seayou Records” and they sent me a contract. But back then I didn’t know yet in which context and in which way I wanted to release my music. Besides, I was very busy with my other projects. With Lonely Boys [together with Daphne Ahlers; Note] we were and are very much involved in the art scene. We are perceived almost more as performance artists than as musicians by the music scene. That’s really exciting and has opened up a lot of possibilities for us, but in some ways it’s also frustrating, because we’re actually making pop music and our music could also work in other areas. That’s why I wanted to think very carefully for my solo project on how to position it. On the other hand, you can’t really control it in the end and my first solo concerts took place again in an art context [laughs]. The first one at the LambdaLambdaLambda Gallery in Pristina in 2017, then in 2018 as part of a series at KW – Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin and last year at Belvedere21 as part of the show “Über das Neue”.
That almost sounds like a “renaissance”, although you have been making music for years.
Rosa Rendl: For me it’s more like a birth, because I haven’t really arrived in the music scene with Lonely Boys yet. So it felt like a right step for me to release my solo album with a label like “Seayou Records”.
How did the cooperation with “Seayou Records” come about?
Rosa Rendl: If I remember correctly, I put a demo of the track “Opportunity Lover” on SoundCloud in 2017 and then shared it on Facebook. I think that’s where Ilias found out about me.
One can see that there’s still a strong dividing line between the art scene and the music scene with few points of contact. What could be the reason for that?
Rosa Rendl: They are two very different scenes. But I try to bridge that in my work and I don’t really see a reason why only one or the other should be possible. Generally I like to work across different media and scenes.
“I DON’T HAVE THE DESIRE REALLY FOR A CHANGE OF SCENE, RATHER FOR AN EXPANSION”
In the context of art, parameters often also shift, regarding what works for what reason. It’s usually less a matter of musical or compositional quality than one of sound aesthetics or atmosphere that fits into the discourses prevailing there, to put it in an exaggerated way. Was that a reason for the desire for a “change of scene”?
Rosa Rendl: I don’t really have the desire for a change of scene, rather for an expansion. My first approach to music was that I started playing the piano at the age of six and then had piano lessons until I was eighteen. It always felt most natural for me to sit at the piano and write songs there. I think I wanted to return to that point. As a teenager I always had the idea that I would study classical piano later. It turned out differently and I studied fashion, first in Vienna, then in London. I’m not mourning about it either, just a little [laughs]. I am very much influenced by the music I listened to as a child. “Female Singers”: from Nina Simone to Whitney Houston to Sade. All these artists sing very emotional songs and embody these feelings with their voices. This has already been strongly integrated into my work. It caused my love for music and taught me very early on what a powerful means music can be to express emotions.
Recently your debut single “Okay Now” was released, what does it deal with?
Rosa Rendl: In “Okay Now” it’s basically about addressing a counterpart and the attempt to convey to this person the intention to understand his/her wishes and needs and to meet him/her through them. At the same time, the track also expresses desperation about the failure of this attempt and the passion to continue to battle for this person.
Your songs always address a “you”, a counterpart. Who is this “you” actually?
Rosa Rendl: Since my lyrics always deal with relationships in any form, i.e. relationships not exclusively of a romantic nature, the “you” always addresses this counterpart that I work on in the respective track. In this sense, the “you” is more of a placeholder for a fictional counterpart to whom I address my thoughts, and is not necessarily to be understood as a concrete person in my life.
“OFTEN IT’S ABOUT MISCOMMUNICATION, LACK OF UNDERSTANDING, SOME KIND OF DESPAIR”
Inter-human relations, relationships and the associated experiences seem to be a central starting point for your lyrics, your music in general.
Rosa Rendl: Often it’s about miscommunication, lack of understanding, some kind of despair or about the fact that you can’t reach the other person and don’t feel understood or that you can’t reach anyone with your own needs. In a certain way it’s also about the relationship with yourself, how you deal with the experiences you have made, how you develop and what kind of person you become through all this, what you rebel against, what you want to protect yourself from and what you open yourself up to.
A video by the artist Anais Horn was released for “Okay Now”. One sees variously staged visual levels that correspond with one another. One thinks of Millais’ “Ophelia” or “Blair Witch Project”. What was the idea behind it?
Rosa Rendl: The video actually visualizes two different personalities. On the one hand, the vulnerable fragile side, in a very light dress, fairy-like in the forest. On the other hand, there are the scenes in which I’m acting in a rather strong and militant way. It’s like an emotional conflict or a multiple personality that is portrayed here, which on the one hand withdraws into its vulnerability, but also has the strength to keep on fighting.
What role do performativity and thoughts from your activity in the visual arts play for your solo project?
Rosa Rendl: I don’t really want to perform when I present my music. “Performing”, that sounds like “pretending”. But in everything I do, I’m always looking for a very honest way of expression and therefore avoid everything that seems unnecessary and distracting to me. In art as in music. I don’t pretend to be myself on stage, on the contrary, I think I am more myself on stage than elsewhere. Being on stage is therefore a very fragile unprotected moment, that’s what makes it so special.
How would you describe your production setting?
Rosa Rendl: I sit down at the piano and improvise. When I feel that I’m at a point where I want to record it, I do that. Often I record a song in one take, often I do some editing at the end. But I’m always trying to leave the composition as unedited and as immediate as possible, so the recording can’t be perfect either, but that’s part of the message.
“THE DISTORTIONS IN THE VOICE AND THIS VEIL THAT LIES ALL OVER THE SOUND DO GIVE ME A CERTAIN SECURITY (…)”
This way of working also creates certain cracks or breaks that make up the sound and create a special intimacy.
Rosa Rendl: These breaks are important because the whole thing is very intimate and revealing anyway. Being behind it is an overcoming, but important. The distortions in the voice and this hazy veil that lies all over the sound give me a certain security in all that is being said. The lyrics and vocals are actually very understandable, even if the voice was partly recorded with autotune. This gives the very personal thing a bit of an anonymous touch. If everything was to be recorded very clearly and precisely, there wouldn’t be any protection anymore. What I like about my situation is that I still have the possibility to play on a piano or grand piano at concerts, without any effects. And if I want to, I can also perform in a more digital mode.
Are there aspects that are deliberately hidden by this musical veil?
Rosa Rendl: Not really, I don’t think I can open myself up much more [laughs]. Perhaps by hidden you mean that despite the intimacy it somehow seems anonymous, abstract?
What can we expect from your debut album which will be released in the fall?
Rosa Rendl: The album is actually like an anthology of revealed, experienced emotions. It deals with vulnerability, anger, rebellion, love, fears. The album is an invitation to get involved.
“‘PERMANENT HAPPINESS’ SOUNDS MORE LIKE A BURN-OUT FACTOR TO ME”
A certain form of sadness, of melancholy characterizes your sound aesthetics and refuses the prevailing happiness dictates.
Rosa Rendl: I am also concerned with letting sad emotions be. Many of these emotions are still strongly taboo, especially in pop music. Everyone must always be super happy, everything must sound jolly and be fun at the same time [laughs]. One is only possible through the other. Positive feelings are only possible if there are negative ones. I am absolutely against the fact of being allowed to show only one side and having to suppress the other. I have no problem to reveal a certain form of subliminal sadness in my music, because I feel it in my body and in my life and it doesn’t feel to be something negative. On the contrary, accepting it has enabled me to find an expression in my music. I am also grateful for that. The permanent ‘happiness’ sounds more like a burn-out factor to me.
Isolation and social distance have characterized recent everyday life of the Corona pandemic. Did the crisis have any concrete effects on your work?
Rosa Rendl: Not really, because I used the time with productions and working on my live set. But what deterred me during this time are the many streaming concerts that are taking place. The doctrine of doing everything online now doesn’t convince me at all. Be it museum visits, concerts or the like. Just because it’s possible at this time, you don’t have to do everything digitally. One should take moments and circumstances and recognize them as they are, and not desperately try to force something into being that is not there.
The physical presence of a live concert cannot be simulated in this way either.
Rosa Rendl: Absolutely. You could also simply record the concert beforehand and say that it’s live. Where’s the difference? You can’t create the visual and sonic effect of a concert with a cell phone or laptop, and you also aren’t taking into account the influence of the audience, forgetting that a concert is an exchange between performer and audience and doesn’t work one-way. I think it would be a pity if the sensitivity for listening to and experiencing music were to be lost in this way.
Many thanks for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld