Features Interviews

Roxanne de Bastion: ‘I’m terrified when I see people buying into those same old fictions of “us vs them”’

Berlin-born, London-based singer-songwriter Roxanne de Bastion is no stranger to hard work. Roxanne self-released her debut album Heirlooms & Hearsay in 2017, has supported the likes of Martha Wainwright, Ricky Ross and Thea Gilmore and has toured extensively across Europe, publishing a book about her travels. She also sits on the board of directors at the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) and runs From Me To You (FM2U) – a conference from and for independent artists.

With her largest headline show at Kings Place on 7 February fast approaching, I caught up with Roxanne on her career so far, the music and experiences that inspire her and plans for 2019…

Hi Roxanne! You seem to be spinning a lot of plates; working as a musician and writer, as well as organising music conference From Me To You (FM2U) and sitting on the board of directors at the FAC. Where did it all begin for you?

Hi! What an intro – I might add ‘spinner of plates’ to my Twitter bio! I suppose it began when I moved to London on my own when I finished school in order to try and start life as a singer-songwriter. I knew what I wanted to do, I just had no idea how to do it. It can be really difficult if you don’t know anybody in the music industry (or anyone in London for that matter). What followed were a couple of years of ‘learning by doing’, taking any gig I could and working loads of, mostly terrible, jobs (I think working in a call centre and one or two weird temp jobs were the worst).

I managed to plunge into full-time music life, touring as much as possible and self-releasing an EP in 2014 and my album, Heirlooms & Hearsay, in 2017.

I met Fran Healy (who’s also on the board of the FAC) at an event in Berlin where we were both invited to speak on a panel about the future of music. Soon after, I got more involved with the organisation and was invited to join the board of directors. It’s been really great to be a part of it – I love the ethos of artists supporting artists.

You released your debut album Heirlooms & Hearsay in 2017. Can you tell us about the story behind the record?

The album is dedicated to my grandad, who was a pianist from Hungary. He was a Holocaust survivor and started a new life with my grandmother when they landed in the West Midlands in 1947. I never got to meet him, but think about him and others who suffered (and suffer) a similar fate. I am amazed at how short our collective memory can be and am terrified when I see so many people buying into those same old fictions of ‘us vs them’. It worries me to hear the same rhetoric as people used back then – we know what it led to, so why are we choosing fear and hatred again?

I wrote half of the songs off the album with him in mind, others are about here and now. The aim was to draw attention to the parallels and bring us closer together. I got to use an old recording of one of his piano compositions on the album, which I was really lucky to find and hear for the first time in the process of making the album.

How are you feeling about your headline show in February at Kings Place?

I’m really excited and am super nervous! It’s my largest headline show to date and we’ve not had too much time to promote it, so here’s hoping you all come along on 7 February! We’re playing through Heirlooms & Hearsay in full, something I’ve never done before. We’ve got new visuals for the show and have put together a full band to try and do the album justice. I’m also going to play a couple of brand new songs.

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Live at Portsmouth Guild Hall

You’ve had some extensive touring experience! Any top tips you can share?

It depends what kind of tour you’re on! If you’re just starting out and are not touring with a full band, the Megabus is your friend and key to a profitable tour. Also, coffee (like, a lot), eat whenever food presents itself, have a plastic bag in your suitcase for dirty laundry and earplugs for sleeping in noisy places.

What’s been your favourite musical experience to date?

Man, what a question! I suppose my favourite musical experience is just falling in love with music. It happens when you write a song that seems to just magically appear out of nowhere, or when you fall in love with a song you’ve just heard for the first time. Sometimes that song becomes an important part of your life and you get to feel that feeling every time you hear it, sing it or share it with someone. The best musical experience is being in that moment, performing a song that’s a part of you with others who have made that song a part of their lives. There’s nothing else like it.

What motivated you to set up From Me To You (FM2U)?

I felt that there was an entire universe of music-making that wasn’t really represented, serviced or even acknowledged by the wider industry. There are so many exciting artists who are building sustainable careers for themselves in an environment where the odds are stacked against them. Independent music and artists who understand the importance of just getting s**t done is where it’s at. I’m really bored by this narrative that artists are supposed to do nothing but laze about in their genius and let everything else magically happen and fall into place around their talent. That was never how it worked and it’s unhealthy to keep up that pretense.

I really wanted to have an honest discourse from and for artists and to create a platform where we can learn from one another, as well as invite the wider industry to learn from us (and vice versa). At FM2U, all panels are moderated by artists to make sure that topics are discussed from our point of view. It’s hard work putting on the conferences, but I get a lot out of them and love being surrounded by talented, lovely people. Over the past year, I’ve been lucky to have the support of Help Musicians UK to help grow FM2U. Organisations such as AIM, PPL and of course the FAC have also supported it, which is amazing.

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Photo: Oliver Prout

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing independent artists at the moment?

Other than access to funding, the biggest challenge is to get the balance right between finding enough time to work on our music – to write, practice, record – while doing all the other things that need doing (managing, scheduling, admin, marketing, etc).

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

‘Just keep doing what you’re doing’ – that used to drive me mad, because while I have many virtues, patience is definitely not one of them. I think I understand that piece of advice a bit more now though: half the battle with anything is just to believe in the thing you’re doing and to keep doing the thing. People will catch on or take note eventually – I hope!

Aside from your upcoming show, do you have any other plans for 2019? Is there new music on the way?

Yes! After the show at Kings Place, I’m off to Canada to showcase at Folk Alliance (a bit like the SXSW for acoustic music!) and tour Ontario. After that, I’m working on recording my new songs. I’m also playing a couple of festivals this year. Hopefully there’ll be lots more touring – it’s my favourite thing.

If you could recommend an album for our readers to listen to, what would it be?

How about Judee Sill by Judee Sill? Not many people know her, but everybody should, especially if you’re into classic singer-songwriters. She’s an amazing artist who unfortunately passed away in the 70s after recording and releasing just two albums, both masterpieces. I slightly prefer her first (but there’s not much in it!): magical melody lines, beautiful orchestration… lots of weird religious references in the lyrics (she was a troubled soul), but don’t let that put you off.

Buy tickets to Roxanne’s headline show on 7 February 2019

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