Eight Questions w/ Neo-Soul Songstress Rozzi
Above image by Bennett Perez
Back in October of 2020, some seven months into this frightful pandemic, artists all seemed to be trying their best to express the fear and loneliness that were such features of our new quarantine reality. Neo-soul songstress Rozzi, however, was releasing ‘Orange Skies’, a pained love letter to her native California, which was terrifyingly aflame from rampant wildfires – one terror on top of another.
But now the fires are raging in Texas and Colorado…and we’re at last starting to emerge from the deadliest health crisis of our lives. No surprise, then, the onetime Adam Levine protege is releasing an EP today, Berry (via BMG), that is very much the product of the circumstances and soul searching of these troubling but transformative last 25 months.
It opens with the starkly raw ‘I Guess I’m the Bad Guy Now’, a particularly strikingly confessional instance for someone who has never really been shy about laying it all out in song. Indeed, she unflinchingly admits, “It’s funny, this misplaced revenge on someone who was as good as you.” However it all went down, it surely wasn’t mutual. But she also gets her groove decidedly on with ‘Consequences’, a collab with the legendary Nile Rodgers, who lays down a monster guitar solo to close the track.
With the upliftingly soulful ‘fflow’, she also lets us know unambiguously that her head is in a better place, with the hopeful lyric: “These days the world is burning down outside / But I feel lucky all the time, because you’re mine oh mine oh mine.”
With a return to the live stage also on the horizon – specific dates TBA – we caught up with Rozzi for a quick but enlightening chat about it all.
Now that we’re starting to put it behind us, how would you describe the overall pandemic experience for you?
It was scary, lonely, exhausting, and surreal. But I mostly look back feeling grateful for all the ways that I was incredibly lucky.
Were you creatively inspired by the isolation?
In the moment, I didn’t think I was. I actually thought it was stunting me creatively because I missed writing with people in person, I missed the inspiration that comes from social activity, and I really missed live shows. But in hindsight, it was an incredibly rich creative experience. I fell in love in a way that was punctuated by the isolation, I became an aunt, I was forced to see my friendships in a different light. And I didn’t realize it then, but I was writing so many of my favorite songs over Zoom. I started an essay writing class, an acting class, I can finally call myself a piano player because of it. And I got much deeper into the image components of my art, and what I want to express visually. I’m starting to look back on it as a super important phase in my artistic development.
New tracks like ‘Consequences’, ‘fflow’ and ‘Clouds’ give the EP a decidedly sunnier vibe, at least sonically. Is that reflective of anything personal, or just the way the music came out?
Part of that was on purpose. I’m an optimist and, as this EP is really just part two of my full length album, I wanted to end on a brighter note. Though to be honest, I don’t really think of ‘Consequences’ or ‘Clouds’ as sunny. I wrote ‘Clouds’ as the final dying breath of a relationship I’d held on to for years. It’s more of an acceptance than a celebration.
How did you come to connect with Nile Rodgers?
My brilliant manager Wendy [Laister] sent Nile some of my music and he agreed to work with me. That was another creative COVID experience – talking on the phone to Nile Rodgers for hours at a time. I remember when he called and asked how I felt about a raging guitar solo at the end of the track. I was like, “Are you kidding me? Yes please!” It was an absolute honor to have him on my song.
‘I Guess I’m the Bad Guy Now’ comes off as particularly confessional. Was it inspired by real life circumstances?
All of my songs are dangerously real. I’ve tried to write lyrics that aren’t and it just doesn’t work for me. I wrote ‘I Guess I’m The Bad Guy Now’ when I was forcing myself out on dates in an attempt to get over a relationship. I remember having this icy feeling – like my emotions were walled off and unreachable – and feeling angry about the way I had been treated by men in my past. It brought out a darker side of me.
Your vocal performances always seem to be evolving. Do you write songs to challenge your voice?
I accidentally challenge my voice all the time. I don’t think about it when I’m writing – it’s all about finding the most interesting and emotive melodies. But then I go to sing them live and I realize how insanely hard they are. Growing as a singer is my favorite thing to do though, so maybe it’s subconscious.
What ties this EP together, what is its essence?
Vulnerability. I think that will always be the through-line between all of my songs. These are my very personal stories and, when I look back on my music years from now, I will have a map of my life. And musicianship is its essence too – I haven’t heard too many EPs recently that feature both a guitar solo and a clarinet solo!
When will you be returning to the stage in 2022?
I’ll be in Brooklyn on August 11th, and there’s a handful of other dates I can’t announce yet. Playing live again has literally upped my happiness by 500%. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m so excited to hear my fans sing these songs at my shows. That’s been really surreal – to play songs I put out last year in total isolation, and hear a room full of people sing them back to me. Makes me feel really connected in a way I missed so much.