BlackBook Premiere: Rozzi’s ‘Orange Skies’ is a Hymn to the Tragedy of the California Wildfires
If trying to ride out a deadly pandemic weren’t enough, California songstress Rozzi has had to watch from New York as her beloved California is once again burning out of control, with the recent spate of wildfires seemingly the worst yet—and new reports of a serious re-escalation.
Born Rosalind Elizabeth Crane in San Francisco in 1991, at just 19 she was “discovered” by Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine, signed to his new label 222 in 2012, and the next year embarked on a tour as the band’s opening act. Two EPs followed before they parted ways, with Rozzi eventually being grabbed up by Small Giant/Columbia, who released her 2018 debut album Bad Together—notably featuring the single “Never Over You.”
She is currently working on a new album, and she promises it will be her best yet. But in the lead up, she’s written a powerful new song, “Orange Skies” (which BlackBook premieres here), about those same wildfires still raging in her home state. Over a mournful but lilting piano, she lyrically shifts between nostalgia for the time she spent growing up there, and also sounding a warning about what surely seems now like a near apocalyptic environmental condition.
And as she intones said warning—in a voice that distinctly reminds of Annie Lennox—it’s hard not to feel a bit of a chill.
“Say goodbye, Baby take one last good look at orange skies
Greatest love you had you shoulda held on tight
Now there’s nothing you can do
Orange skies that should be blue”
We engaged her on what it all means.
You were born in San Francisco, but have also moved around. Do you still feel a visceral connection to California?
California is my home—no matter how much I travel, it’s still my home. I grew up in San Francisco and moved to LA at eighteen, but the whole West Coast is special to me; my mom’s family has been living there for generations. I can feel it when my tour bus makes its way to the Pacific Northwest—it’s cozy to me.
Where have you been during the wildfires?
I’ve been lucky enough to be in New York, but it’s so hard to watch it unfold from afar. My parents, who still live in San Francisco, sent me photos taken through the windows of my childhood home, and it looks quite literally apocalyptic. I’ve had friends’ houses burn down, we’re currently waiting to see if my grandparents’ house in Calistoga made it…it’s completely devastating.
How has it made you feel, watching California once again in flames?
It makes me feel pretty helpless—and it makes me wish I had the bravery and expertise to be a firefighter, so I could literally go do something about it. That’s why I wanted to put this song out immediately. I’m not a scientist or a politician but I am a songwriter, and it’s my hope that this song can make people who aren’t on the West Coast connect to the problem emotionally. And hopefully it will raise some money for relief.
“Orange Skies” comes across as both elegy and catharsis at once. What were you feeling when you wrote it?
It was cathartic to write, but I hope people also see it as a rallying cry. I know it’s a pretty dark song, but we’re in dark times and it didn’t seem productive to sugarcoat the issue. My hope is it wakes some people up, that the idea that there is nothing we can do is so haunting that it makes people want to vote and demand changes for their climate. Of course I don’t expect a single song to make the kind of change we need, but I couldn’t sit back and do nothing. I believe it’s an artist’s job to reflect the times they live in.
The song doesn’t really end on a hopeful note. What do you want people to take from it?
I remember the day I wrote it, LA was under smokey skies, and just walking to my co-writer Eric Leva’s house felt dangerous. I knew I wanted to write about the fires, but it was intimidating—it was such a massive thing to write about. So we decided to make it very small and intimate and focus on my life growing up in California. Because, despite the hugeness of the issue, climate change is very personal. It’s happening right outside our doors, making our skies orange, and the air we breathe unsafe. What we stand to lose is every small thing we love: a gardenia from a boy, a party in Laurel Canyon, a swim in the ocean. I hope the song highlights that personal nature of the problem. That it’s not some far off thing happening to other people, it’s happening right now to all of us.
What do you think is ultimately going to become of such a wide swath of California?
I’m honestly not sure—because without good leadership it’s impossible to say where all this will end. All I know is that these natural disasters are happening more and more frequently now, and it’s clear we need to take action immediately. We really don’t have the luxury of time any more.
What has been inspiring your writing, other than the wildfires?
I always write about my life—I can’t help it, it’s all I know how to do. So the songs are very personal, sometimes uncomfortably so. The first single “Best Friend Song,” for all its fun, is a window into a friendship I wouldn’t otherwise talk about publicly. Like I said, “Orange Skies” is very personal too, despite the giantess of the issue. All the lyrics are references to real moments from my life in California.
On a lighter note, tell us about your “Ugh! You’re So Good!” podcast.
Making the podcast has been ridiculously fun. Scott Hoying and I have been friends for years and we decided to keep the podcast as unscripted as our dinners—just with incredibly successful people added to the conversation. It’s impossible to spend an hour with Jonathan Van Ness or Michelle Kwan or Christina Perri and not learn something. And it’s been a great way to bring some brightness to an otherwise dark year. I would say it’s kind of like How I Built This, but with gossip and cocktails. It’s for ambitious people with big dreams who also like to laugh.
Are you hoping to be back in a live setting by early 2021?
I really have no idea. It totally breaks my heart; I couldn’t miss singing live more. Frankly, the live show is the fuel that keeps me going when I feel beaten down by the industry. I’m so grateful for the internet and that it’s possible to kind of sing live, but I need the real thing. I sang at one very small show on Long Island this summer with my friends, the incredible principle dancers at the American Ballet Theatre, Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. It was beautiful, outdoors and incredibly spaced out, we all felt safe. I hope we can keep getting creative with shows like that, because I’d be willing to do almost anything to sing in front of people again.