Seven Questions w/ Neo-Soul Songstress Rozzi About Heartache, Taking Control & Being Ready For a Hug

When we last connected with California neo-soul songstress Rozzi last October, her state’s wildfires were raging out of control, and COVID was fully entering its first re-escalation phase. Ten months later, and some things never change – as the American West is again engulfed in a deadly inferno, while this new “pandemic of the unvaccinated” threatens to steer us back towards a possible viral apocalypse.

But one thing that has been consistent throughout these last seventeen months of anxiety and uncertainty, is that we’ve sought and found comfort in music, at those moments when we’ve needed comforting the most. And Rozzi’s new EP Hymn For Tomorrow (released July 27 via BMG) is precisely the sort of emotional catharsis for these times, a kind of cleansing of the soul, pointing to a more hopeful way forward from the pain and fear.

To be sure, from the opening track ‘How’d You Learn to Lie Like That,’ it’s immediately evident that she is musically purging demons. With every line there is a recollection of pain, but also a determined struggle towards redemption.

“The last thing you said before you vanished
Was that this was so much more than the sex
I spent six nights in a sleepless panic
Hating my reflection rereading our texts
Driving so fast your words in the wind”

Other standouts include ‘June,’ a cool slice of ’80s inspired R&B, that just happens to also be about someone who terribly wronged her; and ‘I Can’t Go To The Party,’ a retro soul stunner that you can almost imagine Diana Ross belting out.

Her voice, already a shiver-inducing instrument, has never sounded so accomplished. Yet her vocal performances are more raw, visceral and honest than ever. If it makes you melancholy to realize that Amy Winehouse has been gone for just over a decade now, Rozzi seems very much ready to fill that hole in your heart.

We caught up with her to discuss what it all means.

When we last connected you had just released ‘Orange Skies,’ about the California wildfires. Are you worried that they’re saying the worst might be yet to come?

It’s really terrifying, we have a disaster on our hands. I want to believe we’ve learned from our mistakes and have a better system in place, but I’m not sure that’s true. I love California so much and I’m really worried about what is going to happen to our homes, to our loved ones, to our air, and to our beautiful wildlife. And I want to believe that our politicians and leaders are doing everything they can to protect our environment and address climate change, but…

As to the new album, tracks like ‘How’d You Learn to Lie Like That,’ ‘I Can’t Go to the Party’ and ‘Hymn For Tomorrow’ seem to be exhibiting a more pronounced classic soul / gospel influence. Was that something conscious? 

In a way, this feels like my first album, my introduction – even though it’s not. That soul sound you’re hearing is really who I am. I’m not sure if it’s the time in my life, the sum of my experiences, or the amazing team that I work with, but I’ve finally felt capable of making the album I always wanted to make. That’s not to say that I’m not incredibly proud of the music I’ve released before; but there was always some external force that I had to push through to make it. Sometimes I succeeded in pushing through, on songs like ‘Joshua Tree,’ for which I had my first co-production credit, or ’66 Days’ which I scrapped and redid a few weeks before my album came out, despite pleas from my management not to touch it.

It’s a familiar story…

Even ‘Half The Man,’ if you’ve been listening for awhile, is an example of a song that I had to push for; it’s a glimpse of the artist that was developing. But with this record, for the first time in my career, I’ve been able to call the shots creatively without a fight. So my goal was to be soulful, yes, but really my goal was to be myself.  

What were some of the things influencing you during the writing and recording of the new EP?

My life is always my biggest influence, I write very personal songs. And I’m grateful to some [of the] monsters I’ve dated along the way for the inspiration. I wrote ‘June’ because I absolutely needed to. I was drowning in the emotions I was feeling: confusion, embarrassment, heartache, anger. I hope anyone who’s been romantically blindsided feels seen in the song. Of course I was also inspired by a lot of other music, artists like Anderson Paak, Yebba, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, H.E.R, Kacey Musgraves, Ariana Grande, and Lauryn Hill, to name several.

Which tracks really standout for you, and why?

My favorite is ‘I dk,’ maybe because it’s the newest one and I haven’t had as much time to drive myself crazy making changes to it. Or maybe it’s because it’s the most hopeful. I’m an optimist but I write really moody songs; I think that’s how I maintain my optimism, by releasing everything else through music. But ‘I dk’ captures something sweeter in me. It also captures something really deep – a lesson I learned about love and how it can be exciting and sexy and still be safe and solid. And then my friend Bryn Bliska played the shit out of a keys solo on it.

What are your plans for returning to touring?

I truly cannot wait. I feel so jealous of everyone I see starting to play shows again; but we’re working on it and dates are coming. Fingers crossed it’ll be the fall of this year. 

What’s the latest with the ‘Ugh! You’re So Good!’ podcast? Any upcoming guests you can reveal?

Scott [Hoying] and I haven’t started working on Season 3 yet – I think we both want to wait until we can have a true post-COVID experience and hang with our guests the way we used to. Like everything else, our second season was affected by [the pandemic], and it was hard to have the intimacy and closeness we had on the first season. So hopefully soon Scott and I will be in the same city, and be ready to drink and dance and hug our guests before we ask them for the secrets to their success.

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