It was such a pleasure meeting country-pop artist Rosey Cale. The Welsh singer-songwriter was performing at Focus Wales, one of the nation’s premier music showcase festivals, and I was delighted to catch her for an interview in between her two sets.
Her calm and considered persona whilst performing is no onstage act. As I sat down with her, it was interesting to capture her outsider perspective on the town that has been the base for Focus Wales since its inception: Wrexham. Her keen observance of the homeless population was palpable. But it was her experience at the entrance to Waterstone’s bookstore earlier in the day that revealed a heart brimming with compassion. For a store assistant had prevented a homeless man from entering in. And it was the way that the assistant had addressed this guy in the third person that really shocked her, failing to treat him with any ounce of respect or basic humanity.
During our conversation, I was struck by the gift of gentleness that Rosey possesses. It perhaps comes from her temperament. She describes herself as ‘quite a reserved person…, definitely an introvert’. It is for this reason, she thinks, that she still resides in the beautiful countryside of Pembrokeshire, West Wales, rather than choosing, like so many other artists, to move to the city. Not that she has anything against cities, ‘but I don’t think I would ever call the city home… my heart is near the beach and just because I’ve grown up with that, I don’t know anything different really’.
In the age of the internet, living in such a distant part of the country is no longer as disadvantageous as it might once have been. When I ask her if she is influenced by a sense of place, she agrees, but also adds that ‘I get a lot of influences from online’. So on the one hand, she finds support and inspiration from the ‘very small amount of musicians’ that form the local music scene. And on the other, she has grown up listening to people like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Sara Bareilles, and Rachel Platten. It is this dual aspect that seems to have played an important part in her development as a singer-songwriter, drawing on both the local and the global for her country-pop sound.
As she lists off her musical inspirations, she makes a point of adding that her net stretches much wider than just a few individual artists:
‘I like singer-songwriters that play piano. That just seems to be something I really like as well. It’s more the gentle side of things rather than big bands. I like to keep things as minimal as possible. I don’t know whether that’s because my ears prefer it or – I don’t know – but I don’t tend to listen to a lot of modern pop stuff. It tends to be more country or storytelling through songwriting. I think, for me, it’s more about individual songs that inspire me than people’.
Being an introvert, it is perhaps no surprise to find her musical preferences reflecting a marked sensitivity. It is something to which I can relate. So it doesn’t come as a shock to find that she gravitates towards the lyrics of a song:
‘I’m definitely a lyric writer. That’s definitely my favourite part of writing songs…. Growing up, I always wrote poems and just little things that I had in my head, little rhyming patterns…. I don’t know where that’s come from – whether it’s just sort of inspired by music – but it’s something that grew as I got older. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I should try writing songs’. I wrote my first one and thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I’ll write another’. It wasn’t something where I thought, ‘I’m going to be a songwriter’. It just grew by itself, and I’m glad it did really, because if I didn’t do it that way it would have been forced’.
With such an emphasis on the lyrics, it perhaps makes sense that country music is where she has found her home. But like many of her fellow female country artists breaking through at present, she doesn’t feel tied to a generic formula. One only needs to check out her Sunday Acoustics on YouTube to see that she draws from a much bigger pool of influences. What made her start this semi-regular online feature?
‘It was a way to push myself to learn new songs, how other people write, learning lyrics fast…, pushing my playing as well, just being able to pick up things. It really did help. You’d probably see a difference [between] the start of the year on my guitar and now on some of the covers. [I’ve also learnt] how to mix, how to edit, those sorts of things…. But it’s been really fun, and the audience have been so supportive. Even when I’ve not been posting, people have still been subscribing and that’s been amazing to know that all that I’ve done in the last year has led to that. So I hope that I can give back to those people who have recently subscribed very soon with more videos to show that their support hasn’t gone unnoticed.’
It is fair to say that Cale doesn’t rest on her laurels. She is always looking to improve. Listening to her set earlier in the day, it was evident to see the effect that such a commitment to self-development is having on her music. And it seems that she is starting to reap the rewards of this hard work in other ways too. Adding to a growing list of commitments is an ambassadorial role with Belles & Gals, as well as a theatre tour later in the year. How does she feel about become an ambassador for female country music in the UK?
‘They have just been an incredible organisation from day one and have supported me for such a long time. I felt like it was a way that I could work with them and say thank you for all their support and hard work over the last few years…. People come from far and wide for UK country music and I just feel so privileged to be part of that group of people. To be able to say that I’m an ambassador is like a big step for me so hopefully, in the future, with the gigs they put on and the promotion with them, working alongside them, I think the next year is going to be really fun and exciting.’
The sincere gratitude she has as she speaks these words leaves a lasting impression. I get a sense that she still can’t quite believe that it’s happened. Once it’s sunk in however, there is no doubt that she is going to take such a role seriously alongside a burgeoning acting career.
In August, she begins a three month UK tour with Eye of the Storm, ‘a sort of country musical’, as she describes it, produced by Theatr na nÓg. As she explains, the music for it was written by Amy Wadge, with Lisa Wright also having a hand in the soundtrack. Considering the former has worked with the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Ed Sheeran, it is understandable that Cale took the opportunity to have a writing session with her. It seems that theatre has opened up opportunities for her music career. No doubt her music will open up opportunities for her acting career too. Does she envisage doing both, as Wright has chosen to do?
‘I don’t know where the acting’s going to go, I don’t know where the music’s going to go, but I hope that I still get to do them both at this point’
Does she think that doing both is perhaps the most feasible option for an independent artist like herself these days, particularly from a financial point of view?
‘It has been [helpful] up until now. Obviously you can’t guarantee any of the work that you get whether as a musician or an actor. [But up] until now[they’ve] worked alongside each other and the timing has been great because I didn’t have much booked in for August to October so I was able to say yes to the theatre. And I can remember that, if I’m not acting that much, then I can book in a few more gigs depending on what’s happening…. It can get difficult sometimes to juggle both, especially being self-employed. It’s difficult to get mortgages and that sort of boring stuff. There are times where I do get tempted to get a job, earn some decent money, because there isn’t masses of money within the industry unless you’re constantly working or a bit further up – whether you’re signed or with an agent or whatever – so it can get difficult. And there have been moments where I’ve thought I might pack it all in or just do music or just do acting. And then I come back to it and I really love what I do. I don’t think I’d change that. So it’s a case of digging deep and pushing through the difficult times until I sort of come out somewhere.’
Gentleness, mixed with a gritty determination. Add in a large helping of talent and a decent slice of maturity and she has all the ingredients she needs to carve out a successful career in an oft-uncertain, sometimes ruthless industry.
In one sense, I wonder whether she hasn’t already left her mark. Success isn’t always measured in pounds or followers, No.1 hits or likes. Given our conversation is happening in Mental Health Awareness Week, I end by asking her about her journey through anorexia. It is an experience that she captures so honestly in her song ‘Mirror Mirror’.
‘So I wrote that song when I first started writing…. I had [anorexia] from when I was 15 years old and it was something that maybe… started before then, but that was like the peak of when I was really ill. I think that song was a real personal triumph of like ‘This is what I am’. And I can remind myself that things can get better, that I’ve got this far, and I can push through the difficult times. And as soon as I’d written it and recorded it and obviously sung it a few times at gigs, it sort of felt like it was no longer mine, that it was more like for other people who were going through that journey and, I think, so many people after gigs have come up to me and said…, ‘My daughter’s got anorexia’ or ‘My partner’s got anorexia’. Or personally people will say, ‘I’ve had anorexia for sixty years and I’ve never told anybody’. It really does bring it to the surface: that body image is an issue and it’s something that we can’t shy away from and we need to talk about it. People can die from this. It’s not something that you can just get rid of. It’s not an attention-seeking thing. It’s a real deal and I think if it’s not taken seriously then it can backfire on some people, and I was one of the fortunate ones that had help when I needed it. It’s so important for people to talk about it so they can get the help they need and that’s why I put it out there and tried to push it as far as I could into the world. It’s one of those songs that when I sing it now I almost, it reminds me of the girl that I was but that doesn’t feel like me, if that makes any sense at all.’
It makes perfect sense. And it brings us full circle. Back to that caring and compassionate person whose fierce consideration of others has not gone unnoticed, by either me or, I suspect, those around her. Rosey Cale has the potential to make a significant impact on the world. In one sense, she already has, not least through her music. After spending but short time in her company, my message to her is simple. Keep inspiring. Keep encouraging.
Interview by Gaz Williams