Words continued to flow after Alexa Rose released her debut album Medicine for Living in 2019. By spring 2020, during the shutdown, the North Carolina-based singer and songwriter began piecing together her second album and recorded it over five quick sessions. Often writing songs the night before she returned to the studio, Rose reflects on a decade past and a universal urgency to capture the present day on Headwaters (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum).
“I let my whole self into the room and into this record,” says Rose. “And there’s nostalgia, and it’s angry, adventurous, but it’s also gentle. I think I’m really a soft person at my core, but in the past, I’ve felt like I needed to be louder, so I let myself stand up for being more gentle on this record, and that just felt really true to who I actually am as an artist.”
Recorded at Delta Sonic Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, Rose regrouped with her Medicine for Living team, produced by Bruce Watson and mixed by Clay Jones and Matt Ross-Spang along with her previous band of musicians Al Gamble on organ and piano, guitarist Will Sexton, bassist Mark Stuart, drummer George Sluppick.
Recognizing more references to water on the album, Rose worked around Headwaters, the furthest point out, where water merges into tributaries and other bodies. “A lot of the songs are centered on the fluidity of times,” says Rose, who first heard the word headwaters on a study field trip in the Appalachian Mountains.
“I just love the imagery and metaphor of the headwaters being the origin,” says Rose. “The headwaters are the source of the river. It can be a little creek or a tributary or something, but they’re the most important part of the river because they color everything that’s downstream. I was just thinking about what that word meant, and how much water was [mentioned] in the album, and how water feels. It can represent time and the way that time moves inconsistently.”
An intimate narrative on remembrance, regret, and forgiveness, Headwaters plays out around the nostalgic “Clearwater Park” with Rose singing Feels like a ghost town tonight with the paper mill lights burning holes in the cloak of the dark, reflecting on a friendship that went different routes. “People don’t plan to change just like the rain doesn’t plan to change into snow,” says Rose. “The song is about coming to terms with that, and forgiving myself for being the one who changed as well.”
Written during the summer of 2020, “Human” mirrors a feeling of emptiness and helplessness during one of the most turbulent times within the country. Throughout, Headwaters pulses around an exploratory nature of “Big Sky” and a past heartbreak on “Wild Peppermint.”
“I was feeling the humanity and the revolution, and people feeling really stifled and stuck through the pandemic,” says Rose. “I was also reflecting on the last decade of my life and my childhood and feeling really nostalgic, so this record felt a lot more in the moment to me. There’s a bigger range of emotions.”
For the Virginia native now based in Asheville, NC, writing turns on and off like a switch. “Sometimes I’ll go six months without writing and say ‘I’m never going to write again,’” shares Rose, who wrote a large portion of Headwaters during spring 2020 and finished by December.
“I feel more connected to this album for sure, so I hope that translates,” she says. “If there are any goals with the music I make, is that there’s an openness for people to find their own interpretation.”
Rose adds, “I write songs that are really personal to me, but I tend to not be too specific, so it’s possible for people to really see themselves reflected. I think that’s kind of the point. That’s why any of us are out here doing this, hoping that people will see themselves in it, feel something, and feel less alone.”