Damn right, I’m upset, Rozzi pronounces with great resolve, articulating centuries-worth of sexism and passive-aggression lobbied at women for simply taking up space. Her song “Mad Man” pressurizes the current moment in under four minutes, an emotional pillar to her brand new EP, Hymn for Tomorrow, signaling that the San Francisco-born and raised artist is a relentless tour de force.
“A lot of the time with songs, I will find that the emotion behind the song is ruminating within me for years,” she says, referencing not only “Mad Man” but a previous entry titled “Uphill Battles” on her 2018 studio record, Bad Together. “There was one specific relationship with somebody I used to work with, who really pushed me over the edge, to write the song. He would get angry, and he would get frustrated. I would respect [those feelings] and give [him] space. But I felt if I was ever frustrated or annoyed or concerned about something that in any way resembled anger, even if it was very subtly resembling anger, his response would be like, ‘You’re intense, you need to relax,’ or ‘you’re being crazy right now.’
“He’s a great person, but I found it to be sexist. I didn’t see him doing that same thing with other men that he worked with,” says Rozzi, speaking candidly with American Songwriter. “Every woman in my life I think has experienced this at some point─feeling like our emotions are too much. When a man is tough, he’s a pistol or a leader. But when a woman is, she’s intense or hysterical.”
“Mad Man,” co-written with peerless songwriting legend Liz Rose, drags along some of the 6/8 dazzle found inside Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” another Rose co-write, but features Rozzi’s tart rasp and vocal tricks. “I wrote [this song] for myself, but I really wrote it for a lot of my friends, too, because I think there’s a lot of people in my life who get angry and are then shamed for it. When really, it’s an emotion that sometimes is very justified. I do not in any way advocate for blind rage, but I do think there are situations where anger is appropriate and being frustrated is the reasonable reaction.”
This conversation rings true for another thorny topic: women being taught, practically since birth, to apologize in most social situations, on- and offline. “I remember my best friend and I going through a phase where we tried to stop ourselves from saying sorry in emails and using exclamation points all the time一and just trying to be super cute and friendly. We realized that it was playing into a certain societal demand of women一to be cute and apologetic一and apologize for taking up space and having any kind of demand. It’s ridiculous. It runs so deeply that I think sometimes you don’t even realize that we’re doing it.”
Such lyrical barbs are taut, wrapped around one another, frequently when a song’s arrangement is stunningly raw and bright to the senses. Opener “How’d You Learn to Lie Like That,” on which Rozzi fractures her vocals, swopping into her head voice, like she’s bending light in her fingertips, keeps an inward-gazing production, magnificent in its simplicity. I’m good at leaving, and that’s what I’ll do, she sings with a twinkle in her eye.
“I prefer to write minimally, most of the time, and let production come in later. Sometimes, production can really inspire songwriting, but I prefer to just write a song and then decide later,” she says. Written with Andrew Hollander, on their first-ever songwriting session, the searing piano ballad takes cues from Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” the opening song and title track to Rey’s 2019 album.
“I always laugh because I just met Andrew, and I came in and read him this poem that I wrote. The first line is: ‘the last thing you said before you vanished was that this was so much more than the sex.’ That’s an extreme lyric to read to a stranger,” she laughs. “He was amazing about it though. He made a very good environment for me to be vulnerable.
“I sang it twice through, and then I left and listened to it on repeat while walking through Times Square to go see the guy that I was writing about, actually. The only thing that changed was we added these New Orleans horns later. We just felt like it was such a raw, vulnerable song that it deserved to really be heard.”
Woven across the next five songs, Rozzi paddles from R&B-tweaked pop (“I Can’t Go to the Party”) to indie, guitar-bound wonder (“If I’m Gonna Love You”), smacking right into the title track, a syncopated vocal dance. Finally, with the closer “Idk,” she dips back into a sparse well, retooling funk rhythms for a beautiful lo-fi confession─a lightning rod moment in which she realizes that, perhaps, she can fall in love and feel safe again. Heartbreak leaves indelible scars, and Rozzi certainly has her share, but it appears she’s risen, as a phoenix often does from charred ash.
As uncomplicated and effortless as the bookend appears, it wasn’t so during the writing and recording process. “I love it for its simplicity, but it wasn’t really a simple experience to write it. I came in with some really stupid idea. I don’t remember what it was. It was something super gimmicky, and we tried for two hours to write the song ─ and it just wasn’t happening,” she recalls of the session with Eric Leva. “Then we went to get some coffee, and on the way back, we were talking and he said, ‘We should write a song called ‘Hope.’ Then, I remember talking about how I’d always had this feeling that maybe I was cursed to only love people who are bad for me─but maybe for the first time in my life, I was experiencing something different. I was experiencing the feeling of having butterflies and feeling really safe with someone.”
The song, written around the time Rozzi started dating actor Alex Wolff, known for such film roles in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Hereditary, among others, initially began as a piano-centric song. “But it felt too cheesy,” Rozzi says. “We changed it to guitar, and then it felt weird, like a totally different genre.”
In suggesting framing the song in Daniel Caesar fashion, they soon arrived upon a loop. Rozzi brought in good friend Bryn Bliska to “play that crazy piano solo at the end. This one took multiple forms before it became what it is, yet it feels like the simplest song on the record. And that’s why I love it so much. It’s just kind of a simple idea ─ and a really hopeful idea. I spent a lot of years of my life feeling like I would never feel totally head over heels in love and feel safe. The sexiest love of all is very safe and secure.”
Rozzi’s Hymn for Tomorrow, out July 30, feels like “my introduction,” she observes. In many ways, she’s quite right. The singer-songwriter began releasing music seven years ago, first “Crazy Ass Bitch,” which came with a remix featuring Kendrick Lamar, and then “Psycho” with Pusha T. More singles emerged in the coming years, culminating in a 2018 record, but on the whole, Rozzi felt she really “had to prove to myself that I was the writer that I felt like I was inside. I was having a hard time trusting my own voice and my own ability to be the driver of my art.
“There was something about setting it free and releasing it that then freed up all this space in me to enjoy being creative,” she says, gazing back upon that previous body of work. “I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove to myself anymore. I just could make the music that I was hearing and trust my instincts and follow them without question.”
So, yes, Hymn for Tomorrow is her proper introduction into the world, a seven-song release lyrically air-tight with some of the best vocal performances of 2021. Even if the world isn’t listening, and they would be silly not to, Rozzi made the album she wanted to make. “The mission statement I made for myself as I made this record was to put my instincts above everybody else’s and not try and please anyone but myself. I feel like I’ve succeeded at that.”