Growing up in the West Village in New York City, Stella Rose remembers riding her bike for the first time on Jane Street. It’s just one picture in a collage of other memories and moments on different city blocks she can still visualize from her 23 years.
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On the slow simmered “Jane,” Rose, daughter of Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan and filmmaker Jennifer Sklias-Gahan, reminisces about what once was, and how the nostalgia of specific places ( or streets) often shifts as the years pass.
Sweet Jane, how could you do me this way, asks Rose, cueing a brooding Nina Simone, and juxtaposing the other eight tracks on her debut Eyes of Glass (KRO Records), from the noisier “Faithful” and the industrialized stomp of “Muddled Man,” through more vulnerable fixtures like “Slowdown” and the closing “Angel.”
Crafting her own mélange of sounds with her band The Dead Language, Rose doesn’t conform to any particular sights or sound on Eyes of Glass, produced by Yves Rothman. Eyes of Glass is walk on the wilder, and sentimental, sides of Rose’s life over the past few years.
Rose recently spoke to American Songwriter about the visual and lyrical ends that made up Eyes of Glass, why she considers herself a writer over a songwriter, and how songs will always “grow” over time.
American Songwriter: How did Eyes of Glass start coming together? Did you have fragments of some of these songs floating around beforehand?
Stella Rose: I think the intention started during lockdown. I picked up the guitar again and started trying to piece together songs. My whole life, I’ve written fragments of different things that come into my head but never really thought about the intention of a song, but since I was stuck in my room for so long, I wanted to experiment with organizing this. That’s why, in my head, I like the idea of being a writer over a songwriter, because I feel like I don’t always really know how to write a song. Sometimes they come together in a weird way. I’m not always great at the structure, but I like piecing stuff together and collaging it. That’s my version of songwriting, now, and maybe in the future, I’ll change. I don’t know. We’ll see.
AS: There isn’t always a “process” to songwriting, but were there some things you learned about the songs as they were fleshing out?
SR: I hope it’s a shared feeling with other people that consider themselves songwriters, or writers, that you don’t really know what you’re doing. The album is made up of a lot of stuff from a lot of different days, and a long period of time, but it’s around the same feeling. I didn’t really know that until listening to it now, because you don’t really know what you’re going through when you’re going through it.
AS: Eyes of Glass is clearly a culmination of different experiences, and sonic spaces that you ended up entering over the past few years. Were there some threads you began unraveling between the nine tracks?
SR: When I was experiencing the stuff that ended up becoming the songs, it was very focused on a relationship, a circumstance that was going on in my life, and it was very literal. Now when I look at it, I see more of these universal symbols of things you feel. Because of my age, I think the easy stuff to talk about is people you’re dating, or things you’re experienced, or who did this to you, or how you felt about this, so they’re not as philosophical. Now, when I listen to the album, especially with certain songs like “Angel” or “Slowdown,” I’m hearing them in a different way. It’s just like a reminder that everything’s fine. You don’t have to go in all these different directions, or be this or be that. You can take a second and accept where you are right now.
AS: Eyes of Glass is fitted around some nostalgia, and longing, and “Jane” is one of the more sentimental tracks. Why is this a particularly poignant song for you?
SR: I grew up on Jane and Washington [Streets] in the West Village, and I was spending a lot of time over there again. There’s a cafe, La Bonbonniere, an old diner that’s still there, and [the deli] Bonsignour is on Jane Street, so I was spending a lot of time within those blocks. The song (“Jane”) is pretty literal to my experience there. I talk about 12th Street and walking down Charles Street. “Jane” is about a street that I grew up on, and fighting the fact that it’s not going to always be this precious place. You might experience other stuff later in your life on that block that is going to alter the nostalgia of it. It’s a weird fight with protecting childhood memories with things that you’re going to experience later on.
I still live in New York, so it’s weird experiencing new things as an older person on blocks where I grew up and having specific memories there. It’s not this place or hometown that I go back to later in my life. It’s where I rode a bike for the first time, or whatever. It’s still evolving in the same way that the album can evolve. The streets, they don’t really care if you had a nice memory.
That’s the whole thing with New York. Each street is special to different people in different ways.
AS: Listening to Eyes of Glass, you can feel the angst and confusion, and then there are more tender moments on a song like “Slowdown” and “Jane.” Were those some of the intentional waves you wanted to set on the album?
SR: It’s definitely a story. Sometimes singular songs can give you an effect for that one feeling, but it doesn’t really give the full picture of what the artist is trying to express. I’ve always been like an album listener—and it being one album for a couple of months that I’m totally immersed in. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Deftones. I used to listen to them when I was in high school, but I feel like they’re resurfacing, so I’ve dived back in. I’ll keep listening to the same album until it serves me. I think the album [Eyes of Glass] represents waves of feelings that you have around experiencing stuff. It’s centered more around relationship stuff and “who are you” and “what am I doing?” Then, there’s a comedown and some serenity.
I was trying to honor that with the album. You don’t have to be angry all the time, and it’s okay if you are angry. Then you find acceptance, and you can move on. It’s okay to sort of fluctuate between those feelings. That’s why releasing “Muddled Man” first and then “Angel” was important to me because I really wanted to honor those two different sides of the scale. It’s not just one thing, ever.
AS: You always have to evolve, and years from now some songs may mean something different to you, and to other people. That’s the beauty of music.
SR: I’m excited to see how people feel, now seeing the whole picture. On the album, there are definitely some slower, more intimate songs that many people aren’t aware of, and that’s part of the story for this album. It’s not all intense, screamy heavy rock songs. There is diversity in this. I’m a really intense person, but there’s levity in there, too.
AS: Did any of these songs transform from the time you were writing and demoing them to when you took them into the studio?
SR: “Muddled Man” transformed the most, When I initially wrote it on guitar, it didn’t have any intense drums, like Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ gothic kind of force in it. It just started off as a guitar song. I was actually reading Flea’s book [Acid for the Children] while I was writing that song, and I definitely stole a lot of these weird phrasings that he wrote in the book. … It’s become its own meaning to me now. It doesn’t have to be so literal. Sometimes I like lyrics and songs that I don’t fully understand, but I like how it fits together. I think David Bowie used to write a bunch of weird words, cut them up, put them in a hat, then collage them together.
Sometimes that’s the beauty of songwriting. Sometimes it can sound really good putting unlikely words next to each other. It creates its own meaning once it’s together.
AS: I think William S. Burroughs was the first to pioneer that “cut up” method. I’ve been meaning to experiment with it myself.
SR: I do a lot of blackout poems. It can be something from The New York Times or a book you’re reading. I literally take a Sharpie [marker] and black out a bunch of stuff, and then it becomes a poem. It’s a fun experiment just to see what words pop out to you and what they mean after you put them together outside of the original context. It’s a fun exercise when you may be having writer’s block.
I’m definitely a physical person. I like to write in a notebook. Even when I worked with Yves [Rothman], I brought reference books of Renaissance paintings. I got very intense about it because I’m a very visual person. I wanted everyone else that was playing on the record to get where I was coming from, so putting an image in everyone’s head helps. From there, you can take it in whatever creative direction you want to, and the initial imagery is connected.
AS: It’s fascinating how visuals can sometimes be the ultimate inspiration, or link, to words.
SR: Yes! My mother is a writer. She’s not militant, but she does morning pages every single day. She does it in not-so-neat handwriting, so people can’t read it—since everyone in my family is pretty nosy. I think that made a huge impression on me as a kid. It seemed kind of magical what she was doing, and it was really just for her. It’s a nice, ritualistic thing to do. My brother, he’s a filmmaker and a writer too, so there’s a lot of creativity in my household, which can be a little intense and intimidating, sometimes—but more inspiring.
AS: Since this is your first album, what have you learned from the entire process?
SR: When I wrote all of the songs two years ago, or maybe a little further back, I feel like I was a totally different person. I’m 23, and 20 to 23 is like moving in huge leaps and bounds. I can imagine that it’s gonna be even more intense going forward. For where I am right now, I’ve learned that if you have a song that is strong, you hope that it can evolve with you going forward. You don’t have to get stuck in what the original meaning or intention behind it was before.
As a songwriter and artist, I’m learning that you have the power to evolve with your music and change what it means for you when you’re performing it, putting it out, or listening to it later. It’s kind of beautiful and also a relief that you don’t have to remain in that one place where you initially wrote it. You can move forward, and you can let go and let other people decide what it means for them, too.
Photo by Matt Licari / Tell All Your Friends PR