Last month, JJ Rosa was gearing up to release her upbeat disco-infused single ‘Tonight’ when the Paris terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 130 people. In the aftermath of the attacks, JJ decided to delay the release and issue the ballad ‘Where Is The Mercy’ instead. Ahead of the launch on December 11th, we caught up with JJ to talk ballet, Jimi Hendrix and why she’s donating her proceeds to charity.
How long have you been making music and tell us the history of how you became a musician.
In a way I’ve been involved in music since the day my mum shoved me in to a pair of ballet shoes when I was three. My mum owned a theatre school so I danced in shows for years, which was a great way of helping to build up my confidence on stage. I hated it, mind you! Ballet wasn’t exactly my forte in life, but it definitely opened the door to performing and I appreciate that it’s predominately down to these early years singing Sister Act tunes in the theatre school choir, performing dance routines and singing along to Motown that led me to what I’m doing now.
I started playing piano when I was seven and the first song I learnt was Michael Jackson’s Earth Song. I taught myself by ear because I have absolutely no patience for sight reading, but despite that I went on to take lessons and take all eight classical grades. Not sure how I managed that to be honest! I think I blagged it by learning the pieces by ear and just pretending to read the music, ha!
When I was 14 I became aware of artists like Hendrix and Prince via my dad’s vinyl collection, who inspired me to learn electric guitar. I wanted to break away from piano for a bit and perform songs that I was listening to at the time. I was still listening to my fave singers like Lauryn Hill, Aretha and Whitney, but the electric guitar opened up a whole new musical world.
So those artists are your musical influences?
My influences really vary because I like so many different styles of music! I would definitely say that being brought up listening to Motown and Soul had a really big impact. Then there’s 70s/80s funk and disco music – artists like Donna Summer, especially her records with Giorgio Moroder and Quincy Jones, and also Nile Rodgers and Chic who really opened my ears to funk guitar.
Of course who doesn’t take influence from Michael Jackson somewhere along the line?! For me it’s particularly his work with Quincy Jones, one of my regular go-to points for production ideas.
Jimi Hendrix was, and still is, a bit like my guitar tutor. I never really had a proper lesson, I pretty much taught myself how to play by listening to his records. Prince also became a huge part of this guitar tuition and showed me that you don’t have to pigeon-hole yourself as an artist. It’s okay to have varied influences and styles for different songs that you write, as long as you as a performer can be enough of a thread to pull everything together. An example of this is the way Prince could write and produce a ballad as raw and guitar heavy as ‘Purple Rain’ and then switch to such an electronic song like ‘I Would Die For You’, all on the same album. You still always relate it to being Prince, not as a specific genre as such.
Just to top it off, I really adore a lot of 90s dance, Hip-Hop and RnB. I have always been in love with Lauryn Hill and her album ‘Ex-factor’ was the very first RnB album I ever bought and it’s one of my faves to this day.
Where has been your favourite place and venue to perform in?
The Big Top stage at the Isle of Wight festival at the beginning of this summer was an incredible experience. I also performed at Carnegie Hall in NYC last year as part of a huge Beatles tribute concert. Dionne Warwick, Lulu and Mary Wilson from The Supremes all performed and I sang and played guitar with RnB legend Lloyd Price. That really was an incredible experience.
What are you aiming towards musically?
I don’t know what I’m aiming towards – I’m more about what I’m going to experience along the way. I don’t think as a musician or performer that you ever feel like you’ve reached your goal because you’re always striving to be better!
All musicians dream of having their music heard and appreciated. Ideally not a flash in the pan either – we all dream of longevity. I would love to get to a point where my music is reaching and relating to people all over the world, though before that it’d be nice to just make a living out of doing what I love. As it’s not about physical record sales as much in such a digital world, I think being a great touring and live act is now one of the main things to aim for as a performer.
Tell us about your creative process – are you heavily involved in the album artwork and music videos?
Currently the JJ Rosa creative team is me and my musical/creative partner Jimmy Wood who I’ve been working with for years. It started with Jimmy playing drums for me but then we also began songwriting together as we realised we actually had a good musical connection! I soon discovered that Jim is also a bit of a tech genius as he’s written and produced his own electro music for years, so we soon started to record and produce our own tunes together. We now co-produce all the songs and pretty much co-write everything too, bar a few tunes that I’d already written prior to Jimmy’s involvement as a writer.
Over the past couple of years we’ve also ventured into music video production. For our single ‘Where Is The Mercy’ we wrote, recorded, produced and mixed the song, then the video was shot by Jimmy and edited by us both. So far, pretty much all videos and artwork have been done by us. It’s tiring but you end up with something you feel is truly representing who you are.
We now have our own studio and have recently set up our own official working partnership as CRYOUT Productions.
Tell us about your upcoming music and projects you are working on?
Now our single is done, dusted and ready for release we’re looking at the next batch of material. We’ve got an EP ready to release which we decided to postpone in order to release ‘Where is The Mercy’. The change in schedule was brought about by the Paris attacks, specifically the fact that a music venue was targeted really resonated. ‘Where is the Mercy’ really reflects my feelings so it felt right to put it out as a charity single, not just for Paris victims but in mind of tragedies worldwide, and all proceeds from record sales go to the International Red Cross & Red Crescent Organisation.
Next up we’ll be concentrating on our new tunes, most likely finishing ongoing productions and putting them alongside the EP so we can look at what’s going to be our next single.
What advice would you give to fellow bands starting out in the music industry?
Get out there and gig! It’s the best experience you’ll ever get and you never know who might be watching. Embrace social media as much as possible too – it’s such an effective way of getting yourself heard and seen by the public.
Who are your ones to watch in the music industry?
The very talented JP Cooper is making a real name for himself; a fellow Mancunian who seems to have been on a very similar path to me and who’s also very familiar with the real hard work and grind it takes to get where you need to be in this industry!
And finally, what’s your favourite Madonna song?
This is an absolute no brainer, most definitely ‘Like a Prayer’!