Few stars in the Northern Irish music scene are burning as brightly as ROE right now. One of the most exciting emerging talents of the last year, 18 year old Roisin Donald has already made a big name for herself. Every time we stop to write about her, there’s a new list of career highlights to ponder over. We excitedly premiered her ‘You Call It Art’ EP in June but since then she’s played BBC Introducing at Glastonbury, taken a trip to Germany’s Reeperbahn Festival and is just back from a UK tour. Oh, and any Montreal readers, she’ll be hitting the stage there this weekend for a first Transatlantic performance. Her most recent release ‘Playground Fights’ takes her polished, electronic sound, her emotion and heart, and gives it all an even bigger atmosphere.
Aaron Cunningham spoke to her about her recent UK tour, working with her label Fictive Kin and Help Musicians NI and the development of her incredible sound.
All photos by Conor Kerr Photography
►Do you have a favourite show from your UK tour?
My favourite show was London. We played two shows in London, one in The Old Queen’s Head, and then in somebody’s house in Brixton. We got there and helped set up the fairy lights, there was a campfire outside and everything. I was playing stripped back, just an electric guitar and me, with no mic. It was nice just to be able to walk about. People were just sitting down and listening to it. It wasn’t even the biggest show but it was cool to be there and play to people that are there to listen to you.
I was playing a Sofar sessions in Oxford on Halloween and I decided to dress up and none of the other acts did. I landed there and I was the only one in a costume, and it was amazing.
►What was the whole touring experience like?
It was unbelievable and now we’re unbelievably tired. It was really cool getting to meet so many different people. Like Drew who was supporting me in Leeds. He was amazing but he lives in London so we got chatting to him and he came down to the London show, just to be there and to chat. It was nice because we got to meet up with people that we already knew as well. The shows were just incredible. It’s nice to see that people appreciate what I write in other places as well.
►Did you need to adjust to playing multiple shows?
Yea, like halfway through the tour I had to adjust my voice because I could feel it going. I had to pick up loads of throat lozenges and just try to take it easy for a few shows. And then it was just getting used to being out late, getting up early in the morning and having to always be on it. But it was really cool and I wouldn’t have changed it. We just ate so much bad food, so I’d maybe change that.
►You’ve had a very successful year, has there been a particular highlight from it?
Glastonbury would be one… And Reeperbahn, and Hard Working Class Heroes. And just getting to play outside of Derry and being able to meet loads of people. I love playing festivals, I only played my first few festivals this year and they were incredible, I just want to tour forever.
►You’ve been working with Help Musicians NI as part of 3:3 programme, how has that been?
It has been good. They’ve guided us in stuff like PR, Jeff Robinson came in and had a whole big talk, and CMU’s Chris Cooke. We’re slowly getting to be more informed about what’s happening in the industry and they’re helping us get to the festivals. They’ve just been class and really supportive of everything that we’re doing and giving us guidance on what to do. And there’s still two years left, I’m excited.
►What do you think is the importance of organisations like Help Musicians?
Without them, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am at the minute, it’s pushed us to be on it all the time in what we’re doing. It’s helped us focus more on what we need to do. If everybody had that then everybody would get to where they want to be. They’re really good with mental health stuff as well. They’re good with helping musicians because they know their thought process and they know how it works. They know that musicians maybe don’t have it as easy as other professions do. It’s important to have charities like Help Musicians to make the musicians see that they’re not on their own.
►What about your label, Fictive Kin?
It’s all going good. We have a few more releases planned, something bigger next year. We’re back in the studio over Christmas and just trying to get as much done as possible. We just want to be out there with everything because getting Glastonbury and stuff like that helped me be where I am but it means that my songs have taken a backseat. We only have four songs out at the minute when there should be more. I think our main goal is to put more out there.
►Do you think you’ll find time for a break?
Eventually… I’m always writing so there’s not really a break ever. But I like it, I wouldn’t change it.
►Before Fictive Kin and the You Call It Art EP, you had a previous release with a pretty different sound. Has the progression since then been intentional?
When me and Liam [of Fictive Kin] were working on the first EP, we didn’t really know the sound that we wanted to go for and we realised that we liked the same stuff. We were listening to loads of fuzzy guitars, synths and just got mesmerized by the whole electronic genre. I’m really happy with the direction that we’re going with now. I think with the old sound I would have needed a band but going down the electronic route I can do everything myself. There’s a lot of weird sounds that we can mess around with.
►Has having those extra tools at your fingertips changed the way you write?
The first EP was all written on an acoustic guitar, whenever I got an electric that changed completely. I think the actual lyrics and stuff like that, I still like to tell stories and that’s continued to carry on. It’s just working on it and getting better at it.
►You’ve not afraid of raw emotion on the likes of ‘Playground Fights’, are you drawing from personal experience as well?
I’m 18, so I’m not that old, I don’t think. That song was written about whenever people are going through the processes of getting older, starting secondary school, picking A levels and deciding if you’re going to uni. The thought behind it was this child arguing with the older version of themselves, and saying ‘I don’t want to do that, or work with responsibilities’.
It’s mostly my own experience but I like reading and watching things and writing about what hits home with me. Maybe things might not directly happen to me but I like the stories, so I like to write about them.
►On the single you got to work with strings, and then work with a choir on a live video. Did you have these things in mind when you were working on it?
Me and Liam sat down and knew it was going to be a big production. We knew that it was going to have strings and big sounds in it. It was just incredible to see that happen. I wasn’t mean to be in the studio but I was listening to the string quartet play and it was surreal getting to hear them play on my track. It was the same with the choir video, getting to see all the kids singing back something that I’ve written.
►Are there particular artists that you want to emulate with your career?
We have a really small team at the minute, so it’s nice working with your best friends. I want to keep it like that for as long as possible. We know what each other are thinking, we know the route we want to go down and the goals we want to set. Fictive Kin is like a family.
There’s people like Grimes that self produce themselves and try to keep it all as small as possible. Chance the Rapper does everything himself. Even though I don’t do everything myself, it’s a really small team.
►What are your thoughts on music in Derry at the moment?
It’s growing. There’s a lot of rock and punk, with TOUTS and Cherym. There’s alt rock bands, electronic and everything. It’s pretty broad. It’s nice to be a part of it.
►Do you think you’ll be hitting Derry, or are you looking beyond?
It’s nice to do home shows, and Belfast. But it’s always cool getting to play places that you’ve never played before. I love travelling and that’s one of the reasons I got into music. It would be really cool to keep playing my music in different places, and play everywhere. That’s all I want to do, meet new people, play to new audiences and have the craic.