At the end 2013 Rose Cousins reached a limit she didn’t know existed. Fearing burnout after years of constant touring she made a deliberate decision, barring a select few shows, to stop touring and focus on other creative avenues.
Her goal was to connect with artists, writers, and producers to make songs in new ways, new sounds with new people, not knowing where they would go and not needing to. Her catalogue and perspective expanded, and in that time her new album, Natural Conclusion, was conceived.
A long time film photographer, she spent time shooting, developing film, and printing photos using the dark room at the NS School of Art and Design. She also held a deep desire to develop skills in co-writing, so she began in Nashville the fall of 2014. From then, and throughout the following year, she traveled to Los Angeles, Nashville, Toronto, Ireland, and Boston where her focused creative time yielded dozens of songs, photographs, relationships, and a much needed change of pace.
“It is liberating to spend a year making music that isn’t billed for me as an artist. Some for film, TV, or even for someone else to sing. Freeing to walk into a room as a writer. To wake up, have a morning, meet people, make something that didn’t exist, and get to bed at a decent time. Read more books. Creating feels like a good use of my time and this is the first time I’ve ever allowed it to be my focus, counterintuitive considering songs are what my career is built on. Songs and photographs have always explained better, what I mean and how I feel.”
Album opener Chosen appeared in January of 2015 while on a writing trip to LA.
“I was having a solo introspective morning, attempting to sort a particular feeling. Looking for inner confidence and reassurance to move forward with what I’d set out to do personally and professionally. I think it’s hard to be alive without accepting that there are always questions in the passenger seat. We wish but can’t ever know for sure how things will work out and that can feel uncomfortable and risky. The song reflects an honest and raw moment from inside this questioning and was the spark that made me think I could make another record.”
The process had begun. In May 2015 at a writing camp in Nashville, Cousins was grouped with Andrew Combs, a solo artist and great writer, and Jeff Bowman, a producer and writer.
“We were given a brief which said ‘Genre: bluesy rock, roots rock, Americana. Production: slow to mid-tempo, dark, something hard hitting with attitude. Theme: everything has gone to shit.’” From that session came Chains. “Afterward I wondered if I could pull that song off in a live show so I’m excited to have it on my record.”
Later that year, while in Nashville, Cousins was paired with writer KS Rhoads, and the two combined to pen the spacious White Flag.
“We started experimenting with piano melodies and what it’s like when you lose someone and you’re left in the space where you once were together, alone. KS is an amazing multi-instrumentalist and the song came together fairly fast. It resonates deeply, both personally and universally.”
Grace and Freedom came in close succession while on an annual writing trip to an island in New Hampshire. “Freedom is a wreckoning. Even if you get what you want, you have to lose something to get it.”
To finish Grace Cousins enlisted Mark Erelli, a good friend and accomplished singer / songwriter who also happened to be on the island. “I knew he would understand and add what I hoped for this song.”
Nearing the end of the year, Cousins knew she needed to pull the trigger on a plan for her new collection of songs. She asked Grammy Award winning producer, Joe Henry, whom she had befriended in 2012, to help her make Natural Conclusion.
“Joe is a poet, a thoughtful, contemplative writer. That poetry and thoughtfulness transfers to his approach in production. It’s about the right life for the song and the right musicians to make that happen.”
Cousins and Henry gathered trusted musicians from each other’s camps to convene in Toronto. Henry brought longtime collaborators from Los Angeles – Engineer Ryan Freeland, drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist David Piltch who collectively worked on many notable projects (Bonnie Raitt, Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint, Billy Bragg). Cousins invited Toronto pianist Aaron Davis (Holly Cole, Jane Siberry) and guitar player Gord Tough (Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer); touring mates Asa Brosius (Anais Mitchell, Heavy Blinkers) from Halifax on pedal/lap steel & dobro and Zachariah Hickman (Josh Ritter, Ray Lamontagne) from Boston on bass; friend and fellow PEIslander violin/violist Kinley Dowling (Hey Rosetta!) added strings and joined the choir that also included Hickman and longtime friends Jill Barber, Caroline Brookes (Good Lovelies), and Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers).
On preparing for the recording process, “My goal was to be wide open emotionally. This band created a space for me to rise as a musician yet let me lead. Ultimately this is a record of performances, the moment, raw, vulnerable, and real. I suppose not unlike the subject matter within.”
The final couple of songs came in February 2016 as the recording date drew near. An old friend, Ryan Roberts, with whom Cousins had been disconnected for 5 years, brought her the guts of Lock & Key.
“He left me with the lyrics, I wrote new music and reworked some words. This song is what it feels like to have an undeniable and sometimes torturous draw to someone and I think he and I really understood that. I approached the music very much with Joe Henry’s production in mind, how it would lend to the aesthetic of the band we hired. I like how it’s a small foray into jazziness and it is very freeing to play. Feels sophisticated.”
Tender is the Man was the final track to surface in the writing a process, which investigates the intricacies of feelings and masculinity.
“Perhaps because I’m a musician I’m connected to more men who are able and willing to talk about their feelings and desires in life and love. Society unfairly depicts tenderness in men as weakness. Human desire is genderless. I wanted to figure out how to shine a soft light or reminder of permission on this. I’m also trying to give myself permission to be vulnerable in these desires.”
Natural Conclusion is an album Cousins calls “the most honest and vulnerable thing” she has made to date.
“Ultimately, a life consists of many relationships, some chosen and some assigned, each playing different roles on a subjective, expansive spectrum of success and failure. We choose, we are chosen, we are left, we leave, we stay anyway, we grieve, judge and empathize, relinquish, atone alone, keep and let go. Each relationship will come to its Natural Conclusion.”
Rose Cousins will perform at the Joshua Bates Centre in Athens on Saturday September 16th at 7:30 PM. Tickets here!