On the face of it there's little which links Brian Wilson, Mose Allison, Lorde and John Lydon, but probe deeper and you'll find it's a motley ensemble that do have one thing in common. The one thing that can lead to cancelled tours and, in some extreme cases, even addiction. In fact, there's a decent chance you might have experienced this one thing at some point or other yourself: we are, of course, talking about stage fright.
Bo Rocha first took up piano at the age of four, but unthinkably, almost fell out of music completely such was the extent of her performance anxiety. "I sang from quite a young age and I trained classically as a teenager. I then went to a music school and did that whole world before falling out of love with it late on in my teens. I started getting really awful stage fright which I basically couldn't get over and had to quit. It was a shame because music has always been my thing. It's always been a big part of my life, but I'd never written any songs until I left Uni a couple of years ago. So yeah, it's weird, if you told me five years ago that I'd be writing and producing, I'd have said you were lying."
It's been said that Joan Didion made anxiety beautiful and so it seems apposite that Bo's debut 'Ever Green' EP takes its title from a passage found in one of the writers' books. Scheduled for release mid-November, the four track teaser is dense with jittery rhythms, brooding textures and abstract lyrics. There's a pop confidence, but also an ethereal, avant-rap eccentricity somewhere along the lines of Lana Del Rey's psychedelic noir being filtered through a Yeezus prism. For Bo, the intention was always to try and strike upon a nerve of abrasion.
"One of my favourite things to do is write beats, so I listen to quite a lot of hip-hop. Lately I've been listening to lo-fi stuff and artists such as clipping., Death Grips and just generally that sort of harder, harsher brand of hip-hop. In some of it there's a lot of almost industrial-sounding samples. I also like that kind of lo-fi fuzziness of Tame Impala and '60s psychedelia. A lot of the funky guitars and some of the bass lines have a shit load of distortion, so I was trying to come from that world rather than a sheened pop sound – which was the opposite I was after. I produced 90% of it. I had a couple of friends that I took the recording to and they helped me ramp it up with a couple of extra ideas. It's nice to have an outside perspective on it because after being sat away for so long I sort of lost my mind a little bit."
The single major theme which connects the four tracks is the idea of the fight or flight response, or, in the words of Bo: "It's about independence and co-dependency, agency and ambition. All our fears and possibilities ultimately come down to fight or flight. Should I, shouldn't I, and do I have any right to?"
It was after recording opening track Tangerine Flake a year ago that the singer quickly fell into a correlative working pattern. "The songs weave into a narrative and follow on from each other, so I wrote them in quick succession. The last one I only finished six months ago." Again, Bo sought inspiration from the literary world, this time consulting Tom Wolfe's 1965 collection of essays, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.
"I liked the idea of this whole culture where men imprinted their fantasies about what their masculinity meant onto these muscle cars and how they'd make them crazy colours with go faster stripes. It was that idea of creating something and making it really colourful and your own and then sending it out into the world which I thought was really cool. After writing that track the sound came together and I felt like I was writing better stuff. I used it as a metaphor for self-creation."
Bo recently played her first ever gig and, if Twitter reports of the night were anything to go by, proved in the process that her stage fright terrors are firmly confined to the past. It's just as well, because with recent Radio 1 airplay also under her belt, it seems inevitable that the shows from herein are only going to get bigger. "This project and this EP in particular feels so personal and it's weird that anyone would relate to it or even listen. It would be great to play some bigger shows and festivals and I hope by this time next year I'll have the workings of the album." When it comes to fight or flight, there's no doubt Bo Rocha embodies the former.
WHAT: Crystalline pop with an R&B twist
GET 3 SONGS: 'Tangerine Flake', 'Live Fast Or Die', 'Angel Eyes'
FACT: 'Live Fast Or Die' was written as a "pep talk" to herself.
- - -
- - -
Words: Graeme Campbell