There’s something inherently “classic” in the way Roxanne de Bastion approaches music. Not in creating a facsimile of the past, but with an understanding of storytelling and melody that recalls folk, blues, pop and rock’s most intimate moments.
While this was immediately apparent on her 2017 debut album Heirlooms and Hearsay, the latest run of singles ‘Molecules’, ‘I Remember Everything’ and latest single ‘Ordinary Love’ drive home the timeless songwriting de Bastion is capable of and offers a glimpse into forthcoming, Bernard Butler produced album You & Me, We Are The Same.
But the music itself is just one facet of her work in the music industry. She sits on the Board of Directors at FAC helping independent artists forge careers, started the music conference FM2U and has the weekly ‘The Monday Morning Shakeup’ show on Boogaloo Radio.
In the midst of Brexit turmoil for musicians (and anyone who makes a living from touring, releasing or making it), De Bastion as someone who grew up between the UK and the continent, has her finger on the industry pulse and has dual passports, has some unique personal insights.
When we spoke to her around the release of the previous single ‘ I Remember Everything’ this was the focus of the discussion – what does this all mean for musicians and how does someone with European connections feel about it?
How has growing up between Berlin and the West Midlands shaped your views on the world?
They were two very different experiences. I only lived in the West Midlands from the age of four and eight and in my memory, the time was defined by strict school uniforms and unhappy times at school. I’d always be in trouble for one thing or another (mostly for uniform “violations”, such as a five-year-old ordaining to wear pink socks) and I remember being teased for being foreign, too skinny, too pale. On the upside, I have fond memories of chocolate buttons, ready salted crisps and watching art attack.
When my family moved back to Berlin, it was as if someone had switched the station from black and white to colour. I remember being completely overwhelmed at how different everything felt. I could wear what I wanted to at school and the fact that I came from ‘somewhere else’ seemed to make me more interesting to people, rather than give them a reason to tease. I also remember having to adjust to the fact that teachers wanted us to ask questions and speak up. From my experience in middle England, I was taught to be quiet and take up as little space as possible.
Berlin was a great place to grow up – it’s such a liberal, free city that, despite its size, is still relatively safe and green (it’s the greenest capital in Europe). I am grateful to have had both experiences as growing up in two different cultures gives you a sense of detachment, be that from language, which is particularly useful as a songwriter, or from cultural norms in general.
How do you identify?
I identify as European. I have always struggled with the question “where are you from?”. I happen to have been born in Berlin but come from a family of immigrants (my grandparents fled from Hungary after WWII and landed in Stratford upon Avon in 1947). I feel at home in London, Berlin and Liverpool. Oh, and in Coach A of the Virgin Trains from Euston to Lime Street I suppose…I’ve spent a good chunk of my life there!
Is there anything that you are drawn to about British identity/culture and European culture?
Now, this is just my little theory, but that Victorian, oppressive environment that lots of us grow up in has a beautiful, unintentional side effect: music and self-deprecating humour. What I love about the UK is that every accountant has a Fender stashed away from the time they were in a band. You can walk into a pub in any tiny village and see decent live music. Being in a band is almost a right of passage here and I love that.
What are the similarities?
You know, I’m really struggling to find similarities! I was so culture-shocked when I moved here after school to make music and I know that that sounds bizarre, but whether it’s how we communicate, what day we unpack presents at Christmas, or etiquette around buying drinks…we do everything slightly different here on this little island (I am not a fan of buying rounds, it’s silly).
How did Brexit make you feel?
Uff…how did it make me feel? Heartbroken and angry.
Have you seen a change in Britain over the past five+ years?
My experience now has inevitably been coloured by the pandemic and everything that it brought with it. I do feel like the xenophobia that was such a large part of the Brexit campaign and so rife in our current government, has given validity to abhorrent views and has amplified them. I hope that the pandemic will serve as an accelerator towards a better understanding for one another. At the very least, we are now having conversations, be they about race or misogyny, that we weren’t having just a couple of years ago.
As a musician how has Brexit affected your work and that of others?
I am a holder of two passports, so I won’t be as badly affected as my piers. Having said that, It has already affected my work and we’re not even touring yet. It’s more expensive to buy / ship merchandise outside of the UK. When margins are already tight, that’s an issue.
With regards to touring, as a UK resident, I will now require a “carnet”, which is a very costly piece of paper, listing all gear I’m bringing with me. If I fail to return so much as a drumstick or cable back into the UK, I get fined.
Most importantly, the whole thing is just a mess! We are six months into Brexit and are still waiting on guidance, solutions and support from Government. As it stands, artists and their teams need to deal with each EU member state individually, as they all have different rules with regards to work visas, which is simply not sustainable from both a cost and logistics point of view. The most famous artists with big teams and finance will be fine, but the majority won’t.
What can be done and what needs to be done?
We need freedom of movement for artists. Failing that, we need financial support from our Government. If those things don’t happen, the future for UK music looks bleak.
Why is freedom of movement so important?
Building a career in music is hard. It always has been. Touring freely across Europe is one of the only ways to build a sustainable career. Ed O’Brien said in the press that there would be no Radiohead had they not had the opportunity to tour the festival circuit across Europe. Independent and up and coming artists can find and grow audiences across the continent, improve their craft and break even or make a small profit to reinvest in their art. It’s also not just about money, it’s about the cultural exchange and we, in the UK, lose out just as much if we can’t have European artists gracing our stages.
With technology why is physically crossing borders important for music artists? Can it not all be done remotely now?
I am so grateful for all the technology we have. Live streaming has certainly been a lifeline for me over the past 18 months (I went on a virtual UK tour and did a pay-per-view live stream from Moth Club). However, nothing substitutes live music and being in the same physical space as your audience and collaborators. It is much, much harder to reach a new audience online. It’s possible, but it takes a vast amount of investment, so that is not a level playing field. I built my career by touring across Europe (that includes the UK) with an acoustic guitar and a suitcase, playing in small venues and making real connections. The financial outlay is small and the reward in terms of long-lasting human connection is great.
What is your work with FAC doing in this field?
The FAC has launched a campaign called #LetTheMusicMove, which is an artist-led campaign calling upon the Government to deliver four immediate actions to help avoid an impending crisis. Anyone can help by signing the petition and sharing on socials.
What is ‘I Remember Everything’ about?
The song is inspired by Kim Peek (the real Rain Man). I watched a documentary about him and was fascinated by his story, but mostly by his relationship with his father, who was his carer. Kim, despite not being able to do the simplest of things by himself, would say beautiful things like “my dad and I share a shadow”. That is definitely something I could relate to.
What is next for you?
My album comes out on September 3rd and I’m celebrating with a full band show at London’s Moth Club on October 12th. You can pre-order your copy now (digital / CD / Vinyl / deluxe vinyl) and I can’t wait to see you all at Moth (tickets are on sale now). I’ve also just announced a couple of festival dates in Germany and I’m opening for the very brilliant Nerina Pallot in the UK this October.