Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Spotlight - Bess Rogers

This week brings the solo debut from Bess Rogers to the Sunday Spotlight. If you’re not familiar with Bess’ name, she’s a consummate performer who’s been involved with music since she was a little child, listening to her mother playing harpsichords that her father built, and learning to play them herself at age 6. As she hit her early teens, Bess started writing her own songs, and then went on to study music at SUNY’s Conservatory of Music.

Since then, she’s played guitar for artists such as Jenny Owen Youngs and Ingrid Michaelson, and is a member of the synth-pop band The Age of Rockets. Although she clearly has loads of experience under her belt, Decisions Based on Information is her debut solo work and just came out earlier this month. Its recording started back in 2006 and has continued here and there amongst her other projects.

Bess was kind enough to take the time to talk about Only One, the sixth track on the album. As usual, writing in red is hers and questions in black are mine.


Only One was one of the first songs on my record to be recorded and actually the last to be finished writing-wise. I had written the chords and melody and had the line "see you're the only one like me", but for the duration of the recording process my producer and I had to listen to most of the song with "doo doo doo's" instead of lyrics. Those "doo doo doo's" actually hold a very special place in my heart. When we were flushing out the song, I recorded scratch guitar and vocals to use as a reference. But when we went back to it a few days later, something got messed up with the sampling rate. The result was that my vocals remained the same in speed and pitch but the sound of my voice was dramatically lowered so I sounded like a drunk transvestite singing these bizarre sultry "doo doo doo's". It was hilarious! And it stayed that way until we recorded final vocals, almost a year later. We both became so attached to them that we even considered, for a brief second, leaving it that way. Then, luckily, we realized we had been in the studio for way too long and were probably just going insane.

But on a serious note, this song is one of my favorites on the record and was really fun to record. The melatron sound in the beginning of the song is actually me playing the flute. I have been playing the flute since 4th grade and to Dan Romer's (producer) and my delight, I have not gotten much better since then. The result is that when quadrupled and low-fi'd, my flute playing sounds a lot like a melatron (that Strawberry Fields sound) but somehow different. The part that the flutes are playing is basically exactly what I was playing on guitar. We transcribed it all and I played each note individually and on separate tracks so it would have more of a carnival calliope sound to it.

I got the idea of the song from something that I think about quite often and it always boggles my mind a bit: the fact that when I and someone else are looking at the color red, I really have no idea and never will have any idea whether or not that person is seeing the same red as me. Or whether I see a completely different color than the rest of the world does. You can pretty much apply that to everything, including relationships with people and that's what this song is about. There's a bit of denial involved when you say that you've found someone who is exactly like you, because you can never get completely into someone else's head. That's where lines like, "bending my mind to see you're the only one like me" came from. You have to play pretend a little bit and you're probably better off for it in the end.

And now for a few questions for Bess:

1.) Is this song (Only One) biographical at all? Is there a particular person you are thinking of when singing about "bending your mind?"

This song wasn't written about a specific person - but it does deal with a specific feeling that I have experienced in my life. I think, at times, everyone has that sinking feeling that they are essentially alone in life and I wanted to express that in a way that other people could relate to. Expressing that theme through a relationship allows the listener to put themselves in those shoes... I hope!

2.) This album was put together over the last few years in pieces when you were able to get into the studio. Do you see yourself shifting your focus to your solo career with this album under your belt or will you continue to primarily work with your band (The Age of Rockets) and other artists?

My focus has always been my solo career and will continue to be. I play seriously in 3 other bands aside from my own and they are all very important to me. But the thing I work the hardest on and consider the most vital is my own music/career. I really enjoy playing in all of the bands that I do and would love to multi-task like this forever, although I think it will eventually become impossible. I'm just doing my best not to think about that right now and enjoy the ride.

3.) Visually speaking, the packaging of the album and your picture on the front is very librarianish. Should we assume that you’re an avid reader as well as music-maker? What’s next to your bed right now that you’re reading?

I would really like to answer that question in the affirmative... but unfortunately I can't consider myself an avid reader. I love to read but I just find I don't have enough time in the day to do it as much as I'd like to. The only time I really have to read is on the subway. (If I read on the road I will throw up in the car!) But right now I am (slowly) reading South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami.


I think what I love most about this song, and the album in general is its philosophical turning of the world on its side, its approach to such common subjects as love in a manner quite out of the ordinary. As a whole, the album covers a wide range of musical ground, and one gets the feeling that Bess perhaps is trying to define her work as her own, as opposed to the music she’s been a part of working with others.

Although a guitarist, this album is certainly not an album revolving around her guitar playing. There’s an eclectic exploration here of sounds employing a wide range of instruments, but never are they the centerpiece of the songs. Instead, you’ll find yourself focusing on Bess’ voice and lyrics. Even the style and feel of the songs varies from alt-country to alt-waltz, and everything in between.

Bess Rogers - I Would Never : Decisions Based On Information

Bess Rogers - Only One : Decisions Based On Information

Visit her website and become her friend on MySpace.

Upcoming tour dates

04/22 Somerville, MA @ Johnny D’s
04/24 New York, NY @ National Underground
05/06 Brooklyn, New York @ Luna Lounge
06/13 Providence, RI @ Brooklyn Tea and Coffee


Ingrid Michaelson - The Way I Am : Girls and Boys

Jenny Owen Youngs - Drinking Song : Batten the Hatches

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