Roxanne Tataei’s musical journey began in church, encouraged by the choirmaster (“He’d make me go at the forefront [to sing] every week and I’d be shaking… It was the best thing that he could have done”). Primary school performances soon led to tours around England with the National Youth Music Theatre, which she describes as a “grounding” experience, before putting it all to the side in favour of writing her own music and experimenting with sounds.
Following an extended trip to Mexico she formed an acoustic jazz trio and gigged around London, which brought the A&Rs her way. Then last year, in stepped Rough Trade records and ROX‘s solo quest began. “I’ve always sort of known I wanted to do music,” the half Iranian, half Jamaican South Londoner tells me. “I just didn’t know what I wanted to do in it. As I got to 16 I was like, ‘I wanna be a singer songwriter’, and I went with it from there.”
2009 has been a pivotal year in the 21 year old’s career: namely consisting of the intense process of writing and recording her debut album, Memoirs, in London and New York with some priceless media endorsements inbetween. In her words, the year has been about “showing people that I’m here and I’m ready to do my thing.”
Luckily for her, all the right people already seem to know.
As the year draws to a close, ROX already has a bagful of accolades and co-signs; from performing on Later… With Jools Holland (“I watched since I was really young and I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna be on that show’ and when it finally came I didn’t really know what to do… and Annie Lennox was bubbling to my tune, it was really weird!”) to touring with Mark Ronson and being favourably ranked on endless 2010 breakout artist lists.
“I’m getting so much support from people and it’s so lovely to have,” she gushes, “because when you’re making it you never know what’s gonna happen. Everyone around you telling you it’s great – your family love it – but you never know what’s gonna happen when you release your baby.”
Due in Spring 2010, Memoirs was produced partly in New Jersey by Commissioner Gordon [Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse – Frank] and the rest in London by Al Shux, hailed for his work on Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 anthem, “Empire State Of Mind” and “High Definition” on Lupe Fiasco‘s sophomore album.
The album was written over a period of two years chronicling a romantic rollercoaster of emotion. “I’ve been through a bit of heartache, leaving someone, then I found my new love… I just hope for people to connect with it,” she says. From the sounds of it, we can expect a variety of influences on the record with songs that dance across several genres – some “full of screeching organs and gospel choruses” with others more “stripped down and delicate… vulnerable in some ways”. She adds, “I hope it takes people on the journey that I went on.”
Citing her four staple musical influences as Lauryn Hill, Sade, Joni Mitchell and Mary J Blige, her listening highlights of the past decade have included Q-Tip (“The Renaissance is one of the best hip hop albums I’ve heard in a while”), Common and John Mayer. ROX’s taste in music swoops above and beyond one or two obvious genres – as does the music she makes: “I was fortunate enough to be brought up with such a vast musical knowledge,” she explains. “I went to church and I got with gospel, country music, then to reggae, to hip hop, to folk music – and as long as I can reflect that in my music, you can call me what you want.”
She’s referring to lazy comparisons to artists she doesn’t particularly resemble. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been referred to Amy Winehouse or Duffy. I’m not offended by that because Amy’s amazing at what she does – but she didn’t create soul and I think that’s the important thing to remember,” she says, smiling.
“I think whatever you do you’re always going to be pigeonholed – whether you’re black, you’re white, you’re Indian or whatever. What I try to do is focus less upon that and focus on myself. I don’t believe I make black music, I don’t think I make white music, I think I make my music.”
Rox is set to release her debut album, Memoirs, in Spring 2010 on Rough Trade. She performs live at Dingwalls, London on January 26th 2010 [click for tickets + info].