Rosie Blair (Ballet School) Seizes The Day With “The Dew Lasts An Hour”
Ballet School is completely reinventing pop music with funky Cocteau-esque vocals mixed with Cyndi Lauper power-pop. Not only is their music completely refreshing, but so is lead singer Rosie Blair. The dynamo songstress is fearless in her music but this didn’t happen overnight. After years of putting her dreams on hold and recent tragic loss, Blair has never been so determined to seize the day and make the music she has always wanted to create. With Ballet School’s new album, The Dew Lasts An Hour, this is her chance to shine. We had an inspiring conversation about deriving meaning from even the toughest experiences and the deeper reason she’s fascinated with YouTube makeup tutorials.
by: Shannon Kurlander
Were you always performing and making music as a child?
Rosie Blair: Not in any way that was official. All little girls dance around the bedroom. That was as real as the performing got at that age. I don’t know why, but I never actually received any formal training. I think in one way my parents thought it wasn’t a viable career option. Nobody in my family was a singer,musician or performer…In Northern Ireland it’s not really that common I guess. I didn’t really do anything, in terms of formally becoming a musician, until I left college and I wanted to do something that was really in my heart. I guess before I didn’t really have the courage to do it.
What did you study in college?
I studied photography.
Is photography still a hobby or something you’re pursuing?
Yeah. I think I really changed my whole life when I went to London. I went to art college in London and I met my best friends there. I escaped…you know what it’s like: a provincial kid comes to the big city. It was totally like that Smiths song, London. It was totally like that: gallivanting to London and finally being on my own. I tried to do music projects my whole life but I think it takes a long time to learn how to do it. Nobody really tells you how to do it. You have this need and want to do it and you can’t figure out how to get your music heard…all those formal aspects of being a business person in the music industry.
Speaking of discovery: You have such an interesting vocal quality. When did you learn you could sing like that?
Really, really young. I was always able to sing but I didn’t think that deeply on it…it just wasn’t a reality. I couldn’t say for sure, I just think it’s a personal theory, that a lot of Irish girls are tremendously good singers. I just thought everyone could sing. I remember the girls in my classes all had such beautiful voices.
Then fast-forward: how was Ballet School formed?
It was really a life changing moment. I think about it a lot: how and why it happened. My mother passed away and I was thinking about what I was doing. I was working in web design for BBC, which was my sort of out of college job after working at Subway, and then my mother passed away. During that time of her illness I just really felt how precious time is. I really just wanted to do this thing that I loved my whole life and really do it. I packed up all my stuff and came to Berlin. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course I got there and it was horribly lonely. I decided I was going to find people to play, a manager, and make some well-produced songs. I found Michel and then our manager Jonas, who was a key person who really believed in us and then our other key person Louis, our producer and drummer. The chemical combination of our personalities and abilities were so profoundly correct. Then we got Bella Union, which was my favorite British label- it’s run by Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins…they are one of our biggest influences, so clearly receiving the email from them was a very exciting moment. The signed us and totally invested in the band and then next thing you know Grimes was looking us up. This whole mysterious world opened up. What really happened was you work hard and you just really don’t stop.
Speaking of Bella Union and the Cocteau Twins, what is your favorite song or album?
I really like “Fifty-Fifty Clown” and that’s probably my favorite song but it changes all the time. I obviously love “Pandora (for Cindy)” off the Treasure album. I think it’s a fan favorite even though the Cocteau’s have a certain opinion about the production not being their favorite, but it’s truly very soothing. I think my favorite Cocteau Twins album is Blue Bell Knoll. It changes all the time, like when you have a favorite band you just love them and it will just change all the time. I like Victorialand as well. I really admire the span of their career and the ways in which they developed as a band…and just the sound of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice is just so idiosyncratic and such a profoundly complex technique. It comes to her totally naturally and I admire that. It’s just the rawest incorruptible talent.
Ballet School has such a pop element and I know you also feel very strongly about Madonna. Any other favorite pop icons?
I get so into everybody. Everybody. Madonna is queen of all the queens. I will always be a Madonna fan. She has my total loyalty and total respect. I get into all sorts of different artists in terms of pop…like the other day I was really moved by the Shania Twain story. I totally tweeted Courtney Love- that’s the other thing: Courtney Love is another one of my queens. I always wanted to find a happy balance between Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani. Like a little bit of blood on the glass slipper. Talking about Shania Twain though, both her parents died. This has been a huge thing going on my life because my father passed away and now I’ve been thinking- I’ve never felt so alone or so profoundly confused by life, yet I’m in this situation where I need to be very strong and very sure. I’ve worked a long time to get a record out. It all feels so strange. I was like “how did Shania Twain go through this situation?”
Did the passing of your parents and this sense of how precious time is influence the the title your album,The Dew Lasts An Hour
Totally, 100%. I didn’t know what was going to happen with my father. The record was actually dedicated to my mother because a lot of the songs ended up being about her and the experience of that loss. I felt like I lost my innocence. I got that feeling that I’m not a kid anymore. It’s about facing that. I’m still completely in shock I think. More than ever it taught me that time is precious. It’s the responsibility of an artist to extract meaning from experience. That’s absolutely what we’re trying to do with this record because if you have no meaning, you start to find very dark stuff. You start to wonder “why bother?” You have to fight back.
If someone were to see your recently watched on YouTube, what would they find?
Um, hello! They would find makeup tutorials. I’m addicted to watching makeup tutorials on YouTube…I mean, addicted. Ballet School is like a mission and this is part of my feminism also, but for me I’m really determined to locate merit in girls: how girls interact with girls, amongst their own peers, in their own time, in their own world. I really think the imagination of girls is a really powerful thing and artistically very incredible. I developed this fascination with the mechanism of the online YouTube makeup tutorials, the community. You have girls creating this content, doing looks on their selves, talking it through, sharing with other girls, editing all their own videos and uploading them, and they have created this really intense little world and I think it’s amazing. Maybe people think it’s trite or doesn’t have any purpose, but I really think they’re amazing. I love the ephemeral world of girls and how girls interact with other girls. I think it’s really healthy and beautiful.