Eliza Rose isn’t your typical commercial DJ: “I am doing everything with the intention of pushing underground music”
DJ, producer and singer-songwriter Eliza Rose ruled the summer last year with her breakout hit ‘B.O.T.A,’ which scored her a number one on the UK charts. Now HUNGER's Digital Cover star is entering the next evolution of her career, and she’s here to tell us all about it.
Dalston raised Eliza Rose embodies the pure joy, surrealism and escapism of the rave. Not only does she display this through her music but her vibrant, magnetic personality and penchant for outlandish fashion. Raving led the 31-year-old to embrace her individuality and provided a crucial outlet for self-expression ever since she was a teenager. It’s where she feels most at home, so much so that she snuck off into the shadows and away from Kendrick Lamar’s headlining gig to watch Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric blair out some techno instead.
It’s no surprise then that Rose’s music itself is soundtracking raves across the globe, including Australia, where she’s currently joining me from via Zoom. The DJ, producer, and singer-songwriter is currently embarking on her own tour down under, and it’s a testament to the astronomical rise she’s had over the past year. As you may know, Rose’s breakout hit ‘B.O.T.A (Baddest Of Them All)’ was one of the most successful tracks to come out of the UK last year and took the artist all the way to the top of the charts – making Rose the first woman DJ to hit number one since Sonique in 2002. It was undoubtedly the song of the summer, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear it blasting out of passing cars, inside stores and, of course, in just about every rave in the country.
Rose’s first musical experience came when she played the clarinet in a music programme in Hackney, and eventually, she began to pursue singing. Her vocal style embraces her love for jazz and soul, bringing them into the modern era over Rose’s typically lush production. And now that Rose’s star is seemingly ever-growing, she’s looking to enter a new era of musical experimentation off the back of ‘B.O.T.A,’ which she gave fans a taste of with her latest single, ‘Better Love.’ On the bouncy cut, Rose’s vocals are as glossy as ever and bursting with confidence and personality. It’s another summertime anthem, but as the talent says herself, displaying a more complex writing style to that of ‘B.O.T.A.,’ something she’s hoping to explore even further as her career progresses.
A career in the arts was a no-brainer for Rose, she tells me if it wasn’t music it would’ve been writing or acting, but luckily, she doesn’t even have to think about that now. Following her tour in Australia, she’ll be kicking off her European tour once more before embarking on a festival run which will see her take the stages of Parklife and Glastonbury, just to name a few. Although it may seem like Rose’s career has only just begun, she’s been pursuing music for over a decade, and now her extreme dedication to the craft is paying off in ways she could never imagine. Nevertheless, Rose is still that same girl who grew up in East London, her charm and relatability still intact, and it seems as though it will remain that way no matter how far her career takes her. Here, HUNGER speaks with Rose to discuss her evolution from ‘B.O.T.A’ to now, her love for the nineties and why fashion means so much to her.
When was the first point in your life that you realised music was something you wanted to pursue?
Eliza Rose: I started thinking about doing it probably when I was about 15, not necessarily as a career, but thinking that I wanted to have music as part of my life. Around my GCSEs, I began thinking about it, and I’d always gone to things like choir. There was a really good programme in Hackney called CYM. I can’t actually remember what it stands for, but you’d learn instruments. I was on the clarinet, and I was absolutely shit, but I loved the singing. I had a brilliant teacher, who I’m still in touch with and good friends with now called James, and he really encouraged me with my singing and gave me confidence. I don’t think I would’ve gotten into singing if I didn’t have him as a teacher.
What music did you grow up around?
Eliza Rose: My parents aren’t particularly musical. I got into music by myself. They’re both very creative; my Dad and Mum were actors, went on to plays, and had their own little amateur drama club in Chats Palace – an iconic little place in Homerton. I always had creativity around me, but music wasn’t a major part. And I think part of me getting into music was my way of saying I want to stay in this creative field, but I don’t want to do it with my Mum and Dad. Then a series of events just led music to become more involved with my life.
Was there any other path for you other than music?
Eliza Rose: A writer. I love writing. I might have gone down an acting path. If I really couldn’t sing for shit, maybe I would’ve done that. I always wanted to do something creative. If it wasn’t music, it would’ve been in the arts.
You DJ, you sing, you produce. Was there ever a point where you just wanted to do one of those things, or have you always been interested in doing it all?
Eliza Rose: My saying is many streams lead to the same river. I feel like all of these little things can get you to your ultimate goal. The more that you do is always beneficial. I’ve never been someone that thinks you have to do one thing. I think you can do everything basically. It might take you a while to get there, but I’m just a real believer in the notion that you’re not just a DJ or you’re just a producer. I might want to get into acting in 10 years; maybe I want to open up a record shop and start a business. I don’t see why I should not be able to do all of those things, really.
Congrats on your latest single, ‘Better Love.’ What was the inspiration behind it?
Eliza Rose: I was very keen to make sure I didn’t drop a track that was really similar to ‘B.O.T.A’ because I don’t want to be boxed in, I’ve got a lot to give as an artist. I could have easily released something very similar to ‘B.O.T.A,’ and I’ve got tracks like that. But I specifically don’t want to, and I wanted to re-release something that was still dance music, still electronic music, but in a different kind of route. Garage is the first electronic music that I grew up listening to, so I wanted to pay homage and reference my love of electronic music. It just made sense to me to release a more vocal-led summertime track, and I wanted to show off a bit more songwriting. I would say that ‘B.O.T.A’ is not generic but that there’s power in simplicity. I’m not saying ‘Better Love’ is the deepest song, but it’s definitely got better lyrical content, so that was important for me to showcase.
Nowadays, it seems like music videos aren’t such a big thing anymore, but it is something you take very seriously. Why do you feel music videos are so important to you?
Eliza Rose: For me, videos are extremely important. If I had it my way, which I have had so far, I’d be putting out a video with every track. I don’t know if I could continue to do that, but I’ll certainly try every time I write a song. I’m a very visual person and I think heavily about images. So when I’m writing a song, it’s almost like there is a video already to it. So for me, they go hand in hand. To express the entirety of this piece of art that I’m putting out, I need to have the sounds and the visuals alongside it. And it’s really important for me to be able to have both, even if I can’t have a video; at the very least, it has to have some very strong artwork and pictures associated with it.
How would you say your creative process has evolved since releasing ‘B.O.T.A?’
Eliza Rose: It’s really changed, to be honest with you. I’m still writing the same songs. I’ve got less time to write because I’m more busy, which is a bit annoying. But apart from that, I still approach it the same way, which is to just throw things at the wall and see what sticks really. I’ve listened to so much music over my life by working in record shops and then also DJing. I’ve probably listened to a mad amount of music across the timeline of my life, so I have a good ear for what works. The process is to have a go and try to be a little bit experimental. I’m not really afraid to try new things. Even with ‘B.O.T.A,’ it’s quite a strange song. It isn’t a traditional pop tune at all. I’m willing to see what works, and if it doesn’t, on to the next.
It’s coming up to a year since the release of that track, and obviously, that was massively successful. Have you had any spare time to reflect?
Eliza Rose: Not really, it is stupidly intense. It’s just getting busier, to be honest with you. I have had time to reflect in a sense, and there are little moments where I hear it in a random place that could be my local, my hair shop, or in another country. That’s when you might have a few minutes to think, “Oh my God, wow. This is crazy.” But to be honest, I think it won’t really seem weird until a couple of years later when you can look back. When you’re in the whirlwind, you can’t necessarily see what’s outside.
Do you ever feel nervous about putting music out, especially if it’s different from what you’ve released before?
Eliza Rose: I usually don’t feel nervous until just before it’s going to get released, and then I get a little bit doubtful. To be honest, anything that I put out, at least I know one person’s going to like it. Even if everyone else in the world hates it, as long as I like it, then I don’t care. I think it will resonate with someone somewhere, and that’s really enough for me.
Are there any other genres and sounds you’re looking to explore in the future?
Eliza Rose: Everything darling. I’m waiting to start my Motown band in a couple of years. If you go through my back catalogue on my own record label, you’ll hear some more 50s/60s style soul. There’s a reggae song on there too. You people probably know me as an electronic music artist, but I don’t see myself as just that. Jazz is definitely my first love. It is what I originally started singing, and I definitely want to go back to those roots sooner rather than later. As I said, I’m not afraid to do everything. I think I could put out jazz and electronic because why not?
Congrats on just wrapping up the first part of your European tour, and now you’re just about to start your Australian tour. How does it feel going out to these other countries with people coming out to specifically see you?
Eliza Rose: It’s really weird, to be honest with you. I just find it quite strange. Yesterday I went out to eat, and some of the girlies who were at dinner are coming to Australia to see me on Friday. So that was really cute. It feels weird because I just feel normal. I don’t feel any different from how I felt. I’ve been pursuing a career in music for quite a long time – 10 years – and for it to come now is quite strange. I’m very grateful for it, and I think that keeps me grounded. When the girls come over, I love it.
How would you describe your shows?
Eliza Rose: Very nineties. I really love that nineties sound. Most of the tracks are still like nineties undiscovered kind of bangers, really. I want to always keep that underground authenticity in anything that I do. I think people might not know me as an underground DJ. People probably see me much more in a commercial space, but that’s not really where my roots are, and I am doing everything with the intention of pushing underground music. I’m predominantly a vinyl DJ, but unfortunately, people don’t usually have the setup because it’s too much that could go wrong. But I still make sure to keep it Eliza Rose sound, which is party vocals paying homage to the nineties.
Who are the artists that are on your playlist right now? Who are you excited about?
Eliza Rose: I really like an artist called Catching Cairo from South London. Confidence Man from Australia, who I went to go see at the Roundhouse. They are just fucking fabulous, and I love them. I am a bit shit with new music. There’s a really great underground garage scene as well, which is bubbling away. Introspect is absolutely fabulous, and EJ from LA.
How important is your fashion to your art?
Eliza Rose: Very important. I think most of my outfits are quite understated, to be honest with you. I could go a lot more mad if I was left to completely see my own devices, but it’s important for self-expression. I’ve always dressed colourful and just a bit weirdly to express my creativity and individuality. Before I necessarily knew who I was, I’ve always really loved clothes and colours and I think wearing those colours makes me happy. My best friend’s Mum was a real inspiration to me. She worked at St. Martin’s, and she just dressed like a colour explosion. You can just wear what you want.
What would you say has been the most surreal moment in your career for you?
Eliza Rose: ‘B.O.T.A’ going to number one was obviously quite mad, to be fair. But also coming on tour with two of my best friends; one is my stylist, and one is my creative director. It is very strange because I was hanging around with them, and I didn’t have two pens to rub together, but now they’re coming on tour with me, and we’re working together, and we are creating amazing things. I think that’s actually quite surreal. I have to look at them sometimes when I think, “What the fuck am I doing here?” I can’t believe we are here together. That’s quite strange, but it’s so amazing and beautiful, making the experience even more incredible.
How do you think a younger Eliza Rose would feel about where you are now in your career?
Eliza Rose: She would just be like, ‘What? Fuck. Have you done this?’ I still get very nervous and have a lot of self-doubt a lot of the time. I have a lot of imposter syndrome that I think I’ve gotten rid of, and then she’s like, “Hi bitch, I’m back.” I think as I have gotten older, I definitely feel like I’m appreciating what I’ve got, and part of that is actually thinking when I was 21, I said I would be doing this now. I would be so proud of myself. That is why I try to have a go at everything. Even if I’m scared, I just want to tell my younger self that I took that opportunity. She would say, “You need to get it together bitch, and you best come correct because we need this.”
Where do you think you are headed, or are you just taking everything as it comes?
Eliza Rose: I’m enjoying the music, I guess. I can’t really have goals. I didn’t even think I would ever get number one. Isn’t that the main goal? I’ve already done it, so I’m not coasting, but I am just glad to be here. I just want to make my music and see how long I can get people to listen to it before they think, “fuck off.”
Do you have any other plans for the summer and the rest of the year apart from your tour?
Eliza Rose: I suppose just loads of touring still. This isn’t the end of the European tour. I’ll be kicking that back off pretty much straight after Australia. I’m just touring a lot throughout the year. In between that time, I’ll hopefully do the writing, and we’ll be working on music and then a couple of months off at the end of the year – fingers fucking crossed. Because of the DJing, it’s a tour the whole year, which is not necessarily something to do as an artist. So I’m sitting in quite a strange space of doing both. It can be quite full-on. But whatever is around the corner, you’ve got to grab it. Grab it by the horns.