May 20, 2015 / Perspective
What united many of the films at Sundance this year? The same story that unites us all.
April 7, 2003
Editor’s Note: In honor of The Other Journal’s tenth anniversary, we’re featuring select articles from our archives throughout the spring and summer. Check back each Friday as we republish some of our favorite writing over the years.
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TOJ: Your personality is so disarming and contagious that it seems to pave the way for the listener to engage the somewhat sad, hopeful, and ultimately beautiful (intimately beautiful) music you have created. There seems to exist a contrast between your comedy and song writing. Where do comedy and an honest look at life seem to intersect, or, what is the correlation between your songs and your comedy?
Rosie: Ok. Lets see. So the way in which I write music, it’s sort of that I separate the two then. Well, I do and I don’t. Certainly to exist you have to have a sense of humor. A) You would be boring to be around because you would be too serious, which I can be. And 2) it wouldn’t be an exciting existence to live that way, so I always found a sense of humor as my outlet to laugh at things, laugh at myself, my life, when things get too serious, to kind of lighten things up really. It’s just sort of what we all do or what we all need to do more than we do perhaps.
With my song writing, that part comes from a very sincere place, that sort of serious place in me, the parts where I look at myself in an honest fashion, to represent how I’m truly feeling, to make myself as honest as I can and sincere as I can to therefore hopefully affect people. That’s not something I take lightly, and not something I want to joke with really, however, the comedy portion is kind of the even balance of it all. So that if I present music and I… obviously in between my songs I have a lot of stage banter, and I like to crack jokes and make it comfortable for people as well, and I like to make it comfortable for myself about feeling like I should be there. Maybe sometimes, in the place that I am, the position is always awkward. Maybe it’s my awkwardness that makes me laugh at myself to make jokes and I’ll be honest about that, people ask, do I make jokes because you’re nervous or too afraid to be serious with people? And it’s not that I’m afraid to because my songwriting is about that, but I will admit that sometimes it is a bit awkward. I don’t want people to think that they can’t talk while I perform, I don’t want people feeling too serious about the whole matter.
So, that’s where the sense of humor comes. And that’s where “Sheila” comes in to play, she’s just the opposite of all of that. She sort of breaks all the rules, nothing she says makes sense…she looks terrible. The whole performance of, the whole reason of, she has no concept of what’s cool. Which, I’m sure much of that comes from me and how I’m feeling most of the time. But that’s sort of the complete opposite. It’s just silliness, it’s why we watch “Saturday Night Live,” it’s why we rent comedies, it’s why we go to plays… to laugh. Ya know, I’ve always been scared of clowns so that wouldn’t be a good example… but it’s the amusement and the entertainment really that feels more entertaining to me than playing a bunch of, I don’t know… everyone in their lives has to deal with serious things, and I would rather make them laugh for 45 minutes than playing music sometimes… I do think it’s important you bring both because, it’s important that I admit those things to people in hopes that they relate to it, and then I make them laugh at the end of the night… it’s sort of both parts of me.
TOJ: How have you preserved your childhood virtues? What shouldn’t we lose from when we were small, what needs to stay with us?
Rosie: What needs to stay with us is a bit of being naive sometimes. Definitely it’s important to ask questions a lot, and to, not as much as when I was a kid cause I was completely over the top as to how much questions I asked, but to just be teachable and not get to the place where you think you are shaped as a person, because that will continue to go on the rest of your life, growing and learning as a human being. And I think that those are really important, to maybe be ok that you don’t have all the answers and not to be intimidated by people.
When I was a kid, I looked at everyone equal, older people and younger people, you just didn’t have the concept of status and what people’s positions where, was that supposed to make them intimidating or not. I just talked to everyone, I told people what was on my mind and I didn’t think before I spoke, when you’re older you are supposed to get a little better with that sort of thing, I haven’t really gotten too much better with that thing. Put my foot in my mouth, carry that sort of imagination around and to not take things so seriously, is a huge one. That’s where comedy comes in, when we were children we would, ya know when I was a kid I always took things so seriously, that’s always been a part of me. To really just be open to new things, not to get so set in your ways, wear purple and green, that’s fine; wear your hair in the fashion you want. I never thought of those things as a child… I would always, when I could start choosing my clothes and grasp what you wanted out of the drawer and it would be checkered and polka-dotted. It didn’t matter, those simple thrills and new discoveries you make as a child, to constantly be rediscovering yourself. Be open to that in a huge way and be rediscovering life really… it’s a very easy thing to get on one track and to get in a routine of things. I like to break that up as much as possible and put myself in positions that scare me very much or put myself in a position where I have to be very brave.
I like to get on track and to constantly, I always did those things when I was a kid real well, playing with boys I would be scared of them, but I would play just to do it and embrace it and just to throw sand at someone. I knew that I would get in trouble, but just do it because I knew Matt Borden would love it. Ya know it’s those impulses you have I guess. Don’t forget to mess up a lot. Don’t forget to be ok with making mistakes. Don’t always say things the right way or be in a hurry to grow up, and I think maybe it’s great. It’s always I guess something that has to happen to all of us.
But I don’t think that we have to lose that beauty of being a child in us ever. My grandma never did, my mother never has really, and that’s what I love. I love being around people that have that excitement about life. And that youthfulness in their minds even if their faces are full of wrinkles and their boobs are down to the floor. They are like little people still discovering and still embracing, and still wanting to learn and still having dreams of traveling and going places, it’s not over for them, when is it really ever? But I think it’s about just being crazy and just really being open to life and being clumsy about it and breaking rules and not being concerned about what’s cool and what’s not. And just be crazy and do things to do them and if it’s weird and awkward then maybe you learn from that. Maybe it’s wonderful to be weird and awkward because I certainly have embraced that. I don’t even know what size bra I wear…. I think its all right to not get everything perfect, to be boring, don’t be boring, everyone is so unique that it would be such a shame to be boring.
TOJ: If the moon were made of cheese, would you eat it?
Rosie: Oh yeah! Totally I would, wow, I wouldn’t eat too much of it…that’s great, that’s the best question. See these are good, yeah, I probably would a little but just to say I ate a little bit of the moon. But I wouldn’t eat too much of it cause I certainly like the moon, and I wouldn’t want it to go away, I’d have a little sliver, I wouldn’t take a chunk out, just a gouge out, I probably would eat… do you know what kind of cheese it would be? Oh I like all cheese. If it were pepper jack cheese I would take a chunk.
TOJ: If it was Swiss?
Rosie: A gouge.
Rosie: Half of it, and hibernate with it.
Rosie: I would eat the whole thing. If it was goat cheese? I don’t know…feta I would leave it alone. If it was gouda I would sneak up and take a little piece once a day and not tell anyone… maybe if I knew the moon was made of cheese I would tell only my closest friends and move on. Ya know I don’t have a lot of money…
TOJ: The loss of love appears important to the inspiration of your song writing, what is it about those moments of brokenness, a kind of abandonment, that provides such a fertile environment for your song writing?
Rosie: Because it’s such a time of being broken it’s very easy to be in touch in that sort of complete…. well, which is such a reality, being broken and struggling even when things are good to feel consistent with my happiness. And I fight for that a lot and pray for that a lot. And however those moments are easier for me to write because you’re so broken that it brings out these important things to think about such as, “what is life if you don’t have love”… “What is life when your dreams aren’t fulfilled?” And it’s very easy to embrace that feeling to rely upon, to people. That’s my favorite time to write, in those times. Its good writing in happy times, I think that’s good as well. It’s easier to write from a broken place when I feel like I’m coming apart. Sort of barely able to get out of bed in the morning… ya know those sorts of things. It’s just an easier time where you are more exposed and more open. You are so searching how you are going to heal and how you are going to recover and get through this. That’s when I can write cause I’m trying to look for those answers. Which is probably why the songs are filled with, well there’s no hope in them.
The reason why I always think that I have to put hope in them is because I myself am writing to try to find how am I going to get through this, so I have to find hope and I have to find some sort of resolution in everyone of them. It’s the easiest time to write. And it’s so sincere really because it’s just real. It’s what we all go through, it’s the human struggle and what everyone deals with whether they want to admit it or not. I’m glad that I can admit it because, it’s just much easier, and it’s how you feel human.
TOJ: Our issue deals with the contradiction of having faith and hope in a God whose nature is contrary to what we see in this world. Last year, at the Crocodile Café, I heard you describe your music as hopeful. How is it hopeful and what is important about going to the places of loss and sadness in your songs that is vital to hope? In other words, your music feels at times sad, sad and beautiful… what is hopeful about it?
Rosie: I think what’s hopeful… a song like, Finish Line, the words “go now go why you can, for the love that’s brought you down, things will soon come around. I swear and they’ll be sorry they let you down.” Everything, the promise of it and the beginning of it starts with what you are dealing with, but I always like to steer towards, “things will soon come around.” Like things will get better. Ya know, Bicycle Tricycle, says, “I won’t look back, I’ve been here before… whatever it takes to let him go.” And that song is a bit different because it doesn’t really offer a solution. Hope to me is offering a solution. Rather than just leaving it with you. At the same time it’s not that I’m trying to say that I have the answers—cause I don’t—only by faith can I hope that God will bring those answers to me. I think faith sort of keeps us going, it’s that faith that God is going to reveal at the end of the struggle or the end of the day that there may be reasons for certain things, where we will see why it is we went through what we went through. And that is hope to me, knowing that no matter what it is we’re struggling with…when months come and it’s awful and then another month comes and it’s great, whatever those crazy spirals go through.
That the only way we, I, can keep going is that life is meaningless at some level, I can do all that, I can while I’m here and use the gifts God has given me and hope that I have a good heart with that and that I do it for the right reasons. That I can affect people on this earth with love and that I’m a broken person. I don’t know, I guess the only thing that keeps me going is that there is a point to our existence and that I can affect someone else… I do think that there are certain songs with sadness, I do think sadness is beautiful, that’s how I feel when I write it, when I sing it I don’t feel depressed writing it, there’s a beauty in it.
There’s a new song that I’m writing that is about questions that I have about things. Like how do you tell someone you may not go to heaven because they don’t know the Lord? How do you do that, that’s a real stuff question I have as a Christian… when you are no better than they are, what’s the difference? How do you do that? How do you know what love is when you’re young and still figuring it out? Eric, my guitarist, was saying as we were listening to it, “this is so depressing.” I said, “No, that’s not what I got out of it at all, it’s so beautiful to me.” Isn’t it? It feels even happy that it’s me admitting that I don’t know anything and I’m completely confused and that I am scared most of the time to know where and how to go forward and what to tell people. It’s me admitting completely that I’m just trying to figure it out and I may never figure it out, that’s beauty! It’s what people think about, it’s conversations that I have had with people that have been beautiful because they have been honest and real. And you go, “You feel that way too?! That’s Awesome!” I feel that screwed up most of the time, too. Thank you! Even in the sorrow, it’s beautiful. I cry over that, not that it is sad per se, but that it hit something in me. They said it, that’s how I feel, and I’m so thankful. And when the pastor says, “life is meaningless”… instead of crying I think, I don’t have to take everything so seriously, another might hear it and freak out or something.
What he was sort of speaking about is just relieving to me. I may die and never totally get it, and I may leave this earth and never know much of anything, but all I can do is try and be open and when its over… all I can do is try… eat a lot of food and drink wine and live in a cool place (laughter)… practice so to speak for the banquet. So I do think that sorrow is beauty and that time of your life when you embrace it is wonderful and relieving, that’s what makes people and life attractive to me and what allows me to keep going is going through those struggles, and knowing that the struggles will! always come back. I’ll write another song about it another day… just call the struggle something else.
TOJ: Your “career” seems young, budding if you will, where to next? What is the price to pay for dreams?
Rosie: There is a lot to pay. I had no idea. Where to next? Finishing this next record. When that is done I will go home for a bit, spend time with my family, which is what I always do when I’m done with a project, to go home and reflect and be normal… and go to the “ram’s horn”, a coffee shop near my dad’s house. And watch people, which allow me to continue to write songs in the future. And Sheila is next. After I finish the record it will be Sheila’s turn for attention and she will start to play shows with her band, Strawberry Jam. Some cover songs; one is called Everything is coming up Sheila. Talk about touching, ask her some questions. So after this I will move on to the comedy portion. I have to do sort of one at a time, we’ll be finishing filming her, and finishing a documentary about her that she’s going to release on VHS…she hasn’t moved onto DVD. She’s going to be recording some songs in the studio herself. I always have to go home for a while. Then tours will start in June.
But yeah, I still want to be on Saturday Night Live, still like to be a farmer, live in Italy, like to make a cameo in a movie perhaps with a comedian…Will Farrell, I would like to write a book, write children’s books, have children, get married beforehand, I’m not in a rush. I used to think I had to do them all or I would not be content. I already feel blessed and grateful to do what I’m doing now; to continue to entertain people and to continue to be creative. I even want to make my own line of clothing called REALTIME, it used to be “ROSIE TOESY,” but there are a million things we want to do.
I’m learning to not set so many expectations of myself and let things come to me. And allow God to bring things to me and that I don’t have to have so many things done by age of 25, 24, or 26 and just to let things just be as they are and come to me as they! ‘re supposed to. I do want to have an adventurous life and do crazy things and contribute… we’ll see what happens.
TOJ: And the price to pay?
Rosie: The price to pay is that your life doesn’t have that much consistency, you lose the routine of things, which I don’t mind too much. I like traveling and meeting new people. However, settling down doesn’t happen very often, feeling consistent and feeling like you can even organize your rooms, seeing your friends as much as you like, seeing your family, you are constantly gone touring. It really is fun; I can’t be involved as I used to be. I can’t join a soccer team and commit to it. I can’t do volunteer work with street kids which is what I really enjoy doing, you can’t be very committable. I’ve never been good at that but I like to do things I can’t do now. Going to church every week, I can only go when I’m home, I can’t meet people as much as I’d like. The only other weird portion, sometimes people want to talk to you—and by the way I love that—but I don’t always know what to say, and sometimes you feel strange about it and feel phony, and you question how you’re coming off. Are you coming off like most other musicians? You think too much perhaps and a lot of things are focused on you and what you like to do and what you listen to, what motivates you. So you try and keep yourself in check… “do you think you’re cool?” YOU CAN’T! I have mind games to keep myself in check.
The price to pay is that it is hard work and you’re campaigning, it’s ok because it’s what you have to do to make a living and hope that it grows and that you can talk to more people and let more people know what you’re doing. I don’t find anything wrong with that. I guess you just miss out on catching up with people and having a normal routine in your life. I think how am I going to get married one day? And have children one day? How will I continue doing this? Do I? Will I? How much is it really worth it? A lot is required of just you. You can only give so much in one day and in one evening. I don’t know how to stop, to tell people I don’t have time to talk with you. I don’t want to listen to you… is that bad? I’m bad, I’m a bad man (laughter). You shouldn’t listen to me, I have nothing to say and it’s dull. But I can’t feel good about that.
If you are a perfectionist like I am about certain things… not in my room, or my car…but in my own creativity, that price you pay is huge too because you’re constantly having to create and keep writing. What if I can’t write anymore, I wouldn’t have a job anymore? What if I don’t have anything more to say? Always creating in making a new record, everyday creating what piano part will make it what it is, always keeping up the website and always writing people back to thank them. Making sure to keep telling them how grateful you are, don’t forget to update, to make things for tour this time. You think what are we gong to make? And to pay your student loans, and be sure to bring underwear on tour… which I have forgotten before… all the silly things. As much as all those things are, it’s a weird adjustment. I will get better at it and set better boundaries for myself. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I wouldn’t at all. I wouldn’t ever want to not have enough time to talk with people or not doing what I’m doing now. I’m completely sure I’m doing what God wants me to do. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. So you have to leave the rest, with love and heartbreak. I take it a day at a time. If I get married one day, then it will happen and maybe at that point I will have decided to be a shepherd.
Maybe I will find a way to do what I’m doing now and have those dreams as well. And hope that all those things come together. And if it doesn’t then you check your life and see if you doing the right thing with it. Pinch yourself and make sure it’s really your life, I wouldn’t change, not now. Maybe five years from now… I just want to be Janet Jackson.