Today out Spotlight – Rosemary Lawton. We sit down with this talented artist to talk music and just how she came to be where she is. From a musical family with East coast heritage Rosemary brings a lot to the table. Her newest release Canvas recently dropped and its worth a listen. Check out the convo now.
What got you started in music?
My family is very musical. My great aunt on my dad’s side studied piano at Julliard in New York, and my Great aunt on my mom’s side was a well-known singer in Newfoundland. Mom is a pianist and encouraged my brother and I to take up a music instrument. She originally tried to put me in piano lessons but I would slither off the piano bench onto the floor in protest, and what ended up being my real gateway into music was when a string quartet came to my school when I was in grade one, and I heard the violin play for the first time. I decided in that moment that the violin was the most beautiful instrument in the world and it was the instrument that I would play for the rest of my life.
Being a celt-folk artist what are some influential artists that helped shape your sound? Conversely who are some contemporary artists you admire?
I am incredibly proud of my Newfoundland heritage and was very tied to the local music scene growing up. When I was younger, my dad went to our local music store “O’Brien’s” and asked the owner to point him to some local female musicians so he could show me that women could succeed in this industry. That day he brought home an Ennis Sisters CD and a Palmer Sisters CD. They were the albums that really set me on the path to the sound I have today. I still to this day love the Ennis Sisters, and I am a huge fan of Figgy Duff, the Dardanelles, the Once, and local artists outside of the Celtic genre such as Quote the Raven, and Amelia Curran.
You are currently living in Conception Bay south in Newfoundland. What is it about Newfoundland that makes you call it home?
I am a very family-oriented person, and I am very fortunate to have a large group of family members that live close to me. Newfoundland is an absolutely stunning place and I often spend my summers visiting smaller communities around the province to take in the beauty and the peacefulness. Newfoundland has a strong culture with a unique dialect, food, artwork, and music, and to be a part of that artistic community is second to none. What’s not to love really?
You are a trained musician, what is music school like for you? What would you say to students who are thinking of attending?
As folk musician who trained classically, I always had a strong musical ear but my skills in theory and the technical side of music were lacking. I feel like I really truly became the best version of myself during my music degree. Connecting with a community of likeminded people who really encourage me to be myself. Absolutely loved my time in music school however, there were many challenges along the way. I suffered two playing injuries while I was completing my program and fought many insecurities.
My takeaway from the degree is to take what you need out of the program. Don’t compare yourself to the successes of others. As a folk musician, I was able to improve my playing skills, and develop a passion for arranging and composing music. I would definitely recommend music school to anyone who is applying. However I would also encourage people who are hoping to attend to set some expectations of what they would like to accomplish or strive for. Don’t fall into the world of striving to be a concert soloist or nothing.
What was it like in the early days of grinding to play at bars and smaller shows?
The early days were an absolute blast. I found my way into the pub scene by joining a band called the Pints. That’s where I ended up meeting the love of my life along with some of my closest friends today. Every show was a jam with friends. It didn’t matter how many people came to the show, we had the time of our lives. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. At that time, performing was just fun and no work. We were doing it as a way to hang out, with no expectations of how far we could take our band. They were pretty wonderful times.
What was your lightbulb moment of realizing that you had made it as a musician?
I don’t know if I had a true “lightbulb moment.” I suppose getting nominated for an East Coast Music Award was a pretty huge moment. It was definitely a moment of validation. Winning my MusicNL award was another big moment of validation. I have always approached my music with sort of a “prove them wrong” mentality. I have always felt that I wasn’t good enough but I always kept pushing so these awards were a huge moment of “wow I deserve this.”
Your new album “canvas” is your 3rd album. It is also your first with all original tracks. What prompted you to go full creative on this album?
I have been writing songs for years but never really felt like I had anything worth saying. I loved my heritage, so my musical ties were always to traditional Newfoundland music. This album came with a lot of fresh life experience that I was trying to sort through in my own brain. I used song writing as journaling as a way to understand and cope with some of the things I had experienced, both good and bad. During the pandemic, I had a lot of time to write and after a month or so, I had written a full album. So I guess you could blame the pandemic for making me “go full creative on this album.”
Which track are you most proud of?
“Like it was yesterday” is my favourite track on this album. I wrote it while in quarantine and going slowly insane. I was feeling really hopeless and at a moment where I felt like I was going to explode, I ran into my studio and grabbed my guitar. Getting my emotions out on paper was a complete release of emotions and everything I needed in that moment. The song that came from that strong rush of emotions has a really beautiful melody and lyrics that are so meaningful. The song that came from such a strong heartache, evolved into a song of hope, and I am incredibly proud of that.
What was it like birthing something so uniquely and personal as this album as opposed to previous work?
Honestly, it feels easier somehow. Difficult in the fact that it is a more deeply personal and exposing piece of work but easy in that it comes from the heart and that makes it more authentic and comfortable to perform.
Something that strikes me with you is how your Instagram feed is very uniquely “you”. It is endearing, and reflects you as a person. What prompted you to decide to keep it you, and not go with a curated feed like other artists?
I tried to do a curated-type feed in years past. I found that the more personal my posts were, the more engagement I got. The type of music that I put out resonates with people for more personal reasons then other music accounts, so my content is more organic and personal to reflect that.
Would hate myself if we didn’t talk about the resilience collection of 23 songs you published. Please tell me what prompted its creation?
Prior to my “Canvas” album of original songs, I got completely focused on bringing lesser-known songs to the foreground of the celtic music scene in Newfoundland and Labrador. In doing some research for a new project, I had been putting sticky notes on songs that resonated with me within various field research books. On tour that summer, some people in an audience state that it was difficult to find a song about an empowering woman in Newfoundland and Labrador. I froze and, in that moment. I realized that every single sticky note that I had been placing in those books were on songs of empowering women. With that I decided to challenge myself and see how many songs I could find that fit that topic.
Various local musicians including Anita Best, Pamela Morgan, and Jim Payne, who pointed me in the direction of some recordings and books in various archives and libraries in the province. After sifting through my research, I found 23 songs. Originally, I had only planned on recording one album. I couldn’t fathom leaving virtually half of these songs behind so I decided to record two albums. Chatting with some friends and colleagues, I found that compiling these songs into a book so they would all be in one place and easily accessible could make for a really helpful teaching resource for music teachers across the province so that is what eventually prompted me to create a song book.
For those not familiar with it, what is it about?
“Resilience” features 23 songs, with guitar chords, lyrics, melodies. Also stories behind the songs, and photos of working women in the province. The songs tell stories. Women kidnapped and either tricked or fought their way out, women who are villains, and women who are heroes. “Resilience” felt like a very fitting name for the book.
What was your experience playing in 2020 doing online shows? Was it a yay or a nay?
I had some success with online shows and some flops. I definitely got better at it and improved my technology. It’s odd not being able to hear applause after each song, but you get used to it over time. Definitely prefer in-person shows.
On the topic, do you think the rise of online shows is an over saturation of the market? Or a great tool for artists to reach new/ be more accessible to audiences?
In order to have success with online shows, you need to have a pretty large song library in your brain I think. People get bored hearing the same songs over and over again. Normally artists have a show worth of songs memorized at a time. There are lots of artists however, who are able to memorize more than just their 3+ hours of normal repertoire but I am not one of them. So depending on your ability to shake up your performances, I do feel that it would be an over-saturation.
This summer is looking questionable at best. As an artist, what is it like for you to try and plan in advance shows that may or may not happen?
I have been laying low on the performance front. I find that many artists will agree with me that the pandemic has forced a lot of us to slow down. When things started re-opening, I realized that not only could I not sustain the speed to which I was living my life previously, I didn’t want to anymore. Definitely want to keep performing, but not at the same rigorous pace I was prior to the pandemic. I have a handful of exciting shows coming up this summer but all locally.
Being a young woman in music, what is some advice to younger/newer female artists you would love to pass on. It can be something someone told you, something you wish you had been told when you were starting, etc.
Things are getting better but unfortunately a lot of my advice to women who are performing would be advice that relates to safety. Make sure you have someone who can walk you to your car after a gig (often bartenders will walk you if you ask). Make sure you are comfortable with your band mates and never say yes to something if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
How is your adorable dog?
He is the absolute cutest! We have so many cute little nicknames for Tintin. Lil’ Tin, Tinnothy, The Tinnest Tin who ever Tinned… the list goes on.
I’m a big camper but haven’t busted out into kayaking just yet. What is it about kayaking that you love so much?
I really love being to completely turn off the outside world. In a kayak, I often find so much peace. We only go when it is really calm out. The currents aren’t too strong so I guess that is why I find it so peaceful. I also love that we get to see aspects of a place from a new and unique perspective. You might find a new cave or inlet that feels like you are the only person in the world who has ever seen it. That is a pretty special feeling.
Following all these interviews what’s one fun fact that you particularly wish people knew about you?
I am really weirdly good at wiggling my eyebrows. Like I can literally do the worm with my eyebrows.
Many independent or small businesses are hit hard from Covid lockdowns. What are some of your local favorite places to hype up and give a shout out to?
I love Posie Row. You can find something unique for everyone there from beautiful stationary to jewelry, to clothing, to plants! They have been giving opportunities to a lot of smaller busniesses too which is really cool. A local art store is featuring some of my pieces in their building called “The Art Store NL.”. You can find them on social media and I definitely recommend you give them a follow! Fred’s Records is without a doubt a fantastic record store on that same stretch. As a tourist coming to NL this summer (because magically, we will be able to have some tourism again), We now have a pedestrian mall downtown where you can walk on the street and also visit many outdoor markets, while taking in the sunshine. I highly recommend it!
Spotlight – Rosemary Lawton is complete. Big thanks to Rosemar for spending some time with us.
Check out Canvas now
Keep up with Rosemary here
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