Laura Groves

Laura Groves, aka Blue Roses, takes on our quick-fire question machine

photo: suzie howell

Where are you right now and what can you see?

“I’m in Ireland, looking at my friend’s mum’s garden and a big blue sky.”

You’ve been releasing music for a while, but ‘Radio Red’ is the first album under your own name. How come?

“My first release as Blue Roses came out 14 years ago, and I’ve been pretty consistently making things since then. I have released music under my own name before, but this is the first full album. Coming back to my own name just happened naturally over time and felt right.”

You’ve collected some good musical friends on your travels. You were in Bat For Lashes’ live band

“Yes, I was lucky to tour with Bat For Lashes as a keyboard player and vocalist. I learned so much from that, but best of all I made some friends for life. Being open to these kinds of experiences has brought me to this point of realising my own self-produced album, which has been a major dream and goal. I’m incredibly grateful for that help from people around me.”

And you’ve worked with Mercury Prize-winning Sampha?

“I met Sampha a long time ago when we both started releasing music, and we’ve sung together over the years, which is always really special. It was great to have him come to my studio and record some vocals for the album – to have a friend come in with a connection to those early days really means a lot.”

‘Radio Red’ is a good title. Love a bit of radio…

“It’s a culmination of layers of cherished music, deep love songs, being in love, ‘Top Of The Pops’, watching old videos of bands on YouTube, TV theme music, my parents’ records, folk songs… red is a colour I love and have always been drawn to, so it shows up in my lyrics quite a bit.”

There’s inspiration from two radio towers near your studio, which you describe as watching over you – isn’t that a bit ‘1984’?

“I’ve come to see them as old friends. Where I live and work you can’t really get away from these structures – the red lights are always on at night. That’s partly where the ‘red’ in the album title came from. They’re a comforting presence when I’m doing all-night recording sessions.”

You describe a radio mast on a hill near your childhood home as representing “a kind of escapism and a comfort, with an undertone of melancholy”. That’s a lot of complicated emotions

“It is about the tower, but it’s also connected to the whole landscape of where I grew up. Bradford is on the edge of the Pennines. When you’re up on the hills it can be quite harsh and unforgiving, which can have its own kind of beauty, but there are places where you can get a view of the city, all the streetlights, the car headlights moving.

“So you’d go up there to get away from what was going on at home and in life, but still be in contact with all the layers of the city, the remnants of the industry that existed there, this strangeness and melancholy. It’s definitely a complex set of feelings. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but I think I’ll always be exploring it somehow.”

You say “that glow, that strange feeling” the masts give off is what you’re seeking in your work. That’s a powerful influence?

“Yes, it’s those contrasts and strangeness, and how it’s shaped who I am that keeps me thinking and writing. The masts are just one aspect of it.”

How close is the new album to achieving that glow for you?

“It is the glow! It’s all in there one way or another.”

How important was actually listening to the radio in your formative years?

“Oddly enough, we barely had the radio on in the house growing up. It was records, tapes, CDs.”

There’s something romantic about music drifting in on the ether, especially at night, don’t you think?

“Yes, I have strong memories of hearing music in the distance and the effect it would have on me. When I think of nighttime radio, I think about driving around on the moors with Smooth Radio on or something like that – those familiar tunes and sounds drifting in and out.”

With a mast outside, I’m guessing the reception was pretty good and there wasn’t much drifting in and out for you?

“When I was working on the record, some of my equipment picked up radio waves. I loved hearing bits of radio and voices in my headphones, combining with what I was creating.”

‘Radio Red’ is such a gentle-sounding record – exactly the sort of thing you’d want floating in on the ether at night

“I gravitate towards sounds which evoke that kind of feeling – familiar sounds like the piano that I then modulate somehow. So I see it as familiarity and softness, but slightly obscured and off-centre. It all links to the strangeness – working through it to get a better and deeper understanding.”

You have your own radio show, ‘Desire Paths’, on NTS Radio. Tell us about that?

“The show is great for exploring the music I love and am drawn to. I find a lot of joy in making these mix tapes, seeing where it takes me and then being able to share that. It’s something I’d love to develop and explore more because I think it can have a unifying effect. I get some really nice messages from listeners which makes me happy.”

Growing up near Bradford, there must have been a lot of pirate stations. Are you surprised you didn’t end up making dancefloor bangers?

“That spirit is definitely in me, so let’s see…”

‘Radio Red’ is out on Bella Union

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Pulling up a chair and making himself comfy in the face of our quick-fire line of questioning, it’s Sir Was