You Call it Art, We Call Her ROE

It's the younger generation who will bring about change for the better according to the Glastonbury-bound teen, who isn't worried about emerging in SOAK's wake

If at some point in the past few months you've been encouraged to discover Northern Ireland's only Walled City by way of a TV ad, or had one of Harp's 'Pure Here' clips pop up in your Facebook feed, then chances are you've caught snippets of ROE. You may even be amongst the million plus to have heard her music in a recent episode of The Only Way is Essex. And in a week's time millions more watching around the world will be formally introduced to her as she performs for the first time at the famous Glastonbury Festival.

But who exactly is this rising talent everyone from Jim Carroll to Tom Robinson seems to be talking about? ROE is the name adopted by Roisin Donald, an 18-year old singer-songwriter from Derry~Londonderry who over the last year has made strides from her music studies at the North West Regional College to working with MOBO nominee David Lyttle, opening for PORTS at the launch of their debut album and travelling to The Great Escape festival in Brighton as part of a showcase put together by Help Musicians UK.

Following the trail blazed by SOAK, who started similarly as a regular feature on local line-ups before ascending to Radio One rapture in the blink of an eye, ROE emerges as part of an exciting new wave of young female artists who have found their feet musically and had potential unlocked and nurtured with help from the Nerve Centre and its many developmental initiatives. There may be a weight of expectation because of what's still fresh in the memory coming from this part of the world, but at the rate things are moving ROE needn't worry about doing things on her own terms. The teenager is already presented like the finished article, has bags of talent you can only be born with, and this is only the beginning of her story.

We caught up with her as she prepares for the release her second EP, titled You Call it Art, accompanied by a special show at Bennigan's Bar in Derry this Saturday (June 17) for which she's promised some 'super cool surprises' – as well as that all-important pilgrimage to Worthy Farm.

What does it mean to you to be playing Glastonbury this year?

ROE: It means absolutely everything. I don't think I'll be able to get over it until I've done my set! I never expected something this big to happen so soon and it's just mental how everything seems to be going really well at the minute. I'm so excited to get there and be able to play on a stage that artists I know and listen to have played on before. Glastonbury is seriously one of my dreams come true.

With yourself, Touts and others, do you feel part of a new wave of artists from the North West starting to receive wider attention?

Yeah, I think that there's been a rise in the past couple years of people bringing more and more attention to the North West scene. I'm so happy that there are so many great acts from around here getting recognition for the serious talent that they have. There's some big family vibes within the music community here, everybody supports everybody and it's an incredible thing to be a part of, so for other parts of the world to recognise the North West and the musicians that come from here is incredible.

Are you concerned about inevitable comparisons to SOAK and that perhaps being a bit of a barrier to overcome in terms of how you're seen as an artist?

I have a tonne of respect for Bridie and her music and I know that there's always going to be that comparison because of where we live and who we are, but I'm not concerned about it. She's a serious success to come out of Derry and she's paved the way for musicians from Derry being successful in the music industry, so being compared to that I think is pretty cool. I'm just focused on being me and having my own sound so I don't think about it. People can make whatever comparisons they want!

You were chosen to soundtrack a campaign for Visit Derry a few months back. What did this mean to you as a musician who has grown up in the city?

Being able to represent my city through the music that I've written was something I was really honoured to do. I felt so proud to be the soundtrack for the campaign having lived here all my life and having found my feet in music here. Up until last year all of my gigs were based in Derry so it was an amazing place for me to grow as a musician, and still is.

Local rising star provides music for tourism campaign

Have you felt the impact of exposure through this and other recent media appearances?

Yeah I have, in loads of different ways. The exposure has helped me with growing a bigger fan base and in being able to let my music be heard by people that might not have heard it before. It's really cool to be featured in things that aren't just music related.

Lyrically, your new EP seems to find positivity even in the depths of more difficult subjects. Is this an accurate estimation of yourself and your outlook on things generally?

My EP is a story about love and loss and being able to cope when you find yourself in a bad situation, so it relates a lot to myself but I think that it also relates to most people in a lot of ways. I love being able to write songs that can connect with people and I think that through this EP I've done that. Everybody goes through hard times, but not everybody speaks about it.

How has its recording differed from your previous EP?

It differs in a lot of ways. This EP is all about big synths and massive bass, which I love. It's a lot closer to the kind of sound I want to be associated with, I really love being in this electronic/pop genre at the minute and messing around with all these new sounds, but who knows where the next tracks might go.

Earlier this year you were beginning to introduce the electronic elements to your live performance, so that you wouldn't 'just be another person with a guitar'. Do you feel more comfortable now with the increased instrumentation around you? How would you say you've progressed?

At first it was difficult getting used to having to play more than one thing on stage but after a while and a lot of practice it became a lot easier and I'm way more comfortable now than I was in December. Involving the pedals and SPDSX [sampling pad] in my setup was the best decision I've ever made, it's made writing and playing way more fun because of all the new things I can involve in my set now. I think I've done pretty well with it so far, and I'm having a lot of fun learning more about the capabilities of the current setup.

You're launching the EP on Saturday in Bennigan's Bar with the Wood Burning Savages and Sam Wickens, two artists who have also been supported by Help Musicians NI. How important is the work the organisation does around mental health to you?

It's extremely important. The music industry can be really tough on musicians and others within it, so the fact that there are organisations such as Help Musicians looking out for us is vital, even just to know that there is somewhere to go if you are having problems. People don't think about the hours musicians spend practicing and writing and being out late gigging and what that can do to a person's mental health. The work that Help Musicians does is reassuring and creates awareness that there is somebody there to listen and to help and that you don't have to go through whatever it is you're going through alone.


You were one of the artists selected for its '3:3 Three Bands in Three Years' scheme. How has this helped you so far?

So far the 3:3 scheme has helped me a whole lot. It's helped me by allowing me to play at The Great Escape - The Alternative Escape over in Brighton last month, which was my first overseas gig. It was insane! It's also helped me and my team by giving us access to loads of different connections and helping us to think about our goals. 

Musicians and in particular young people had a huge part to play in the recent UK election. Are you engaged with what's going on currently and how do you feel about where things might be headed locally and in the broader context?

I'd like to think that I'm engaged or at least aware of what is currently going on here and I think that a lot of it isn't looking good. I really hope that the young people here and all across the UK continue to speak out more and exercise their right to vote because I believe that the younger generation are the people who are going to make a difference and make a change for the better.

What are your hopes going forward for the rest of the year and beyond?

I hope that there's a lot more exciting things to happen this year. This summer I'll be back in the studio again working on new tracks and I hope there might be a tour soon. I can't wait to get more music out there and to do a lot more gigs. I hope this year my music reaches more people outside of here and that I might head to SXSW. Who knows! 

You Call it Art is out June 17 on Fictive Kin Records and is available worldwide via all major digital retailers and physically on the label’s e-store. ROE performs at Bennigan's Bar that same night from 10.00pm, on the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury on Friday June 24 and later this summer at Stendhal Festival of Art in Limavady.