QSC Aspiring Interview: Ayda Rose on raw single, ‘Damn’

British artist Ayda Rose opens up about how a personal experience of love and loss inspired her raw and stripped-back R&B single, Damn, and why after making a huge impression in the dance scene as Effie, it was time for her to usher in a new age by releasing her new music under Ayda Rose.

What are you early memories of music as a child, and which artists and bands have shaped the artist you are today?

My dad would always play The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder, and he would play a lot of Motown, a lot of soul. I was always around so many different types of music, and my dad was from a ‘60s psychedelic rock band.

Which songwriters do you admire, and which have influenced your approach to songwriting?

I'm a neo soul, r&b artist, so of course, huge influences come from those types of artists. But actually, when I think about writing, Kurt Cobain is probably one of my favourite writers. He had an ability to be so raw, honest – and always very poetic. You didn't always know what he meant on first listen; it's something that you have to delve into and really pay attention to and dissect. 

I really liked that about his lyricism and all of his melodies as well. They're quite dark. I'm a bit of a moody, dark person in that sense; I gravitate towards that kind of style, sonically. Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys [is an influence too]. If you saw me at one of those shows, or knew that I was listening to that kind of music, you might not put the two together just because sonically, it's so different [to what I do].

You previously released music under the alias Effie, whereas your new music is released under Ayda Rose. What made you decide to release music under a new alias, and how can a rebranding strategy be effective as an emerging artist?

I was operating under the name Effie for a really long time. It's my name, and people know me as that. I was getting a lot of traction on the electronic and dance scene, and so every time I would release music that was r&b and soul, it would get lost on the algorithm on Spotify, because the dance tracks were doing really well and they were streaming quite high. I'm still very grateful for that, but it made it an uphill battle and made it difficult to differentiate between the two. 

I had a few chats with my friends and people that I was working with and they were like, ‘Why don't you do a name change?’ And I was like, ‘You know what? It would be nice to have a fresh start and to just go at this from the beginning again’. So the name Adya Rose actually comes from my nan, my nanny Johnson. Rose is a family name: my cousin is Jessica Rose, my auntie is June Rose, and my nan was called Hilda Ayda Rose, so I took that.

Kurt Cobain is probably one of my favourite writers. I'm a bit of a moody, dark person in that sense.

How did it feel to let go of the old alias and essentially start again under a new name?

It was quite cathartic, actually, because it's nice to look back through a journey. It's not to dismiss any of the stuff that I've done. I'm so grateful for all of the things that I've been able to work on and the journey that I've been on as an artist, but actually archiving all of that stuff and starting again was so exciting because now I'm getting to really show people who I truly am as an artist as me, rather than being someone that's collaborating on lots of electronic music. So it actually felt really good.

Why was Psychic the right song to introduce the world to Ayda Rose?

Out of all the music that I've been making (because I've been working on this project for a couple of years now), I've collaborated with an amazing producer called Owen Cutts, and he gave me the sound with this record that, for me, encapsulated the sonics that I wanted. It's the perfect sound to introduce me because this is exactly what I'm going for. I love the sonics, I love the message, and it felt like a good tempo as well – a good reintroduction of myself.

I'm getting to really show people who I truly am as an artist.

What are the challenges and advantages of being an independent artist today?

As an independent artist, you have to be on top of everything yourself – you don't have a driver behind you, financially, a team that's assisting you with certain things, or anyone else to answer to other than yourself. That can be quite difficult. There’s also an expectation now for us to be content creators and trying to find your way through how that fits best for you as an artist is quite a challenge, but it's something that I'm taking seriously this year. 

I'm trying to figure out how to do social media without it feeling not aligned with who I am. It is a learning curve all the time. It's a process and I'm still finding my feet with it. I'm trying to think of ways to organically post things, let people into my life and show them who I am.

My biggest thing for this year was that I wanted to be consistent. I think consistency is the key to success and you see a lot of people talk about this. I really have started to understand and appreciate that word.

The pros to it is having complete autonomy over what you're doing. Being independent, there is no one to answer to other than me. I've got enough experience that I'm able to put all of those past lessons into what I'm doing now and for the first time ever, I feel really ready to do that and I feel qualified to be able to do that. Learning about who you are as an artist and how to shape the music that you put out… you're telling your own story. That's really important and I think that's really powerful.

It's very difficult to bear your soul and be raw and open, but I think that's the making of a good artist.

Your new single, Damn is a raw and stripped-back R&B song about love and loss. What were you thinking about when you wrote this, and how did it come together?

We all go through shit and we all go through difficult times. One thing about being an artist is we're really lucky that we can express it through music. I've always said that I want to be as authentic as possible. That's my main thing – being able to connect to other people, just how other artists have made me connect to them. Amy Winehouse would be a really good example for me; when I listen to the words that she writes and how she sings her stuff, I can tell that was all real stuff she was going through.

So you tapped into your own difficult experience when writing this?

When I was going through a difficult time with someone that I loved, I actually didn't want to write the song, it came about as a bit of an accident. I went to the studio that particular day and I was working with Steve Knight, who produced the record. I was like, ‘I don't really feel like doing it. I don't think I've got it in me today,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, I'm just gonna play some chords on the guitar’. He started playing these chords and I said, ‘Hand me the mic’. I freestyled it; it was everything that I was thinking and feeling and it just kind of blurted out. 

It kind of wrote itself, really. We did one take and then went back in, penned a few of the words that were missing, pieced it all together and it was written. It felt really good to do. It's very difficult to bear your soul and be so raw and open, but I think that's the making of a good artist, to be honest.

You say that this particular track is raw for you. Do you find it hard to be vulnerable in your songwriting, or is this something that you get used to?

It is something that I've struggled with in the past. I've never been this emotionally vulnerable out loud. That's when it's really been so close to home. This wasn't me writing something based on an experience – it literally was the experience. It's definitely something I had to be really brave with, but people will connect with that. People go through this stuff all the time and I think you can really hear it and that it will resonate. I'm really proud of it and I'm glad that I've done it.

Damn kind of wrote itself. It was almost a freestyle.

How do you navigate any periods of writer’s block?

I've definitely gone through it multiple times in my career. One thing I would say is that when I was going through the most pain, I really couldn't write at all, so I would make little notes, or it might just be thoughts and feelings, on my notes on my phone and eventually, you can go back to it. Now, I'm in a place where I'm really ready to tap back into that – you store everything. It's not like it ever leaves you, so when you have the strength to actually put pen to paper, as it were, you've got a little bit of a story written down already that you can tap into.

You contributed to Stormzy's album, This Is What I Mean, in 2022, co-writing and vocally arranging the song Please. Do you approach songwriting for others differently when compared to writing your own music?

It can be easier to write for other people, because as artists, we try and perfect and perfect and perfect. It can be a little bit harder writing for yourself, because you want to go over every little detail and you overthink it. Whereas writing for somebody else, sometimes it comes out a lot quicker and easier, because that added pressure doesn't feel the same.

What is the song you’re most proud of writing?

For right now, I'd have to say Damn, just because it kind of wrote itself. It was almost a freestyle, and because I was so vulnerable, open and raw on that. Being able to tap into all of that and the way in which it was written, I'd say I'm most proud of that.

What does the phrase Play Out Loud mean to you?

Play out loud, to me, means the truest form of expression. Playing out loud is my biggest release, and that means whether I'm listening to my favourite songs really loud, or I'm performing.

Is there any upcoming new music on the horizon that you’d like to mention?

Yes! I've been working with a guy called Switch, who used to be part of Major Lazer back in the day and he’s produced everyone. He's an absolute legend. We've been working together for the last few years, so that's going to start coming out this year as a joint thing between him and I. Then at the same time, I'm releasing stuff under Ayda Rose. I've got a new single planned soon, so I'm really looking forward to that. I'm going to keep it all to myself and have the mystery!