In 2018 Chappell Roan – armed with the hair of a mermaid, the spellbinding voice of an old soul and an Instagram account you’re going to want to follow – packed everything she owned into the back of her car and drove for three days straight from her tiny Missouri hometown to make L.A her home. However, when she arrived, she wasn’t feeling it.
“I did not know what to write about until I moved to California,” Roan admits straight away. “I was having such a hard time finding myself, and I still feel this way. I feel like I don't really fit into the pop writing industry. I feel like I’m a little too country, but I'm not country! In California I missed the seasons; I missed the simplicity of the Midwest.”
However, pining for her hometown and struggling to adjust to the supposed glitz and glamour of Hollywood did inspire her single, California, which took her three years to write; a stark contrast to how quickly things have come together for her before.
Taking up the piano aged 12, by age 16 Roan had written a melancholy song called Die Young, accompanied by a video she created on her own. Just six months later, she was signed to Atlantic Records, and her School Nights EP was released in September 2017.
“I just had no idea what was going on,” she says, reflecting on the speed that things picked up for her at such a young age.
“I just didn't know how to process it, and sometimes I still don't know how to process it! I was 17 when I got signed, and it just felt like a whirlwind. I felt kind of lost and like I was roaming around. But at the same time, I was releasing music and it was very overwhelming, but it was the best learning experience.”
That reminds her of a time she was in New York showcasing for Republic Records.
“Literally, I was having to do my maths homework the night before I went and showcased for the execs at the label. I graduated school a year early so I could do music, and it was super hard to adapt from a small rural town, to Los Angeles and New York. I had never seen a skyscraper! We're so far away from the ocean back home, even. I was shocked...for three years straight!”
Die Young’s vocal maturity and the nature of the lyrics belie the fact Roan wrote the song aged just 16. I have a sneaking suspicion that as well as being influenced by Stevie Nicks and Karen Carpenter, Roan grew up listening to a lot of Lana Del Rey.
“Look at your mama, now she's crying / Cause she thinks her baby's dying / Don't put up a fight, she just wants to hold you / And look cause your daddy, he hates lying,” she sings on Die Young.
Looking back on the song now, Roan almost cringes at her younger self, and says she never listens to her old material.
“It feels like a different person, honestly. It just reminds me – wow, I have come so far. That was me when I was a very moody, angry teen. Every time I hear that song or when someone brings it up, I'm like, ‘I still don't even know how I wrote it, because I don't even think I understood what it was about when I wrote it, fully’.
"I look at it now and I'm like, ‘Oh, I see what I was trying to get at’. But when I was writing it, it was just like screaming out, or something was ripping out my skin. That's dramatic,” she laughs, “but that's what it felt like.”