Interview by: Heather Johansson
Heather: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview. How are you doing today?
(Annie) We’re doing really well. It’s been a great year and the highlight for us has been seeing all the pieces of the album come together. We’ve worked with a fantastic group of folks, from sound engineers and graphic artists to concert-promoters and photographers. The process has been very collaborative and it’s fun to see each of our partners add to the album in their own way.
Heather: What’s the origin story for your music?
(Jake) The songs truly were self-inspired; that is, the process of composing them was itself the real inspiration. I was way out of my depth on this project, and yet I didn’t feel intimidated — it’s kind of like, when you don’t know your own limitations, there’s less pressure, you’re more able not to care what anyone thinks, you just write whatever sounds good to you. You have internal expectations but no external ones. It’s tremendously fun.
Heather: What were some the first musical instruments that you picked up as a child? Even if it was funky like a toy piano or a kazoo? (My first instrument was the recorder.)
(Annie) It’s always been the violin for me. I remember going to a youth concert at the Seattle Symphony and the conductor introduced the various sections. He pointed to the violins and said that they were the most important instruments in the orchestra and as a five year old, I was sold. Playing in orchestras through college, I quickly realized the conductor’s comment was more that a little inaccurate! I’ve picked up the viola along the way and am trying to learn how to play the mandola (which is the viola of the mandolin family). I secretly wished I played French horn in an orchestra. The low brass has the best parts. Mina and Zack started on piano and will still occasionally jump on the piano for some of our shows. (Jake) My dad started me on Suzuki violin at four-and-a-half, so I didn’t so much pick it up as it was handed to me. But it never felt forced. What’s interesting is that a few years later I also started experimenting with a really beat-up old tape recorder, making these bizarre recordings of me and my brothers making beat-box sounds. Maybe that anticipated a career as a producer.
Heather: Eventually you progressed to form a string quartet. How did you find your members and get started?
(Annie) ROSIN emerged through a fledgling music series founded in 2011, the Sheffield Sessions, which I co-founded with my husband, Sam, and Jake. We wanted to create a shared music experience and strengthen our local community. Live music is a great way to bring people together, and each show highlights a local non-profit and the door proceeds are matched and given to that non-profit. As the series evolved to include more cross-genre shows, Jake and I brought in Mina and Zack to be part of the house band. The more the we played together and experimented with genre-blending music, the more apparent it became that there was something unique to our sound. In 2014, ROSIN decided to take the plunge and write and record a full-length album of instrumental music.
Heather: You seem to have many influences? I like your sound and noticed various ranges in genre. How would you classify your music?
(Jake) The sound of the band is unique because the four of us have such diverse musical histories. I grew up playing bluegrass in my dad’s band; Zack went to jazz school, plays in a rock band (Josh Ritter) and himself fronts a raucous bluegrass band called Barnstar!; Annie did a bunch of classical violin and viola training but then went off in her own direction; and Mina is hard-core classical all the way, with the credentials to prove it. One of the best things about the group is how each of us reacts musically to the others — everyone listens well and has such respect for each other’s voice as an instrumentalist, it’s sort of like musical un-racism, like a mutual cheering section. As different as we all are, we love music and we embrace the rough edges, and that makes the sound work.
Heather: How has the music industry changed for you? How do you feel about these changes?
(Annie) We’ve been surprised by how open and receptive the music industry has been to our music. On the local Boston scene, we’ve had great support from both the classical and pop sides of the industry and we are so appreciative of our local music community. Our challenges aren’t any different from any independent artist out there – finding a niche in crowded field and figuring out ways to fund our projects are the biggest ones. Our band is good at the musical side: writing, performing, recording and talking about our music is easy. It’s the business pieces that are more challenging. We’ve been very creative in finding unique performance opportunities and creating our own concerts. Just like with our music, we’ve approached the business side without taking any conventions for granted and it’s working for us.
Heather: Where does your band hail from? Did you always call this home?
(Mina) Our band came together through the Sheffield Sessions concert series, which is based out of Annie’s (and her husband Sam’s) house, and this is unquestionably our band home. At Sheffield House (as we call it), there are musicians constantly coming, going and staying, there’s always someone practicing or rehearsing, and all of our band business is discussed around the kitchen island with a homemade meal and Zack’s cocktails.
Heather: You know what they say about all work and no play… what do you guys/gals enjoy doing for fun?
(Zack) We find ourselves in the kitchen almost as much as in our rehearsal studio. My specialty is prohibition era cocktails, Mina is the grill master, Jake is the official baker and Annie fills in the gaps with whatever is in the fridge.
Heather: Do you have any funny stories about a concert or being on the road? Have any overzealous fans?
(Jake) No stalkers yet. We think they’re probably too intimidated by Zack’s mustache.
Heather: What type of message or theme do you feel your music portrays?
(Jake) We’re here to create art, and our one purpose is to move people, to change their lives a little bit in the way only art can. We don’t let propriety get in the way of that. We shrug at labels. We throw aside convention for convention’s sake and relentlessly pursue the music that makes us shout, grin, laugh or cry. Everything else is just details.
Heather: I read ROSIN performed at the 5th annual “Music is Food” Benefit Concert for Winchester Got Lunch; so you donate some of your shows to charity. That’s wonderful! It’s great to give back, what types of other benefits have you performed?
(Annie) Everything we do through Sheffield Sessions is based around raising funds and awareness for local non-profits. We’ve raised money for Club Passim, Miles of Music, Wright Locke Farm and the Winchester Community Music School to name a few. After this election cycle, we decided we also need to focus on more national issues are we are headed to NYC in January to play a fundraiser for the New York Women’s Foundation at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall and the show is almost sold out. For all of us in ROSIN, it’s all about creating community around a shared experience and tying our shows to non-profits helps strengthen our community across many levels.
Heather: Can you tell us about your new album, due to come out in January?
(JAKE) Annie proposed the idea, I wrote the music, and Zack and Mina came in and helped shape the album. It took a really long time, partly because it was a new idiom for me to compose in and I had to figure out how to do it, and partly because we weren’t interested in anything that wasn’t great. From conception to completion took about two years.
Heather: Is there anything else that you see coming up in 2017?
(JAKE) Well, we’ve just sold out Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, so we’re just soaking it all in and feeling grateful. We’ve been really in the weeds with putting the album together and making sure the pieces sound like they should, so we’ll probably move into a booking phase next, and find out who’ll take a chance on some disreputable classical music. We’ve got a good feeling about it, we think there’s a small-but-mighty audience that’s been waiting for something like this.