In the Spotlight: Roxanne de Bastion
“Anyone who’s in music that could do something else should do something else. You make music because you feel that’s what you have to do.” Bold words, but when music courses through your veins as it is for Roxanne de Bastion, they ring with truth.
Born in Berlin, Roxanne grew up in Germany and the UK, surrounded by music. She is a thriving singer songwriter in the indie space who’s not afraid to speak up, and who cares deeply about the music making community. Roxanne’s passion and go-for-it attitude are proving fruitful – she’s traveled abroad to gig and speak, released an album and an EP, and has more coming down the pipeline.
Roxanne sat down with ProjectNextUp to share a bit about her path, passions, and perspectives. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we are!
ProjectNextUp: How did you find your way into music?
Roxanne de Bastion: I can’t ever remember wanting to do anything else with my life… I discovered Beatles music for myself when I was really little, and that kinda did it for me. My dad’s a musician as well, so we always had instruments and music making around the house. I started writing songs when I was a teenager and started gigging as and when I could.
After school I decided to move to England and jump in the deep end. My life before that was quite sheltered: I’d just focused on school, so all of a sudden I had rent to pay and had to figure out how one goes about becoming a singer / songwriter – there's no handbook on how to be a musician! I just started jobbing and playing at open mic nights. For a while I played wherever and whenever I could, I literally said yes to every show, zig zagging across the country until I found my feet a bit in London.
PNU: And how did you find your feet?
RdB: The more you play, the more promoters get to know you and the more people discover your music and support you along the way. I was never one for leaning back and waiting for things to happen and am a firm believer in creating your own luck. I've never really spent much time going down the traditional route, contacting labels and managers. I was very much on the ground running, for better or for worse; it was very much a case of learning by doing and by making mistakes.
In a weird way, I think being removed from my comfort zone allowed me to be a bit more bold – all my family and friends were in a different country – I was on my own with nothing to loose. The music industry is very much smoke and mirrors, but things are rapidly changing, which is super interesting to me.
PNU: You eventually found success as an independent artist though, right?
RdB: I’m not independent for the sake of it. It’s not about that. It’s interesting, because people do fairly quickly put you in that bracket of fiercely independent or DIY artists. It is definitely a great time to make music if you're up for doing the work yourself. I don't think it's ever been this viable to create and sustain a career in music without those massive record labels and major radio / TV airplay.
PNU: So you’re indie more by default than design?
PNU: And did you have help along the way? Mentors?
RdB: I'm really inspired by other independent singer / songwriters I've met along the way. One of my favourites is Irish born Niall Connolly from New York. I love his songwriting, but also the fact that he makes music full time by touring and hosting his own music nights. He's very supportive of other musicians. It definitely didn't seem like the easiest of lifestyle, but it definitely inspired me to brave making music full-time.
RdB: There are just fewer categories for women to occupy. I’m definitely optimistic, and think that things are getting better all the time, but I still often find underlying sexism to the point where people aren’t aware that it even exists. I think that’s the scary part – this goes for men and women alike – saying things like “I don’t want a female bassist, I want an all-male band,” that things like that will be said without even a question. I think the challenge is for people to recognize that being female in itself is not a category. I should be able to get a gig or a festival slot, even if there is another woman in the lineup. There should be space for all the female artists and all the different types of music they make. The gender shouldn’t be the thing that categorizes or defines the music.
PNU: What do you recommend as ways to overcome that?
RdB: Continuing the dialogue openly is really important – if you are a woman in the music business, to share your experience. I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be like after the [Reeperbahn] talk was published, and I was really pleased to see the overwhelming majority was a good, positive support from men and women alike. It is interesting that the people who react negatively react very negatively. So there seems to be no middle ground: either you’re supportive, or you are angry and abusive.
The more people share experiences, the better, and I think that is happening at the moment. I think people are less ashamed or less scared to be vocal about that. And the more people share their experiences, the more we’ll overcome the issue. So many people aren’t aware that it even is an issue because it’s not pertinent to their set of experiences.
I also believe that the decentralization of the music industry is a good thing for equality. Gender equality and equality in general. More independent companies have given space for more different types of leadership models.
PNU: As if your career as a performer and your speaking engagements aren’t enough, you’ve put on a conference for the past couple years.
RdB: Yeah! That just sort of evolved naturally..! I hosted the first [conference] From Me to You last year. It was supposed to be a one-off, I thought it would be a cool thing to do. After having had the opportunity to attend and speak / perform at traditional music industry events, I just thought: “We definitely need something like this for independent musicians like me with topics and perspectives pertinent to us!”. The whole idea was from musicians for musicians. All the panels were chaired by full time musicians to make sure they stayed relevant to us, and the musical keynotes were full time musicians who shared their stories of how they got to where they are now.
It went well last year, and all the musicians who attended took it as a given, so they asked: “when is it happening next year?” We actually got some arts council funding for it this year, which was amazing – I really didn’t expect to get that kind of support for it. It was nice that it was recognized that the independent music sector is really important and under funded. It was a small amount for them, but a huge amount for us to make it happen.
PNU: It’s great to see that kind of support occurring. What people have you encountered along the way who share your values?
RdB: When I did the first From Me to You, there was this weird time period when everyone was saying to me: “you should get in touch with Laura Kidd,” her artist name is She Makes War – at least ten different people within the space of a couple of weeks. It didn’t work out last year, but this year it did and she ended up moderating one of the panels [below], and was also a musical keynote speaker. I love what she does and I now totally understand why everyone was saying we should get together!
She shares the same values when it comes to being out there and doing it and making things happen for yourself and being resourceful within that, rather than just waiting for things to happen or going down the conventional routes. She’s successful with her music and she’s made all of that happen herself. That’s really inspiring.
PNU: Looking forward, what’s next for you?
RdB: I’m recording new material and I’m going on my first proper UK tour in April. I really hope to release the album later in the year! There will definitely be a new song released around the tour.
April 5th - Leeds, Oporto (tickets available soon)
April 7th - Manchester, Gullivers (tickets here)
April 8th - Liverpool, View Two (tickets here)
April 10th - Sheffield, Greystones (tickets here)
April 11th - London, Green Note (tickets here)
April 13th - Brighton, Latest Music Bar (tickets here)
April 14th - Milton Keynes, The Stables (tickets here)
PNU: How exciting, I can’t wait to hear it! And looking back, if you could give your 15-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
RdB: If there’s one thing I really wish I had known right from the start, it’s how important it is to form genuine friendships with musicians. I know that sounds odd, but – especially if you’re a solo singer songwriter – the product you’re selling is you. It can be a lonely endeavour; it’s you against the world. The longer I’m doing this the more I’m realizing that really the only way forward is to support one another. The relationships with them and with the people that like your music are the more lasting and more important relationships – everything else is secondary.
Want to know more? Listen to Roxanne’s music: