Scottish singer/songwriter Rosie H Sullivan reflects a talent for storytelling in her sophomore EP ‘In My Nature’ looking into her upbringing through thoughtful lyricism and production.
Stream: ‘In My Nature’ – Rosie H Sullivan
Whenever I’m making music it’s like an outlet for me. All of the songs that I put out there are 100% authentic to me. It still amazes me that people listen to my songs and relate to and enjoy them.
Rosie H Sullivan grew up on the Isle of Lewis, a tiny island in northern Scotland. Though she was born in central Scotland, she grew up in the Outer Hebrides with her two siblings and father. Her upbringing and hometown serve as source of inspiration for her second EP, In My Nature.
“We lived right next to the beach and the island was beautiful with landscape, nature, and seascapes which are featured in my music. It was my favorite place,” Sullivan tells Atwood Magazine.
Sullivan has a tattoo on her arm as a constant reminds her of this “favorite place” which she references in her song “Fragments.” She lived by the ocean for 18 years until she decided to move to mainland Aberdeenshire to be closer to family. Though she was still in the countryside, Sullivan describes that “moving from an island to Northern Ireland was a very big change, especially since that’s all [she’s] ever known.”
The 20-year-old artist is the youngest in her family. By 2020, Sullivan had experienced many big shifts and life changes— “I learned a lot about myself, and I was reading a lot, and I was doing a lot of music. I had a revelation period which I talk about in the beginning of the song ‘Wildflowers’—10 months I’ve been on my own wasted time, but I see how I’ve grown.” Sullivan is very in tune with herself and that is evident in her music and reflection.
“It felt like a very strange 10 months where nothing was really happening, but a lot was happening at the same time. I really got to know myself within that period of time and the next year I moved down to uni.”
On the small Scottish Island, there was a lot of music but not many other musicians. When Sullivan moved to the United Kingdom for school, she realized that “there are people out here that think like [her] too.” Her band has been built through people she met at school, and being around a community of musicians has helped her gain experience too.
Sullivan’s sophomore EP, features five tracks:
- “Wildflowers and Cobblestones”
- “Only a Woman”
Due to the album’s orchestral nature the exact production can’t be re-created in live performances. However, with Sullivan’s close friends Rob and Ursula, there is a strong instrumental presence when playing live— “Rob’s a guitarist and an amazing singer, Ursula is a keyboard player and an amazing singer as well.” Along with the guitar and keys, Heather is a bassist and Angus is a drummer for Sullivan’s band. Each track is not only a piece of Sullivan’s life, but it is a testament to the people she has built relationships with.
In an interview with Atwood Magazine, Rosie H Sullivan discusses her latest EP, gratitude for her upbringing, and a reflection of her growth.
A CONVERSATION WITH ROSIE H SULLIVAN
Atwood Magazine: The EP is very cinematic and beautiful. Before even creating the EP, what was your artistic direction in what you wanted to tell the world about Rosie H Sullivan?
Rosie H Sullivan: Whenever I’m making music it’s like an outlet for me. All of the songs that I put out there are 100% authentic to me. It still amazes me that people listen to my songs and relate to and enjoy them. As an artist, getting out there, and just connecting with people has always been my biggest thing. I think having a platform and being able to do that is such a pleasure. I love hearing stories about people who’ve heard my music or where they’ve heard it, and why they’ve heard it and what they think of it. I just love that connection element and it’s super important for me to be as unapologetically authentic as I can be. I hope that comes across in my music.
Leading into your first piece “Wildflowers and Cobblestones” you sing about leaving this old life to bridge a new one in the city. Could you tell me more about this?
Rosie H Sullivan: In this EP, I did some collaborative work with other artists. I wrote some songs with other people but wasn’t feeling myself for some of them. This one was one of those, and my producer and collaborator, Ross Hamilton, who produced the first EP with me got close. When you’re in an artistic relationship with someone, you get very close to them because you spend eight hours a day with them. There are always going to be very deep conversations, and it’s going to be a fulfilling environment.
We built up this relationship and got to know a lot about each other. He came to me with this chorus idea, and we went to the studio, and sat down to write the song together. That was one of my first experiences of co-writing which was really nice. I wrote that song with Ross because he understood the whole first EP and he understood me as an artist and person. I think it’s super important to have that relationship with someone when you’re writing; you have to understand what each other wants out of it.
Wow, that’s awesome to hear about. What themes did you navigate in the song?
Rosie H Sullivan: I had just finished my first year of university when we wrote the song and built through a time period. The beginning is the first 10 months I was on my own and looking back on when we first left the island as a family. Then the second part bridges over the to when I moved out of the family home to Edinburgh. I sing “One year on/Conversations through walls/I hear the sounds/Echo down through the halls” which there were hundreds of people living in this block and it’s a city and it’s really different. It’s just about that duality of life and how I had traded this for this. I think whenever there’s change or something happens in life, you’re always a little bit anxious. This song embodies that duality and that change—I’m living my imperfect life; I’ll be happy and sad at the same time.
As a creative and songwriter, it seems like you’ve had really good moments to connect what you’re writing with what you’re learning. You can see that in this EP building off of what you sing about in “Fragments,” which is a love song to your home. What has this place meant for you not only in inspiration of your music and writing but in gratitude and reflection as an artist?
Rosie H Sullivan: Growing up in the Isle of Louis, it’s such a beautiful place. It has a big place in my heart, and it will always be part of me, and I’ll always be part of it. That’s exactly what the song is about. My family is a very outdoorsy family, and I grew up by the sea, climbing and camping and my dad’s a big kayaker. That just fed into my love of the place where I lived and was lucky enough to be there.
Sometimes, I would just sit on the sand dunes and look at the sea and watch the waves. It was my place of harmony and perfection and a small escape from the world for a brief moment—just enjoying sitting there and taking it all in. It’s somewhere that I’ll always feel attached to and I can feel it in my blood, I can feel it in my body. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and I love it so much. I miss it a lot and I know I can always go back to it. “Fragments” is about that love and always knowing that’s where you belong.
That’s like a central point of your album and going to “Chapters,” I really like your writing because a lot of it is simple, but it's also very poetic. Could you tell me how this piece was almost a preview to this EP in was writing it and releasing it?
Rosie H Sullivan: I first started writing “Chapters” when I was 17. I was still on the island living with my family and it was actually the song that got me my manager now to work with me. Obviously, the video of me singing is on the beach and my manager absolutely loved it and then got in touch because of that song. Then I think someone close to me told me that they didn’t like the song or they kind of made fun of it or something. And I was like, “Oh, just put it into the bin.”
Then the last year or so everyone at the label—my managers and producer were like “Chapters” is a really good song. Maybe we should revisit this. I went into the studio one day, and we were just going to be recording for the EP, but we hadn’t really decided the five songs yet. They came in and Ross was like, “What do you say we maybe give “Chapters” a go?” I trusted them all so I said to give it a go. Me and Ross wrote the new bridge and added more vocal harmonies with a little bit of a different texture on harmonica change.
After that day, I fell back in love with the song and trusting those around you is a big lesson. I think sometimes you don’t trust yourself, but it takes a bit of realization that if you can trust other people with it, you can trust yourself too. That was a nice lesson to learn. I fell back in love with the song and it’s great and it’s on the EP. Little 17-year-old Rosie’s very happy.
What would you say you’ve learned since being 17-year-old Rosie now that you're older, and reflecting and revisiting this piece?
Rosie H Sullivan: I think so much has happened, that was four years ago. A lot of different chapters begin and end within that time, but I think there’s a beauty to going back to something. What I like about it is the song has a nice innocence and naivety to it. It was just about the simple things in life and about making the most of every moment and not being afraid of change. Chapters are going to begin, and chapters are going to end, but there’s going to be things going on and things to keep you going.
“Life is for the living and the dreams are for dreaming and hope is for hoping”, and you have all these things to hold on to. It was nice to revisit it with a few more years of experience. The bridge goes, “It’s in my nature to sign this paper” and is featured in the title of this EP—it’s in my nature to turn this page. It’s a nice way to sum up that, there’s been a few chapters since I started writing it, there’s going to be more chapters. No matter where I go, I’m always thinking about writing and I’m always writing things down. My phone notes are full of things, and I have a notebook and a pen in my bag every single time I leave the house. It’s that note of these things in life that I do and will continue to do.
That's always the best way to go about reflecting on when you're younger and you take a step away from it and gain perspective on other things. In your next song, “Only a Woman” that you wrote with Katie Sutherland—it's a really layered piece. I think it's really cool because you have drums, vocal layering, and the writing is simple, but you portray a lot of complexities about being a woman. Could you explain that creative process with Katie and what you guys were trying to portray through that piece?
Rosie H Sullivan: I started writing it last August and at that time there was a lot of stuff in the media about shit happening to women still. I would find about more stuff going on and I was in a phase of being quite angry about it. I had conversations with a few people around that time as well who were angry about it, even Ross. I am a 20-year-old student, I’m living on my own, why can’t I walk somewhere by myself when it’s dark? It’s the world we are still living in and I had a lot of strong feelings towards it. I started writing and scribbling down the song and I had this idea, quite tongue-in-cheek, that “I am only a woman after all.” I feel like that’s the way a lot of the world and society looks at us; we’ve been conditioned to listen to men or not listen to women.
I took it to Katie because I wanted to collaborate with another woman in the industry. She’s now a mother and about 10 years older than me. She’s got two kids and having someone else who is a female artist and songwriter has brought different experiences and perspectives to add into the song. Bringing these two forces together, writing was really nice. When the song came out, I said it was like a therapy session that me and her had chatting about being women and we then just settled into a song. Every single line in that song is has so much power and a punch to it, we made sure there was something behind it and meaning to why we were writing it. It feels like a really strong one and it was super nice to write that with a really strong woman.
I had this idea, quite tongue-in-cheek, that “I am only a woman after all.” I feel like that’s the way a lot of the world and society looks at us; we’ve been conditioned to listen to men or not listen to women.
Collaborating and bringing her perspective now as a mother and as an older woman into that song with you who's navigating your 20s and reflecting on is a really cool combination. You finish off with “Timeless,” which is just beautiful. I know you incorporated the tale of Hamish Gow. What is his story and how did you incorporate this into your final piece on the EP?
Rosie H Sullivan: As I said before, I grew up in a very outdoorsy family and my dad’s a big kayaking enthusiast and Hamish Gow was a kayaking pioneer in Scotland in the 1980s. My dad was recreating this documentary for a program. In the 1960s, Hamish Gow and his wife would go kayak out to this place called St. Kilda, which is about 30 miles off the west coast of Scotland. It was an insane journey, and they only had a compass in those times, so they didn’t have a plan B but luckily they had made it to this island. Whilst my dad was recreating this documentary with a lot of really talented kayakers, he got the opportunity to speak to Hamish and chat about his journeys.
He gave my dad a lot of his old film from the 1960s of their kayaking and camping adventures. My dad got it all developed and then put it on the TV in Hamish’s house. He had to be about 80 by this time just smoking a cigar, and my dad recorded him on a voice note on his iPhone watching this footage that he hadn’t seen for 40 years. He was just watching this amazing footage which is going to be featured in the music video. It’s beautiful.
Hamish was talking about how it was in that time. I grew up with these stories in the house, we have a lot of film and a lot of photos and a lot of paintings of Hamish’s stuff. Hamish died in 2017 and my dad now has all of his recordings, all of his film, and I have photos up at home. It’s a story I’ve grown up with. When I started writing the song, it was about my love for Scotland, and I knew exactly who I wanted in this. We have a recording of his voice on the song now and it links to “Chapters” where I say, “The chapter is closed/But our stories never end.”
Although Hamish passed a few years ago, his story is something that I’ll carry with me There’s a voice there and people might ask, “whose voice is that?” and it’s a story that I can spread that’s really close to me and my family. It feels really nice to sum up my love for Scotland and the landscapes and the ocean.
Well, that was a wonderful way to close off In the Nature especially with Hamish’s connection to Scotland. Thank you for your time, I enjoyed listening to your music.
— — — —
© Marc Sharp
:: Stream Rosie H Sullivan ::