PREMIERE: Rose of The West Maps Their Mythology With “Roads”

Rose of the West photo by Nicole Zenoni

In the pale sands of a seemingly endless landscape, Gina Barrington stands like a bright bloom, her fiery mane adorned with a crown of sunbleached twigs. Droning harmonium adds a psychedelic haze to the reassuring words she sings: “If we take the long way, I swear it’s okay…” By the time she offers her solemn warning (“All the fragile hearts were break”) it’s too late; you’re already under her spell and along for the ride, no matter what lies ahead.

Barrington has been on a journey, one that the video for “Roads” reflects in saturated tones. Having moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles and back again, her latest musical project, Rose of the West, takes the form of a dreampop five-piece, rounded out by Cedric LeMoyne (Remy Zero, Alanis Morissette), Thomas Gilbert (GGOOLLDD), Erin Wolf (Hello Death) and Dave Power (The Staves). The group takes its name from the colloquial term for Eucalyptus macrocarpa, an Australian plant known equally for the stunning electric hue of its blossoms and for its ability to flourish in hostile climates, certainly an apt comparison. As the first single from the band’s forthcoming self-titled debut, which arrives April 5th via Communicating Vessels, “Roads” provides a map revealing where the band has been, where it is going, and the perseverance burning in its core.

The video, directed by Barrington’s longtime friend and business partner Aliza Baran, positions Barrington as clairvoyant guide along an uncertain path, twirling in neon silks or squinting through a black lattice mask at the undulating horizon. These visuals cement the band’s rustic style as well as its mythology in a way only someone close to the project and its progenitor could. With its expansive beauty, full of possibility and danger alike, the desert could not be a better backdrop to introduce Rose of the West to the world.

Check out the video below and read our interview with Gina Barrington as she retraces the meandering path she took to get to this moment.

AF: Rose of the West is a project five years in the making – can you tell me about some of the challenges you’ve faced getting a permanent lineup together? How did the band finally form?

GB: Finding a tribe isn’t ever easy; it’s incredibly difficult if you happen to be a bit of an introverted soul. I felt like I was always in the wrong place at the best time, attracting people that were not a good fit long term. When the last version of the band fell apart, I stopped, took a break to breathe and heal from a turbulent relationship. I had more to figure out than just why things disintegrated again… I had to do some deep diving to work on fixing my shit. That was hard, and it hurt. Once I accepted things and started moving through it, this line-up came to me pretty quickly. It went through some changes in the beginning, but landed with myself and Thomas (guitar) first, then Erin (keys, voc), who I’d known as friends and musicians playing in other bands around Milwaukee. Eventually Cedric joined on bass, who I’ve known half my life and has always wanted to work with me. The last missing ingredient was Dave on drums, who we’d known from being in the Eau Claire scene. The chemistry finally seems right to accomplish what I’m after.

AF: What was your childhood like, growing up in a musical household and playing so many different instruments? How did that influence your sound?

GB: My grandfather was a high school orchestra teacher. He played many instruments himself, and really tried to get me to be a traditionally good music student, which I was not. I didn’t have the discipline, or the desire to sit and play scales on piano or violin. What I did have was a really good ear, and the ability to pick something up and play it okay enough to use it as a tool. I loved to sing, and just fiddle around on the piano. I wanted a guitar, which I wasn’t allowed to have until I had mastered the basics on piano… which I never did. I had music in my blood, I knew it would be a part of my life, but I needed to create it for myself. It took me a long time to find my voice.

I grew up listening to a lot of classical, and Italian folk music. My grandparents, brother, and I performed in the Italian Dance Group of Milwaukee for many years, so that type of music was in my head all the time. When I was a teenager, I was very hungry for new music, moving quickly past a lot of the radio pop. I started gravitating towards The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen… These types of artists satisfied my need for meaning in words and music, feeling just as truthful and expressive as the classical music played in my grandparents’ house, but somehow with a heaviness that resonated with me at that time so much.

AF: Sonically I hear some psychedelic influences – can you talk a little about the sound you were going for and what has inspired it, musically or otherwise?

GB: I usually try to create a feeling of sonic atmosphere around my storytelling…. it tends to be dreamy, layered, textural things I start with before I add lyrics and melodies. I like things to feel like we may be having a conversation about what it feels like to go through life and experience every emotion, even the most plaguing, difficult ones. I think the band as a whole tends to veer toward a heavy nod to the late ’80s, early ’90s vibes. I think the sound really came to life when we took the demos down to Communicating Vessels’ studio in Birmingham, AL to start recording. The direction and feeling were already there, but having the opportunity to take what we had done and really start experimenting by pulling those special otherworldly sounds and parts out was what we needed. With the guidance of Brad Timko and Jeffrey Cain, we found and created a world we could get lost in, and hopefully other people too.

AF: I love that the lyrics have a message of perseverance and echo some of the meandering routes you had to take to bring this project to fruition. What was your mindset when you wrote the song?

GB: “Roads” is a song that has been with me for quite awhile. I don’t think anyone thought of it as a single until we finally recorded it. It was born after a trip down to Chicago to purchase a harmonium, which I just loved the sound of. I brought it home and immediately went down to the basement and started recording the dreamy drone of one chord, and everything started to flow out around it. It came very quickly, and it was at a time when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next – my life was a bit of a mess. I think I wrote it knowing things were maybe going to get messier, and they did. But I couldn’t give up, and couldn’t let fear of the unknown hold me back anymore, knowing both pain and happiness could teach me many valuable things.

AF: How did you hook up with the video’s director, Aliza Baran? What was the vision for this video initially?

GB: I have known Aliza for many years, maybe many lifetimes. We often collaborate on each other’s creative projects. I was in the process of planning the video, I wasn’t even sure which song was going to be the single. I had someone else interested in shooting and directing, but I wasn’t very excited about the direction, it wasn’t feeling right. Aliza and I were having coffee, discussing our business – the store we co-own (Serpentine Salvage) in Milwaukee, WI – when she mentioned to me that the direction of the video didn’t seem true to me, the band or the music, so I just plainly said, then do you want to do it? We had a plan within a few minutes. She is also very fond of the southwestern part of the country, also knows my father and has been there a few times with and without me – we even hosted her wedding there on a stunning vista. Everything fell into place, as “Roads” was chosen for the first single, and we felt that was the best location to shoot it, and showcase the strange duality of that gorgeous place, and of being human. We wanted to tell a visual story about the many paths and choices we have in life, good or bad, light or dark, easy or hard, vague or obvious.

AF: The video (as well as the name of the band) conjures very strong associations to the wild American frontier. What about that era and the West itself do you find compelling?

GB: I personally have a strong connection to the Southwest, and the high desert. My father has lived there for most of my life, in a very small town, Magdalena, NM. Half of the “Roads” video was shot there, and the other half in White Sands, NM. Both the beauty and the harshness of the landscape attract me equally. It’s mysterious, vast, and feels truly uncontrollable. It can make you feel so isolated, yet so full of peace at the same time. There is a darkness and a magic that cover things like a thin blanket there, and I often find myself wanting to return there.

AF: What else can you tell me about your forthcoming debut?

GB: Getting to this point and having the record done seemed impossible at times. I think some part of me always knew it would happen, but not easily. I would never trade any of the experiences I had leading up to this, and I think the record takes you on a journey with us when you listen to it. It’s intended as a full album experience like things I listened to growing up. I hope people can relate, and I can’t wait to get it out in the world officially.

AF: What are your touring plans behind the new record? What can folks coming out to see Rose of the West expect?

GB: We’re starting at home with a release show on April 6th, at Mad Planet (Milw. WI) and will continue playing regionally around the Midwest over the next few months. Then we’ll do a more extensive headline or support tour late summer/early fall. We’re looking forward to getting out there to support this record, and connect with people at our shows. We aim to make you feel and move.

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