Magic Can Happen
Some say music can change the world. Hip-hop music definitely does, according to Ben Herson.
Haven't you too dreamt of becoming a rock star when you were a child? You surely remember standing in front of the mirror every once in while, holding a hair brush microphone in hand, warbling – sorry – performing your favourite songs. Secretly hoping that it could only be a matter of time before you were discovered by a successful producer who would turn you into a world-famous rock star.
Unfortunately for most of us, this dream never became true. Instead of stardom we ended up taking more profane paths and became dentists, managers or "something in media". I met Roxanne de Bastion, one of the few for whom the dream of making it big in the music biz has come true.
The first time I saw Roxanne in person, I thought: "Oooh, how cute she is!" We met on an event in Berlin, chatted a bit, and I asked "So what do you do?" – "I just make music" she replied simply. It is virtually impossible to imagine the talent behind this unpretentious response. I had expected all manner of things, but certainly not that such a powerful voice might be contained in this petite, pretty package. It has a fascinating quality; her songs are utterly captivating.
Roxanne's story sounds like a fairy tale: after finishing school, she went to England where she battled her way through the pubs for four years. Last year, just before Christmas, she sent Gordan Raphael a demo tape. He called her right back. And Raphael is not just some unknown guy: He produces such talents as Skunk Anansie, the Strokes and the Libertines. Raphael and Roxanne went into the studio for a week and the result is her new album: "The Real Thing".
While the short version might read like a fairy tale, if you look closer you can see the immense amount of work involved. "I was ten when I took the stage for the first time with my father." What songs did she sing? "Johnny Be Good and Beatles songs." John Lennon and the Beatles were a great inspiration to Roxanne as a child. To put it in context: Roxanne is now 26. 16 years ago, at the end of the 90s, while other ten-year-olds were screaming their lungs out for Justin Timberlake during NSYNC's heyday, Roxanne was practicing playing the guitar and singing. Even back then she pestered her father with one burning question: when will I be ready to write my own song?
The time was finally ripe when she was 13. Roxanne began writing her first songs and they were ready for an audience by the time she was 15. And the songs just got better and better. Instead of covering Beatles songs, she started playing more of her own tunes during performances.
"It just comes to me. There are no words to really describe the moment an idea is transformed into a song. "
My own musical talent was just enough to play the triangle in music class at school. The process of song writing is a complete mystery to me. And oddly this full-blooded musician seems no wiser than I am – or at least she finds it difficult to describe the creative process in words:
"It just comes to me. There are no words to really describe the moment an idea is transformed into a song – Bob Dylan once referred to it as a wave that engulfs you, sweeps you along. I usually just pick up my guitar and start playing. Either other people's songs that work with my voice or just chords. At some point it just happens; the song simply emerges."
To ensure that none of these moments are lost she carries a notebook around with her everywhere she goes to record her sudden inspirations for lyrics. When a melody strikes, she often rushes home to play it on the guitar as quickly as possible. "Unfortunately my song writing is a little limited since the only instrument I can play is the acoustic guitar. So far it's the only instrument I've been able to intone my songs on. But technology is a wonderful thing: I now have a music program I can use to try my songs out on other instruments."
Roxanne's family is originally from Stratford-upon-Avon in England, a small city near Birmingham. If the name seems familiar, that might be because it is the birth city of William Shakespeare. Perhaps artistic talent is simply in the air there. Roxanne's family moved to Berlin when she was nine – her first experience on stage was in the urban hinterland around Berlin. Roxanne writes her songs in English.
After finishing school, she spontaneously decided to up sticks and test her songs out on the British public. With no money, no job and no plan for the next few years, nothing more than her guitar on her back. The only thing she knew was that she wanted to play. Live. In front of a new audience with no one to fall back on but herself. Something she shares with her idols, the Beatles. The Fab 4 came to Hamburg back in the day and played in the grubbiest clubs. Roxanne did the same in reverse, initially in the British backwaters, then in London. Not an easy time in her life – she lost her first waitressing job in the UK after just a few hours, she recalls with a smile.
"Fortune favours the brave"
I want to know if she ever entertained doubts during those four years. "No, absolutely not! Music is and has always been what I want to do. The English have a wonderful saying: fortune favours the brave. I held fast to that idea.
But it was four years before Roxanne felt ready to send in her first demo tape. All the previous recordings seemed too immature, not polished, not perfect enough. But it was well worth the wait – and happily the package was addressed to Gordon Raphael. A bull's eye in one.
If you would like to hear more songs of Roxanne, check out her YouTube channel: