The creative process is often one of refinement and reinvention, a gestural endeavor dependent on audience reaction. It is provisional and ever-changing. It is rare, then, to come across a debut offering from an artist that sounds so concrete, unified, and confident. Such is the case with London-based singer-songwriter Rebecca Phillips, aka Omahrose.
Centering her sound on a confluence of acoustic warmth, nocturnal electronics, and layered vocal harmony, Omahrose mixes soul and R&B influences with a narrative-driven songwriting that is at once personal and yet captivatingly familiar. Her first single, ‘Hostel’, taken from her forthcoming EP Edge, is an insidious tale of retribution, a languorous slow-jam with a Hollywood noir sensibility. Other tracks, such as ‘Bad Mouth’, confront the difficulty of self-expression, while the unifying factor throughout is Omahrose’s crystalline vocal and assertive message of defiance.
In anticipation of the EP’s release at the end of the month, we spoke with Omahrose about her formative influences, her propensity for inhabiting a precipice, and negotiating a male-dominated industry as an independent female artist.
What were your first experiences of music?
Before I could speak, I sang; I apparently used to put myself to sleep by singing! I had a tape recorder that I used to record songs onto and when I was about seven I started a vocal harmony group in school with my friends; we entertained people in the playground at lunchtimes. We were probably quite bad but we thought we were good!
Have you always enjoyed performing?
I used to find it pretty scary, but that was part of the appeal. I used to freeze before I went on stage but I would always go through with it – it was an endurance test, it was about challenging myself. I wouldn’t tell people I was scared because if I entertained the idea of it, it would be unbearable. Now, I still find performance daunting but it’s enjoyable.
You’re releasing your debut EP soon, what does the title Edge refer to?
The common thread that runs through the EP is a sense of being on the precipice of experiences and holding on. It’s about being close to the edge emotionally, coping but also tipping over at times.
Do you find it exciting to be on the verge like that?
I must do! It’s not something I consciously seek out but it must be there, especially in being motivated to endure performance when I was younger. We all seek out adrenaline and that’s about being on the edge of something and persevering.
Do you enjoy the writing process?
Writing is a constant for me, I’m always thinking of lyrics and jotting them in endless notepads. I can find the studio hard when I get stuck but then that’s a challenge I also enjoy overcoming. I have lots of work that is incomplete, and sometimes you go back to something and realise it’s trash! Other times, though, you salvage parts and make something new. A couple of the songs on the EP, like ‘Hostel’ and ‘Bad Mouth’, were developed like that in stages.
What ideas are you exploring in Edge?
‘Bad Mouth’ was written after I saw an advert for domestic violence and in it the victim isn’t revealing what’s happening to them, and so the premise of the song is about someone being ‘bad’ or abusive and you never speaking negatively about them, perhaps out of fear or out of self-preservation. It’s about the tension between self-censorship and self-expression in situations where expression is difficult to formulate. That song isn’t about something I’ve experienced but I could relate to the thought-processes.
Do you self-censor in your work?
I do sometimes. I’ll go back on things that I’ve written and edit them; I might only take two lines from an entire narrative.
What’s the ideal effect you want your music to have on its listeners?
I don’t really think about the effect I want my music to have on the people who listen to it, to begin with. On a base level, I’d like people to have an emotional connection to it. I want them to relate, not just to obvious subject-areas like heartbreak, but to darker thoughts or more complex feelings that we don’t always say aloud.
Your music expresses such a clear voice; is it a means of self-expression for you outside of daily life?
I’m pretty strong in life anyway. Music doesn’t need to be an outlet for me, but in music you can contain and formulate expression before letting it rip. It’s a different kind of communication, as opposed to the everyday which is reactive or experiential.
Do you think individuated female voices are lacking in music at the moment?
There are lots of strong women in music and it seems like there’s more desire for women now to be expressive in a three-dimensional way, rather than just being seen as sexual objects or male counterparts. It’s great that artists like Erykah Badu, Solange and SZA are talking about female sexualisation and owning it. They present themselves as nuanced, complex people, rather than just brands.
“I’m pretty strong in life anyway. Music doesn’t need to be an outlet for me.”
Have you encountered obstacles being a female artist in such a male-dominated industry?
There’s always pressure to present myself a certain way but that’s a constituent part of living in a male-dominated world, not just the industry. Men don’t think about how they present themselves in the way that women have to on a daily basis. We have to toe the line between being strong enough to have your voice heard, and then also not being labelled as a ‘bitch’.
Your track ‘You Left Me’ opens with the line: “There are some bitches in here” – how are you using the term there?
I’m taking the masculine, hip-hop oriented perspective; I’m almost taking the piss because the ‘bitches’ are the girls trying to steal your man. It’s a reference to the club-based hip-hop swagger that artists like Biggie had. Instead of saying, ‘you broke my heart, I’m so sad, how will I recover?’, it’s a ‘fuck you’. And men can be bitches too!
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We’ll be doing more live shows to support the EP and I’m always writing new ideas. We also have Part Two of the EP which will be a continuation of what we’ve started here — that’s out in early 2018.