Rose Windows is much more than a “psychedelic” rock band. This septet fuses folk, jazz, and blues to craft a sound that shows off the Seattleites’ penchant for weird-wave instrumentation and haunting group harmonies. Rabia Qazi provides soaring, soulful vocals alongside Veronica Dye who plays one mean flute. Their debut LP The Sun Dogs was released in June on ultimate indie label Sub Pop, and features some strange, epic ballads reminiscent of ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock greats. Right now they’re working on their sophomore release, so we called up Rabia and Veronica to get the scoop on what to expect. The ladies chatted with us about life pre-Rose Windows, vintage clothing addictions, and the one and only Billie Holiday.
You’re about to start a mini-tour with The Head and the Heart. Have you ever played with them before?
R: Yeah, we played with them once before in New York for CMJ at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. It was really fun. We’ve known them for a long time. Actually our drummer, Pat, and lead guitarist, Chris, were good friends with Kenny, who plays piano for the Head and the Heart. They’ve been friends for quite a while so it’s pretty cool to be able to play with them and they’re really sweet folks.
Have you been involved with other musical projects before Rose Windows? Tell me about any other bands or groups you've played in or for.
R: Just one, it was a really funny, joke band called Nod Off that I screamed for the whole time and that’s it. It was very not serious. This is the first serious thing I’ve ever done musically.
What kind of music was it exactly?
R: It was like noise-punk-thrash, crazy, really, really bad stuff. [Laughs]
So, a lot different from Rose Windows.
R: Oh yeah, it was really weird for me to look at live videos from back then and live videos now. It’s like, I kind of learned how to sing there! [Laughs] I think we practiced like twice and played fifteen shows or something stupid like that. We have no recordings or anything.
Was that a band you started in Seattle?
R: Yeah, my really good friends who are in an up-and-coming band called MNTS right now. They’re awesome.
Would you say they sound similar to Nod Off?
R: Yeah, but it’s way more structured now. They definitely developed more of a sound. They’ve gotten a lot better, that’s for sure.
What about you, Veronica? Any other projects pre-Rose Windows?
V: Actually, no. I played flute since I was nine. I was in Seattle doing a classical chamber music recital and afterwards I was hanging out with Chris, our guitarist, and I brought my flute. He said, “You should play in this project I’m working on!” I said no. [Laughs] “I don’t know how to play in a rock band but thank you for offering!” He just kept bugging me so finally I went to practice and then a few days after that we played a show and I was in the band. It’s a learning experience because I was classically trained so I was used to having sheet music in front of me, practicing measure by measure by movement so it was different feel and I had to learn a different style of playing.
Veronica, do you write your own parts or is it collaborative with Chris or the rest of the band?
V: My parts usually are written last. Everyone does their rhythm section thing, Rabia has her lyrics. I go off the feel of what Rabia is singing and the mood she’s singing it in and write it from there. If something doesn’t work they’re not shy to tell me it doesn’t work so I change it up and try something else with another feeling that comes. It’s nice because we get a mood that everyone agrees on.
So in a more general sense when it comes to the songwriting process for Rose Windows, is it a group effort or would you say it mostly falls on Chris? Rabia, do you write the lyrics?
R: For The Sun Dogs, Chris wrote the majority of all of the songs and he showed them to me one day and I loved them. He had them basically all written. I wrote “Walking With a Woman” and he helped me with the chorus at the end. Our next record that we’re working on currently it’s more of a group effort of all of us. We learned a good dynamic between the seven of us so now we’re able to hone in on our own ideas. I definitely want to start and have been writing my own stuff which is really exciting. We’re all pretty pumped about it.
What kind of direction is the new record going in?
R: We want to keep it the same vibe, but personally I think it’s funkier. Some of the songs are more funky and bluesy. It still sounds like our first record but it’s going to definitely be different. It’s turning out really jazzy in some parts so I’m really excited.
Is there any improvisational aspect to your performances? I feel like there’s room for that with you guys. Or is it pretty structured?
R: When we first started out we weren’t necessarily jamming because we knew what we wanted to do but we didn’t completely have it all put together yet. So it was kind of improv-y at some points and we just put it together but now the songs are very structured. The next record is going the same way, you’ve just got to jam out each song until you find out what you want to play for that part, you know? It’s a really fun way to write songs. Just to jam and play them and play them until you find what you want to do.
V: I like to improvise on stage. It’s fun. It’s nothing too far from what’s on the record. With every show the mood changes a little and depending on the energy of the crowd I feel it out. I think on this new record there’s going to be a lot more of the whimsical improv feel. What jazz is based around, which is just the feeling. You play the feeling. I’m excited for that just because that’s another part of music that I’m looking forward to learning.
I know you’ve cited Billie Holiday as a big influence on your singing, Rabia. Are there particular albums or songs of hers that you find most inspiring?
R: Oh yeah. The first song that I think of would be “Strange Fruit.” That’s definitely my favorite. The first time I heard it I just bawled my eyes out, literally. It’s a heartbreaker but obviously everything that woman has ever done, I love. Which I’m sure most people do. How could you not? Her lyrics are incredible, her voice, everything about her.
Her life story is so insane.
R: Oh my god, I know. Dying from a legal heroine overdose that your doctor prescribed you. She went through a lot. What’s crazy to me is that because she was prescribed heroine you can hear it in her voice and her stage presence. Watching live videos of her now is so haunting because you just know that she’s probably pretty hopped up, you know?
Are there other jazz musicians you’re influenced by?
R: I obviously love Ella Fitzgerald. I got really into Freda Payne awhile ago. Her classic single was “Band of Gold.” She’s really good. There are a lot of soul and R & B singers that I’m really into. Another big influence that people don’t usually know about is Buffy Sainte Marie. Probably her most famous song is “Universal Soldier.” She was an activist singer in the ‘60s and she’s incredible. I love her. Jesse Sykes is actually a current singer and she’s been playing for about ten years. She’s incredible, her voice is really haunting and really good.
V: I’m a huge Nina Simone fan. She’s a powerhouse. She does some serious stuff. You know, classically trained pianist, she’s fluent in French, she’s an all-around powerhouse of a woman. Just telling it like it is and making her music seem effortless. I’ve always been really into her. I love her.
Rabia mentioned that the new album was going to be funkier. Are there any funk artists from the ‘70s that you’re into?
V: We’ve been listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield. The Super Fly soundtrack is awesome. We’re also getting into music with a lot of heavy brass in it. Afro-jazz and afro-funk are both always good too.
I found Rabia’s Etsy account and it’s full of great clothes spanning several decades. Which decade’s clothing trends is your favorite/which decade’s clothing trends do you find yourself wearing most often?
R: My favorite decade would be the ‘50s because that’s what fits me best. I love all the styles and shapes but it’s what fits me the best. Usually the ‘40s and ‘50s styles do really well because I’m pretty BUST-y [laughs]. That’s probably my favorite decade because of our intricate and beautiful it is. But I’m vintage hoarder. I’ve been buying and selling since I was sixteen. I’m really, really into it. It’s kind of a problem.
It's clear that Rose Windows is heavily influenced by '60s and '70s musicians, but are there any current bands you find yourself inspired by or would recommend to us?
R: There’s this band called Cotton Jones…
I love them!
R: They are so good. That Basket Ride compilation thing they have? I love them. I’m obsessed with them. I listen to them every day.
I was just listening to Paranoid Cocoon the other day.
R: I heard them and I was just blown away! Usually there’s not a lot of new stuff that I like but I love that! I love that band. Currently in the van we’re listening to Mac DeMarco, which is also really good.
V: That question is so hard because most of what I listen to is pretty old. I’ve been listening to Marisa Nadler and Chelsea Wolfe. Our drummer, Pat, was asked to play some drum parts on her new record and I wanted to check her out and fell in love. She’s awesome. And then also I’m sure you’ve heard of La Luz?
Yes, they're so good!
V: I do too! What I love about them is their music is so spot-on. They sound like they could be in the ’60s. They bring this kind of cool ‘90s attitude to their lyrics, which I love. Their live shows are full of energy and they work really well with the crowd. As an audience member my jaw is just agape. They’re amazing.
"Rock Dreams" is an ongoing series of interviews with amazing female musicians we love, and is sponsored by Sock Dreams.