Dorset singer-songwriter Roo Panes – a man who grew up just down the road from yours truly, as it happens – has taken a route to professional musicianship that could only have come from the 21st Century. Having contacted Burberry about taking part in their Sessions – and to his own surprise, getting a call back – Roo found himself with an insta-audience. And deservedly so; there’s an effortless, unassuming charm mixed with a slight awkwardness to those early recordings.
Three EPs and a full length entitled ‘Little Giant’, released in August 2014, which showcases his 12-string guitar talents and penchant for a deep, heartwrenching tale amongst his melody. Roo, in short, is well worth a tear or three…
You meld classical and folk music in your style, with the classical aspect really kicking in with the backing instrumentation. How did that develop?
I have always loved the sound of stringed instruments, for me they generate an emotive musical landscape, and I’d always wondered what it’d be like to blend that aspect into my songs. It started mainly as a flavour, but gradually grew into more of a characteristic of the music to date. Sometimes I feel like strings arrangements can carry a melody of their own in a song as well as a vocal melody and that attracted me. Classical music has often been a go to for me, I’m not very knowledgeable about it, but I just like the nature of it. It interests me how classical music sets out to tell a story without words, and I thought that could be integrated into folk music nicely, which has a storytelling culture in a lyrical sense. When the group started to grow in number we always used to joke about growing an orchestra out of our friends, but I think it’s still a little way off from that.
Tell us about your album ‘Little Giant’ – how long did it take to put together, and how did NBC come to pick up the title track?
The main legwork of recording Little Giant was done in about a month I believe, but the songs themselves were all written at different stages. I did 3 EP’s prior, and a few of the tracks were chosen from them to work on. Mainly because it didn’t feel right to leave them behind, they’d played a part in getting me there in the first place! But some of the tracks were written very close to recording. I feel like I was still writing, “Tiger striped sky” almost up until I was sitting in the recording seat! Credit goes to my team for the NBC slot, I believe my publishing team brought that about.
You play a twelve string guitar, which it’s fair to say it not your typical instrument. What can you acheive with a twelve string that’s not possible on a normal guitar?
I had a sound in mind that I originally thought would be on a 6 string, but I couldn’t find it. Then I saw the 12 string standing in the corner of the guitar shop, gave it a go and it was exactly what I was looking for. At that time I was playing mainly solo acoustic gigs and wanted something with a bit of body that could fill the songs a little more. However I also needed something with delicate high end because I do a fair bit of picking in my songs. I think that’s its main strength, its sort of shy and bold at the same time.
What’s the Dorset music scene like – is it fair to say it’s pretty modest? Has that made your life any harder?
I think it’s fair to say quite modest. There’s plenty of open mics around, and some great pubs to play in. There’s definitely some good music here though. I met my drummer down here in a studio that had just setup a year ago, so it’s done me well! However, to be honest I decided quite early on to move to London and start there instead, and as a result I’m only just scraping the surface of the Dorset music scene. I’ve recently played two shows down here at the local record store, which was great, and would love to play more. I think the hardest thing about it, is that I’m not really a city type, but that’s where it all seems to happen.
I’ve read that your inspiration comes a lot from books. Can you give me an example of how a book has led to a song? What kind of book really inspires you?
Sure, well the clearest example is probably “Glory days”. It’s not on the album, but it’s on the most recent EP. I was walking around the house and picked out this little book of poetry off a shelf. There was a poem called “The Ocean to Cynthia” by Sir Walter Raleigh in it, which had a particular verse that struck me. It sort of put words to my own memory. It’s apparently otherwise known as “the lost poem” because only some of it was found. So the song “glory days” is retelling the story of that poem at the same time as my own. Out of my songs I’d say that song is most directly inspired by literature. I like books that examine patterns of life, and that have interesting character studies. That’s why I’ve always liked Thomas Hardy. He writes about small communities of people with amazing insight. It helps that he was native to Dorset and loved nature too!
Given your songs are clearly very personal, are they always easy to sing?
The first couple of times I found it hard, but I’ve grown to love it. I don’t like over playing because I don’t want to ever roll a song off like a robot, but there’s something quite liberating about singing live. First of all it feels great to be yourself, but its also interesting to see when something that began as introvert resonates with someone from another walk of life, you begin to see that though everyone’s unique, there’s actually a lot of common ground. Some songs are about exactly that, things that you’ve noticed on your journey and wanted to share, and some songs are things you’ve noticed about other people’s journey that inspire you to write.
If you had to sell yourself in a single song, what would it be?
That’s quite tricky, but I think I’d say “know me well”
What are your expectations for your trip to Dublin?
Hopefully play a good show. I really like coming to Dublin, and always have a great time; last time I stretched my visit a few days.
And your plans for 2015?
Well, looking forward to tour, and perhaps some summer slots. I’m writing quite a lot at the moment, so I’m hoping that we can look at recording and thinking about album 2 sooner rather than later. We only released “Little Giant” 5 months ago though so we’ll see what happens!
Roo Panes plays Dublin’s Academy 2 on the 9th of April. Tickets available here.