Berlin-born, London-based singer-songwriter Roxanne de Bastion has kindly agreed to talk us through her second album Heirlooms & Hearsay, due for release on May 5th.
The main subject of ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay’ is Roxanne‘s grandfather, Stephen de Bastion (or Istvan Bastyai von Holzer), a pianist from Hungary who made a new home for himself and his family in Stratford upon Avon after enduring the Second World War and the Communist takeover of his homeland. Roxanne draws parallels between his historical experiences and the experiences of people like her Grandfather, fleeing persecution today.
She managed to crowdfund the album via her own website. Amongst the many incentives to help support the release of her new album such as a signed CD or 12” vinyl, you can also book her for a living room show and get exclusive extras such as test pressings, unique artwork posters and VIP tickets. Click here for more details.
Roxanne de Bastion on ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay’ (Track by Track)
This album is dedicated to Stephen de Bastion, my grandfather, whom I never got to meet, but always felt very connected to. While the inspiration behind ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay’ is personal, I hope the message is universal. Thank you so much for inviting me to talk through the album and for listening!
Our collective memory can be so short. It frightens me that despite all our advances and evolutions, events and rhetoric are so eerily similar between then and now, then being my grandparents generation, who woke up one morning and found themselves on the wrong side of history.
I wanted to write a song that spoke directly to those who have to run.
Once this song came to be, it felt like all the other new songs I’d written now had a home. That basic theme of reaching over generations was to be the foundation of ‘Heirlooms & Hearsay’.
HEART OF STONE
Heart of Stone is intentionally upbeat and uplifting, while the subject matter can be interpreted as dark. As for its meaning, I’d much rather leave that open for interpretation.
I was so happy once we finished this track. Musically, I’ve rarely created anything that matched my initial expectation of it. This exceeded it, thanks to the fantastic musicians I got to work with (for this song in particular, India Bourne on cello who usually plays cello for Ben Howard and producer Peter Miles, who really helped me make this track what it is!).
Well, this really is me, now: Travelling around Europe on trains with my acoustic guitar and a suitcase. Other than being a little time capsule (you never know, I might graduate to a tour van one day..), this song is very much a reminder to myself and it’s not always easy to sing. My favourite moment performing this song was at Glastonbury last year, on the day of the referendum, when the second verse was accidentally a little too relevant. That was bitter-sweet.
I love the backwards loop that threads in and out of the track like a needle. I’m also really happy that my Dad plays piano on this track. He recorded it remotely from Berlin on my grandfather’s piano, making this an album that three generations feature on.
In 2013, a part of the east side gallery (longest remaining stretch of Berlin wall) was torn down to make room for a luxury hotel. I never could get that image out of my head: Someone sleeping soundly on expensive linen, on a patch of land that was referred to as the ‘death strip’ just a decade ago… and that’s what inspired ‘Wasteland’.
I originally recorded this track with Ben Walker for my ‘Seeing You’ EP. We kept most of it, but redid the vocals and re-mixed the track. It’s crazy how much your voice can change in just a year (or maybe it’s just me who hears the difference?).
Well, the short story is that I stopped smoking weed for a bit and somehow started writing much more esoteric lyrics. This song is in a ‘DADGAD’ guitar tuning, which might be why it sounds a little more folk-rock than the others (in my mind I was thinking more of The Who when I wrote it and always like to pretend I’m Roger Daultry when I sing this…).
This song was so much fun to record. Once again in the live room with Tim Langsford on drums and Pat Pearson on bass – it took a while to get right because of all the breaks and changes in timings (that are all intuitive and unintentional, but somehow super important to the song).
…and that’s the end of side A! :)
ALL THAT REMAINS
Remnants of my family’s pre-war life survived and created an odd juxtaposition, family portraits in gilded frames on the walls of the modest suburban home. As mentioned above, I never knew Stephen de Bastion, to whom this album is dedicated. All that remain are stories and these remnants, or heirlooms and hearsay, if you will. He was a difficult character, by most accounts… but who wouldn’t be after having gone through what most of us can’t even imagine in our darkest moments? I often wonder what he would say and think now and whether it would be important to him that we hold onto these remnants.
I recorded this song with Lauren Deakin-Davies a little while before I started the rest of the album. I wanted the ending to be as Beatle-ish as possible…
Composing songs on the piano is new to me, ‘Heart of Stone’ and ‘Thicker Skin’ actually popped up on the same day. Much of the album is about family, how we treat each other and relate to one another. This was a super easy one to record.
The previous song is about being stuck in a loop, a behavioural pattern. ‘Unwind’ starts with that Wurlitzer loop that ebbs and flows throughout the song. There were moments in the studio when I was worried that the album was too all over the place musically, but it was too much fun to explore where each song was taking me and…well, why not. Peter Miles was a brilliant partner, not least because he taught me how to use logic (finally) and produce my own music. He left me to it for the vocals on this track.. and then, in came Matthew Reynolds to put down that incredible bass line and that amazing guitar solo…I just love it.
I love this song. I can say that, because I wrote it together with my friend Thom Morecroft. To date, the only successful songwriting session I’ve had with anyone (I’m very much a solitary writer). This song just came out, fully formed, as they should. I know what it’s about to me and how it fits in with the theme of the album, but again, this one may mean something else to you, so I’ll leave it at that.
So here we are, at the final track of the album. ‘RERUN’ came before ‘RUN’, but it’s odd how they belong together and change one another’s meaning. This song asks the question whether there is anything truly new to experience and to create, or whether everything already exists and we just pluck it out of our collective consciousness and recycle it. Going back to the beginning of the album and answering the question posed (“where is there left for us to go?”), I don’t know. With every new headline in this world where we get bored of headlines within seconds if we’re the lucky ones, I’m a little less sure.
THE OLD MILL
Stephen never pursued his music career after he moved to Stratford upon Avon on 1947. He did continue to compose. On the night of 1954, he recorded his piece “The Old Mill” on a ferrograph. The story is that of an old man, looking back on his life and dreaming about his youth. Thank you to my family for letting me use this recording and for allowing me to share this story.
Heirlooms & Hearsay is out 5th May. Order it here: http://www.roxannedebastion.com/