Rose Cousins is a Halifax music scene fixture, a musical MVP. Her brand of folk-pop singer-songwriter is the kind that critics adore and awards stream in for: Fresh yet familiar, honest and real, driven by melody and backed up with airy arrangements. For proof, look no further than the fact that, this weekend, Cousins won a Juno for Contemporary Roots Recording of the Year for her 2020 album Bravado, a 12-track deep-dive into what it takes to build a life for yourself.
We caught up with Cousins to talk about her big win, what it’s like to release a record just before a pandemic and more—including how she’s navigating the current heat wave. Want to watch this conversation live? Check out The Coast’s Instagram for the IGTV interview.
The Coast: It’s so hot out! I think I’m going to have ice cream for supper tonight. What’s your favourite ice cream flavour, Rose?
Rose Cousins: I'm pretty basic, like, vanilla with some chocolate or a straight-up chocolate. But I wouldn't turn away a praline and cream. It depends on the day.
I tend to go back and forth between Moon Mist and Cotton Candy.
No! You’re like an eight-year child. [Laughs]
Well, it is a love-it-or-hate-it flavour. So, congrats on winning the Juno! Was it exciting to accept an award virtually or was it weird?
Thank you, yeah! I mean it was weird. And it wasn't less stressful than being there—it was almost actually maybe even more stressful, because you get eleventy million emails, and they’re like “this is the exact link you need to click on at this exact time, but 15 minutes earlier than that, and then this happens when you get virtually sucked into another media room, blah blah.”
Anyways, I read the instructions on Wednesday night and then I had epic dreams of failure, like that something happened and I tried to click the link and it didn't go anywhere and I was lost. And anyway, I clicked the link. It was fine. But they had us in a holding room with all the other nominees for like half an hour before, so we got to kind of like not really hang out, but kind of hang out.
I really love the record, but I also think that the timing of it was a little bit serendipitous because it's this perfect record about being alone, and building an interior world, and what it means to just kind of have a full life that’s just you. And then, we all have to go do that for a year. Did COVID change how you feel about the songs at all?
I don't feel differently about the songs. This funny thing happens to me where I release a record, and then I experience the record, which is just, in a different way: Obviously I experience something to write them, but then it's like I live the record. Like, it's written and then I live it in my real life. It was interesting having “The Benefits of Being Alone” being literally the first single that was released, and then I got to do two shows, and then off into the pandemic we were.
So was that a great unknown clairvoyant in this decision? Who knows? I didn't know. I really thought the whole thing was gonna blow over in a month, that's how naive I was. So, no, I feel the same about the songs. I'm obviously really proud of the record and there's definitely been some dark moments where it's kind of like, How do you honour a project without the normal tools? Without being able to stand on a stage, or behind the merch table and actually interact with the people who support you most?
But really, people have really shown me a lot of support, whether it's buying merch or whether it's just like sending me notes of encouragement. And there were a couple thousand people who got to go to the first couple of shows, and that's tied to their pandemic: This was the last thing that they did, and the last thing that I did. It has been weird, and hard in some moments, but also like this awesome beautiful affirmation that music is, you know, you don't need to be touring for music to live in the world. And you know so many of our great, wonderful local people and lots of other people have put out records, but still we still get the benefit of the music, right?
Exactly. A piece of art lives on in the people who love it, which is cheesy but also true.
No, it’s true! We need them.
Yes! You mentioned “The Benefits of Being Alone,” and one of the things I really love about the record is how that's the first song in and then, two thirds of the way through the record, there’s a reprise version of it. Did you go in planning two takes or both sides of that idea?
Oh, that was one of those studio magic things. The record is flanked by that song which kind of shows the forward-facing and backward-facing experiences of the concept of Bravado. And I went in with the slow version, I put down the solo version like “This is how I first envisioned it.” And then, the band is so incredible and I was just kind of like, “Why don't we try like a Nick Lowe, more tongue-in-cheek version of it?” Because I love Nick Lowe for that reason: He's just so good at singing mean things in a funny, happy way or like sad things.
And then when I heard that version, I was just kind of like yeah it makes sense to have both of them there. It begins and ends the thesis that the record is.
And for anyone who hasn’t heard it, how would you sum up the song?
The title is quite literally what it's about. Previous to writing it, I really wanted to write a song from the view of a single, solo person who spends lots of time by themselves, to talk about the actual benefits of it because it is a rich, wonderful place. I spend lots of time in that way and I'm quite enjoying myself. So I wanted to write about that and then, as I was writing the song, everything has two sides: Like, there's benefits to it and there’s, you know. [Shrugs] But then what I loved about it is that different people, depending on where they are in their life, will experience a song in a number of ways. Like, I played the record for my brother and he got off on the couch and hugged me. And I was like “no, I’m OK.” And then single people will be like “Yeah exactly! It's great!” So I think it just depends on who you are and what you need out of it.
What is your favourite song on the record and why?
I don't pick favourites. It's like having a favourite child. I really see it as a complete journey. It's not a beautiful smooth sail. It's like a lightly turbulent listen, because it kind of jolts you from feeling to feeling—but it does accurately reflect more of what it is to be alive if you will admit the things that are hard. So, yeah, I don't know when I have a favourite. Here’s a thing that happens: You kind of cycle through a relationship with each song—and that would probably happen more if I were playing it live. That's what I'm looking forward to doing, eventually.