Avant Pop & Indie Rock Songwriter Rosie Varela Talks Melancholic New Album ‘What Remains’

Haunting, chilling, and resonating. 

These are the words that come to mind when listening to The Rosie Varela Project’s latest album, What Remains.

Although this album is reminiscent of something that could be featured in an intense drama or horror film, if you strip back the delightfully brooding production, the storytelling and songwriting are quite beautiful. 

The El Paso-based collective formed in 2019, and is composed of Rosie Varela, Ross Ingram, Aldo Portillo, Serge Carrasco, Sebastian Estrada, and Lawrence Brown III, who all seem to dabble in the same instruments more or less. Each member brings their own flair to the table, and they all come together to create what is known as The Rosie Varela Project.

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Varela is also the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist for the acclaimed shoegaze band EEP, who we talked to in a December interview.

We had the opportunity to chat with Varela to learn more about What Remains, musical inspirations, and much more.

So who or what inspired you to start writing and recording your own music?

Since I was a small child, I’ve had an intense curiosity about the recording and music production process. I met my producer/bandmate Ross Ingram in 2017, and he was so open to collaboration and teaching me that we started a shoegaze band called EEP in 2019. I had a backlog of songs that I had written in the past 20-30 years and some of them did not lean toward shoegaze, so I started thinking about recording them as part of a solo project, which became The Rosie Varela Project.

What does your songwriting process typically look like? Melodies first, lyrics first, etc.? And do you always draw from personal experiences?

Sometimes the words and music come all at once, like a stream of consciousness process, and my job is to allow it to flow through me and to play it and document it. A lot of musicians have spoken of magical songs like this and nobody really knows where they come from, but I suspect something bigger than all of us.

Sometimes I’ve had them appear in dreams and sometimes I’ve had them suddenly show up the minute I pick up the guitar. Sometimes, I write the music for a song, I record it on my phone, and I play it every time I have to drive somewhere. Sooner or later, the words will come as well – those usually come more from personal experiences. The last kind of song is where I create a story with characters and I allow the characters to help me write the words and the music.

In all these scenarios, I leave the song very loose and open to ideas, suggestions, and edits from my bandmates- the demo is usually very different from the finished song and that’s exciting to me.

The title of your new album, What Remains, is simple yet powerful. Can you talk about how you decided on that name for this collection of songs?

I processed a lot of life experiences in this record. It felt like as a woman my age, there have been a lot of things that have been taken from me, but also a lot of things that have been given to me. I’m the sum of all these additions and subtractions and that process never stops. We all are what remains after the give and take of life. This was my first opportunity to really dive deep and process the pain, the joy, the empowerment, and the gratitude that I feel inside.

Many songs on the album have an eerie or haunting sound to them. What was the production process like, and why was this the feeling that you wanted listeners to feel?

I have a visual arts background, specifically in film. Without really trying, the songs led us to create a soundscape that felt a little spatial and cinematic. We combined the use of a sitar pedal alongside experiments with delay, phase, and other effects, to paint the picture that the songs needed. We also used the console and hardware to achieve some of our sounds. These effects helped create the emotional content surrounding the songs.

The song “What Remains” has a message that society needs to pay more attention to. The song appears to be about the idea that we teach girls at such a young age to be silenced and to fake smiles. What was writing this song like, and did you draw from personal experiences when writing the song?

This song was easy to write and hard to perform because it did draw from personal experience. I refer to veils a lot in this song and it’s about the burdens that are unknowingly put on girls in order to conform in sometimes patriarchal families and in a male-dominated world. The veils refer to those times when your power is taken away and the world is not quite as rosy and bright as we thought it was when we were very young. When you add any sort of abuse to that, the world can become a very stark and cold place.

I see that you designed postcards that were included in the vinyl and CD purchase of the new album which is a fun idea. Can you talk a little bit about that process and why you decided to do that?

I created all the music videos for this album. The postcards are stills from each video, and it was fun to share a few lyrical phrases with them as a gift to our supporters.

If you could write a song or collaborate with any living artist, who would it be and why?

I think I’d like to collaborate with Peter Gabriel because he takes emotional risks in his music, and I feel his music catalog is a very diverse look at the human condition. That’s the kind of music I hope to create in my work.

If you could re-hear a band for the first time, what band would you choose and why?

I think it would be Radiohead because it was the first post-Beatles band that I heard that could encompass so many moods within one song. I learned a lot about songwriting through some of their more extended songs that go beyond the average pop/rock structure. Their excitement to experiment with different textures and instrumentation kind of gave me permission to do the same in my songwriting. Interestingly enough, I find I’m hearing them for the first time again through The Smile, the new band that includes Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner. I’ve been really inspired by their debut album.

What does success mean to you as a songwriter and musician?

It’s funny that you asked this question, because I was thinking of that today. Success isn’t always an upward climb. Sometimes it’s actually found through the downstairs steps (sometimes sliding down on your butt like a child!). Sometimes it’s found inside the lateral corridors, doing what you love in a place where measuring milestones doesn’t matter anymore.

Sometimes success can also be found standing still in respite and rest, a beautiful landing with our loved ones, simply enjoying the view of the now. Sometimes success is simply being alive for another day. And sometimes the concept and word success is meaningless in a free heart. Today, I felt like success was gratitude, just gratitude for all of it.

What might fans expect from The Rosie Varela Project this summer? Any gigs, touring, etc.?

The RVP is a strictly studio project. We’re excited about a series of singles we’re producing alongside some musicians I’ve been curious to collaborate with. These collaborations encompass different genres so the results may be very unexpected, but hopefully listeners find them refreshing.

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