Over the course of four albums, Rozi Plain’s hypnotic, gently askew songs have steadily sauntered their way from her birthplace of Winchester, reverberated through the bustling Bristol DIY scene, to where they now emanate from London’s creative epicentre. Acquiring a worldliness that’s reflected in her travels as a touring musician, each consecutive release has broached new sonic territory, whilst retaining a home-grown intimacy and a familial warmth of spirit. On Prize, her upcoming fifth long-player, released on Memphis Industries in January 2023, Rozi’s unique, heart-felt approach continues to prevail, marking her as one of our most innovative and engaging singer-songwriters.
At the core of Rozi’s idiosyncratic sound, there is a keening for simplicity; a recurring urge to strip things back to their essence, to reveal their innate beauty. Four songs into the new album, during a track entitled ‘Prove Your Good’, she asks directly:
What do we want? LESS
Do you want more? YES
The innate conflict of this sentiment is finely tuned across her entire body of work, owing to her distinct lyrical and melodic delivery. Rozi’s natural, unaffected vocal accompanied by the soft-thrum of an electric-guitar she built herself when first starting to play (a guitar she still uses to this day). Almost all of her songs have been initially composed with this instrument, although you’ll rarely hear it strummed or thrashed. Instead, chords are broken into cyclical patterns of plucked staccato figures with a shuddering slap-back delay. These punchy, entrancing arpeggios reel you in, crucially allowing plenty of room for reflection and collaboration.
On Prize, Rozi has assembled her widest cast of players, gathering together close friends and accomplices she’s worked with over the years, to create an album that not only preserves the intimacy of her signature guitar-and-vocal sound, but accentuates these moments of calm, and exposed emotion, midst a soaring, collective spirit. From the blissful harmonies of This Is The Kit’s Kate Stables on ‘Agreeing For Two’, to the call-and- response backing vocals on ‘Prove Your Good’; from the expansive instrumentation and ornately co-ordinated arrangements of ‘Help’ and ‘Sore’, to the sublime synth explorations of ‘Painted The Room’, and the woozy jazz-inflected ‘Spot Thirteen’; there’s a sense of togetherness, and the very process of coming together, that permeates throughout the album’s ten tracks.
During her teenage years in Winchester, Rosalind Anna Leyden performed at her brother Sam’s open-mic night at nearby venue, The Railway Inn, learning songs with her good friends Kate Stables and Rachael Dadd, and singing them together. The close-knit group all moved to Bristol in the mid-00’s, with Rozi studying at art college there, each continuing to support one another’s respective musical projects, and creating their own DIY scene and label, Cleaner Records. Meeting Kenny Anderson (King Creosote) and Johnny Lynch (Pictish Trail) at the Green Man Festival shortly thereafter, Rozi became involved with the Scottish label and collective, Fence Records, releasing her debut album, Inside Over Here in 2008. The album saw Rozi perform around Europe and the USA, and by the time she returned with the follow up LP, Joined Sometimes Unjoined in 2012, she was already receiving invitations to play festival main-stages (Glastonbury’s Park Stage, End of the Road, Green Man), and supports with leading lights from the alt-folk world (Devandra Barnhart, James Yorkston, Beach House).
After a stint in Paris, Rozi moved to London and immersed herself into making a living from music full-time. Becoming a permanent member of This Is The Kit’s band, playing bass guitar, she also found inspiration and a sense of belonging around the Total Refreshment Centre, in Stoke Newington. A DIY venue and recording space, recognised as being at the vanguard of the newly burgeoning jazz scene, responsible for the emergence of artists such as saxophonist and poet Gus Fairburn, aka Alabaster dePlume. Rozi would regularly play as part of his rotating collective of band members, and still does, appearing on his most recent LP, Gold.
It was at the Total Refreshment Centre where she gathered the core-band that would appear across her next three albums. On drums and percussion, Jamie Whitby Coles – a fellow acolyte of the Bristol scene, who plays alongside Rozi in This Is The Kit, and creates his own sounds under the moniker B-Fax. On synthesisers and backing vocals, Gerard Black – a Glasgow-based musician and singer, who fronts the electronic pop act, Babe, and who frequently performs with Charlotte Gainsbourg and François & The Atlas Mountains. On bass guitar and percussion, Amaury Ranger – an energetic music producer and multi-instrumentalist from western France, another member of François’ band, of which Rozi was also a previous member. Together, these four formed the ‘Best Team’, recording and self-producing their first album, the appropriately-titled Friend, at the Total Refreshment Centre, with engineer Kristian Robinson (Capitol K). Released on Pictish Trail’s Lost Map label in 2015, Friend introduced Rozi to a much wider audience – with multiple tracks playlisted at BBC Radio and Spotify, and featuring collaborations with Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip) and Kate Stables. A companion album – Friend Of A Friend – was released in 2016, collecting remixes, live sessions and unreleased songs.
Signing to the London-based label Memphis Industries, Rozi released What A Boost in April of 2019, again working with her core band, and involving contributions from Alabaster dePlume, Deerhoof’s Chris Cohen, Trash Kit’s Rachel Aggs and Rachel Horwood, Dan Leavers (Danalogue / The Comet Is Coming), Joel Wästberg (Sir Was) and folk musician Sam Amidon.
Rozi’s touring schedule in support of previous album, What A Boost, was just winding down as the world was forced into lockdown. Having recorded an EP of new material whilst on a retreat with Jamie and Gerard for Lost Map’s residency series on the Isle of Eigg, in Scotland, Rozi continued to write and record more demos in various locations throughout 2020 and 2021. These sessions formed the basis for Prize, and when the world re-opened again, the gang took the 24-hour ferry ride from Portsmouth to Bilbao in October 2021, to make their way to the French Basque Country, laying down tracks at their friend Pierre’s Shorebreaker studio. Re energised, the band took these recordings home, and began the process of mixing
and overdubbing at PRAH studios in Margate (with Ash Workman) and the Total Refreshment Centre, inviting friends – both long-lasting and new-found – to contribute to Rozi’s most expansive album to date.
Across Prize, Jamie’s soothing, propulsive rhythms provide a steady pulse, still able to take the occasional surprise turn, gasping for breath on the off-beat; with Amaury’s undulating bass lines weaving their way throughout, never dominating the flow, but rather providing a reassuring path towards warmth.
Similarly, Gerard’s expressive synth playing is the perfect foil for Rozi’s understated, yearning restraint. It bubbles and softly wheezes under ‘Help’, reflected by the elegiac flourishes of Cole Pulice’s saxophone, and Bas Jan’s Serafina Steer on harp. On ‘Painted The Room’, the electronic elements are further accentuated by contributions from Danalogue, building to a rousing tidal sine-wave of oscillation that wouldn’t feel out of place on a record by Yellow Magic Orchestra or Stereolab.
It’s followed by ‘Sore’, a track that captures Rozi’s skill at the push/pull dynamic; exposed vocals (accompanied by Yoshino Shigihara of Yama Warashi), washed over with swells of violin by Emma Smith (Bas Jan / JARV IS), coupled with Alabaster dePlume’s shimmering sax. It’s over within 3 minutes, and feels all the more devastating for it.
“It needed eating so you ate it ” Rozi sings on ‘Complicated’, a song about coming to terms with feelings of self-consciousness, and allowing yourself to take the prize. On this new album, the sense of togetherness instilled among her collaborators is the reward, with every individual element on each track serving the song, with no moments stolen.