The song Yorke shared was “A Study in Vastness,” the first composition she’d ever written for herself after years of playing other people’s music. Back in 2013, while sitting in her friend’s practice room at Oakland’s Mills College, she toyed around with his Line 6 DL4 loop pedal. Within an hour, she had a song. But nervousness kept Roxanne from sharing much of the work she wrote at Mills, a haven for experimental music, where she had enrolled after returning from India. “I just thought I hadn’t paid my dues, or maybe my music was too simple and boring,” she reflects. “Like, is this music that people would actually want to listen to?”
When she finally released her six-song EP in 2015, it was distributed to only a modest group of friends and acquaintances. She moved to L.A. shortly thereafter; years passed without commotion. In 2018, somewhat out of the blue, Leaving Records producer Matthewdavid got in touch. He’d been searching for someone to play an ambient gig at a park, and Roxanne’s friend had passed her EP along. ~~~ was officially re-released by Leaving in 2019, and for Because of a Flower, she signed to the experimental Chicago label Kranky.
Essentially, it took Roxanne roughly a decade to finish her education, and much longer to find her way as an artist. This ambling trajectory is a reminder of how slow-moving transformation can be. It’s easy, these days, to be swallowed by urgency, to want to rush yourself into finishing the next big thing. But ideas and self-conceptions take time to ferment; a passage from an anodyne tonal harmony textbook you read in college might materialize as a rumination on gender identity in the album you release over a decade later. Roxanne still doesn’t have a standard writing practice, although she would like to; she has mostly composed new music after being invited to play a show. “There’s only one song that I wrote after deciding I was going to make an album,” she says—the last one. The rest had been in storage until they were ready.
These days, Roxanne is trying to simply enjoy herself. She’s been playing a lot of chess, and logging her results on a secret Twitter account (a hobby that predates The Queen’s Gambit, she proudly adds); she might drive over to New Jersey someday soon to see Whitney Houston’s mansion. Then, whenever she’s feeling up to the task, she’ll try writing again. “It should be interesting with the next album,” she says. “I don’t want to take five years to make this one.”
Ana Roxanne: It comes back to the concept of duality. Voices have so much subtlety, whether you’re belting or singing softly. Singing is inherently very emotional—there’s the outward experience that you perceive, and then the internal place you can’t always understand. Especially when I was writing, I was performing secrets, but I found the freedom to express them.
Timing is interesting. Especially with last year, people have a lot of questions right now, including myself. Writing music that is helpful in some way, that aids in people processing whatever they’re going through—I think it’s nice.
When did you first encounter Milan Kundera, and what does slowness mean to you?
At Mills, one of my close friends recommended [his 1988 novel] Immortality, and I really liked it. I feel like I’ve read more Kundera than anything else. His work deals with love, life, and chance happenings that become significant in one way or another, and it really integrates classical concepts with modern life. His genre of writing, philosophical fiction, has always aligned with me.
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