What makes a person a star? It was a question Canadian singer December Rose didn’t really contemplate when she submitted her entry for the 2012 MakeAStar competition, but it was a question the judges seem to feel she had the answer to. Hailing from the generation that grew up to the “Girl-Power” pop tunes of the Spice Girls, December Rose is part of a new era of singers where stardom is only a share away and relevancy is measured in values of 140 characters or less. While the 22-year-old’s soulful voice has gained her a loyal fanbase, December Rose insists the key to staying grounded in this fast-paced industry is knowing when to step away from the reblogs and likes and take time to focus on yourself. It’s this need to self-reflect that gave birth to a self-titled debut EP whose introspective lyrics tell the story of love and liberation. While the message she sends is often compared to pop-powerhouses Adele and Jessie J, December Rose believes stardom isn’t about whom you’re compared to but how true you remain to yourself.
In this interview with Music Existence, December Rose give us an insight into her world as she discusses the power of self-reflection, how to take charge when faced with adversity, and why she believes music is her soul mate.
ME: Let me start off by congratulating you on the release of your new EP! It’s been over a year since you dropped your debut single, “Came Here To Party.” How does it feel to finally be able to share this EP with the world?
DECEMBER ROSE: It’s pretty exciting; I’m not going to lie, because there’s been this whole build up over the album. We’ve changed a lot of the arrangements, and some songs have been reproduced, so the whole album has a fresh take on everything. That was more of a motivation to be like, “Let’s hurry up! Let’s get this out, guys!”
ME: Music is something that resonates with everyone in some way or another but few choose to do it professionally. What is it about music that made you want to pursue it as a career?
DECEMBER ROSE: It felt like a calling, to be honest with you. I was coming out of high school and as everyone was applying to college, everyone was asking each other, “What are you applying for? What program did you get into?” It felt like this really competitive environment, and to be honest, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t interested in anything that really made me want to sit down and study, so I went with what always felt good and that was music. It actually felt like, you know when you find that “soul mate” and you say that this is my better half? Music was that to me, so it became this thing where when people would ask me, “What are you going to do with your life,” I would tell them, “I’m going to be a singer!” (Laughs)
ME: You studied music at the very prestigious Royal Conservatory of Music, which has produced some highly acclaimed alumni. How did your studies help you evolve as an artist?
DECEMBER ROSE: Because the Royal Conservatory is very rigid and stern, it helped with discipline and technique. It has a lot of rules, and that’s kind of a love-hate situation for a lot of artists because in a creative setting, you always hate following rules because you don’t have a lot of room to let go. Because we had to follow the rules to develop a certain foundation, it gave me the tools to be able to better express myself; I think that’s something that everyone goes through in general.
ME: You’ve participated in a number of festivals and live performances. What was your most memorable show and what lesson did you gain from the experience?
DECEMBER ROSE: I would say there are two extremes. One of my most memorable experiences was actually at a really small, tight house party. From that, I learned that you and the audience are one, and you only allow everything to be one if you engage. As soon as you start to make yourself feel like you’re in your artistic-alter ego where you present yourself on the stage a certain way, that’s when you start to lose the connection. It was interesting to experience that dynamic of being one in a small setting. But then on the larger spectrum, I performed in this really big concert hall, the Place des Arts, and that’s where you have to use that alter ego because you’re such a small being on that huge stage; you have to fill it with an ego that’s just as big like, “I am…December Rose! (Laughs) So you connect in different ways, and both of them taught me to know what to put out there and what’s necessary in each setting
ME: What is MakeAStar.com and what role did it play in your career?
DECEMBER ROSE: It was huge! (Laughs) It was crucial! MakeAStar is a contest for up-and-coming artists to present their material, whether it be for rapping, or videos, or singles, or whatever. I stumbled across it on Google when I was looking up online songwriting contests. I submitted a video for one of my singles and it won, and that’s what got me my record deal. So, in my life, that contest was a huge deal.
ME: How have things changed for you since winning the MakeAStar contest?
DECEMBER ROSE: Everything just felt more secure because when you’re running around as an indie artist, you’re being pulled in all different directions because you’re doing everything on your own. Now that I was working with people who knew what they were doing, I felt like I could breathe for a second, regroup, and focus on what my actual role was, which is to be creative.
ME: You’ve mentioned before that engaging with an audience is very crucial. One of the biggest challenges musicians face is how to truly engage listeners with the music. What do you do to overcome that?
DECEMBER ROSE: As kind of ironic as it sounds, I used to be really shy, and I found that the best way to engage with people and fight the shyness is to give a lot of eye contact. Most people just kind of stare at the back of the room and over people’s heads, and for me, I felt that made me kind of robotic. To fight that, I started to engage in more eye contact and use small gestures. Because I’m kind of awkward, and sometimes I’m not very good at making conversation on stage, so I’ll try to crack a joke or ask a couple of random questions, which don’t always work in my favor (laughs), but that kind of engagement really helps me. You know, they say you can see someone’s soul through their eyes, so I think that’s the best way to try to get through to someone.
ME: Your music, while very pop-driven, seems to be influenced by other sounds as well. What artists do you admire and how do they influence your own musical style?
DECEMBER ROSE: Well, given that I started pretty young, I was in my young teens when Adele came out, and she was someone I looked up to for her soulful sound. In terms of sound and production, I’ve always grown up with a wide variety of music. I grew up with the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, so I took from them that whole liveliness element and tried to put that in my sound. As I got older, I got into more dance music, and I liked that uplifting feeling you always get from dance music, so I tried to have a healthy crossover between soul and dance music. I wanted to keep my music uplifting while still delivering that soulful sound that Adele does.
ME: Here’s the thing about your music that I find really refreshing: the sound itself is very colorful. Even the slow tempo songs are bursting with color and energy, and it seems very reflective of your own personality. In an industry where, at times, it can be difficult to be your own self, how do you manage to stay true to who you are?
DECEMBER ROSE: I spend a lot of time to myself, reflecting and growing spiritually but it’s that spiritual growth that you have to seek yourself. I think that’s the only real way to stay grounded and to find yourself. A lot of people don’t take time to do that personal and spiritual growth because we’re all so busy copying and comparing ourselves to other people, so we lose sight of ourselves. It’s really important to me, especially when gaining more success and going further in this industry, that I make sure that I keep a little bubble of “Rosie Time” to regroup, and to remind myself what is important.
ME: Your latest single, “Ball Game” tells the story that many people can relate to. Is this why you choose this as the EP’s second single?
DECEMBER ROSE: Not even. It was just something that the whole collaborative team out in California liked. They all felt like it was something that was stuck in their heads, so they were like, “You know, if this is stuck in our heads this long, we should put this one out.” So that’s kind of what ended up happening.
ME: It was a good choice too because as I watched the video, one moment that really stood out about the video is the underwater scene, but then again, the entire video really complements the song. You could have gone anywhere with the music video, why did you decide to go with this particular visual?
DECEMBER ROSE: Well, at first I thought it was going to follow a comedic script where we would have a baseball field and maybe have the ball hit the guy in the nuts or something. (Laughs) Then we all started thinking that we got to get a little deeper here, and given that the founder of the company, Iman Foroutan, was personally moved by this song, he decided to go with a deeper storytelling script. Sia’s music video for “Chandelier” had just come out, so we started to brainstorm how powerful that contemporary dance was. We built from the contemporary dance aspect that I really wanted to have in the video because I was like, “If we’re going to go deep, let’s go with this dance, make it really beautiful, and embody the beauty in the video.
ME: The day of your EP release you had SoundCloud listening party with your followers on social media. As someone who really seems to value the thoughts and opinions of your listeners, what did you take away from the listening party?
DECEMBER ROSE: I was really happy that the people commenting were long-time followers who had been with me from the beginning when I started out with my MySpace days. (Laughs) It was really nice to see that they were still following me and were really supportive of the changes and growth that I’ve made as an artist. What I took away the most was that loyalty, and I felt really good to know that whatever I put out throughout the years, they’ve been there and have stuck by my side for it.
ME: So far, you’ve released two singles and an EP, so what should we expect from you next?
DECEMBER ROSE: There’s going to be another music video coming soon from one of the songs on the EP, “Understand.” Shortly after that, we will be in the planning stages of booking some shows and doing a small tour to get some more visibility.
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