Photo: Marc Sharp

Introducing: The Magical Rosie H Sullivan

When I first meet with Rosie H Sullivan over a Zoom call, her accent immediately gives her away as a Scottish native. The singer-songwriter was born and raised on the Isle of Lewis but is now based in Edinburgh. It’s here that she has crafted and recorded her new EP In My Nature, a name that she obviously chose for a reason.

For people who aren’t familiar with Rosie, it’s also the perfect phrase to get to know her. There’s a double-entendre to it. First of all, there’s her genuine love for nature, which perhaps stems from having spent a childhood surrounded by it before making the move to the big city.

Secondly, music is in her nature, too. “It’s never really felt like a conscious decision – it’s sort of always been there. I’ve always been creative, from a very early age. I was always looking for ways to channel my inner thoughts and feelings into some sort of creative way since I was tiny. When I was about nine or ten years old, I first started kind of really turning my head and getting into music. Then I started officially writing when I was 12,” she starts. Funnily enough, music might be in her nature, but Rosie states it certainly isn’t the same for her parents, though her dad likes to believe that he can sing. “We all think we can sing in the shower, that’s a common dad thing,” Rosie laughs, before elaborating that her dad’s sister, however, is a singer-songwriter. “My first instrument was my first instrument study, the fiddle. And I remember writing songs on that, but she was the person who inspired me to pick up the guitar.” 

Nonetheless, her dad has had his own considerable impact on shaping Rosie’s storytelling capabilities. “Growing up, it wasn’t like we had a lot of music in the family, but my dad did love music, so I was immersed with good music from the likes of Bob Dylan, Genesis, Joni Mitchell. And my dad’s a therapist as well, so I’ve had a lot of psychological insight if that’s the right way to put it. I think that growing up in a very safe, loving environment where we can talk openly about our feelings, process them, and be who we want to be has definitely helped me get into the kind of songwriting that I do.”

Photo: Marc Sharp

Songs, to Rosie, are a way to express herself and to share those experiences or feelings with others. “Growing up, I’d always race downstairs and show my parents that I’d written a new tune. Now, it’s amazing that other people can connect with them in similar, or very different ways. These songs are about where I am not only physically, but also emotionally speaking.” 

For that reason, Rosie is always conscious of the tracks that eventually make it onto the EP. To her brother’s great disappointment, she’s not immediately keen to revisit all the tracks she wrote when she was 15. “I think it’s interesting because it’s still a version of you. But it’s just a different time and a different place. It’s emotional to look back on where you’ve been, how far you’ve come, and what you’ve achieved as well. Maybe in a few years, though.”

Besides, there are other ways in which Rosie laments her journey from her past to her present self. Her latest EP includes a track that Rosie started writing at 17. “Everyone around me loved ‘Chapters’, but I didn’t like it at all. My producer walked into the studio one day and was like, ‘Maybe we should have a look at Chapters’, and I was like – you’ve been set up to do this. But luckily, we sat down with it, wrote a bit of extra stuff, and reimagined how it would sound; and now it’s on the EP.” 

In My Nature also sees Sullivan elevate her songwriting to a whole new level. Whereas the first EP featured just her with very stripped-back vocals and guitar, this time around four out of the five songs are co-writes. She worked particularly closely with producer Ross Hamilton on her latest record. “It was really nice to kind of collaborate with other people on the songs and not just have my own ideas. I really enjoy writing with like-minded people, it’s a beautiful process. My producer has really opened my mind to kind of experimenting with things,” Rosie shares. “In the studio, he’d be like, let’s just try this piece of audio and I’d be like – no, that’s never gonna work. That’s horrible. And he’d say, ‘We can put it on, and if we don’t like it, we’ll just Command Z and take it back out.’ And half the time he does that I’ll go, I love it. So it’s nice to challenge your own thoughts on something – it’s freeing.” 

The latest single “Wildflowers and Cobblestones” was, in fact, not Rosie’s, but Ross’ idea originally. “He came to me with the idea after we’d spent months in a cabin working on the EP already. You’re with another creative human being for up to eight hours a day in a cabin, you’re going to go between laughing at something and really deep conversation all the time. So we formed a friendship, and he had this idea of writing a song about the duality of my life where I lived on this very remote island, and now I’m living in the city. It was kind of the first time I’ve done something like that to go into a session and it not being my idea – it was really nice.”

The previous single “Only A Woman” was written with Katie Sutherland, who Rosie refers to as an “amazing, empowering singer/songwriter.” She adds proudly: “She’s at a different stage of life than I am – she’s got two kids, she’s a bit older, and she’s been through the music industry. She’s been where I now am, and that really gave the song more feeling. It was great to bring the track to another woman and say, let’s write a feminist anthem. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record now.”

Because the songs on the EP are somewhat diverse in terms of style and topic, there isn’t really any wrong or right way to listen to the album. In fact, Rosie tells me that she’s long learned to let go of the idea that people will always understand exactly what the songs mean to her – and that’s okay. “I used to always want people to get everything,” she starts. “I realized that’s just not how it works. With the song ‘Fragments’, which is about a sense of home, I got a review for the song stating it was about a relationship. There’s a lyric in the song that goes ‘I can take you with me in this mason jar of sand’, and I literally have this nice jar of sand on my bedside table. But the review said something like, ‘the song takes a sinister turn as she talks about taking her lover with her in a mason jar of sand’, and I was like – oh.”

She laughs but quickly turns serious again. “All that matters to me is whether or not my material is authentic and full of feeling. Overthinking is a total enemy for me anyway when I write songs. To me, the relationship between me and my life to my songs is very much sown together. That’s very much taken from folk traditions, which is what I grew up with and what I studied. It’s about being connected to people and to people’s lives. So I would hope that the people who listen to my songs also can say like: ‘Oh, she’s called Rosie, and she’s from here. And this is what she’s about,’ kind of thing. I think that’s really important for me.” 

Photo: Marc Sharp

Sometimes, the connection happens in the opposite direction. For example, closer “Timeless” was actually written after an interview Rosie had done with someone who’d lived in Edinburgh as well. “I think she said that she loved living here because it had a somewhat timeless beauty about it, and then I thought – indeed it does. So this song started off describing my love for Edinburg and its timeless nature, and then kind of grew arms and legs and expanded into my love for Scotland, for the land, the history, and the culture,” she smiles.

“So inspiration can strike at random times, you never know. Just today I was out recording the trees and so I’m writing a song for them – I keep branching out,” Rosie adds with a wink. In fact, she already ensures that fans of her music can experience an entire universe of content beyond the song itself. For her latest EP, Rosie has recorded Conversations with individuals somehow linked to that particular trick – like her collaborator Katie Sutherland and her best friend turned tour photographer Ellen. But the most striking example of Rosie’s big belief in serendipity is perhaps the story behind her conversation for the song ‘Fragments’. With just two more weeks to spare before the deadline and no one yet in mind, she’d gotten on the train to see her brother in Perth. “I got on this really busy train and had a massive rucksack on, had my guitar with me. I was all flustered because I nearly missed the train after running through the station. I’d gotten on and found my seat, then as I took off my bag this big metal Hydroflask fell out and smashed all over. This slightly older woman was sitting on the table across from me, and when I apologized she laughed and told me to put it in the bag. Her friends had just gotten off so she offered me the seat to use for my guitar. It was very kind and we just started talking. We discovered she lived in the same village that my brother did,  and a poster of my gig there had been hung in front of her door. There was lots of strange coincidences,” Rosie explains.

“We ended up talking about life. She was a writer and used to be a therapist, and had studied in Edinburgh at the same time that my dad did. They did the same courses, they knew the same people. And yet, then she became a playwright and an author. And it was really nice to have a big chat about creativity with her. I can’t remember how we got onto the topic when we started talking about her love for Scotland. She said she’d lived in many different places in her life, and had lived in France for a while. And she said, after a while, she could feel it in the soles of her feet, that she had to be back in Scotland. And I was like, as soon as she said that, I was like, I found my person for ‘Fragments’.” 

They exchanged emails when the train journey ended, and the second time Rosie met Leslie was to film the conversation found on her social media channels. “There’s a book called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is one of my favorite books. And it’s all about serendipity and creativity. And I said, this is a big magic moment. It’s fate, it was meant to happen.”

The two still keep in touch, with Leslie having also met her parents recently at a gig, Rosie shares. “She sent me an email a few weeks later, saying it was really lovely to speak to your mum and dad and talk about, like, the people we have in common with from the uni. And she said, I think the universe maybe sprinkled a little something in the air back then that allowed us to meet on the train this year, and I felt that was really lovely.”

It’s been an interesting shift for Sullivan as well to be playing live gigs now that aren’t just herself. “This will be the first time I’ve played live with the band. We’ve been doing gigs over the summer, and they’ve been playing with me, but this will be the first time to have like, the drums and the bass with me on tour. It’ll be really nice,” she starts thoughtfully. “I think I never really was aware of how singular I was when I was on the stage. And then it’s only now when people kind of have to go off the stage when I do an acoustic song. And I’m like – oh, I feel naked. We still have some stripped-back songs and I’m super excited about those, and then there’s the full band songs. I think it’d be nice to kind of mix things up for this tour and not just be me. We’re adding a different palette to the live shows and kind of bringing a little bit more of a journey for people at the shows to hear.” 

Considering the tenure of Sullivan’s career so far and just the right amount of little or big magic sprinkled into it, we’re pretty sure the tour won’t be anything but a success. Rosie smiles at that prediction. “I just feel like I’ve fallen into a little pot of luck, that’s actually led me to this point. And to have the capacity right now to do what I’m doing – to write songs, to share them with people, to speak to people about it. It’s just, I still feel very lucky and very surreal that I get to do that. Because as I say it was never really a decision. It’s just things that have fallen into place and happened. And I just do it because I love it. And it’s nice that other people love it. Hopefully.”

Listen to In My Nature here: