‘I miss Belfast so much ... but Berlin’s looking after me too’
Ballet School's Ulster frontwoman, Rosie Blair, tells Chris Jones why she is battling her homesickness to make it as a music star
Ever since the days of Bowie and Iggy Pop decamping to Berlin in the Seventies the German capital has been a magnet for musicians, artists and Bohemian types looking for somewhere to express themselves.
So when it comes to Antrim native Rosie Blair, singer in Berlin-based band Ballet School, it’s tempting to imagine that she was drawn there for the same reasons. But it’s not quite that simple. “I never really, 100% in my heart, wanted to move to Berlin,” she says. “I was pretty happy in Belfast. I miss it a lot.”
Rosie arrived in Berlin in 2010 after a collaboration with musicians signed to the New York label DFA Records looked like it was going to turn into a full-time band. As the other members were based in Germany, the only option for Rosie was to up sticks and leave Northern Ireland. Soon after, however, the project fell apart and she was left in a strange city, with no band.
“The temptation to go home was huge,” admits the 30-year-old, “because you want to be a normal woman and get married and have kids and do ‘normal people’ things. It’s definitely something that I want to do at some point, but I just want to be a writer and a singer so badly that it supersedes everything else. You’ve got to grit your teeth and follow through.”
Ever candid during our conversation, Rosie admits that as well as suffering from homesickness, she has often lacked confidence, and that her musical career has been “whale-like in its gestation”. So what changed? “It was a confluence of finding Jonas [Verwijnen, manager and producer] and him saying that this stuff was good, and meeting [bandmates] Michel and Louis. It’s a f**king band — we get on stage and it’s powerful. The other thing is doing it every day, getting into that discipline. It’s like The Shawshank Redemption — if you apply pressure and time, you can tunnel out of whatever it is you happen to be in. Eventually people come to you.”
One of those people was Simon Raymonde, former member of Rosie’s favourite band the Cocteau Twins and the boss of the Bella Union label — home to Carryduff band Cashier No.9 as well as the likes of Fleet Foxes and John Grant.
Ballet School’s debut single, Heartbeat Overdrive comes out on the label on Monday with an album to follow next year and it is typical of the band’s sound — graceful yet propulsive dream-pop characterised by its Eighties sound and Rosie’s swooping vocals. Imagine the Cocteau Twins soundtracking a John Hughes movie and you’re in the right area.
According to Rosie, the Ballet School name is very deliberately chosen to tie in with this aesthetic, as well as her bloody-minded determination to make the most of her opportunity.
“The band’s big theme is grace,” she says. “Whether that’s physical grace of a dancer on stage, or whether it’s emotional grace — being able to endure everything that happens in life with dignity. This is what I strive for. So I decided to put it in the band name because it totally describes my life right now.
“A really good ballerina is a beautiful sight to behold, and looks so effortless but grace takes tremendous endurance and effort. Inside the heart is pumping and every muscle is about to snap. That’s living.”
For all those stresses, Berlin is very much the band’s base and the place where things have really started to happen for Rosie and Ballet School.
“I don’t want to diss Berlin because obviously it’s looking after me alright, but of course I want to go home,” she admits.
“I always think there’s a lot going on in Belfast and a lot of really interesting, intelligent people living and working there.
“And I miss all my old mates — but they show up in Berlin occasionally!”
Ballet School play the Stiff Kitten, Belfast on Monday, August 26. For details, visit www.shine.net
Belfast Telegraph Digital