Imagine Prince reborn as a woman, long crimson (and peroxide blonde!) hair thrashing outwards through the prism of a reborn Amy Winehouse, dressed in the sequins, feathers and cat-suit finery of 70s Diana Ross. She's here already: the musically explosive, vocally dynamic, sex-groove sleaze-blues rock 'n' roll force of nature known as JJ Rosa.
And there’s not a lot else we can say about the self-made performer. Here she is with her journey through the music business, from dance school to being a Fender artist.
What was your earliest musical experience?
Well my mum shoved me in a pair of ballet shoes when I was 3 so I started actually performing from a very early age, but music itself became important to me when I began singing in a choir at about 5/6 and began learning piano when I was 7. I kick started everything pretty young actually! My first ever gig as a musician/singer though was when I was 14 at my school's end of year party, scariest gig ever because I'd only been playing electric guitar for about 2 months!
So you were really thrown in at the deep end! Is that what motivated you to have a career in the music industry?
I just absolutely adore it and have never wanted to do anything else. I've always known music is something I can do so believe you should always channel all your energy into what you're good at and do everything you can to make a career out of it. I couldn't imagine anything worse than doing something I didn't enjoy. Don't get me wrong though, the music industry can be very stressful and it's seriously full of ups and downs, but if you're passionate though that should be enough drive to get you through all of that.
How did you develop your skills, and learn about the ride you were about to embark on as a career?
I went to music college when I was about 17 so that really helped me learn about the business side of music as well as give me the courage to get out there and start gigging and showcasing the songs I was writing. I think getting a band together after college and just booking us as many gigs as possible was the best way to begin shaping my career in music.
Gigging is the best experience a musician will ever get hands down, after that it's also finding a way of recording your music so you can send it out to the right people. I did that the first opportunity I could get and pretty soon after won a competition at XFM for our song 'It's Just Soul', this really helped start things off for me actually.
A pretty great start then – so after you built on that, what is the best thing to have happened along your journey so far?
Opening The Calling Festival last summer for Stevie Wonder was one of the best things I've done to date. I also got the chance to live in New York for a while, and performed with an American soul legend called Lloyd Price earlier last year at Carnegie Hall (now called The Apollo) in Harlem. It was a soul legends night so Dionne Warwick, Mary Wilson from The Supremes and Lulu also performed that night so that was pretty epic!
That’s amazing! Was tackling that kind of work challenging, or have other things been harder to manage?
Those gigs were a dream! I loved them. Challenging, well I would say being female you're always going to find getting older scary in this industry because it can feel as though your window in to making it is closing much quicker than for a guy. Image and the way you look can be pressuring as well.
I find it much easier these days though because I've learnt to get a thicker skin and soon came to realise that it's not worth getting too hung up on those things as they just end up killing your vibe and getting in the way of why you're doing music in the first place! Always put your music first.
Did you find your time at music college helped you overcome certain barriers?
My musical education started very young because my mum has been a professional dancer her whole life so has always told me about working in a creative industry. She's always encouraged it, I'm very lucky because my parents have never tried to prevent me going on to try and make it in music.
Going to music college was great because it definitely gave me an insight in to what having a career in music can realistically be like. It also shows you all the different areas of music you should explore in order to give yourself a back-up if you don't choose to follow the route of being a performer. I don't feel my study focussed on the business side, and just how cut-throat it can be. I guess at LCoM there is the advantage of the new business degree which will combat that. Everyone going into music needs to be aware of how contracts work as well and to definitely get legal advice before committing to anyone or anything!
What has been your greatest achievement?
Becoming an official Fender artist is one of my greatest achievements. When beginning to learn guitar when I was 14 I'd have never thought in a million years that the biggest and most famous maker of electric guitars in the world would actually be interested in having me as one of the faces of the Stratocaster, it blows my mind actually.
So who would be your dream to work with, or did you achieve that in your NYC gig?
Oh no, there’s more! I'd absolutely love to work with Prince, there are many other names I can list but unfortunately they're no longer alive so collaboration would be tricky! I'd love a bit of a ‘guitar-off’ with Prince, he'd play me under the table but at least I could say I'd done it, haha!
Is he a big inspiration to you then?
I have a few major inspirations, Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Nile Rodgers, but if I was to choose one right now I'd say Prince yes. That man has to be one of the most hard working people in music. I have always been in awe of him and not only his technical ability musically but also his song production, he's a genius and still going stronger than ever, wow!
Where would you like to be in five years then…?
I'd love to think I'd have at least a couple of albums out there circulating and doing well, maybe even a little appearance on Jools Holland, that'd be nice! [nudge nudge Jools]
Watch ‘Step Aside’ recorded live at The Deaf Institute, Manchester
And latest single ‘Feel Loved’ on JJ Rosa's You Tube channel
All photography (c) Steph Sian Smith
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