ROSIN is a band of wolves dressed in formal attire. Drawing on elements of bluegrass, rock and jazz, these classical deviants create their own version of a string quartet. From upbeat Americana with orchestral accompaniments to classical arrangements with rock guitar riffs, members Jake Armerding (violin, mandola, guitar), Annie Bartlett (violin, viola), Mina Kim (cello) and Zachariah Hickman (double bass) fuse the personality of each player’s diverse influences and expertise to create their uniquely synergetic sound.
The collaborative union of ROSIN’s members began in 2011 with the launch of the live music series, The Sheffield Sessions. Originating as a one-off house show, the series has expanded to host monthly live shows featuring local artists of varying genres and backgrounds. The unifying spirit of The Sheffield Sessions lives on through ROSIN’s forthcoming full-length album, due to unveil this January.
Learn more about Rosin in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! Now that we are almost at the end of 2016, what are some words you would use to describe this year? What have been some of the highlights for you and your music? What are you most excited about for 2017?
Unpredictable and noisy is the best way we can describe 2016. Wow, what a year. As a band, it’s been very exciting to see our debut album project come together and we’ve loved working with all the folks who have helped us take the music from a composition to a finished piece of art. We are excited to head into 2017 and debut our album. We believe that live music is a great way to bring folks together and share a common experience. We hope that our music will help heal some of the ugly rifts that have floated to the surface in the past election cycle. As a matter of fact, our NYC debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie is part of a fundraising concert for the New York Women’s Foundation with the mission to stand up for all women by advancing economic security, combating racism, and building next generation of leaders.
Where did you come up with your band name? What other names were you considering? Was it hard to come up with one?
Band names are tough — you’re trying to capture the essence of something in a catchy way, and it’s also one of those things that you can’t approach directly, you have to come at it sideways, out of the corner of your eye. Then, when you’ve got it, you always know. But it’s usually not a linear process, it often winds up being almost accidental.
In this case, we were overcomplicating things at first. We started out with a lot of ideas like “Rosin This” and “Rosin That”, and finally Annie said, “What about just … ROSIN?” And that was the “a-ha” moment; we realized we didn’t need to dress it up any more than that, it said it all and kept it simple at the same time.
How would you describe your sound to someone that has never heard it before?
The sound of the songs is mostly a product of Jake’s influences, because he composed them. Those influences are primarily Suzuki classical, eclectic bluegrass and 1980s Top 40 radio. So, Vivaldi crossed with Bela Fleck crossed with Michael Jackson.
The sound of the band is really its own, because the four of us have such diverse musical histories. Zack went to jazz school, plays in a rock band (Josh Ritter) and himself fronts a raucous bluegrass band called Barnstar!. Annie did a bunch of classical viola training but then went off in her own direction to pursue improvisation, and Mina is hard core classical all the way, with the credentials to prove it. One of the best things about the group is how each of us reacts musically to the others — everyone listens well and has such respect for each others voice as an instrumentalist, it’s sort of like musical un-racism, like a mutual cheering section. As different as we all are, we love music and we embrace the rough edges, and that makes the sound work.
Growing up, did you always want to be musicians? How did Rosin first become a band? How did you all meet each other? How do you think your music has grown since you first formed in 2011? Can you talk about your music series The Sheffield Sessions?
Becoming a musician wasn’t a choice for any of us. Music defines who we are and not having it as a major part of our lives is incomprehensible. As a band, ROSIN came together through a few different channels. The music of ROSIN has evolved since 2011 by taking the multiple channels and blending them into one. Jake and Zack were already playing together in a bluegrass band, Barnstar!, Annie and Mina crossed paths over the years at classical music chamber festivals and Annie and Jake were trading classical and bluegrass violin lessons.
ROSIN emerged through the fledgling music series, The Sheffield Sessions, which was founded by Annie and Jake to create a shared music experience with the local community. As the series evolved to include more cross-genre shows, Annie and Jake brought in Mina and Zack. The more the “house band” played together and experimented with genre-blending music, the more it became apparent that there was something unique to our sound. In 2014, ROSIN decided to take the plunge and write and record a full-length album of instrumental music.
The Sheffield Sessions was founded in 2011 by Annie, her husband Sam and Jake. What began as an annual Bluegrass and Bourbon event grew to include an emerging artist series and a classical music series. Now in its 5th year, the series hosts monthly concerts and reaches audiences of upwards of 500 people over the course of the year. Door proceeds for each concert are matched and donated to a local charity. “It’s all about creating community around a shared experience,” says Annie. To borrow a quote from Zack, “Live performance is one of the few remaining non-downloadable experiences out there today.”
This January you will release your forthcoming full-length album. What can tell our readers about this collection and how it came about? How long did it take to put it together? What was the inspiration for these songs?
Annie proposed the idea to Jake, Jake wrote the music, and Zack and Mina gradually osmosed in and helped shape the album. It took a really long time, partly because it was a new idiom for Jake to compose in and he had to figure out how to do it, and partly because we weren’t interested in anything that wasn’t great. From conception to completion took about two years.
The songs were truly inspired by themselves; that is, the process of composing them was itself the real inspiration. Jake says he was way out of his depth on this project, and yet didn’t feel intimidated — it’s kind of like you don’t know your own limitations, and so you decide you don’t care what anyone thinks and just write whatever sounds good to you. You have internal expectations but no external ones. It’s tremendously fun.
What if anything has surprised you about the music industry? What do you think has been your biggest challenge? And what do you think has come really naturally to you both?
We’ve been surprised by how open and receptive the music industry has been to our music. On the local Boston scene, we’ve had great support from both the classical and pop sides of the industry and we are so appreciative of how well received we’ve been. Our challenges aren’t any different than any independent artist out there – finding a niche in crowded field and figuring out ways to fund our projects are the biggest challenges. Our band is good at the music side. Writing, performing, recording and talking about our music is easy. It’s the business pieces that are more challenging. We’ve been reasonably creative so far in finding unique performance opportunities and creating our own concerts when we’ve run into roadblocks.
Who are some of your favorite artists and what bands continue to inspire you and your music? Who would you still love to work with in the future?
Most of our favorite artists are blue-collar musicians local to the Boston scene or somewhat under the radar: Mark Erelli, Rose Polenzani, Lyle Brewer, Paul Bessenbacher (aka Opus Orange), Barnstar!, Crooked Still, Dietrich Strause, Rose Cousins, The Fretful Porcupine. So we’ve had the privilege of collaborating with many of our favorite artists.
We look up to the great instrumentalists of our day. Jake grew up idolizing guys like Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice and Jerry Douglas in the bluegrass world; Chris Thile is of course rewriting the book on what can be done on the mandolin; we’ve all got a crush on Richard Thompson’s electric guitar playing. Working with any one of these great musicians would be such an honor.
When you aren’t performing, working in the studio, what do you like to do for fun? How do you unwind from it all?
As a group, we find ourselves in the kitchen almost as much as in our rehearsal studio. Zack’s specialty is prohibition era cocktails, Mina is the master of the grill, Jake is all over the baking and Annie fills in the gaps with whatever is in the fridge.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
We’re here to create art, and our one purpose is to move people, to change their lives a little bit in the way only art can. We don’t let propriety get in the way of that. We shrug at labels. We throw aside convention for convention’s sake and relentlessly pursue the music that makes us shout, grin, laugh or cry. Everything else is just details.