Baby Rose has performed on tour with Ari Lennox and Snoh Aalegra. She has also headlined her very own international tour. However, she doesn’t perform just for the money; she performs to connect with people.
“I did a show over Christmas break in Atlanta, and it was free. All you had to do was bring a toy or diapers for a drive. I was not making any money from it,” Rose told REVOLT. “I was spending money on this, but I wanted to do it because I was really feeling blue during the holidays, and I saw everybody that was blue during the holidays.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the Grammy-nominated artist discusses touring with Ari Lennox, meeting her younger sister at a show and how she’s evolved as a live performer.
What do you remember about your first-ever show?
I don’t really remember the very first show I ever did. I remember the first big, impactful show that I ever did — my high school talent show. I had a piano out, did an original song and won. It was a turning point for me in my mind because I was like, ‘People fuck with what I do on my own. And, by that point, I’d been invisible this whole time where, when people do see me, they teased me. But, this was the first time I’d ever actually been celebrated for doing something very unique to me and not trying to fit in or anything. So, even having these latest shows that I’ve done, I open the show with just me and the piano. It’s like an ode to that very first moment that I ever stepped out on faith and performed.
What did you have to work at to become a better performer?
Understanding how to deal with my nerves because I do have really bad nerves before going on stage. I’m not the type of person who can just drink and turn up and then go, ‘Oh, let’s just go on stage.’ I’ve realized through trial and error that I can’t eat at least two to three hours before the stage because my stomach gets out of control. I have to pray before I go on stage because it sets the intention: ‘This is beyond me. This is not about me. This is for you, God. Protect us ‘cause anything can happen on stage or in the audience or whatever. It’s all of these people and me, and they’re all looking at me and needing direction from me. I have their attention. And so it’s just like, I don’t even know what to do with that. Use me so that you can shine through. Protect everybody.’ So, I have to pray to set that intention. The first tour I went on was opening up for Ari Lennox. That was such an uncomfortable tour because we just didn’t have money. Every time we performed, it made it worth it, but we weren’t eating well, and I was drinking way too much. So, I made it a point to take a shot or three before going on stage.
Then, I realized I developed acid reflux and she was just like, ‘Yeah, you can’t [drink].’ Then I had to take months off from drinking period. I couldn’t even drink during my recording process, which was unheard of, but it was messing up my throat and my stomach. I don’t drink before I go on stage anymore. Now, I’m just really mellow. If there are hella people in the dressing room or whatever, I just go for a walk, wait for a second and just breathe through my warmups. I just have a moment alone so that I can ground myself.
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Are there any “Shea Butter Baby Tour” shows that stick out to you?
First of all, in Oakland we always get robbed every tour. So, there’s that, and I wasn’t the only one. That day stuck out because our van got broken into, and everything was stolen. This was like the third day of the tour, and there were like 48 more days to go. I tried to tell Charlotte Day Wilson about Oakland and she was like, ‘Oh no, I already know (laughs).’ I feel like it’s an organized thing. I think they just really stay outside of venues. Another one was when we were in some part of California. That was one of the greatest shows we ever had because it was John’s birthday, who is my music director and guitarist. And we were in this big warehouse-type venue, and I just remember being up there in my overalls. I couldn’t be further apart on the spectrum from Ari Lennox at that time, but I knew that she brought me on because she really loved me and appreciated what I was doing. I was very much a pariah from the openers because it was Ron Gilmore and this girl Mikhala Jené. They were awesome, but I was definitely on my own little grunge.
Boston was memorable, too, because I actually met my baby sister for the first time. We had always known about each other for like five or six years. I knew her, and we talked on the phone. I’d help her through the struggles she was going through in elementary school and middle school, but we had never met because she lived in Boston and I lived in Atlanta or North Carolina. Her mom brought her to the show and I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ I was also extremely sick, beyond sick. I had chills. I was in the backroom after we had gone to dinner. This was before I went on stage, and I was literally having the shakes and crying my eyes out like, ‘I can’t go on stage. You don’t understand;. I’m sick.’ I had a crazy fever and everything but it was just like, ‘No, you gotta go out there.’ I just kept thinking about my little sister in the crowd. I went out there, and I felt like I gave a terrible performance but everyone was just like, ‘No, that was great.’
Another big thing that I learned was my sweet spot in performing is when I don’t do too much, and I hold back. It seems effortless, but literally I’m just like, ‘I cannot physically do any more than just give you this. I can only just stand here or sit on the stage.’ Most of the time, I was just like, ‘I can’t even move; my body just hurt.’
How did you develop your live show?
We would change our setlist every few dates on tour because we were looking at what songs gained the strongest reactions. Usually, it would be ‘All To Myself’ and ‘Sold Out.’ Then I would do this cover of Frank Ocean’s ‘Super Rich Kids’ that people fuck with. Also, ‘Chamber of Reflection’ by Mac DeMarco. It was very much like trying to fit it around this kind of plot. So, we were always experimenting. The more comfortable I was with it, the more I would move around and interact. I like every setlist to have a narrative, no matter how short it is. I’m pretty sure when we go out on the road again, we’re going to do so much pre-planning and stuff that we’re not going to have to change.
On the “Shea Butter Baby Tour,” did you and the other artists do anything together outside of performing, like go to dinner or bowling?
We didn’t do bowling or go to dinner or anything like that together because everyone had their own routing and planning. So, it was just not feasible. But places like House of Blues notoriously have dinner that they provide for us, and we would all be together. Whenever we see each other, it’s like, ‘Oh, what’s up?.’ It was never like, ‘Oh, don’t touch the artist.’ It was always love. There was this guy who ran all the lights for every artist, and my mom would sometimes be over there helping him with the lights. It was that kind of love. At a certain point, Ari was like, ‘I don’t even want soundcheck.’ So, we all had unlimited sound check time. It was beautiful.
At the beginning of 2020, you had your first headlining tour. In what ways was it special?
It was a lot longer, so I really got to take my time and talk to people. I didn’t feel rushed. I just remember it being something where it was more like interacting when people were talking to me, and because this was when COVID was still way back in the recesses of our minds, we weren’t even thinking about that. I remember being super nervous about Chicago because Chicago has always been a tough crowd. When I was opening for Ari and Snoh [Aalegra], it was a tough crowd. It wasn’t like they were booing; it was more like they were just quiet and like, ‘We’re ready for Snoh.’ The first date of my tour was in Chicago, which was also the best date of the tour (laughs). We sold out of all of our merch in that one day. I remember it’s nothing like headlining and knowing people are really out there for you. It just started to get weird when it was in Europe. It wasn’t because of the crowds. It was all beautiful. They were there showing up. It was more our internal camp because the news was starting to talk about COVID and how it was becoming a pandemic. We were just looking at each other like, ‘We gotta go home.’ So, our anxiety was out of the roof. I remember this one guy Gilles Willems, who is amazing, would follow me on tour. He would follow me to three dates, and he had his mom, and they would be in the very front row. So, I’m just thinking, ‘I’m responsible for y’all being OK.’ You’re right there in front of the crowd, and this is beautiful — but I was very torn because it’s just like, ‘Yeah, nah, I’m not trying to get sick. I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want your mom to get sick. I don’t want anybody in this crowd to get sick. Let’s just go home, guys.’
We’re coming back into the live thing. I just want inflation to go down. I was talking to my booking agent and they were like, ‘The fact that it’s looking like we’re about to go into a recession is making it like we just got over one hump, but we’re going into another where you’re going to have to really be mindful that people are struggling.’ I don’t give a fuck if it’s a free show, I’ll figure it out. I don’t just look at performing as a thing to do to make money. I also look at it as a way to reach people and put people on to what I’m doing. I did a show over Christmas break in Atlanta, and it was free. All you had to do was bring a toy or diapers for a drive. I was not making any money from it. I was spending money on this, but I wanted to do it because I was really feeling blue during the holidays, and I saw everybody that was blue during the holidays. I wanted to give them this project, and I also wanted to perform it for them.
What has been on your rider over the years?
We have an assortment of teas, some Manuka honey if they have it … socks. I don’t know why Paul [Anthony Ashby] put socks on the rider. They just like to get socks from the venue. I don’t know, but they give us socks. We have a fruit tray and some snacks and Reposado tequila for after the show.
How much does your live show inspire your music?
When I’m creating the music, especially now that I’ve been creating with some of my bandmates, they’ve been a part of the process with this next body of work. We just did To Myself without knowing how this would go over live — having to speed up tracks and break things down because we know what will impact people. We’ve been on the road together and had all of the research on what really makes people move. Before, they were struggle dancing to slow songs ‘cause they wanted to move, and none of these songs were meant for that. So it’s like, ‘Let’s go into something a little bit more audacious.’ So, we leaned into things like rock and funk. I can picture it now. We’re all in the room making the song, but we’re also writing it to perform like a band. I like to see people dancing and getting to be freer.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in the crowd while performing? Have you seen people cry or pass out?
I’ve never seen anybody pass out — thank God because I’d probably stop the whole show. I would just stop the show. We’d stop the show until they get it together or whatever, or we’d get them to safety. I’m not for that, especially after Day N Vegas, which was right after Astroworld and everybody was feeling weird collectively. I’ve seen people cry, and that always blows my mind. You’re overcome with emotion for me.
I remember Adele said there are certain songs she won’t perform because they make her cry. Do you have songs like that?
I haven’t performed ‘Over’ for that reason. It’s just very emotional for me. I’ve done it a few times but at the same time, I kind of crave that emotion. I like when songs evoke that emotion of being on the verge of crying. So, I stopped performing ‘Over’ because of that reason.
How did you prepare for the Femme It Forward mini-tour?
Well, I had a very concise setlist. I only had three songs, and one of ’em had to be the Femme It Forward song. I have a lot of records with string arrangements. I could have chosen ‘Show You,’ ‘Sold Out,’ ‘Over’ or any new records, but I wanted to do something that had a plot. So, ‘All To Myself’ is kind of where I left off at on the To Myself album. That’s the central thesis: ‘I’m hurt and sad, but I will keep that inside because I know I have moved on. I know this isn’t meant to be easy.’ But, then, I wanted to go in a chronological order of where I was recently as far as an ex of mine begging to be back in my life. It’s like, you’re the same person that caused me so much hell and was acting like you didn’t even fuck with me anymore. So, this is interesting, but I’m cool. This wasn’t meant for us. You have to accept that and move on. So, that was a new song, and I felt like it was just appropriate. Then, we go to ‘At Your Worst’ — I had to find meaning in it because it’s definitely about loving somebody when they’re at their worst. I looked around, and it was just like women have such a bad rep when it comes to us working together. There’s always this subtle competition or things like that. So, it’s just like, ‘No, look at us all on this stage. We’re here and supporting us at our best, and we’ll be there for us even when we’re at our worst. I’m here. I’m fighting for you. Even when we’re fighting, I’m fighting for you. I’ll never be the type to go in rooms and talk behind your back. I’ll never be that type of person. If I have an issue with you, we will talk about that together. We’ll figure it out.’ Do you know what I’m saying?
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What do you have coming up for the rest of 2022?
So, the goals are to release this next body of work, which I believe will open up so many windows of opportunity. Also, I’m going to Spain in the summer to perform at my first big festival in July — Mad Cool Festival. That will be exciting, and I’ll probably just stay in London for a little while and see what happens … immerse myself into that community. A lot of other things are in development, so I don’t know where we are yet with them, but yeah, I’m looking forward. Once I start to release this music, I know it’s showing where I’ve been since To Myself and how I’ve evolved as a person. So, I’m just rehearsing in advance and getting sets and stuff together, working with my performance coach and vocal coach every week — just to prepare myself for that because this is a new energy I will need to convey.
Photo Credit: Setor Tsikudo, Mari, Ashé Davis