My this week’s instalment of ellesse My Style My Sound, we welcome West London’s newest leading lady Rukhsana Merrise. Born and raised in Hammersmith, her unique sound fuses influences from the melting pot of culture she grew up in with her eclectic personal taste in music, creating an individual style that can’t be placed into a single genre.
After years of working as a songwriter, Rukhsana met her guitarist whilst watching a gig and from there they began to work on realising her own musical vision. Since releasing her EP September Songs on Communion Records in 2015, she’s been busy creating her debut album alongside long-term collaborator and producer PRGRSHN. As well as featuring Ghetts and Kojey Radical on her recent tracks ‘Talk About It’ and ‘Die In Vain’, Rukhsana has also been touring with big name artists like Rag n Bone Man, James Bay and Leon Bridges.
Not interested in conforming to the conventional, Rukhsana’s main goal is for her music to be the most true representation of herself. Captivating and confessional, her soulful, folk-infused songs are switching up the status quo and making a unique mark on the music scene.
Taking to the Metropolis Studios mic, Rukhsana sings her tracks ‘Die In Vain’ and ‘Come My Way’ for her #mystylemysound session.
We caught up with Rukhsana Merrise to hear what inspires her unique sound.
Have you gained any inspiration from music as you were growing up?
I’ve grown up in West London. I was born and raised in Hammersmith and I come from quite a big family – there’s 6 of us. Growing up my mum would always have us listening to basically whatever we wanted to. So we wouldn’t just listen to reggae, soul and R&B, even though they were staple sounds in our house. I would listen to rock, grunge… maybe not heavy metal – that’s a bit too far, I wasn’t angry as a child! But yeah I had a really good, healthy, happy childhood, went to Holland Park which was good because I was exposed to people from loads of different walks of life and for me that was the only high school in London at the time that I went to where everybody was from all different walks of life. Everyone would get along, be in one space and you’d be influenced by one another. I think that in itself – the whole meeting and seeing different peoples’ backgrounds, having an open door policy where I come from has lead to me making the music that I do.
What’s your first big musical memory?
So my first album that I bought – I think I was like 10 and I remember being in a charity shop. Albums used to cost like £12.99 and when you’re that age you don’t have that, just your pocket money which was a fiver, so with that you’ve got a couple of bags of crisps and a can of coke. Anyway I went into this charity shop and found Nirvana – Nevermind and I was intrigued by the cover. I bought that and remember I played it for a whole weekend. That was my first album. My first single was So Solid Crew – 21 Seconds and I remember when I used to live in the flats in Hammersmith, being in the lift with my friend and us rehearsing the song because we’d written the song lyrics down – corny but yeah, that was my first single!
Why do you make music and what drives your passion?
For me, I think from a creative perspective, everybody has their own ‘thing’, I think. Their own little personal vent. One of my friends loves walking, one loves painting. I love music, so for me it’s like my way of almost having therapy for my life. I suppose every day life keeps me making music as such. Life inspires me to create.
How does music affect your mood?
I mean, you’re forever feeling in different emotional states. For example, wanting to listen to a sad song when you’re feeling sad. If I was to say to myself “Get in to the studio and create a sad song”, I couldn’t. It’s the same way that if I said go and create a happy song, I couldn’t. I suppose it’s all dictated by things that I can’t really explain. There’s been times where I’ve listened back to songs I’ve created like ‘Die In Vain’ for example, and I remember I was at a point in my life where I was like, I can’t go on living if there isn’t a tomorrow, not caring about waking up the next day. It’s about me wanting to live, wanting to be here and be grateful and thankful for seeing another day. Sometimes when I listen to it I feel like it’s a bit morbid like “Wow , where were you when you wrote that?” But at the same time it’s a reflection of the place I was once at.
How do you handle nerves before a performance? Do you still get nervous?
Yeah, I get really nervous! Generally speaking – this is probably not the best solution for anyone – but if i’m nervous before I go on stage I have a small drink to calm my nerves. After I’ve done it the first time, so for example if I’m recording something or about to go on stage, once I’ve got through that first hurdle, I’m fine because then I’m in it and I’m owning something else, giving something else.
Who inspires you?
Joni Mitchell. That woman can write a song amazingly! She really inspired me, I love her storytelling. From my teen years, I loved the way she tells stories about the world and her views and love. She paints when she writes, I think. Karen Carpenter – love her voice, it felt really innocent and always makes you teary. My mum used to listen to a lot of Karen Carpenter as well. Massive fan of Dennis Brown, the reggae singer. He sings beautifully. The late Amy Winehouse. There’s loads of people who inspire me! Kanye West, Chance The Rapper – there’s so many people who inspire me musically, to put them all into one space would be a bit crazy because you’d think ‘Where has this all come from?’
Have you ever taken a break from creating music?
I took a break out to write my album and like I was saying before about being inspired by life and music being therapy, I have to live in order to have something to say and write about, otherwise it’s just not true or empty words or reliving things I’ve already said in song again. So I can really relate to taking time out. I think it’s healthy in anything you do. You have to go off and be inspired again by the world, by people, by your travels, through mistakes, love, break-ups, relationships – whatever it is, you have to do that. You’re not living if you’re not living, you know what I mean? You’ve gotta take a step back to move forward.
So referring to ellesse’ ‘Make it Better’ motto – how do you think music makes things better?
There’s one thing based on human experience that I had with someone. I went on tour and played a few shows, but there was one we played in Antwerp and I met a girl after the performance. We were talking, she followed me on Instagram and I put out a song called ‘Talk About It’. The song was basically about people who don’t communicate anymore – they don’t speak and people live in thier phones and stuff. My point is, she was speaking to me and said the song that I made helped her to recommunicate and connect with someone she hadn’t been speaking to. I was like ‘wow’. Here’s me making songs in a bedroom and putting them online to see what happens but the power of the song had helped somebody else. That in itself for me is music making it better.
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