Derry singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist ROE speaks to Hot Press about leaving college, mental health, social media and her debut album. That’s when the panic sets in.
When Roisin Donald decided to drop out of college to pursue a solo music career, her mom said something most moms would do: “You should always have a backup plan.”
Since then, it’s safe to say that the 23-year-old Derry native, known as Roe, has been making serious waves. In 2017 her performance at Glastonbury led to a string of performances in Europe, North America and India. The following year she won the BBC’s Northern Ireland Music Prize for Best Emerging Artist and toured with Snow Patrol.
So what about this backup plan?
The singer tells me her remarkable career path has opened her parents’ eyes to “the possibilities outside of college and the mainstream education.” Still, she describes the experience of stepping out into the world as a solo artist at such a young age as “terrifying.”
“But I’m glad I took the plunge,” she smiles.
The Derry native undoubtedly achieved a lot at a young age. With experiences as big as playing at Glastonbury at 18 or supporting Robbie Williams, it’s understandable that – as she herself puts it – after a big show “the descent is real”. This is just one of the important themes the artist explores through both her candid songwriting and her open social media presence.
“I find it really difficult to talk to people about my mental health,” explains Roe, “so when I’m writing it just sort of comes across. I write about my own struggles because I know that once I release this music, it could reach someone and help them. So releasing music can be the most daunting thing in the world. It’s like a one-page therapy session and I just put that out there in the hopes that it will reach a person and affect them positively.”
The singer also acknowledges the psychological benefits of taking regular breaks from social media – however, Roe uses hers in a remarkably honest way.
“I try to use my social media as a reflection of who I really am,” she notes, “rather than using it to promote the best of me. If I’m not feeling well and feel like talking about it, it’s a great way for me to put it out there for the same reasons as my songwriting: to see if it reaches a person who feels the same way. If so, then great because it means I’m not alone and they’re not alone.”
Of course, it was also thanks to social media that Roe joined Irish Women in Harmony in 2020. Much like some of the issues addressed in her lyrics – like bullying and imposter syndrome – it can feel lonely to pursue a solo music career. But an Instagram DM from songwriter and producer RuthAnne caused Roe to step out of her solo comfort zone and have an experience she describes as “really sane.”
“The best thing was not only being able to work together creatively, but also being able to talk about our own experiences in the industry. It’s created this network that’s really nice to be a part of and it’s such a nice change from writing.
The group’s first single, a cover of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’, reached #2 on the Irish Airplay chart and #1 on the Breaking Tunes chart: further achievements to add to Roe’s ever-growing list.
So it’s high time that the singer and multi-instrumentalist released her own album. Their debut That’s When The Panic Sets In is due out later this month, and Roe agrees it’s a long time coming.
Originally scheduled for 2019, a 1am visit to a supermarket in Reykjavik led to the decision to postpone it until the singer had fully refined her sound – and she certainly has. Deviating a bit from their electronic pop roots, the album features an eclectic mix of instruments: from brass to string quartet to piano.
“I’m so glad I waited to this point to make something this big,” she says, “because I had the time to figure out what it would be and I’m so proud of the end result.”
That’s when the panic sets in will be available from September 23rd. ROE plays Ireland Music Week in October.
Read more interviews in the new issue of Hot Press, out now.