ABOVE: ROO PANES. PHOTO COURTESY OF BURBERRY
In a musical moment preoccupied with ’80s excess, Internet culture, and dubstep, British singer Roo Panes is a rebel. Inspired by folk and classical music, Panes’ debut EP, last year’s Once, pairs introspective lyrics with acoustic guitar and sweeping strings. It’s an emotive, unfussy sound that has once again become counterculture. “That’s the real art: the art of simplicity, ” he tells us. People—iconic fashion brand Burberry among them—are taking notice. Ahead of his latest performance at the Park Avenue Armory, we spoke with Roo about inspiration, style, and what’s next.
HOMETOWN: Wimborne, Dorset, England
CURRENT LOCATION: London, England
THE NAME GAME: My actual name’s Andrew. Roo is a nickname given to me because when I was young there was a character in Winnie the Pooh called Roo. [Roo and Pooh] play a game called fish sticks where they throw sticks in the river and Roo falls in. I did exactly that when I was young.
CLASSICAL FOLK: It’s definitely got singer-songwriter origins, but I got really interested in the idea of trying to mix classical music into it, trying to unite classical music and folk music. I’ve got a viola player and a cellist and a violinist who play with me. I’ve been trying to unite the two genres because I think they’re both beautiful and make sort of an interesting landscape. I call it classical folk. It’s relaxed and very reflective music.
MUSICAL BACKGROUND: I’ve not done any training, actually. I just kind of picked up stuff as I went along. I was first on trumpet—which I did have a bit of training for—but didn’t really enjoy it that much. I got my first guitar when I was 12, which was an electric guitar and didn’t feel very natural to me, so I got my own acoustic guitar at about 13, I would say. I just started playing around from that age, really.
INFLUENCES: I’ve never listened to all that much music. My friends find it infuriating because I’m a musician, so they expect me to listen to loads of music. I’ve never really done that because most of my inspiration comes from books or the world around me. I just kind of articulate it through music.
There are a few people who I really admire. One band in particular is Sigur Rós. I’ve always listened to them when I want to start writing because they’re very clever at using space. I like that they use simple sections and build intelligently on top of them. That’s the real art: the art of simplicity. I also like Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. I love the tunings that Nick Drake used in some of his songs and that introduced me to some of the tunings on my songs. And I like Bob Dylan for his lyrics. I used to listen to a lot of his stuff when I was just starting out.
LAST BOOK READ: The last thing I read was a book by Thomas Hardy called Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Thomas Hardy was a writer from Dorset. It’s a perfect Dorset book and it got me into the mood to do some writing.
PROCESS: Often I’ll sit down and be like, I’ve got to get something done here. I’ve got so much stuff that’s inspiring me. I’ve just got to put it together. The songs that get finished the quickest are the ones that happen in the space of a day or even an hour or two. They just come out and they’re done. In one sense it’s great, but in another it’s really annoying, especially when you’re going through a stage of writer’s block.
It depends on what you consider “the writing process.” If you include all of the inspiration behind that song, then you could say that it’s taken quite a while to write, but the actual situation of sitting down and writing the lyrics or melody often comes quite quickly. I find the melody usually comes first. I’ll be doing something or I’ll go for a walk and a melody will pop into my head and I’ll start thinking about what the mood of that is.
LIVE PERFORMANCES: My favorite part is the writing bit, but the live bit is really fun and I love doing that with my whole band. When I perform on my own, I go into my own world. I’m a bit of an introvert. An environment that helps people to listen is great, but you can’t always have that. It’s really dependent on the atmosphere of the room when you play solo, but when you play with a band, it’s really fun because you’re up there with all your friends. I wouldn’t want to do it without live music.
PERSONAL STYLE: I’m not sure I can connect the way I dress to my music, but it’s very connected to me. My music is very reflective of how I’m feeling at the time. My fashion is reflective in another sense, but not consciously.
BURBERRY CALLING: I was training to be an English teacher in Dorset. I’d just begun doing music and saw a video done by Burberry Acoustic with Johnny Flynn, who is another artist I really like. I just thought, “Oh, that looks great. I would love to do that.” I got encouraged to write an email to Burberry. I just wrote to them and said, “I would love to do one of these music videos.” I wasn’t really sure what would come of it, but I got an email back and ended up doing this Burberry Acoustic down in Dorset, which was a really big surprise for a guy from the countryside. So it went from there.
Had I modeled before? No, not at all. That was a whole new world for me.
SUPER FANS: I think I might have met a couple of them from quite a long way back actually. It’s really encouraging. I’ve gotten some paintings sent my way. A couple of them are actually really good.
FAVORITE PLACE: I’ve been back to Jerusalem quite a few times. I went there last summer to do some writing. I stayed on the rooftops there for a week. Jerusalem is a really fascinating place and it’s got so much life going on, so I find that I go back there quite often.
In particular, I find that I love the desert. It’s so clear. You sit down on the sand and it’s just you and your thoughts.
UP NEXT: So it looks like this EP that we’re working on now will come out in September. Hopefully. Sometimes these things take time.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT ROO PANES’ FACEBOOK PAGE.