Gabriella Rose sings with a world-weariness that sounds like it could only have been cultivated over years of lived experience. But that's the thing — it wasn't. She is a 16-year-old from Coeur d'Alene with a rare gift for understanding and channeling other people's emotions, a fully realized singer-songwriter who happens to be a junior in high school.
Some of the heavy sadness present in Rose's hair-raisingly beautiful, six-song debut EP Lost in Translation is her own, though. From a young age, she had to care for a family member living with mental illness, and she was present for much of her grandmother's "really short but brutal battle with a rare form of cancer." As an eighth grader, it fell on her to plan and organize her grandmother's wake.
"I've seen and experienced a lot of things a normal kid probably wouldn't have to deal with," she says. "That definitely shapes me. I had to grow up really fast. I've always had to be a little more mature than people my age, and sometimes I struggle with depression issues. Sometimes I write from a really sad place. ... So, I definitely have applied some of my experiences to the songs."
Lacking an abundance of personal life experience, however, Rose also draws on her emotional responses to books and movies. "Lost in Translation," the wistful lead single off her EP, is based on the 2003 Sofia Coppola film, while Truman Capote's nonfiction novel In Cold Blood and Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums inspire other songs on the EP.
"She has a really unique ability to empathize with other people's stories, to be able to really feel it," says Chris Molitor, who recorded and produced Lost in Translation. "Somehow, she's able to take those emotions and craft them into beautifully original, very deep songs. I can't imagine what she'll be writing in her 20s, 30s and 40s, when she has more depth of experience. I think it's going to be pretty special."
The pair are celebrating the release of Lost in Translation on Friday at the Bartlett. Molitor will play a solo set before Rose takes the stage.
An accomplished songwriter himself, Molitor was extremely impressed when he first heard the 16-year-old's demos. Rose's mother had reached out a couple of times about potentially working with her daughter, and Molitor was initially skeptical.
"Generally speaking, if a mother is like, 'My daughter is amazing,' there's a chance that she's not amazing and the mother is trying to live vicariously through her daughter or something weird like that," he says. "But that turned out not to be the case at all — her mom just recognized this incredibly unique gift in her daughter to sing and write songs. I was just blown away by the quality and richness of her voice, the depth and the craftsmanship of her lyrics, and that someone so young has such an incredible ability."
Molitor was charged with breathing life into Rose's roughly recorded demos — little more than voice memos with guitar — and helping her realize the mature, full-band sound she was shooting for. (He played most of the instrumentation on the album.) To avoid branding her as "the girl with an acoustic guitar," the pair leaned more on electric guitar, piano, percussion and a wide range of auxiliary instrumentation in recording Lost in Translation, but Molitor made an effort not to distract from Rose's timeless-sounding voice or box her into a place she doesn't belong.
"She doesn't sing punk or screamo, she sings beautifully and plays a normal acoustic guitar, so I think a lot of people were trying to put her in a country bubble or a cutesy folk bubble," he says. "Talking with her, she wanted to be a little more creative and do something in the indie-pop vein, and she has a huge love of vintage music — that '60s and '70s retro vibe."
Rose remembers painting to the music of Joni Mitchell with her grandmother, which she thought was "just the coolest thing." She subsequently went through a phase of listening heavily to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and was later drawn to the retro-pop band She & Him.
"I love trying to revamp that and putting my own spin on it," she says. "I love the songs and the lyrics that came out of that era."
Rose has been writing poetry for years, but struggled at first to write songs until someone told her to "write the poetry, then put music to it." The advice clicked, and that year — the year her grandmother died — proved a pivotal time in her development as a songwriter.
"I wrote a song about [the loss], and my mom heard that song and sent me to songwriting camp," she recalls. "It wasn't a very good song, but it was the start of something." ♦
Gabriella Rose Album Release with Chris Molitor • Fri, Feb. 8 at 8 pm • $8 advance, $10 day of • All ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174