Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A local singer-songwriter with a country twang and indie-rock edge is gaining momentum. She’s playing progressively larger venues, moving up from the Blue Moon Diner to The Southern Café and Music Hall to the Jefferson Theater to the Pavilion. Now she’s looking to step onto the national—or at least regional—stage.
I’m guessing you’ve been trying to stop me.
Sally Rose’s story isn’t necessarily unique among the bustling songwriter set in Charlottesville. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Her music is as good as almost anyone making it around here—personal preferences aside—so why couldn’t she be the one to emerge from the crowd and make it big?
That’s certainly Rose’s goal with Gotta Be Gold, her second album on local indie label County Wide, and her first effort that’s had the backing of a big-time producer. When she releases the album at the Southern on October 30, the audience will get a chance to hear the full complement of tracks and find out what that effort has wrought.
An initial listen shows Gotta Be Gold as edgier than the first record she made with The Sally Rose Band (she had previously made three solo records), and Rose says that was the intent from the start. Despite going into Richmond’s Sound of Music Studios for the first time with John Morand, who Rose says freely offered suggestions to make things more layered and interesting, she didn’t want Gotta Be Gold to turn out overproduced.
“I had never had someone doing that before,” she says. “I told him straight out in our first meeting, ‘I want to make a rock record and I think I have the songs for it. But I don’t want it to sound like a Clear Channel [radio station] record,’ and he completely understood that.”
In addition to the new sound, Rose says she’s changed her songwriting approach. Where before she would bring finished songs to the table, she’s worked closely with guitarist Pete Stallings to write several tracks and included the rest of the Sally Rose Band in fleshing others out.
That’s probably a good call if for no other reason than maintaining the familial harmony. Rose’s mom, Catherine Monnes, brings decades of experience to the string section, alternating between cello and electric fiddle.
“She has been in just about every genre of band you can imagine,” Rose says. “She isn’t actually [classically trained]…but people assume that because she plays cello. She started calling her style ‘rough water cello’ to set it apart.”
Rose’s brother-in-law, Benjamin Jensen, is a rhythm section swing man, recently moving to bass from drums when the band brought on a new percussionist, David Jacobs.
The result of the songwriting and lineup changes is an album that’s full of thick, grungy jams such as Rose’s favorites “Pop My Balloon” (written mostly by Stallings) and the title track, which Rose says has “pretty much been my mantra this past year, which has been filled with ups and downs. We’ve all worked through some struggles, but we keep chugging forward.”
Of course Gotta Be Gold has its outliers. “Do Ra De” is playful, folksy—a throwback—and Rose admits it doesn’t fit with the rock ‘n’ roll edge she wanted to bring to the LP. “Tired” is a ballad on which Rose sings to a bare drum track; it’s the final song on the record, a chance for her to say her last piece without interruption.
So how does Rose plan to push beyond C’ville? It won’t be easy as she balances touring and promoting with her day job at Trager Brothers Coffee in Nelson County and intensive martial arts training in oh do kwan, on which she spends at least six hours a week.
But Rose insists she’s prepared to put in the work. “I still consider my full-time job as a musician,” she says. “I’m either on the phone doing interviews, designing flyers, designing new merch, or we are on the road and I am working on my equipment. It never ends, and if you don’t love the madness, you’re going to get burned out.”
Rose says Charlottesville’s non-competitive music community has been the perfect place to hone her craft. She credits The Secret Storm frontwoman Lauren Hoffman as one of her biggest female artist idols while growing up, and points to the many local collaborations she’s done over the years. Indeed, when The Sally Rose Band plays the Southern, Erin Lunsford (of Erin & The Wildfire) will join for a track, as will Hoffman and another local legend whom Rose is keeping under wraps.
What Rose isn’t keeping a secret are her plans for the future.
“Eventually I know I will have to move to a different, bigger city,” she says. “And I’m sure it’s out there in other cities, but that sense of working together and not shit-talking about other people, it’s hard to find.”
But maybe—just maybe—Rose will be the one to find it.