Rukhsana Merrise is an intimidatingly talented singer-songwriter from West London. Her music is rooted in traditional folk but fused with pop and soul sensibilities. This year Merrise laid the groundwork for what will undoubtedly be a huge 2016.
Merrise’s debut EP, September Songs, was officially released this autumn via Communion Records but began life in September 2014 when the four tracks were written, recorded and posted to SoundCloud.
For your debut EP September Songs you challenged yourself to write and release one song a week, talk us through your songwriting process.
It was a very impulsive approach as I didn’t have a long time to deliberate through decisions, at the same time I feel like it helped me pinpoint what I was feeling and going through at that present moment. Some of the songs were birthed from a guitar riff, a melody or even sometimes just a lyric. I never really had a set approach to writing the songs; it was really dependent on the vibe of the particular song. All I knew was I had to get it finished by the end of the week.
If you had to pick a favourite track off the EP, which would it be and why?
It changes depending on my mood. I’m currently in love with “See You Again”. It’s become so relevant to the place I’m at now.
Can you remember the first song you ever wrote? If so, what was it about?
I wrote my first song when I was 14. It was about being confused with the way I felt. I remember singing the chorus “My young heart keeps changing all the time” to my friend at school and then debating about the way we felt. Now being older I look back knowing that like most teenagers I was going through adolescence.
You mix traditional folk songwriting with contemporary production – what has inspired your sound?
It’s an amalgamation of everything I’m into. My favourite instrument is the guitar so a lot of September Songs has really beautiful/intricate chord progressions. I’m also a lover of Hip Hop and that’s heavily influenced my music. I don’t think there is a set way of creating but between myself, PRGRSHN & Alastair O’Donnell we’ve definitely created something that represents me musically.
What’s the most rewarding thing about making music?
Seeing people come out to the live shows and speaking to me about how the music has affected them. Everyone’s really receptive and it’s the most wonderful and satisfying feeling knowing that somebody can relate to the place you were in.
If you could only listen to one record, which record would you pick?
Joni Mitchell’s Blue. There’s a perfect song on that album for everyday of the week. It’s so reflective and such an amazing body of work.
You’ve recently toured with Oh Wonder and will be playing The Great Escape in 2016, what can people expect from your live sets?
It’s very spontaneous and organic. I’m a chatty person so never short of conversation. Performing the songs I’ve written live is almost like showing everyone the birthing process. I’m really in my element on stage and I guess it’s like an invitation into my world.
Where did you play your first live set?
I remember the first gig I did was for Camden Proud. The line-up had Stormzy and Little Simz on it so I automatically felt out of my depth. I didn’t know who they were but it was very clear the crowd we’re predominantly grime/hip hop lovers. I had two shots of JD, got on stage and started my set with SIA’s “Little Man” and before I knew it they loved me.
We’re coming up to the end of the year, what’s been your highlight from 2015?
It’s been an incredible year for me and I’m torn between supporting Bears Den earlier in the year and playing Glastonbury BBC introducing.
Finally, what’s next?
I’m currently writing my album so I’m really looking forward to sharing new music with everyone at the top of next year and performing at my headline show in January 27th at The Social. I don’t really like to pre-empt/plan too heavily. I’ll see where the wind takes me.
Rukhsana Merrise is set to play a headline show on 27 January at The Social, London and will also be performing at The Great Escape 2016. September Songs is out now.
Words – Dan Austin