Burning Ambition - In Conversation With Roisin El-Cherif

Before last year, Roisin El Cherif hadn’t sang outside of her bedroom, but she’s now a rising star thanks to her single ‘Kerosene’. Edwin McFee hears about her remarkable journey.

Initially intended as “an experiment”, ‘Kerosene’, the 2016 debut single from singer/songwriter Roisin El Cherif, signalled the arrival of someone special. Rich in textures, melody and moods, the brooding effort earned her plenty of acclaim and when Hot Press catches up with her, she tells us that she’s thrilled her music is connecting with people.

“I didn’t sing outside of my room before last year and now people want to hear my songs… that’s pretty cool,” she begins. “I’m really grateful for the attention. There’s nothing better than being acknowledged for your art and hard work.”

A lover of well-crafted lyrics and a fan of the likes of Tracy Chapman, Fleetwood Mac and Fever Ray, Roisin’s long awaited EP is set for release in a matter of months, with second single ‘Half A Life’ preceding it in April. She credits the delay to her “day job” working in movies and TV. “I work full time in the film industry so my free time is limited,” she explains. “Basically, I released ‘Kerosene’ to see what the feedback would be. I had one finished/produced song that I was proud of and an idea for a music video. I didn’t have a follow-up plan after that and I’ve been busy ever since.

“The EP is a concoction of influences. I’m drawn to sad songs for some reason and tribal beats. I think my music is dark, atmospheric folk-pop.” Speaking of influences, El Cherif spent most of her life living in Saudi Arabia, Australia and Morocco before settling in Ireland, and she tells us she soaked up shed-loads of music and cultures along the way.

“I grew up most of my life outside of Ireland,” she reflects. “However, my mother had us all singing Irish ballads and the A Woman’s Heart CD was a favourite in our house. That, combined with Fairouz (and other Arabic singers) means that I’m very at home in minor keys and melodies. Without meaning to, I end up singing minor harmonies to most songs.

“Australia taught me to get up early on a Saturday and watch [music channel] Rage. I was in Oz when Britney, NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were the business and I always associate my ’90s music introduction with my time in Tasmania.”

An extremely industrious artist, El Cherif tells us she enjoys marrying the world of film and music together, with her work on the Academy Award-winning Brooklyn being among the highlights.

“I didn’t know Brooklyn would go on to be so successful but it didn’t surprise me,” she says. “I went to the cinema to see it with my mum and we were both bawling – my mother was inconsolable. It got most Irish people right in the gut.

“I’ve always been interested in film; I love stories and I have a vivid imagination. I’m a Harry Potter kid. Sometimes I have a story for a music video long before I’ve finished a song, and it helps me write the next lyric. Working in film and seeing the outcome of things you’ve helped make is very rewarding, it’s a trip.”

With world domination very much on the agenda, El Cherif tells us she has a packed schedule over the next few months.

“I’ve been invited to take part in a songwriting workshop hosted by (Rumours producer) Ken Callait, so I’ll be going to LA in March,” she explains. “Then the plan is to release an EP, do an Irish tour and see how it goes.”

Check out Roisin El Cherif’s music at soundcloud.com/roisinelcherif.


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