The death of a personal “musical hero” — Chris Cornell in May 2017 — provided the impetus for Anna Rose’s new single, “The Chariot,” premiering exclusively below.
“We were really kind of reeling from it,” Rose, who co-wrote the song with Elizabeth Elkins, tells Billboard. “We both came out of the rock and grunge world and had deeply loved his music. I think we wanted to write a song to be able to understand what happened, if that makes any sense. Music is sometimes a way of processing your own feelings, and I think we needed to feel together.” And while the “The Chariot,” with its dramatic ebb-and-flow dynamics, does speak a bit to opioid and drug issues, Rose says the song is primarily about Cornell and the impact of his death.
“Chris Cornell is in my mind one of the two great male rock singers, the pinnacles that I go to — him and Robert Plant,” says Rose, the daughter of film and theater composer Alan Menken. “Elizabeth and I both know what it’s like to be on the road and have a lot of substances around us. We’ve seen people really fall into them. But I don’t want to presume to know anything about what happened (with Cornell); It’s really just a song we wrote to process the loss of this person who was so iconic to us.”
“The Chariot” will be part of Rose’s third full-length album, The Light Between, which is due out this fall. The 10-song set is a stylistic sea change for her, moving from the heavier rock of the two albums and EP she’s previously released into a more melodic, Americana realm, recorded in Nashville with producer Paul Moak. “This record brought it back to me being a songwriter — that’s why it’s special to me,” says Rose, acknowledging that a desire “to be separated from my father” and his music led her in a harder rock direction before. “I think I leaned into rock because it was the place he was the most unknown and where people were indifferent to him,” explains Rose, who as a child sang on demos for her father and has “a deep respect for what he does.”
Nevertheless, she adds, rock “was the place I was respected for ME. When people heard the last name Menken, it wasn’t associated with him.” But with The Light Between, Rose “kinda took a step back from what my ego was telling me to do and started going with what my spirit was telling me I should be doing.”
Rose telegraphed the move with her February single “Nobody Knows I’m Here,” which was featured on a March episode of NBC’s This Is Us, and the subsequent single “Sucker Puncher.” Now she finds herself playing at CMA Fest this week in Nashville and in Americana slots on the bills at the Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin, Tenn., and the Ocean State of Mind Festival in Rhode Island.
“It’s an exciting and strange time to be a rock artist playing the CMA Fest, but I’m grateful,” says Rose, who’s been battling Lyme disease for the past few years. “It’s really interesting how Nashville has kind of opened up another world for me, not just as an artist but as a writer, too. I never thought the country world would be the place where I would sort of find that acceptance, but I feel like I’ve really found a place here.”
Another new lane for Rose — actively working with her father “on a few different things now” as writing partners. “Before going in, we had to say we’re not father-daughter in this scenario, we’re collaborators,” Rose notes. “But it’s been really fun to do that. As I’ve made this my career he’s always seen me as an equal, beyond just a supportive parent. I knew it was going to take me about a decade to earn my own place in the industry, and I didn’t want to work with him before that because I didn’t want anyone to be able to turn around and say, ‘She didn’t work for this.’ I’ve spent enough hours on the road now and played enough dive bars and empty rooms, and really great audiences. I feel like I built that from the ground up myself, so I can come into working with him with no chip on my shoulder, no inferiority complex but as a strong songwriter, and it’s really a blast.”