One thing Rose McGowan doesn’t want you to do is compare her art to anyone or anything else.
We’ve seen her on screen as an actress for decades, but “RM486” marked McGowan’s first official musical release. The in your face, beautifully weird video that accompanied the song featured several different eccentric characters, all played by the singer. From the white naked alien to the bright red glitter-dipped creature towards the end, watching it makes you uncomfortable — and that’s the point.
Honestly, even if we wanted to, we’re not sure who else we could compare her to. McGowan brings unapologetic fierceness and honesty to her work, sparing her from being silenced by agents or studios.
“That’s all I wanna do in this life,” she tells Billboard. “I just wanna throw down and make art and push boundaries. It’s pretty simple.”
In an interview with Billboard, McGowan talked about what’s next for her in music, how she really feels about acting, and what she wants people to know about her new direction — “I’m ready to shake things up.”
After years of acting, what made you move into making music?
I’ve been interested in creating my own music for a long time — I just didn’t live in a musical world. I was wanting to do music for the last five years, but I didn’t really know anybody in the music world because the acting world is kept quite separate. Contrary to popular belief, we do not all know each other.
Were you nervous about releasing music for the first time?
The week before the release was very stressful. It’s very weird and unusual for me to put something out in the world that’s through my own words, with just me really. Doing something that’s purely your own voice is pretty daunting and quite scary. I have a lot of respect for musicians who put things out into the world just for them to be, you know, it’s kind of like ‘here’s my art, do what you will with it.’
You mentioned in your Nowness interview that you “hated acting.” Can you talk about what made you come to that realization and why you think music may be different?
Hated acting is strong, certainly. For me, it was just going to a job that I happened to be good at, that I know how to do. It takes a lot out of me, acting, and I didn’t like what I was getting in return. There are people that it’s their calling and I so respect that and it is an art form unparalleled, but I was discovered, so I couldn’t have the same relationship with acting I don’t think that a lot of people do. For me, music has always been this kind of secret hope and passion and finally I was just like, let’s do this. It’s not about hating acting — I really do hate the world of it. And I don’t know about the music industry. I’m completely not connected with the music industry. I have no idea. I don’t have a record deal.
So you’re trying to figure it all out at the moment.
Yeah, let’s see if I hate it as much (laughs).
What or who inspires the type of music you’d like to create?
Absolutely no one. I’m really weird with music, I’m really quite bad at listening to it. I was listening to yodeling cowboys called Riders in the Sky the other day, that’s what my dad listened to. I have a very peripatetic ear. I’m not really influenced by modern people at all much like in the film world, I’m more inspired by people who are dead for some reason. This [“RM486”] was really just about…it was really pure. I think that’s what people are responding to. When people say it’s like this or it’s like that, it literally can’t be. Not on my part because I have no experience with them. I’ve lived in classic film world in my head for a long time and, for me, I just wanted something really galactic and natural. That’s kind of what I relate to the most.
How did “RM486” come about?
I was talking to somebody on Facebook and I was like “hey, do you know any people that distribute music?” and he was like “I do, there’s this great company called The Orchard.” So I went and that’s how that happened. It’s literally been kind of bumbling along. I was hoping to release it but I literally had no idea how people did that other than distributing it online. So, it’s been an interesting and funny experience.
What does “RM486” stand for?
RM is obviously my initials, 486 is about a controversial abortion drug… Now I can use it as an entry to talk about women’s rights and I can also use it as something that sounds really outer space, which matches the tone of the music very well. Something I’ve always felt in public, they put a number on you and I reject that number. So, I decided to put one on myself — take back the power of it.
How was it working with the Akerlunds (B. and Jonas Akerland who styled and directed the video respectively) on the “RM486” video?
It was amazing to work with true artists and people who are only about creating art. Not doing something that was perverted by kind of a studio person’s idea of what something should be. There was nobody else on set but us and the crew. It was really so well thought out and just so protected, the environment I was in. I could kind of go wherever I wanted.
Can you talk about the symbolism in the video and what the different characters stand for?
What’s on screen is exactly what I wanted to say and it was a great collaborative effort. For me, the alien is kind of where I’ve been from because I grew up in Italy and I came to America refusing to speak English. The first day of school they made me stand up and do the Pledge of Allegiance, which I didn’t even know what that was. It was their way of embarrassing the new kid, I guess. At one point I was very famous and once you get famous, you’re a total alien. You are not walking in normal society and having normal relationships. The people, they stare at you like you’re an oddity, not as a human being. The black, the goth if you want to call her that, I think she’s the most compelling because she’s the hardest to watch. The green hair is the Hollywood period and there’s a mouth over my mouth and she’s very agitated and stressed. It just felt like all the hair and the extra makeup on that one felt like the Hollywood red carpet, which always felt completely, honestly, quite hideous to me and certainly alien to a normal person. And then the red is like at one point I come out in knives and that’s kind of “Hollywood f–k with me, let’s go.” The ending, that was for my father. He was a very pure artist and the best one I’ve ever known and I was crying in the end because I realized he’ll never get to see this iteration of me.
How did you handle the immediate reactions to your song and video on social media?
I definitely don’t look at YouTube comments because that’s pointless…there’s just no reason to let those people into your brain. What I found on social media is that people are really responding to it and really kind of catching fire. What’s great is the song is a bit different from the video. People are getting to experience it both ways. I think they’re really digging it and getting it, which is important because it’s really for them.
You’ve been very vocal about pushing back against sexism and other issues in Hollywood. Will you be tackling these issues in your music?
I will. The next song I have coming out is different. It’s a slower song and it’s really, really raw. It’s me, a piano, and a viola and no Auto-Tune. It’s quite haunting, it’s kind of the ultimate break-up song.
So, we can expect more releases and maybe even an album?
I don’t know. I have to meet more musicians, so if anybody dope is reading this, hey! Hit me up (laughs).
You tweeted a few times that people should listen to “RM486” with their eyes closed. Why is that?
My ideal way to experience it would be in a really good sound system in a car driving on a windy road at night, I think that’s the best way to experience it. Barring that, I think lying down and just shutting your eyes and just letting it wash over you. I found that to be pretty amazing. I got a message today from somebody who’s in the hospital with an air bubble in his lung, and it’s someone I don’t really know, and he got in touch with me and he said he’s listening to the song on repeat and it’s completely taking him out of this galaxy. So, that’s a pretty great thing.
Anything you’d like to add?
Just that I’m ready to shake things up. I also would love it if people would stop saying ‘this is just like this’ or ‘this is just like that.’ It’s okay for something to be its own thing. You know, when I directed my movie, they’re like ‘it’s like this and that’ and I was like that’s impossible, I’ve never seen that director or that photographer’s work…I kind of live in the weird bubble on purpose because, I don’t know, I’ve just always been that way. I guess it suits me for creating.