FEATURES Rosali is a Solo Artist But “Bite Down” is a Band Record By Mariana Timony · March 22, 2024

Rosali’s Bite Down is one of 2024’s most remarkable records, arriving fully-formed with songs lightly blending a smooth and poppy style of inward-looking yet universal singer-songwriter fare and cosmically-inclined free-form rock experimentalism. It’s a combination which gives Rosali Middleman’s songs the unique character of being both deeply intimate and boldly unpredictable at the same time, much like the human emotions she so expertly reflects and dissects in her music. Yet the artist behind Bite Down might be something of a mystery to the mainstream indie music world she is now set to conquer, appearing out of nowhere with the kind of record you could play for your mom and the experimental music weirdo down the street, and they’d both dig it.

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In truth, Middleman has been knocking around music for years and the records she makes as Rosali represent just one facet of her career. Depending on your immersion in underground music, you may know her from droney garage trio Long Hots (a group, she is careful to point out, that she is still in); Monocot, her duo with Jayson Gerycz of Cloud Nothings; or her solo guitar improvisations as Edsel Axle. It’s more likely you know her from the second Rosali record, 2021’s No Medium, a surprise pandemic smash that catapulted Middleman to new heights of public awareness and several year-end best-of lists. It was also the first record she made with Omaha rock stalwarts Mowed Sound (David Nance on bass, James Schroeder on guitar, and Kevin Donahue on drums with the addition of Ted Bois of Destroyer on keys) who return as her backing band on Bite Down—and who, arguably, are as much a part of Rosali as Middleman herself.

Below, a conversation with Middleman about Bite Down, her musical career, and why Rosali is as much a band as it is her own thing.

I don’t think that people have—at least I certainly didn’t have—a good sense of your musical journey, for lack of a better term, up to this point. You’ve been touring forever, you’ve put out a bunch of records, you’ve had bands—can you give us a breakdown of your musical career?

Sure! I come from a musical family. My parents are both guitarists and they had a rock ‘n’ roll band [when I was] growing up. We also all play music together. I’m one of seven kids so we would all sing harmonies together. I started with the guitar when I was 12 or 13 and I had bands in high school with friends and various projects that no one knows about, but I was always playing music. In 2016, my first solo record came out, and that was more of a bedroom post-pop record. At that time, I was super shy to share my songwriting. I performed a lot in bands and in improvisational settings, more like noise music, but I never released my own music. From the time my first solo record came out, I started feeling a little more emboldened. I think that kind of expanded how people saw me as more of a multidimensional musician than just, ‘She’s a songwriter‘ or ‘She’s just a weird guitar player.’

You made your last record, No Medium, and Bite Down in Omaha with the David Nance Band as your backing band. How did that come about?

When I made No Medium, initially I thought that it was the record I’d make with those guys and for the next record I’d do something different. But then we toured a bunch for [No Medium] when the record came out, which I wasn’t really expecting to happen because of the pandemic. Nothing was open, it was just a big question mark. There were inklings of bands going out but then tours would get canceled because everyone got Covid. So we were lucky enough to end up being able to do a bunch of shows. We did a bunch with Destroyer, which was really special. It was around that time that I signed to Merge, and I felt like we were just getting started as a band so I really wanted to continue the relationship because they became like family to me.

How did you meet those guys?

I met them a few times when they would play in Philly. Then we [Long Hots and the David Nance Group] both had 7-inches come out on Third Man at the same time, so I thought we should do a tour together, we thought it’d be a great pairing. That was the summer of 2019. We all rode in the same van. I just had the best time and we became super close. Halfway through, they said they wanted to be the backing band for my next record. It was so super flattering because I think they’re just such great players. So I said, “Okay!” And went to Omaha in the fall and we made [No Medium] in ten days in Jim’s [James Schroeder of the David Nance Band’s] basement.

You knew you wanted to make another record with the David Nance Band and then you signed to Merge. How did that change the process from what you did on No Medium? Did it impact the songwriting? Did you have more resources?

I’d been writing songs but they weren’t as fleshed out as they had been for No Medium. I went in with more of a, let’s see how these [songs] come to be as a band. For No Medium, a lot of that was David and I shaping the record and doing the arrangements. We did the rhythm section live and some of the rhythm guitars live. For this one, we were together in the room and we did it more live, in the round, and then we had more time. No Medium was done in 10 days and we did this one in three weeks with a five day follow up session.

We had Ted Bois, who is the keyboardist in Destroyer, he came up to Omaha and played keys, so it’d be five of us in the studio shaping the songs more. I think it’s longer in some ways because there’s more cooks in the kitchen, but I think in that regard it feels like a band record. The vibe for the record came more from us sitting and playing and asking, “Does this feel good to everybody?” There are only a few songs that we really had to redo a few times to get them right. I think it has a magic to it, in it, playing live.

Yeah, when playing live there is a sense that whatever happens is what happens. Is that an approach you take in your music making more generally?

It definitely is! I don’t really have traditional musical training. It’s not like I really sit down and compose. For me, it’s always been very instinctual, with a lot of listening to the intuitive emotional brain no matter what. When I’m writing a song, it always starts from that place of just trying to let it all come out and see what I can build from there. I have a really strong inner critic so I don’t think I could get to those places if I went in with an idea of how I wanted the song to be.

How does that fit into working with a band where other people have input into the ideas?

I’m lucky in that my collaborators can understand my direction when I give them adjectives and feelings and ideas versus maybe more musical terms. I’ve been able to find people who have a similar approach as I do. They understand what I mean. It’s the same with Long Hots. We’re approaching it like, ‘Let’s explore this.’ I like being able to formalize a song so it’s a song, it’s not like an experimental piece per se but there might be those qualities to it. I like having that adventure with the band. We can collaborate with that energy of exploration and then be like, ‘Okay, this turned out to be a pop song in a roundabout way!’

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

No Medium was a pretty big record. How did it feel putting out a record that resonated so widely with people?

I thought it was great! [laughs] We finished No Medium at the beginning of March of 2020. SPINSTER really wanted to put it out—they put out my first record—and I love them so I was happy for that, but I didn’t have any expectations because everything was really unpredictable—Was touring going to happen again? Was the music industry going to come back? I was just like, this record needs to be out so I can move on and work on something else. Then people were talking about it for long after the normal album cycle, there was a lot of like word-of-mouth growth to it. It made me feel like it was really impacting people. Maybe it had something to do with what people were feeling during that time, you know, the kind of subject matter and the energy in it hit. Maybe it wouldn’t have if there wasn’t this collective trauma, I’m not sure. But when you know your art affects people, it feels really good.

How was it coming from that experience into starting work on Bite Down?

I didn’t want to put any more pressure on myself because there’s always the fear of like, you know, ‘Oh, it’s not as good as the last record.’ And I’ve never written with that kind of past success in the back of my mind. But I also wanted to make something a little different that was more of a reflection of who I was at the moment.

It was slightly more stressful because you know that this [record] is going to be in front of more people, which always feels vulnerable and opens you up to more criticism, but it also put the wind back in my sails to feel confident, too, with the support from Merge—they’re incredible to work with, wonderful people. It gave me the confidence that what I’m doing is worthy and that [the band and I] were going to do something great together because we’ve really built our relationship up to new levels of trust and intimacy and understanding so we could make music in a deeper way than we were before.

What’s Omaha like?

It’s a lot of fun. It’s kind of cool mid-century modern, but also kind of old and Western in its way. I’ve become friends with [the band’s] circle of friends, so we went and did some hiking and there’s a restaurant we’d like to go to; Dave works at this bar we’d go hang out at sometimes. It kind of feels like I’m an honorary resident of Omaha. I really like how pretty it is there. People think of Nebraska as like cornfields, but there are bluffs and rivers. It’s a really unique place.

What do you think the vibe of Bite Down is? What is it communicating

I do feel like it’s my most joyful record. I think it’s like coming from a place of knowing that in the world there’s like really scary things happening, really tough stuff, but it’s also trying to kind of have those moments of joy and not feel beaten down. The title of the record, Bite Down, is about that. It’s something more extreme than leaning in. I’m taking a bite. I’m accepting it. I’m chewing it.

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Were there any records that, not that you were modeling Bite Down after, but that you were inspired by? Like, “That achieved something that I would like to achieve with my art?”

We kept joking about the record being like our Tusk. That record is also pretty long and it just kind of floats between moods, but there’s a continuity to it even though the songs are all different. But I also feel like there’s a lot of Velvet Underground on the record, like on ‘May It Be On Offer’ and even ‘Is It Too Late.’ But I feel like VU, they’re foundational for everyone. That is something I was joking with someone the other day, about how promoters will say things like, ‘Rosali, a psychedelic folk artist.’ And that’s like not really it. It’s more like the Velvet Underground covering Fleetwood Mac. It’s kind of a classic sound, the good ones in the canon.

So all the touring you did with the band carried through to the Bite Down sessions.

Oh, for sure. There was a point where we shifted from like, okay, we’re just playing the songs—this is like maybe like 10 days into the tour—to being like, we’re a band and it’s going to be different from day to day. We we have this psychic connection now where we all can anticipate the moves of other people. That’s probably why I didn’t completely finish songs going into the recording [of Bite Down] because I wanted to have their genius, as well, because they’re all brilliant.

It’s cool because it’s your name on the album cover, but it’s also such a real band record at the same time. It really straddles the lines.

We’ve kind of been debating like do I add ‘Rosali and blah, blah, blah.’ We just couldn’t come up with a good name. They’re also like, ‘These are your songs.’ But at the same time, I’ve been trying to push the narrative that this is also a band record. I’m so in love with them and I want them to get to know that and feel that, that I value that so much. I feel so very lucky to have them as collaborators and bandmates.

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