With a sequence of acclaimed albums, Eileen Rose has established herself as a brave, eclectic artist who defies easy categorisation. Her richly melodic but starkly emotive songs, offbeat arrangements and electrifying live shows have gained her fans from Boston to London, Rome to Nashville.
Eileen Rose Giadone was born in Saugus, a blue collar suburb of Boston. Her father was born in Sicily (Eileen is fluent in Italian), her mother is half-Irish and half-English. The second youngest of 3 brothers and 6 sisters, she remembers growing up with “3 bedrooms, one bathroom, one phone, lots of noise.”
Eileen’s musical education started early. “There was always music on in the house. My mom is a big music fan and, now that I think about it, had pretty eclectic taste: Dean Martin, Irish traditional music, Johnny Cash, Kate Smith, polka music, country, big band... My dad was a great dancer and he and my mom would get dressed up and go dancing every Saturday night at the Moose Lodge. We would have big family cook-outs that always involved my aunts and uncles sitting around in lawn chairs singing, for hours, silly songs, Irish songs, patriotic songs, songs from popular movies – they had a blast. Music looked fun.”
Eileen soon picked up a guitar. She wrote her first song at the age of 14, “predictably about a boy I was missing”, she laughs. Around the same time, she discovered Kate Bush, and taught herself to sing my attempting to emulate her. When she finished high school, Eileen began to study criminal law but the inclination to write and sing was too strong. Eventually, she quit to pursue her passion. Dropping her surname Giadone, (“Rose is easier to spell, and it saves bringing shame on my family in case I blow it”), Eileen cut her teeth on the local Boston music scene. Her first musical venture was a self-released acoustic folk album. Next, she fronted indie-rock bands Daisy Chain, Medici Slot Machine and Fledgling (who were signed to TVT records and released one album on that now defunct label).
In 1991, Eileen decided to relocate to the UK, drawn partly by the musical heritage. “I found a lot of English music particularly innovative and strange as well as inspiring.” When Fledgling split in the mid-90s, Eileen started playing solo gigs around London, anywhere that would have her. One night she opened for Larry Love of techno-country mavericks Alabama 3, who was so impressed he offered his band to back her. Geoff Travis, head of the legendary Rough Trade label saw one of their first gigs at the Barfly in Camden Town and offered Eileen a deal.
Eileen released 2 albums on Rough Trade. Her 2000 debut, “Shine Like It Does”, recorded with members of Alabama 3, had the British press reaching for superlatives like “sensational” (The Sunday Times), “a gem” (The Guardian) and “mesmeric” (Uncut). Time Out concluded that “few debut albums arrive so fully formed, so laden with wisdom, pain, magic and loss”. Songs from the album were featured in a Disney movie and major television shows. The follow up, 2002’s “Long Shot Novena” - which features members of Del Amitri, legendary British punk band The Ruts and sometime Sex Pistol Glen Matlock - was even more rapturously received. The Times found it “stunning”, while Uncut marveled at the “rare power, polish and perception”. During this period, Eileen toured the UK and US with the likes of Ryan Adams, Eddie Reader, Beth Orton, Ron Sexsmith, Frank Black and Tanya Donnelly.
In 2003, Eileen returned to live in Boston. “Everything changed for me after 9/11. It put things in perspective. My parents weren’t getting any younger and I wanted to spend time with them. I just felt I needed to be home.” Eileen taught herself to play the piano and set to writing her third album, “Come The Storm” over a long, cold winter on Martha’s Vineyard. Bloomberg called it “an exceptional album that deserves to make Rose huge.” Next, Eileen took herself to Detroit, to record “At Our Tables” (2008) with local musicians and seasoned producers Al Sutton and Eric Hoegemeyer, who have worked with Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. Critics lauded this as her most accomplished to date. By now, Eileen was regularly touring Europe with her band The Holy Wreck and had expanded her fanbase to Italy, Germany and Holland.
Eileen has always been a kinetic artist; moving, shifting, changing, growing. “I like to keep moving forward and get restless if I feel I’m repeating myself.” She describes her approach to making a record as “no rules – just writing what comes out and recording it in a way I find pleasing. Not fitting any specific category.” Her music mixes rock, pop, blues, folk, gospel, rockabilly, roots and country. Her own list of musical heroes reflects these diverse influences – it is a very long list which tends to weigh in heavily with classic American songwriters and singers likeTom Waits, Kris Kristofferson, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Loretta Lynn, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Blondie, Chet Baker, Linda Rondstadt,The Everly Brothers and Patti Smith but includes more contemporary writers from beyond the US like Nick Cave, Kate Bush, Neil and Tim Finn, and Kirsty MacColl. Yet, though each of Eileen’s albums sounds different, they are all unmistakably Eileen Rose. Her voice, slice-of-life lyrics and unusual musical arrangements are her trademarks. Her songs deal with themes of love, loss, regret, family and the presence or absence of God.
Eileen’s refreshing disregard for the conventions of genre has won her a band of devoted fans, but it has made it difficult for critics to know where to place her. She has been hailed as the new Patti Smith/Lucinda Williams/Ani DiFranco and compared to (among others) Maria McKee, Stevie Nicks, Aimee Mann, Ryan Adams, and even “a one woman mid-period Pink Floyd”. Eileen shrugs it off. “No matter what people want to label me, folks can hear the songs and decide for themselves what I am”.
In late 2008, Eileen moved on again, this time relocating to Nashville, TN. Her 2009 album ‘Luna Turista’, recorded with her band The Holy Wreck (“It’s something my mother used to say, ‘I’ve got to clean this kitchen, it’s a holy wreck’ – meaning it’s such a mess it’s biblical”) reflected the influence of the city in its loose country-rock sound. As with each album before, ‘Luna Turista’ was widely received as her strongest work to date; a rare feat for an artist 4 albums in to her career.
The mainstay of The Holy Wreck is multi-instrumentalist The Legendary Rich Gilbert. “The moniker is tongue in cheek”, admits Eileen, “but he is pretty amazing. And if you mention Rich Gilbert in Boston, the word legendary pops up with fair frequency and lots of enthusiasm”. He is a fellow Bostonian, best known for being one of the founding members and key writers of not one, not two but THREE seminal, hugely popular and innovative Boston bands. Human Sexual Reponse (Rykodisc Records), The Zulus (Warner Brother/Slash Records) and Concussion Ensemble. Rich played as a sideman with Tanya Donnelly and for 7 years was the guitar player for Frank Black & The Catholics. “The first time I saw Rich play I was a teenager and I was stunned by his originality and fierceness. We’ve known each other for years and years, watched each other perform but never worked together. As soon as we did, it just clicked for both of us. We come from the same place musically.”
In Nashville, Music City, Eileen has found a new family in the musician community on the famous Lower Broad Street. She and The Legendary Rich Gilbert formed a “side project”, their honky tonk band called The Silver Threads. When they’re not off touring as Eileen Rose & The Holy Wreck, you can find them on Lower Broad play 4 hour shows, no breaks, about 5 or 6 days a week with Rich tearing up on telecaster and pedal steel and Eileen actually wearing a hole through her Martin, Willy Nelson style. In the current economic climate, she feels lucky to live in a city where she has the opportunity to play several nights a week and continue earning a living as a musician in between touring her own albums. “Give me a crowd, my guitar, a mic and a glass of wine and I couldn’t be happier!”” She sees herself as “a lifer”. “I would love to be in my seventies, like Leonard Cohen, and singing songs that I wrote 30 years ago, delivering them like they were new. Having people say, “my God, she really meant it!” That would be a great way to go out.” (Vicky Rea)