Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Rope Store

Artwork for Rope Store’s comeback single “Isabella.” Photo courtesy of Rope Store Facebook page.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

London/Norwich girl/boy duo Rope Store recently unleashed their latest single “Local Everywhere,” a followup to their comeback single “Isabella,” which was perceived to be a “different take” on their sound, appropriate for the “different times” we currently live in.

The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with members Jason and Gemma about their new music and more.

Music Bugle – What inspired your comeback single “Isabella”? 

Gemma – It kind of just happened. We wanted to record a new song and pick up our Rope Store project again. Jason was sitting at the drums, going through a few beats he’d come up with – he’ll hate me for describing it like this! – and then, played this really heavy one and it just felt right. We both knew it wasn’t our classic style, but I guess the core of Rope Store has never been to follow the rules or do what we think we should. As for the lyrics, they’re supposed to mirror the chaos inside Isabella’s head.

Jason – We’d been chatting about someone that we both used to know. I was struggling to come up with any music to start a new song from, but I showed Gemma a very fast drum beat that I’d been teaching myself. I thought she’d think it was really silly, but she loved it! Then, we started singing that person’s name along to the drum beat, but it didn’t scan very well and we didn’t want to use the name of someone we know, especially as we didn’t even know what the song was going to be about, so we both tried to think of names that would fit the drum beat better. While I was getting ready to record the drums, Gemma said “ISABELLA!” It fitted perfectly and sounded good to me. 

Music Bugle – How did you guys decide the name “Rope Store”? 

Gemma – If you look up “Rope Store” on YouTube, Norm Macdonald can answer that question in a sketch. We saw him perform live in New York just before we created the band and laughed so much. Sometimes, you have to poke fun at the bad times, make light of it. No, actually, that’s what you always have to do. Otherwise, it can get really dark. Rope Store is a coping mechanism. Maybe. We have a lot of fun and talk a lot of shit.

Jason – I’ve always loved Norm. Here in Norwich, I put on a gig night called “Norm’s.” I have a big banner of Norm Macdonald’s face, which I hang behind the bands. 99 percent of them have no idea whose face it is. A few years before I started putting on the “Norm’s” shows, we – Gemma and I – had a plan to open a bar and venue called Norm’s. The idea was that every time anyone walked in, everyone would shout, “NORM!” excitedly, as if Norm from “Cheers” had walked in, but there’d be big pictures of Norm Macdonald’s face around the place, to confuse people as to which Norm the place was named after. We found that idea hysterical. We haven’t yet opened that bar and I don’t think we ever will. Anyway, at the Caroline’s show in New York, Norm did a bit about life getting so bad that it was time for a trip to the rope store, which coincidentally always seems to be right next door to the rickety stool shop. He worked on that bit over the next few years and it ended up in one of his Netflix specials. When we got back to the UK and back to everyday life, if we were having a particularly bad day, we’d look at each other and say, “ROPE STORE!” It was a bonding thing. We’ve had a bunch of those, so when we started writing and recording songs together, the next logical step was to call the project “Rope Store.”

Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from?

Jason – I’m not. “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at,” as Rakim said in 1987. 

Gemma – Once upon a time, I was an unhappy housewife too scared to tell people I liked singing, so for me, I’m proud I had the strength to shake that off and stand in my own truth about what I want my life to look like and be. (Laughs) My life isn’t necessarily easy now, but my god, it feels good to know that it’s all on my terms.

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Jason – I record bands, book gigs, do live sound and DJ for a living. All of that work was cancelled within two hours of when the first UK lockdown was announced early last year. Gemma and I had just started rehearsing with a live band version of my solo studio project “Grandbaby” and we were also about to start rehearsing with a new live band version of Rope Store, so life as I know it has been at a standstill ever since, but the bills keep rolling in. There are also some very heavy things going on in our personal lives, which do make things quite a struggle. Most everyone’s in the same boat, so there’s no point feeling sorry for yourself. You just have to do your best to try and plow through and make good things happen, so that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we’ve always done.

Gemma – I lost my day job. Travel writing about China really wasn’t the best industry to be in last April. Spent the summer unemployed. Took a job as a cleaner for a couple of months. Check me out standing in my own truth. (Laughs) In a way though, it’s been good to take stock of everything and remember what’s important.

Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need to escape?

Jason – I spend all of my time in my recording studio. I’m either working there, or there out of choice in my spare time. Some people would find me very boring because of that, but I know my place and it’s called “The Crunch.” I used to go to New York to escape, but that’s been out of the question for the last few years at least. I’d love to start getting back there regularly if and when it’s feasible again.

Gemma – The last two winters, I’ve legged it to Svalbard, 600 miles south of the North Pole, so far, far away! (Laughs) It’s one of my favorite places on Earth. (Laughs) I’m saying it like I’ve been to other planets.

Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise? 

Gemma – Biffy Clyro, Joan As Police Woman, Souls of Mischief, FKA Twigs and Maribou State. I find an album I like and I play it and nothing else until I find a new one I like.

Jason – “Leipzig” by Penelope Isles is great. It reminds me of early Weezer b-sides, with some added melancholy – and the video’s really good. I like the bit where the keyboard stand collapses, exactly in time – and when the drummer hits the snare drum while he’s walking past. The distorted electric piano melody sound is the same sound that I used on a song that I recorded at home in 1989. 

Music Bugle – What do you hope for in 2021? 

Gemma – I mean, other than for normality and that everyone manages to recover mentally from this pandemic, I hope we get back to regularly having fun in the studio. I’m looking forward to drinking a beer in the sunshine on the roof.

Jason – To be able to go for days out with my best friend Lucy. She works in the A&E department of the local hospital, so we’ve not seen each other for a while. We like to go into the city, or a small nearby town, eat breakfast somewhere, then scour the charity shops – thrift stores – for cheap records. Then, hopefully the Norm’s gig nights can come back, and Lucy and I can DJ with all of our charity shop records, between the bands. That is always fun. Also, of course, we’d like to get back to rehearsing and gigging with Rope Store. I think it’s going to be great.

Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do? 

Jason – “No pain, no gain!” I’m guessing it was first said by a TV exercise workout professional in the late 70s or early 80s. Or a policeman.

Gemma – “If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time.” I’m not sure who said that, but it’s important. I think we often keep doing things out of habit and forget to check in whether we actually still enjoy them.

Music Bugle – What’s something you wish happened more in today’s music industry? 

Gemma – That people get recognized for the quality of their music, rather than the amount of followers they have or how many hits they’ve got on YouTube. There are too many shit bands with amazing marketing and incredible bands with no marketing.

Jason – There’s no point us being concerned about the industry side of things. We’ll stick to the music. That’s the bit we’re good at. The industry side always takes all the fun out of the music side. 

Music Bugle – Have you been working on any new music? 

Jason – We are trying to. Distance and life’s huge overwhelming struggles have made our return to Rope Store happen much later than we wanted it to. We’d been trying to make it happen for the last few years, but I live in Norwich, Gemma lives in London and we’ve both been inundated with all that life could throw at us, so every time we’d made plans for the big comeback, it would fall through. We’re finally back, though and we’re really doing our best to force fun things to keep happening. Like we used to.

Gemma – We’re hoping to get back in the studio in the future to record something else, but it’ll be a surprise to us all. (Laughs)

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