Talkback: Andrea Rocha

Songwriter & Producer
By William Stokes

Photo: Jack Bridgland

Mexican‑Canadian songwriter and producer Andrea Rocha was classically trained, but moved to the UK from Canada to study songwriting and film music at the London College of Contemporary Music. In the decade since she has worked with some of pop’s brightest stars, including Ellie Goulding, Gabrielle Aplin and Becky Hill.

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

I wanted to think of something really artsy and cool, but the reality is that I’ve been listening to ‘Speed Drive’ by Charli XCX every morning! I put it on and I walk to the gym; it’s my warm‑up song. I like how everything’s getting faster, I like the pace of it. And it’s inspired a few hyper‑pop songs and K‑pop songs. And I just love Charli XCX.

The project I’m most proud of

I think the stuff I’m most proud of is probably in the string world — stuff I’ve arranged. I did some arrangements for RAYE recently, which was really fun. I did an arrangement for ‘Black Mascara’ when we did [BBC Radio 1’s] Live Lounge. But in terms of writing and production, I actually feel like the stuff I’m most proud of hasn’t come out yet! It’s been a really productive past year, in terms of doing the rounds with different artists and stuff. And I’ve finally found a couple of artists who I’ve really clicked with, who I’ve been working with throughout the past year or two.

There’s a brother‑sister duo called Esme Emerson who just signed their deal, and they’re going to be releasing an EP that I co‑wrote and produced. Then there’s this other artist, Myles Smith, who’s doing really well on TikTok. He’s just an amazing songwriter. And we like to just get in our feels and write about emotional stuff. And on the Latin side, I recently did a few days with J Balvin, the Colombian artist, which was just a bucket list thing for me. So that was cool. I’ve been kind of delving into my Mexican roots a bit more, which has been a fun discovery.

The first thing I look for in a studio

This might be boring, but I normally look to see what audio interface there is, because I’m a Universal Audio gal! So if they don’t have one, I always carry my Apollo Twin with me, because that’s where all my compressors live. For me, it comes down to making whoever is singing feel as comfortable as possible, because I’ve been in situations where I’ve tracked the demo, and if the vocal chain isn’t good, you just lose all confidence. All the other production stuff I can do after, but having my vocal chain and running it through my console is important.

What else? If they’ve got a Neumann U87, which I also have in my studio, that’s a plus. Because I just think it’s so versatile, like you can do acoustic guitar, you can do strings... it also suits any vocal, in my opinion. When it comes to my vocal chain, I tend to put a bit of real‑time Auto‑Tune on. Sometimes artists don’t want that, but I’ll put it on really lightly, and sometimes they don’t even notice. And I normally put on two compressors, the Teletronix [LA‑2A] and the 1176. And then just some reverb and a little EQ. An that’s it. Just making it really loud. Making them feel like they sound amazing. Feeding back into the performance in that way is key.

The person I would consider my mentor

I feel like I have many! The person who got me into music, who had the patience to teach me and inspire me, was the cello teacher I had from the age of five. I learned from her for 13 years, until I was 18, when I moved here. And she just had a kind approach. We did all the classical stuff, but she was also very open to me exploring pop music. And that ultimately led me toward improv and to playing in jazz bands, and I also joined a couple of indie bands, back in Canada. So she was an important person for me, I would say.

And then, more recently: since me and my friends are all producers, there’s a big support network of producers I can go to if I need a mix checked, or if I have a question. I think it’s super important to have that. Especially since producing can be quite overwhelming, in the sense that there isn’t one ‘right’ way to do things. So I find it really interesting, having conversations with people who produce and seeing how different everyone’s process is and learning from them, getting tips... It’s important to have that support. Of course, my manager is great, too. He has a really good ear. Shout out to Chris!

My go‑to reference track or album

When I’m producing pop stuff, I tend to go to Bieber. Like ‘Stay’, I think, is a good example of how the vocals and drums sit really well. It’s kind of what I like to achieve when I’m doing a pop song. And then, when I’m doing more kind of singer‑songwriter, indie stuff, I tend to listen to some Maggie Rogers. ‘Light On’ is also a good reference for vocals and drums, in that world. They don’t sit as in‑your‑face as the super‑polished pop stuff. Everything has a bit more kind of grit to it. And all the reverbs, particularly on the vocals, are great. I think it’s important not to always make everything too clean. Drums and vocals are super important, they need to pop out, and everything around that just needs to support it, and not overpower it.

Andrea Rocha: I genuinely feel like 50 percent of a good session is the actual music, and 50 percent of it is there being a good vibe in the room.

My top tip for a successful session

Leave your ego at the door. It can be so frustrating when someone feels the need to overpower. And you lose sight of the goal, which is to get the best song you possibly can. Maybe on that day your idea isn’t the best idea in the room. So it’s important just to have that perspective, to be able to say, ‘OK, yeah. That person’s idea is amazing.’ I genuinely feel like 50 percent of a good session is the actual music, and 50 percent of it is there being a good vibe in the room. Someone being a good collaborator, who knows how to interact with people. Which is why, at the start of every session, I like to make a coffee and just sit with an artist in my living room and chat, for at least half an hour, before we even get into doing any music. Because feeling comfortable and on a level with that person is really important.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

It’s really not profound at all, but I’ll say the Shakira collab with the DJ, Bizarrap. It’s just called Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53. Her husband was a football player, [Gerard] Piqué, and he cheated on her. And it’s basically just dragging him through the mud! Like, she uses his name as a way to play on words and rhymes and it’s really cleverly done.

I feel like it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in that session and see how it must have been quite therapeutic for her; to just talk through that and, kind of, make fun of the situation. That is something I like: when I work with an artist and they open up like that, about a breakup or something that’s going on in their life. It just makes the session flow so well, from a lyric standpoint. Sometimes it’s like being a kind of therapist. I should be getting paid for that! I think also, being a woman, I end up working with so many women because I think they just feel more at ease.

The producer I’d most like to work with

This is pretty easy for me: Labrinth. I know, he’s an all‑rounder, but I’m such a big fan of his production. I think he’s kind of a genius. He takes really experimental sounds and melodies and lyrics — and even song structures — and makes them into really commercial pop. And it seems like he just doesn’t follow trends, but it just still feels so current. He doesn’t follow the trends of what tempos or drum beats or sounds are, like, ‘cool’ at the moment. He’ll use weird synths, that you wouldn’t think could be used in a pop song, or strings with some sort of weird filter on them. And the lyrics, too, sometimes the way he says certain words. It’s like, if someone else did the syllables that way, it would sound awkward, but the way he does it is clever. I think that’s really cool. And he’s also just really inspiring because I guess we’re both all‑rounders, in that we write, produce, sing and play instruments. I think it’s cool that he does all of that, and then has time to do the soundtrack for Euphoria and for adverts, and also projects with other artists.

The part of music creation I enjoy the most

I think it’s just when you get that feeling, when you finally nail a chorus, or get that clever concept that you feel hasn’t been done before. Or a cool chord progression. When your gut is like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s a really good chorus.’ And you get to a point where everything else just falls in around it. When things just work, or you’re working with someone and you both are really on the same page. I think that’s really exciting. I think it’s those little moments that validate why we keep doing this, even if it’s hard and you don’t get paid a lot of the time.

I remember with one artist, Myles Smith, we wrote a song about his dad. And he had the title ‘My First Heartbreak’. And I think I said, “Well, why don’t we write it about your dad being your first heartbreak?” And then we wrote it in literally half an hour. But for that to happen, he had to have been really open about his situation, which obviously wasn’t easy to talk about. And from there, it just opened the door to do something we got really excited about.

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

I honestly wouldn’t do anything else. I would say, patience is a big one. Trust the process. It’s just a weird industry, isn’t it, in the sense that sometimes it just doesn’t feel fair. But you have to just trust that your work is going to pay off. Another big one is to stay true to yourself. When I first started writing, I would try to imitate other producers and writers, even if there were certain things that I knew that I was good at. Homing in on those things that you’re good at is how you’re going to get better at those things — and that’s your USP! So, don’t compare yourself to other people. Try to find your sound.

Published December 2023

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