Having released their incredibly personal and powerful new record Powerhouse last November, Planningtorock brings a very special live show to Queen Elizabeth Hall tomorrow evening, featuring all the tracks from Powerhouse as well as new songs written especially for the event. We caught up with them ahead of the show.
Jam Rostron, better known by their alias Planningtorock, is more than a little excited for their upcoming show at the Southbank Centre. “It’s going to be nowt but special,” they laugh, their accent briefly becoming that of the born and bred northerner that they are. Their performance forms a part of the Hayward Gallery’s Kiss My Genders summer of events which celebrates gender queerness and gender non-conformity in all its forms. But the nerves aren’t far from the surface, as this show will also be the first time their mum and sister will see them play live. “They’re both disabled and it’s really hard for them to travel. They can’t fly. It really is like: holy crap, I’m quite nervous! But also completely excited as well. I think it’s going to be quite emotional.”
‘Emotional’ is also a fitting descriptor for Jam’s musical journey thus far. Jam is a non-binary femme musician, and their musical output has been an exploration of everything from gender identity to feminist politics. With their most recent release Powerhouse, Jam moved from the overtly political statements of songs like ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, from 2013’s All Love’s Legal, to writing songs that are deeply personal and private. “Music’s really helped me to grow and be myself, and so Powerhouse, in a way, it’s been almost twenty years to make this record. It finally enabled me to talk about things that I really needed to, on a human level for myself, and also to shine a light on people in my private life that I care about a lot and that I feel are heroes.” They note, “I feel like I’ve been getting to this record all my recording career without knowing it that literally.”
Even though Powerhouse is distinctly English in its content and feel, Jam recorded a lot of the tracks in LA. “I think I needed to be somewhere very far away from where I was from in order to get that distance to write about [it].” This need for distance is understandable, particularly as one of the tracks on the record, ‘Dear Brother’, is written about their experience of child sexual abuse. It is one of the most affecting songs on the album, and feels like peeping at the keyhole of memory, prying into a trauma that is, unfortunately, all too common for many. Far from shying away from it, Jam chose openness, inspired by Angel Haze’s ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’. “I literally just couldn’t believe how she owned that experience as hers… It was just amazing.” Processing Haze’s raw honesty took time, but it allowed Jam to find their own voice. They say, “when it hits you like that, you internalise it, you churn on it, and years later I’ve found my own way of owning something like that for myself. It’s just really helpful that we share our experiences. For me, I do it through music.”
From the north of England, Jam moved to Berlin twenty years ago to let themselves heal, grow, and flourish. “I got to grow in a way that wasn’t possible for me personally being in England,” they note. “My identity was completely changed.” Whilst the displacement of moving to a foreign country is often confusing and abrasive, Jam embraced it as an opportunity for reinvention. “I didn’t know until I moved here how much where you’re from, how you’re read, how you’re pigeonholed affects you. You just take it for granted because it’s all you know. For me, the big thing was class. I don’t know what I sound like these days – I had a very strong northern accent back then. Being in Germany, Germans were like: you just sound English to me, I don’t know what that means. It was just super liberating and I felt like I really got to know myself.”
The power of music as a shared communion is something that Jam is emphatic about, both for political and personal ends. As a queer musician, they are hopeful about the increased inclusivity and representation that the music industry offers for LGBTQ+ performers these days. As they put it, “music is such a great place to make people feel safe so that they can maybe change their minds about things.” As well as music being a way for people to carve out a space for themselves, Jam is positive about the accessibility of their messages in pop music. “I really feel that pop music and dance music are just brilliant carriers of messages,” they say. “You get people with a really sweet song, and they’re happy, and then you tell them something, or share something with them. It’s just a really good vehicle.”
For Jam, the internet has been one of the best developments in the music industry since they started releasing music. They recognise that although the internet has had the music business in alternating states of despair and puzzlement at how to handle this new change, the artists have benefitted from the directness that the internet has afforded them with their audience. “The business world around it, the gatekeepers as it were, they’ve really got their knickers in a twist about it,” they laugh. “But for artists, it’s brilliant. The more independent artists can be the better, because it really is just about the artist and the public.”
This directness is apparent throughout our conversation. Jam is open and warm, teasing about my use of ‘dichotomy’ (“You’re just showing off!”), but it would be impossible to hold it against them because they are achingly, tenderly sincere. We get to talking about their sense of home as a Brit living abroad and as an active member of the queer community in Berlin. They muse, “me and home is basically where I am anywhere. Home is… family – extended family, found family, made family.” Wherever they go, home comes with them, and they can share this self-made home with their audience, embracing them with and into it, even if it is just for one night.
Planningtorock plays The Southbank Centre tomorrow, get tickets here. And find out more about the Kiss My Genders programme here.