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The Enchanting Pain of Blake Rose

Currently out on his first headlining U.S. tour, the introspective singer/guitarist spins heartache into alt-pop gold on ‘Suddenly Okay’
Blake Rose
Blake Rose (Credit: Olof Grind)

How far would you need to be to risk total high school humiliation? For Australian native Blake Rose, it was 3,428 miles: the distance between Perth, his hometown, and Cairns, on the other side of the continent — the first place he let anyone hear him sing in public.

The first night he tried busking was, in Rose’s words, “shit.” But he loved the adrenaline rush, so gave it one more go. This time, moving his open guitar case to the city center. By the end of the night, it was stuffed with $300.

Eight years later, Rose bites his lip to suppress a laugh. He has come a long way from playing Jason Mraz covers on the beach. The 23-year-old has more than 350 million streams, is headlining a 17-date U.S. tour, and he hasn’t even released a full-length album. 

Culturally speaking, Rose’s timing is serendipitous. After a long, dormant decade, confessional singer/songwriters from every country and cut along the pop/rock continuum are blowing up. For example, Noah Kahan and girl in red appear to be starting out, not in smoke-filled dive bars, but in Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, respectively. Rose has opened for both.

But on Suddenly Okay, the first of three EPs Rose will release this year, the songs reveal a knack for crafting mid-tempo, sensitive pop spiked with guitar, more in line with the catchy acoustic stylings of Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran. 

Lyrically, Rose weaves layers of depth even in his most buoyant melodies. The swelling “Last Walk Home” contemplates the paradoxical pain of being with someone, knowing it’s the last time. “We’re both doing everything we can to slow it down,” Rose sings over piano. “So I keep picking flowers and put ‘em in your hair, ‘till an ecosystem’s there.” In the music video, time creeps in on Rose as the sun’s shadow shifts across his Chalamet-esque curls, indicating the day coming to an end.

On the title track, Rose swaps keys for his first love, the acoustic guitar. Confident strums punctuate waves of backing vocals — a musical trope that’s hard not to associate with nostalgic 2010s anthems like fun’s “We Are Young” — while Rose looks at his past like an object in the rearview.

“I’ve got a bad habit of not appreciating what’s happening in the moment,” Rose says, sipping iced coffee in a Manhattan hotel lobby. “Trying to get better at that, as a human.”

Rose opens his Voice Notes app and scrolls through hundreds of “Untitled” files until he finds his first original demo. Inspired, as many first songs are, by his first kiss.

“The kiss was shit, but the feeling was amazing.” Rose laughs, admittedly mortified at listening back to the unreleased demo. The song, “Basket Weaves,” was the first original song he performed live.

Blake Rose
Blake Rose (Credit: Olof Grind)

Back then, “live” for Rose meant busking at various malls and eateries around his hometown of Perth. His father was a Bristow Helicopter pilot who flew miners out to oil rigs, and his mother was a school secretary. They supported Rose’s music studies at the prestigious West Australian Academy of the Performing Arts. But Rose didn’t last long once another student told him about top-lining for DJs for extra cash. 

At 19, Rose emailed the electronic duo Bad Decisions (“kind of like Flume”), offering his songwriting services. They flew him out to Sydney and hired him on the spot. Rose began opening them all over Australia and Malaysia. “It was the only tie I had to the music industry,” Rose says. The first time a gig brought him to Los Angeles, he realized that’s where he needed to be.

The only problem was the glaring lack of money. So Rose did what he had always done: busk in Perth until he could buy the $1,300-ish round-trip flight to L.A., crash with friends, go back to Perth, re-open the guitar case, wait for the dollars to add up, then fly back to California.

Rose kept up his casual trans-Pacific “commute” for months until one night, at an industry party in Venice Beach, he finally bumped into the right person, Kobalt executive Amanda Samii, who uttered the magic words: “Why don’t you come by the office?” 

He did, and afterward, Rose’s life changed fast.

In 2018, he released his first single, a jagged rock song called “Hotel Room,” on which he plays both electric guitar and drums (“It fucking slaps,” he enthused. “It’s my favorite song to play live.”) He followed it with 2019’s “Lost,” a forlorn love song showcasing his canyon-sized vocal range. The track racked up 700,000 streams in its first two weeks. 

It’s hard to grasp what those streaming figures translate to in real-world popularity. For Rose, it means that when he walks through an airport on the other side of the planet, a stranger will occasionally follow him and scream, “That’s fucking Blake Rose!”

“It’s trippy as shit, but it’s so cool,” Rose says with a disbelieving smile. “Makes me feel like a fucking badass. It’s great.”

The emotional standout on Suddenly Okay is the poignant story-song, “How Do We Stay In Love?” Rose flashes back to being eight years old and playing with his best friends, whose mother died of cancer. In the retelling, Rose wonders about how we store tragedy when we’re too young to process it in the moment.

“I didn’t expect to write that song, to be honest,” Rose says, pausing to collect his thoughts. “But I want to write songs about subjects you don’t hear in most pop music — and I want people to see themselves in the music I make.”