From country to the Rock Hall, singer-songwriter Ri Rosecrans evolves her sound
Growing up in the rural village of Wellington, Ohio, a little under 10 miles from Oberlin, Ri Rosecrans had dreams of playing music on bigger stages beyond her small hometown.
As a junior in high school, Rosecrans got a taste for the spotlight after winning first place in the Wellington Star, a talent competition where she impressed listeners with her covers of Taylor Swift, Chris Tomlin and Adele songs.
She began writing original country music, which she said was directly tied to her roots.
“Everybody in my house listens to country,” Rosecrans said. “People in Wellington like forced country into my ears. I mean, I'm not mad. I listen to country all the time.”
After high school, Rosecrans commuted from her family’s home to Cleveland State University, imagining a professional music career would be a longshot.
“I was just like, ‘You know what? There's nothing to do around here,’” she said. “I wasn't getting where I wanted to get. I wasn't going to write anymore, because I hit writer's block. I'll just work. I'll be like the average American going to work every morning.”
Last year, things shifted drastically for Rosecrans as an artist. She found a passion for performing live and started earning money playing shows.
She applied for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Artist in Residence program, a summer-long career development for local musicians to learn from industry professionals.
Rosecrans was one of three artists selected for the 2023 program.
She had the chance to perform at the Rock Hall and have conversations with noted rocker George Thorogood about songwriting and making a living as a musician.
“It was insane, but like, in the best way possible,” she said. “I got so much out of it in such a short amount of time. I learned so much.”
Embracing an edgier style
Coming out of the program, Rosecrans has evolved her original music from a small-town country sound to harder rock.
“I was an emo, semi-goth chick who only wears black in country music, making sad country songs. And then everyone's like, ‘You're not country.'"Ri Rosecrans
She said the showcase performance at the end of her Rock Hall residency was a pivotal moment for her to rediscover herself as a musician.
“Hearing what my songs sounded like with a full band, where I could twist the arrangement how I wanted it to sound live: It was really kind of a wake-up call for me,” she said. “Like, you're not country, girl.”
Her song, “Through the Flames,” is an introduction to her new direction as an artist. Combining guitar with powerful, emotive vocals, the transition from country singer-songwriter to rock vocalist was a natural progression.
“I'm a metalhead. I'm a diehard metalhead. Metalhead, hard rock. Especially after the showcase,” she said. “I was an emo, semi-goth chick who only wears black in country music, making sad country songs. And then everyone's like, ‘You're not country. Like, where are you getting country?’”
After the Rock Hall experience, where Rosecrans said she learned how to market herself as an artist and hone her songwriting skills, she has dreams of fronting a rock band.
Working through challenges through song
Songwriting has helped Rosecrans navigate pain and heartbreak, especially after losing her uncle in 2020. He taught her how to play guitar.
“I didn't have him to, you know, rely on for tips and everything. I had to revert back to reading tabs and watching YouTube videos,” she said. “Not having him and trying to start a music career and still being like newer with guitar was… it was difficult.”
She wrote the song, “Double Yellow Lines,” to process her grief. Her producer Tyson Stiles collaborated on the song with Rosecrans.
“My producer had lost his brother. Him having the previous grief from his brother, and me having it from my uncle, us writing that song meshed perfectly,” she said. “You lost somebody that you know you're going to see again, but it's a long road until you get there.”
Rosecrans said she dealt with mental health struggles in 2021, and writing music became an outlet when she wasn’t ready to talk about how she was feeling.
“I didn't count that as talking to people. I just counted it as writing, you know, in a diary or something… just like writing it down where no one would ever see it,” she said.
Rosecrans eventually got the courage to record her private songs, notably the track, “Why?”
“Writing that song got everything out,” she said.
Rosecrans will release a new song, “I Miss the Way,” on Oct. 13. She just finished a run of summer shows and is excited about the new direction of her music.
“Hopefully within the next couple of months, I can get a band put together,” she said. “The Rock Hall did so much for me and for the other two this summer. I think we're just going to blossom from here.”