Grace Rolland might be best known for her cello work in the folk and bluegrass outfit Run Boy Run. She's hoping to change that with Rising Sun Daughter. Offering a collection of songs as open as the desert surrounding her native Phoenix, there's some irony to the fact that it took Rolland's travels with Run Boy Run to realize that inspiration was waiting back home.
"I grew up in Arizona, and I didn't always love the desert. I had young dreams of dense forest and lush green areas," she says. "But the last couple years I've traveled a bit throughout the states, and whenever we came back to the desert, I [began to] finally understand why people think it's magical. It's so serene in its openness. It's like you're out on the ocean, but you're on dry land."
That sense of serenity and openness inhabits her writing. Rolland's haunting, ethereal voice sweeps over imposing landscapes, riding and falling as if in conjunction with the land's contours. Her band adds subtle, though sometimes sharp, relief.
"It's always been that my [music] was landscape-oriented as far as the sound is concerned," she says. "When it came to arranging material, I worked . . . to create something that sounded like open space, something that had a sort of dreamy openness to it."
Despite the open space filling the songs, many developed during Rolland's private moments of journaling. Besides retaining an important sense of honesty, a melancholic intimacy also pervades many songs.
"I feel I've discovered a style of songwriting that's somewhat simple, with an immediate small feeling. But it has a bigness to it because it's right there in front of you," she says. "The songs are the feelings, difficult feelings that are harder to share with people in day-to-day passing . . . That's why [songs] tend toward sad or melancholy or mournful or intense. I hope there's an emotion in the song as much as is being talked about in the song."
Rolland's travels with Run Boy Run also spawned the formation of Rising Sun Daughter in another way. Growing up in an "acoustic world," Rolland, inspired by Florence and the Machine, felt the urge to experiment. She put down the cello and picked up an electric guitar.
"I was playing cello, and we were singing these old folk songs [in Run Boy Run], and, honestly, I just wanted to play electric guitar," she says. "From a musician's perspective, it was just a project to exercise different sounds I was listening to and getting into that world I didn't necessarily grow up in. I was writing songs that didn't fit that, and I wanted to play with instruments that had a different sound to them."
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With Noah Guttell (drums), Jeff Naylor (bass), and Rob Kroehler (electric guitar), Rolland relishes the new challenges of Rising Sun Daughter, especially on stage, where silence is as important as the overall sound.
"I do cherish silence and creating moments of quiet in a live show . . . where it's intense, then goes to a very quiet space with just an acoustic guitar or drum beat or voice," she says. "I think that's really hard to do well."
Given that Rising Sun Daughter began almost 18 months ago as Rolland's "place to make music that was separate" from Run Boy Run, her vision seems to be taking shape nicely.
"It's not a solo project, but not quite a band project," she says. "It's evolving."