Interview with Rona Rougeheart of SINE

Having played multiple instruments since childhood and drummed with bands, in 2016 Rona Rougeheart launched her own dark electronic/rock project, SINE. Now signed to Austin-based label eMERGENCY heARTS, SINE has released Desire, Denial and Paramania, an 11-track collection of select material from the previous INSOMNIÆ and Injected albums.  The album features collaborations with Curse Mackey (Pigface, Evil Mothers, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult), producer Sean Beavan (Nine Inch Nails, 3Teeth, Slayer) and vocalist Chris Connelly (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Pigface) as well as remixes by Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto), DÐ and NIT. SINE will soon be releasing the first in a series of new EPs. Over Zoom, Rougeheart discussed her music and creative process.

Could you talk about how the Desire, Denial and Paramania collection came together?

Rona Rougeheart: I started SINE in 2016 and didn’t release an album until 2019. And by that time, I’d already kind of felt like I was starting to grow as an artist. So by the time the first album came out, I felt like I had gone beyond the songs written in 2016. As my progression has gone on, I feel, in general, I’m still pretty new to people. So once, I signed with the label eMERGENCY heARTS out of Austin, Texas, I decided to put together kind of a comprehensive CD, something from 2016 all the way to 2021. So that it’s kind of like my Catching up with Depeche Mode, [that] is how I like to refer to it. That way, when people would pick it up, they could get kind of a nice view of what SINE is.

What factors went into the song selection? Was it based on audience feedback? Thinking about how you want to present yourself?

Rona Rougeheart: It was about a little bit of everything, really. I just went and picked out songs from my first album and the second release, which is called Injected. I just kind of picked songs that I felt represented me best. Because the first album was a lot of tunes from my earlier days. So I feel like I’ve kind of outgrown that. I start the album with the song “Control,” which is one of my faves that I’ve done. And I worked with Sean Beavan, the producer, on that. It’s a very special song, too, because it was kind of the beginning of my second chapter and a bridge to where we’re going. And then, of course, there’s a song, “Drugs,” which I’ve gotten lots of great feedback on and that features Curse Mackey of Pigface. That one’s very danceable. I think people really enjoy that song. So that one was definitely a no-brainer to add on there. Again, some of the other ones were just faves, and I made sure I included the songs that I have videos for. Like, “Love High” has a really great video shot by Jeremy Ward in Austin, Texas, and features a ton of people. That was one of my first videos. And we added some remixes, too. The one that was the hugest for me was the Meat Beat Manifesto remix of “Desolate District.” That was amazing. I had no idea I would ever achieve that or be able to work with those guys or Jack Dangers, you know? So that one was awesome. That one came about through the record label, eMERGENCY heARTS. we put that on there because it was just so spectacular. There’s no way you can’t release it. I also have a remix on there from the band NITE from Dallas, Texas. I wanted it to be a really good, comprehensive look at SINE, and then with a few extras and one brand-new song, which was the last single called “Virtual Realitease.” That one also has a really cool video.

Could you talk a little bit more about the Meat Beat Manifesto remix? Did you have any expectations as to what that would be like? And what was your reaction when you heard it?

Rona Rougeheart: When Scott Crow, the owner of the label eMERGENCY heARTS, told me he was going to get [the] Meat Beat Manifesto remix, I was very excited, and I almost just wasn’t even concerned about what it was going to sound [like], because I knew it was going to be great no matter what. And when I received it, it was exactly what I would’ve thought it would’ve been. Just awesome production. Great sounds. He really put a lot into it, and I feel like it elevated SINE’s status, kind of showing where we’re going. So, I really liked that he was our first remixer.

How do you feel your creative process may have changed or evolved since you started SINE? Are there any particular ways you feel that you’ve changed or grown as an artist?

Rona Rougeheart: I’m originally a drummer. When I first started my musical career, I really didn’t think about being a lead singer or a band leader or any of that. So, I guess it’s kind of the Dave Grohl syndrome—like, I end[ed] up moving from the drums to the lead. But what happened was, I’d been in bands, being drummer for bands. And it was fun, and I liked it. But I really wanted to move in my own musical direction. I wanted a little more expression and a little more input into the band that I was in. So, I decided to create my own project. And I think a lot of musicians do that because, ultimately, we all have our own forms of self-expression and ways of doing things.

So, I took a chance and branched off, and I learned how to use Ableton. I downloaded one of their light versions and started to learn it. I have a friend; her name is Moon, and she goes by a project called 19th Moon. She was the one that showed me that she was using Ableton, and I was very intrigued by it. And so, when I decided to create SINE, I wanted to try Ableton. And as far as was my early songwriting—you know, it was obviously very hit and miss, because I was not used to creating songs and demos. So, a lot of it was just experimentation, and when I heard something that sounded cool, then I went off of that.

Now I feel like I’ve developed more of a sense of what I really want things to sound like. And now, I kind of know where to find those sounds and make it happen. Because with the production on INSOMNIÆ, which is my first album, we definitely replaced a lot of sounds, only because I just didn’t know what kind of tools were available because I was so new to Ableton and just doing it. But now, there’s so much out there that I’ve grown to love it. As far as writing, it’s kind of spontaneous—whenever I feel I need to write something down or if I feel inspired to sit at an empty Ableton session and just come up with a beat, which is very frequent. I like coming up with beats, and it helps me come up with songs.

Has learning Ableton Live by just doing it and experimenting led to any ‘happy accidents’ that may have influenced your sound?

Rona Rougeheart: I definitely feel that the knowledge that I’ve gained has really helped me form the sounds that I’m looking for. Back in the earlier days, when I started using soft synths, I didn’t think very much about changing the way they sounded. It was kind of like whatever came out of the keyboard was it [laughs]. But I learned, obviously, a lot more as I went along—that there were all these parameters and filters and all these different effects. And those are the things that definitely cause happy accidents. You put a delay on something, and then accidentally you’re like, ‘Ooh, I like that beat.’ I’ve certainly done that; I’ve had just a regular beat and then put a delay on it, and it just made it sound completely different. And there are other times where I’ve played some MIDI notes on the piano, a piano sound, then converted it to a drum kit. So, a lot of those things I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, and it’s a lot of fun because it does create those happy accidents that end up being on the record.

Do you perform live as SINE?

Rona Rougeheart: Yes, I certainly do. My most recent show was on December second. It was in Dallas, at Trees, and I played with Nitzer Ebb. That was amazing because I grew up with their music, and they were one of my faves, along with Depeche Mode and The Cure. All the standards; they were definitely among them. So, to open for them and also be friends with them, it’s pretty mind-blowing.

What is your approach to live performance? Do you have other musicians on stage with you? What is your approach to adapting the material for the live setting?

Rona Rougeheart: When I first started SINE, and we started doing some shows … we started doing shows before the album came out. I had two very good friends that were in bands in Austin, Randon and Jared, and they knew I was starting a project, and they just said, ‘Oh, we wanna help you.’ They were motivated. They didn’t even know what it would sound like. [laughs] So, those two guys, both guitar players, joined me and helped with live shows and things. Because they had played some live shows as a band called New Age Love, which is Jared’s band. So, they had experience in that. I had played live shows with other bands as a drummer, but [I’d] never played by myself or with electronics, so it was kind of an interesting little first go at it.

But we went out with the three of us. We occasionally had a bass player, occasionally had an actual drummer. As time went by, I was kind of looking for more of a band setting where we could collaborate and be co-writer and things, but ultimately, all of those guys are so talented that they needed to go and do their projects. I didn’t want to hold them back. And [there] were also two different types of music that we wanted to play. So, in the end, we kind of parted ways, friendly of course, because they needed to do their bands. And so, from that, I kind of morphed into what I do now, where I play soft synths on a controller, and I have some drum pads.

Before I went just by myself, I had another drummer named Sonny Sanchez, and he would play an acoustic kit. It would be he and I, so basically two drummers, and then I had synths. I did it like that for a while until the pandemic, everything shut down. There was just no place to play. Nowhere to go do anything. Sonny and I just kind of … we weren’t playing together anymore, but not on bad terms. I love Sonny, but it just became out of necessity, really. And then, when it was time to do some live streams, it was easy to set up a scene here in my studio and do a solo thing.

So, that’s kind of how I morphed like most people did during the pandemic shut down. We all did our live streams. And from those experiences, it helped me create a live show on my own so that I didn’t have any limitations and could travel and take opportunities as I needed to—nothing against bandmates. I love collaborating, and I love having help and people on stage with me. But again, it’s just kind of, like, out of necessity to keep going. But I’m certainly open to bandmates in the future, other instrumentalists. Part of me thought, well, maybe I could have a few around the country. Like, when I go to Chicago, I’ll play with this person and have a few people that actually know my material. So, I tried to just be modular, to be able to add and subtract. I’ve set up my live sessions that way so that I can turn on and off different instruments, to add people.

Has doing the livestreams impacted your approach to writing at all—perhaps thinking more in terms of solo live performance?

Rona Rougeheart: I don’t really think about that. I write pretty much just whatever comes to me and whatever feels good and sounds good. And then I figure out the live part [laughs]. I’ll give you an example of that. The song ‘Desolate District’ has Chris Connelly on it. And obviously, I do not have Chris Connelly with me at all times. As much as everyone would want to have Chris Connelly with them at all times, I don’t. So, that’s a song that I don’t usually do live, but I’ve been trying the Meat Beat Manifesto version of it live along with our music video that Jack Dangers and I put together. That’s an example of a song that is difficult for me to perform live only because he’s such a large part of the song. I mean, he starts the song singing, which I love. But I will say that if he and I are ever in the same city, he has agreed to do the song with me onstage. So, one day.

Could you talk about what you look for in a collaboration and what your approach is? Do you have a song in mind for somebody? Do you give them a choice?

Rona Rougeheart: I like to find people who I feel are on the same frequency as me, as far as the vibe or if I tell them or show them a song on Spotify or something and say ‘Hey, I really like this song, and am looking for these kinds of vibes and things.’ A person that understands that is obviously very important. They have to know who Depeche Mode is! [laughs] They have to know who people like Massive Attack are and whoever my influences are. Curve is a very important one to me that a lot of people don’t know. Curve was one of my main inspirations for creating this band because I love Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia. They’re freaking awesome.

Could you discuss your musical background before starting this project? Were you into electronic music all along?

Rona Rougeheart: I first started being interested in music as a child, you know, you listen to whatever your parents have. But I have an older sister as well; she’s the one that introduced me to Depeche Mode. Funny enough, she doesn’t keep up with them anymore, but I just latched on, I love it. But as for my musicality as a child, my father was a musician, so he taught us how to play, at first keyboards. He played piano and keyboards, but he really liked guitar.

So I also learned how to play guitar, but didn’t really gravitate towards guitar too much. I don’t think I have the right hands for it. It just doesn’t feel as natural to me. As far as electronics go, I didn’t really get into much electronics until my dad saw that I was very able to play these songs with ease and I really enjoyed it. So he bought me a Yamaha keyboard, that was my first ever. And from there, I just kind of started experimenting with noises and sounds, and I actually bought Depeche Mode sheet music, [laughs] and I would play like “Shake the Disease” and stuff. It was kind of like, you know, Ross on “Friends” I guess, [laugh] but that’s really where it all started.

After I really realized that I like that kind of music, then I started really gearing towards it. Because I’ve tried every instrument. I played guitar and bass. I wanted to play bass when I saw The Cure, I love Simon Gallup. I think he’s amazing. He has a really a cool stage presence. And so I was like, ‘Oh, I wanna do that.’ And my dad was like, ‘No, I’m not buying that for you until you can prove you can play it.’ And I was like, all right, I guess I can’t. [laugh] But as far as drumming goes, I decided to try it on my own just for fun because I tried everything else and I really liked it.

Also, when I was a child, we did dance classes. I like dancing a lot and playing the drums is a natural thing. You’re moving all your limbs and you’re dancing, but making a beat. And I also love beats. So it was kind of like the instrument found me, you know, but as far as my own music is concerned, I kind of play it all. I’ve played guitar on my own songs. I’m not super great, but I can definitely strum out some stuff if I’m wanting that vibe.

You mentioned Depeche Mode a few times. Is a particular era or album of theirs that was particularly inspirational or influential for you?

Rona Rougeheart: I love Black Celebration. I’m pretty through and through. I love all of it, but I would say my favorites are A Broken Frame and Some Great Reward. Some of their really early stuff was awesome. Obviously, I like Catching Up With Depeche Mode. I think I actually started listening to them with that album. So I literally was catching up with Depeche Mode. [laughs] Music for the Masses, Anton Corbijn that whole everything, the tour. I would say some more recent stuff hasn’t really hooked on to me, but I still would at the drop of the hat go see them live. I love them.

Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?

Rona Rougeheart: My next release was supposed to be an album, a full-length album called Mantis. And since I’ve gotten with eMERGENCY heARTS, Scott thought it would be a great idea to break it into three EPs instead of a full length, because he was very enthusiastic about the music. And he said to me, ‘We can’t just throw this all out at once.’ And so to me, I was very thankful to have someone who’s so enthusiastic about the music. And so we’re going to release it as an EP trilogy called “Mantis.” So it’ll be like “Mantis 1,” “Mantis 2,” and “Mantis 3.” We’re looking to release the first single and “Mantis 1” sometime in hopefully January, the end of January of 2022. Things can change, like press times, production times… Everything’s just taking longer. Sometimes things get pushed back. I wanted to put this out in November, actually. So we’re at January now and hopefully we can stay there.

I have a remix of the first single by Adrian Sherwood. It’s incredible. I’m so thankful. So you can look for those coming up. That’ll be the next new stuff that SINEreleases, and I’ll be on my way to new material. And I’m currently working with Mark Pistel from Consolidated on some new music. He’s a lot of fun. We’re actually working on a couple of new SINE songs and it goes back to your other question. I actually gave him a few to listen and said, ‘Here, you can pick what you want.’ Because I really just want people to be inspired by the music, and if there’s a song they’re more attached to, I say, ‘Go for it.’ If I have a demo that they’re more attached to, then I’d rather that person be inspired and create something than be stuck or stumped on something. That’s really my main motivation for it all, I just want people to be inspired by my music and have a genuine, organic growth for my band. So that’s really what I’m aiming for, growth and sustainability.

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