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Denim on Denim

Selena Rosanbalm grew up here in Austin, Texas. Even though she knows better, having grown up in Longhorn country, Selena went to school at Oklahoma City University. “It was a bizarre turn of events,” she laughs as she tries to explain her way through that one with me. After moving home to Austin after college, she spent time in New York auditioning for shows. “I thought that’s what my path was going to be,” she told me. “But I didn’t love living in New York, so I came back to Austin and started a band instead.” She explained her logic in that when you’re auditioning for shows, you’re relying on someone else to determine the fate of your performance career. “Maybe I can make my own performance schedule and decide who I want to play with and have a little more autonomy over it,” she said.

Her main music project is a country concept called Rosie and the Ramblers. She writes all the original music for that band, and has been working on poetry and short fiction as well. In fact, she mentioned studying for the GRE’s to get into grad school for creative writing. She will be playing some of her original songs this Sunday with Denim on Denim. The core of Denim on Denim is Cat Clemons (on guitar) and Selena Rosanbalm (on vocals). The two players that play the most often with them are Sam Pankey (on bass) and Daniel Dufour (on drums.)

“I also sing with the Hot Texas Swing Band,” she told me “I get to sing a little bit of jazz standards with that group. I went to school to study musical theatre, so I love those old show tune theatre songs.” Her love of rhythm is what made her ask Cat to play guitar with her “and I got lucky,” she said. He had agreed. “I kept asking all these good players and they said yes,” said Selena. So Denim on Denim was born.

I loved that she never even knew how to play the guitar until she started Rosie and the Ramblers in 2011. “I took piano in college to pass proficiency and blazed through the required stuff,” she said. “I started writing songs and came to a point where I don’t feel like I can finish writing this song unless I know how to play it (on guitar).”

She said her most requested song is probably a Rambler’s song called Shut Up. “The core is notoriously obnoxious and gets stuck in people’s heads. It’s a song about a rowdy night at a bar and being a girl getting hit on when that’s not what you’re after,” she said.

About her songwriting process, she says she usually starts with the lyrics. “I usually have a phrase in mind that I like and sit down and work something up around that. I don’t think about the music until the lyrics are done.”

I asked if she had any tips for people that were just starting out gigging: “I think seeing as many shows as you can and trying to catch as many genres as are available. Absorbing other peoples’ music and finding something that’s good is really important too. People tend to write in the style they are listening to, so presumably the better music you listen to, the better your writing will be."

Favorite michelada in Austin: Mi Madres on Manor – east side.

Selena says Denim on Denim still feels like it’s in its infancy to her, but she started it about a year and a half ago. “I had a death close to me and quit doing music for awhile,” she shared. “Denim is a fun way to explore some different songwriting than I do with Rosie & the Ramblers. We (Denim) do a lot of jazz standards, but the stuff I’m writing for it is kind of poppy…. jazzy poppy. Which is totally new for me. It’s a side step from doing only country stuff and trying to keep dancers in mind. This has been more free style-wise.

“We’re going to do a song called Falling this weekend. It’s the first one I wrote for the group so it has a special place as the first song in a new style,” she said. “So this is the one I had the courage to sing in front of people. It’s about fallin’ in love with somebody. It’s also one of my few happy songs – I tend to be kind of a downer, she says laughing.”