UCSC grad Tori Roze makes triumphant return with jazz/R&B outfit The Hot Mess
So far, Tori Roze’s life has been a series of blessings in disguise. The first occurred when the singer/songwriter left The Boston Conservatory for an education that didn’t focus solely on musical theater. After being turned down by several schools, Roze ended up at UC Santa Cruz.
“It turned out to be a good surprise,” says Roze. “I loved going to school in Santa Cruz—I didn’t think I would, but I learned so much and I was exposed to so much.”
After graduating in 2005 with a theater degree, Roze returned home to San Diego. When plans to move to Los Angeles fell through, she met her band mates. “One day I was singing karaoke and some guy came up and asked if I had a band,” she explains. “Being in San Diego was the best mistake ever.”
Once the band formed in 2008, the only thing left to do was come up with a moniker that suited them. “I changed their name every night,” she laughs. “One night we’d be Tori Roze and the Pancakes, the next we’d be Tori Roze and the Waffle Irons.”
While her affinity for breakfast foods hasn’t changed, Roze discovered her band’s name—The Hot Mess—while living with “two fabulously gay men.” “They would come home every night a hot mess, and talk about it the next day,” she says. “It really stuck. We never rehearsed, so it fit.”
A far cry from the indie folk duos that populate today’s music scene, Tori Roze and The Hot Mess delivers a smoldering, old-timey blend of jazz, R&B, and soul with an eccentric twist. Their debut effort, 2010’s From the Hip, is the materialization of a dream Roze had the first time she heard Amy Winehouse.
“When I was living in London, Amy Winehouse had just come out,” she explains. “When I heard her sing, my jaw dropped and I ran to the Virgin store. She made old music relevant to young people, and that is the pinnacle of what I wanted to do.”
Much like her idol, Roze and her band mates make the brass-infused sound and deep contralto vocals, that put big-band music on the map, accessible to a new generation.
Roze believes her passion for the genre developed as a child. “Daniel Jackson did a jazz workshop at the theater when I was 13, and my dad had me bring my trumpet. He handed me a sheet of music, and it just clicked—all the swing music and old standards we listened to were jazz bands.”
Though an old soul—she describes her music as, “if Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin and Erykah Badu had a baby”—Roze is only 27. In fact, she will be celebrating her 28th birthday at The Crepe Place on Sept. 30. “All I wanted for my birthday was to play in Santa Cruz,” she says.
A kid at heart—she worked at Hot Dog on a Stick for nine years because she got to wear a costume (she still has her hat, don’t tell)—Roze still feels vulnerable when songwriting. “Love Heroin” off From the Hip, is a peek into her soul, as she explores the pain of a breakup. “[The song] opened the floodgates and allowed me to release that person from my life,” she says.
Today, Roze identifies more closely with “Tick Tock,” a song that explores the uncertainty one faces when chasing a dream. For strength, Roze looks to her mother, who sings back-up vocals and plays flute, and the rest of The Hot Mess.
“We’re the most motley crew you’ll ever see,” Roze says of the sextet. As for their upcoming show, Roze warns Santa Cruz to expect the unexpected. “I’m quite a sight onstage,” she laughs. “There may be lots of shaky leg dances—who even knows?”
Tori Roze and The Hot Mess perform at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30 at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994. And at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 at Streetlight Records, 980 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose. No Cover. Photo: James Norton