Although her album "Late Bloomer", released on Solina Records in January, may be her first under the new alias, New Ro isn't exactly new to the game. In fact, she has worked a good decade in the music business: She has seen the major label deals and the media hype – and she has been lost and surrounded by the wrong people. Now she has overcome these obstacles and found her way by listening to her heart. Ronja Stanley is New Ro, the late bloomer.
The distance between Finland's capital Helsinki and the former capital Turku is roughly 170 kilometres. A year ago, it took less than two hours by bus, now it feels almost like the cities are on different planets. But we've learned new methods for communicating and working. New Ro, the eclectic pop artist from Helsinki, made a contract with Solina Records without physically meeting Tom Riski, the Turku based indie label’s boss.
"Actually we've never met", New Ro, real name Ronja Stanley, says. Unlike many peers lacking human contacts and live feedback from fans, New Ro hasn't struggled with her artistic identity during the pandemic. On the contrary.
"Social anxiety is a big part of me. I'm so nervous in situations where I need to confront people and work with them face to face. Sometimes I'm not able to act normally, and it's draining."
On her new album “Late Bloomer”, New Ro sings about her anxieties. Even though she's smiling offstage, doing funny comedy sketches on Instagram or performing with middle fingers raised in the air, she still has her share of issues. Her insecurities, shyness and the bold role she has played have been misinterpreted.
"People assume that I'm a bitch. And that is because this is a misogynist society: women are not expected to behave in a certain way."
The break from meetings, events, gigs and clubs has given New Ro a much needed opportunity to examine her anxieties and phobias and work on her confidence.
"During the pandemic I've gotten to know myself in a way that has given me more courage to be myself. I'm constantly daydreaming about doing live shows and seeing fans. My vision of how the show will look and sound like is crystallized in my head."
From 'annoying' beginnings to cooler tides
New Ro began her career in music under the artist name Ronya over a decade ago, signed to major label Warner Music’s Finnish subsidiary. Her debut single Annoying (2011) got a fair share of airplay from the youth radio station YleX. Ten years later, the chirpy pop tune, aided by surf guitars, sounds exactly the kind of song that's waiting to be found by TikTok users, especially because of its opening lines:
"Herpes and hemorrhoids / These are the things you remind me of / Yoodley-yoodley-yoodley-hi-hoo / You're a pest, you're a pineapple in my yoohoo."
Ronja Stanley left Warner Music after her debut album “The Key Is the Key” (2012). She now says that she's been thinking the "Ronya of 2012" a lot lately, as well as the advice that she got from her parents (her father is the esteemed rock producer Richard Stanley).
I respect my own intuition and make sure that I surround myself with the right people. When I can be myself, I can overcome any obstacles.
"They hoped that I would avoid becoming a child star or a one hit wonder – and strive for longevity. This advice is something that has stuck with me throughout my journey as an artist. I listen closely to my inner voice. I respect my own intuition and make sure that I surround myself with the right people. When I can be myself, I can overcome any obstacles."
After Warner Music she was signed to the indie label Cocoa Music, under which she released her sophomore album "Tides" (2015). Sound-wise it was a departure from the debut's organic r&b. "Tides" was cooler in several meanings of the word, and Ronya was compared to the ongoing Scandi pop trend. Again she got support from YleX as well as the fashionable Radio Helsinki, and she was frequently interviewed by mainstream media.
"I didn't see a wave to ride. I was insecure as hell. I kept questioning myself, ‘am I enough?’. I was worrying what other people think of me."
Ronya didn't not disappear but she kind of faded away.
Listen to your heart
After a few of years of silence, Ronya returned as New Ro, the self-proclaimed ambassador of ‘pussy power’. Her first singles were self-released “I Cum” (2018) and “Myself” (2019), bold feminist statements of talking control of one's own sexuality.
"I needed a fresh start. I was frustrated about having to follow rules set by others. I was disappointed in having to be a watered-down version of myself, in order to be accepted and understood. If I couldn't fit in their world, I'll create my own."
She has worked with a long list of producers, ranging from commercial hit makers to underground heroes: Jurek, MGI, Rake Eskolin, Rony Rex, Minna Koivisto and Noah Kin (Exploited Body) to name a few. New Ro says that she has studied them and learned from each of them. She has produced music for years herself, but hesitated to release it and kept going back working with others.
I was disappointed in having to be a watered-down version of myself, in order to be accepted and understood.
That changed when she met Joni Lindroos, a prominent character in the Helsinki club scene and her current fiancé.
"I fell in love head over heels, and started making songs imaging what he would want to hear. Songs to express my love for him. Something clicked and my productions finally sounded right to my own ears."
The next ep “Kosmos” (2020) contained the first self-produced tracks that New Ro has released. It's an ethereal collection of confessions of love and an intimate description of the beginning of a relationship in the form of alternative electronic pop. “Kosmos” was soon followed by another ep called “I O U” (2020), which took her music to a clubby direction.
"I've built my own style by listening to my heart. I love experimenting and learning new skills that can help me express myself even better."
Even though “Late Bloomer” isn't Ronja's debut album, it still is the debut album of New Ro. It's an album made by an artist who's found her own voice after a good decade in the music business. Written, produced and performed by New Ro herself, it's the world she built without compromises. She herself is the late bloomer that the title refers to.
The storyline follows the cycle of nature from a flower's perspective: from a seed to a sprout, to full bloom and then dropping leaves, embracing the inevitable death and reincarnation. On a personal level the record deals with insecurities, anxieties and vulnerability – noticing one's weaknesses and accepting them as a part of you and growing stronger because of them.
"During this process I've debunked a lot of things I've been told I can't do and things I believed I'm not good at. It's about conquering myself. It's about proving I can do anything that I put my mind to."
I'm interested in working with upcoming artists, producing for them and helping them find their own style.
New Ro describes “Late Bloomer” as a deeply personal record, a study of herself. Now she's ready to move to other topics of interest. She reveals that she's already started working on the follow-up which addresses gender identities, sexuality and equality. She dreams of conquering completely new areas of the business.
"I'd like to work on sound design projects. Compose music for a TV series or a movie. I'm also interested in working with upcoming artists, producing for them and helping them find their own style. There's a different kind of synergy and energy when working with other females. It doesn't even matter if we aren't making a hit – let's get to know ourselves better, create and experiment."
These are still plans waiting to be happen but one thing is sure during these uncertain times:
“There is neither room nor time for compromises anymore.”