In an unmistakable Boston twang, Eileen Rose apologises that the phone was engaged the first time I called her home. "I've been doing a residency at this place in London," she explains, referring to her weekly stint at The Borderline. "The day after the gig the phone goes crazy. Last night we played to a full room, twice as many people as at the first gig. The guy that owns the Borderline is expecting that next Monday night might sell out. I'm really surprised and I've been getting fan mail! Actually I'm getting slightly psycho fan mail - I'm getting some 'Stan' fan mail!"
Such devotion, however off-kilter, should become a more regular occurrence for Rose if reviews of her debut album, 'Shine Like It Does', are anything to go by. Released in the run-up to Christmas on the legendary indie imprint Rough Trade, the record's pick-up-the-pieces ballads and laid-bare torch songs have been met with acclaim across the board. So much so that in three months it has sold out of its initial pressing and has been re-released with Rose's - now more familiar - face on the cover. But her giddy joy at the public interest and praise from the likes of Mojo, Uncut and NME is tempered with a healthy dose of humility.
"It really does feels like it's a long time coming, but I'm not the least bit bitter," she says. The songs I'm writing now I couldn't have written when I was younger. They wouldn't have been real. I'm not saying that you can't write a heartfelt emotional song when you're 20-years-old but these songs are 'older person' songs. If it took me the journey it did, and if it took me pretty much being ignored all that time then I'm... Things happen the way they're meant to happen I guess."
That journey began in the blue collar Massachusetts town of Saugus. Rose, one of nine children, taking an interest in music through the school choir, then learning to sing along with Kate Bush records and eventually picking up a guitar. While in college she formed indie rock combo Daisy Chain and later the curiously named Medici Slot Machine, a band that mutated into the England-based outfit Fledgling.
"We were on TVT records and I pretty much wrote the songs, played guitar and sang. We were post grunge, I was still an angry young woman then - now I've grown up a bit. We must have been together about seven or eight years." Endless touring and one album followed before Fledgling split, Rose recalling the experience with TVT as "horrible". "It put me off record companies. But what I did was come back here. I started writing my own stuff and I went solo. I just grew up."
Moving to a cottage on a dairy farm in Essex, she invested in an eight-track machine and buried herself in demos with the help of former Fledgling guitarist Davey Bull. Then a long overdue break came her way with the offer to support the Alabama 3 side project The Larry Love Showband. After the gigs the Larry Love boys were so impressed that they offered to help out as her backing band. "We played two gigs and Geoff Travis from Rough Trade came down to see us and said 'let's make a record'. Like 'here, make a record in ten days and here's a few grand'. 50/50 deal, very casual, very old school."
Retreating to a studio in Wales, the band lived-in for ten days and came up with 'Shine Like It Does'. From the desolation of 'Still In The Family' to the haunted hopes of 'Find Your Way Out', the album has a polish and finesse that belies its short production period. Its release was even delayed for a year as Rose and Rough Trade searched for an American deal because the record "came out a lot better than we thought". "I worked really hard on developing those songs so the arrangements were all done and I knew exactly what I wanted. Luckily enough I had musicians with me who were willing to play what I wanted. You get a good musician and you say to them 'be expressive' and people respond to that. It just kind of worked and I tried to make sure people had a good time. If you go in and try to say to a drummer 'don't play like that, play like this' you might not get real feelings. I'm kind of girly about it - I'll give adjectives like 'play like it's raining'. And then they laugh at me and do what they were going to do anyway!"
But despite her laconic attitude to the recording, the real feelings on the album breathe through every song. On some she digs through personal history and family stories - at times painfully so. "I don't think there's any point in doing it if they're not going to be. I don't want to get up there and talk about the weather. I think if I'm not slightly nervous - and I always am - about what I'm saying then I'm kind of not doing my job. I want to move people not just amuse them. I do reference my family and they're a big point of inspiration. Sometimes I feel a bit bad like 'God, am I exposing people who don't choose to be exposed?'
Her family's attitude to her path in life manifests itself in the album's standout track 'Rose', the story of her decision to become a musician and a warning from her father "don't ever learn to sing the blues". "I studied criminal law and I went to college. Nobody wants their daughter to get in a van and be in a rock band. I think that they would have like me to do something. When they're sitting around talking to other grownups they'd rather say my daughter's a doctor than my daughter's playing at the Borderline.
So does she ever think about pursuing a simpler kind of life? "Every day I think 'oh man, I should get a job' - but never seriously. I really do think it's in me and I can't imagine being happy doing anything else. At this point I can type and that's about it. My parents chose the core things of their life and that was their family and they remained dedicated to that and they did it brilliantly. I apply the same thing to what I'm doing musically - I pretty much do what they did. They've got this thing that I've wasted my education and I've wasted brain and I could have been anything I wanted to be. And I'm like 'yeah, that's why I'm doing this'.
Defiant talk and talk that befits someone who's a descendant of legendary boxer John L Sullivan "He was my mother's cousin," she replies. Isn't that cool? But apparently he wasn't very nice - a womanizing bully. But I guess it's nice to be descended from somebody who kicks ass!"
Eileen Rose supports Ron Sexsmith on his current Irish tour. Tour dates: Macs Backroom Bar, Culdaff, Co Donegal on Thursday 15; The Spirit Store, Dundalk on Saturday 17; Olympia Theatre, Dublin on Sunday 18; Roisin Dubh, Galway on Monday 19 & Tuesday 20; Dolans Warehouse, Limerick on Wednesday 21; NEC, Killarney on Thursday 22; The Savoy, Cork on Friday 23; Hanley¹s Room @ Shefflins, Waterford on Saturday 24; River Court Hotel, Kilkenny on Sunday 25; The Limelight, Belfast on Monday 26 November.