In 2015, singer-songwriter (then Wall Street lawyer) Roxana Labatt received a potentially-fatal diagnosis. She had a blood clot in her leg that could—at any moment—move to her heart, brain, or lungs and kill her instantaneously. The blockage made it so she could barely walk. Living in the present suddenly took on much more importance than planning for the future and the life-threatening illness became a life-changing event.
“I imagined a Law and Order episode with someone standing over my body talking about my unfulfilled dreams,” the Austin, Texas-based artist says, laughing good-naturedly. “I kept thinking ‘am I going to wake up in 30 years and realize I never did what I truly loved?’”
Today, Roxana steps forward doing what she loves—lyric-driven, indie rock and indie pop. Her literate songwriting style is informed by years of creative and expository writing. For Roxana, words come first, and music comes later. Her songs recall the anthemic grandeur and sincerity of artists such as Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, Celine Dion, Brandi Carlile, Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, and Alison Krauss.
“Writing is therapeutic for me. I write about things that are really personal—a lot of the time the songs are about love and heartbreak,” Roxana details. “It’s my hope that my songs make people feel less alone.”
Roxana loved music before she could speak. Her father is a talented singer, and it was said as a young child she would turn up the volume on the stereo when his album was playing. When Roxana was three years old, she would stand on a piano bench and belt out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for an audience of her parents and their guests.
Pragmatism eventually won out over promise and passion, and Roxana made the decision to become a lawyer while in sixth grade. This seemed like the obvious occupational move for someone who wanted to write, but who had gotten the message that it was the height of hubris to think you could make a living as "a writer,” much less a songwriter. She would go on to graduate from Princeton with honors, then attend NYU Law School, before finally landing a job at a prestigious Wall Street law firm.
Roxana lived a posh life as a lawyer, but was chained to her Blackberry. She enjoyed a six-figure salary, five-figure bonuses, amazing vacations, and regularly dining at Michelin restaurants. She recalls: “Every day I walked to work thinking about what it would be like if I just stepped in front of an oncoming bus. I knew I was not happy, but I was stuck. I didn't know how to get off of the treadmill I'd climbed onto so early.”
During the 19 years away from music making, listening to music was still sacred to her. In 2015, Roxana decided to make a change. She eventually quit her job, and spent two years traveling and writing a collection of non-fiction humor essays modeled after the work of David Sedaris. In 2017, Roxana relocated from New York to Austin and began writing and performing songs in a supportive creative community.
Highlights from Roxana’s current body of work include: “All Dressed Up,” “The Way,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Hauntingly Hypnotic.” “All Dressed Up” is a stirring power ballad replete with strings. Here, Roxana writes with warm candor about the disconnect between real life and social media life. She manages some playful irreverence with the following lyric: Maybe the hearth that seems to crackle/Is just a big flat screen device Maybe baby smile so wide/Just pooped on her foot. The smoldering “The Way,” reflects on finding somewhere to belong after years of feeling out of place. Live, Roxana introduces the song as a love song to NYC where she first felt at home.
The piano-ballad “Happy Birthday” burns with aching beauty. This is a lament for a friend who shared Roxana’s birthday month but committed suicide. The lyrics here are viscerally emotive, and Roxana soulfully sings: Yeah I want you to know/I want you to hear my song/If you thought this world could be a better place without your face you were wrong. On “Hauntingly Hypnotic,” Roxana explores a fresh freedom in her vocal phrasing, showcasing her dynamic singing and her keen sense of rhythmic flow. This track captures a moment of awe-inducing surprise.
Roxana has flipped the script on her imagined Law and Order episode, and is truly now living the life she was meant to lead. “Doing something you care about all the time really can change your life,” she says.