Type "roses" into Google, and the first result you get isn't the voluptuous botanical blossom of romantic lore. You get "Roses," a song written by electro duo The Chainsmokers and their eponymous friend Rozes, a.k.a. Liz Mencel. The flower is now second in fame to a song with an undeniable drop and hundreds of millions of spins since its June 2015 release.
And while "Roses" has shot The Chainsmokers' career past Jupiter, as far as stardom goes, it was the song that convinced Rozes that she could have a career at all.
"It took the song with The Chainsmokers to realize I could have a following," Mencel tells me on a bench in New York's Union Square Park, hours before her show at Irving Plaza that night. "When I wrote with them, that song, it was like people actually understood what I was saying, and they liked what I was saying, and they liked how I was saying it. OK, I can do this, kind of thing."
Growing up in Philadelphia, Mencel comes from a family of musicians. Her parents started her on piano at six years old, and she sang in a traveling children's choir. When she saw her brothers writing their own songs, she decided she'd take her own stab at it. Of course, her skill was boosted by a few famous ladies, too.
"I kind of saw Adele and Alicia Keys pouring their heart into their piano or guitar, so I was like, 'I want to do that,'" she said. "I always had written poetry, so it kind of made sense for me to start writing music. It just kind of happened."
As Elizabeth Rose, she signed up for open mic nights at Philly's World Cafe, and before long, she landed a publishing deal. When it came time to create her stage name, Rozes came as a play on her grandmother's name, Rose.
Before she knew it, she was in the New York apartment of The Chainsmokers' Drew Taggart, ordering Chinese food and busting out "Roses." She had skipped classes at Temple University for the writing session.
From there, she lent her voice—a powerful, whole-toned blast—to Big Gigantic's "All of Me" and Louis Futon's "Wasted on You," throwing her into the unexpected world of electronic music. Soon enough, she was wrapped up in the cycle of becoming producers' most-wanted voice and melody writer.
"I didn’t mean to end up in this world, but I kind of love it," she says of her EDM success. "It keeps telling me that I belong in this world, to be honest. I mean, the fans are great. I met such amazing people through it. The experiences are infinite."
In February, Rozes released her first EP, Burn Wild, a collection of dance-infused jams and powerful pop songs, each with a piece of her brutally bittersweet lyrics. On "Fragile," she'll ruin you with the chorus, "I know what forever is / Forever's just another myth / Even if the pieces fit / It's a lie, it's a lie / I'm tired of promises / 'Cause promises are full of shit / Forever's always so short-lived / And then it dies, it dies."
Honesty has always been Mencel's trick for songwriting, she says. "No matter who I’m throwing under the bus, whether it’s myself, a boyfriend, I want to be so honest that people will be like, ‘She’s been through it. This is how it worked.’ I don’t want to give people false advertisement, I guess."
Rozes' new single is "Under the Grave," a song she calls "an open apology to my friends." She wrote it after her friends back home had been in a car accident (they're OK now), but she wasn't emotionally available to give them support. It's an energetic, introspective pop tune with a force of a chorus: "I know that I've been taking you for granted / I know that I've been leaving you stranded / When did my heart go under the grave?" she belts, almost pleading for forgiveness from her friends and from herself.
"I go through phases of depression and anxiety, and so I think I was going through something like that," Mencel says of her state of mind while creating "Under the Grave. "I can make any excuse in the world for being a bad friend, obviously. I think I was just learning how to adjust and I just was being a bad friend."
Her friends, of course, have heard the song, which now has its own music video (her first ever), and they're helping her promote it. "It wasn’t like they were like, ‘Oh, thank you,'" she says of their reaction to the track. "It was kind of like, 'Oh I love that.' It’s their favorite song [of mine]. It’s kind of them saying, ‘I forgive you.’"
The comments on the "Under the Grave" video keep likening Rozes to Sia, which Mencel says is the "highest compliment ever." But people commenting on YouTube also keep referring her as their best kept secret, holding on to her before she blows up. Mencel wants to keep that connection with fans as she continues her ascent.
“I don’t want to do this for the fame. I want people there, listening to my story, and going through it with me.”
"When I found Adele, she was playing an acoustic set at the bottom of World Cafe, where I would play for open mic," Mencel says. "She was kind of like my best kept secret, but when I saw her succeed, it was kind of like, I was traveling through that journey with her. I want people to feel like they’re traveling through it with me. Obviously, my goal as an artist, I would love to sell out Madison Square Garden, but I want to keep it intimate."
Perhaps down the road, Rozes will be at MSG. And perhaps the next time you Google "roses," a few years away, her name will pop up first. Either way, she's going to keep telling her story.
"I don’t want to do this for the fame," Mencel says. "I want people there, listening to my story, and going through it with me. Feeling like I’m their friend."