A Chat With: Caroline Rose
With her monochrome outfits, quirky stage props, and straightforward stage banter, it’s impossible to forget a Caroline Rose show. Rose’s latest album Loner, released in February of this year via New West Records, creates its own little world in which Rose feeds listeners pop hooks and personal stories in an outlandish fashion. With this record, Rose establishes herself as an all around artist, not just another singer songwriter. It’s this passion, vision, and authenticity that has continued to catch the ears and eyes of music fans and led Rose to be on the road touring for the majority of this year. From playing multiple showcases a day back at SXSW in March to headline runs and support stints for Maggie Rogers and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, it’s been a whirlwind of a year for Caroline Rose.
Now, Rose is in the midst of another headlining national tour, and she’s stopping in Chicago tonight, November 8th, with And The Kids. Ahead of the show, she took some time to chat with me about finding her sound for Loner, her favorite movie directors, Kanye West’s mental breakdown, writing songs for Lana Del Rey and more. Turn on the record, tune into the full conversation with Caroline Rose below, and get to the gig tonight!
What do you remember as your first musical memory?
Oh that’s a good question! Well…ok yeah yeah yeah here’s a good one. When I was four or five, my funcle Randy, my fake uncle, he brought me a little acoustic guitar, and I remember jamming with him. He was playing piano and I was playing guitar to Dave Brubeck Quartet “Take Five” and that’s still one of my favorite songs. Of all time.
That’s awesome! So fast forwarding from that, you’ve since put out a few records, most recently Loner, in February of this year. I just love how straightforward and fearless you are on this album with satirical lyrics. I’ve seen you live too and when you talk about the songs, you just say it how it is. So what were some challenges you’ve faced with being so transparent and fearless with your writing? And then on the flip side, what do you find rewarding about not holding back at all and being honest?
I think being personal in music is something I’m trying to push even more. A lot of times I’ll use personification or blend stories together to make something new, but I’m always inspired by other artists who are even more personal in their music. It’s definitely something I’m continuing to push further. But I do think that the more personal the music is, the easier it is to relate to it, so that’s something that I find rewarding. When I’m listening to other artists, it’s the first thing that I gravitate towards, if someone’s being really open and upfront about what they’re trying to say. And at times being vulnerable. I think there’s a line to be drawn with being vulnerable, especially as a female songwriter. I think there’s a lot of stereotypes about female songwriters with guitars that are using their songs as a diary. It’s a stereotype I’m trying to break down a bit.
I definitely think you do a good job at keeping it fun and not sounding like it’s just another singer songwriter. You put a different spin on it. I’m sure that you find people voice their appreciation more when you’re honest in your songs.
Yeah and I think the more honest you can be, it pays off in the end. So it seems scary at first, but it does kind of pay off. It’s like if you’re being honest about who you are as a person even if you’re afraid of opening up, I think once you do it, you quickly realize that more people are gravitating towards it.
So I’m sure you’re somewhat sick of this kind of question, but there was a shift in your sound between your past albums and Loner. What growth did you see personally or what experiences did you have that helped you explore a different sound?
Well you’re right, I am sick of this question, but I also see why it’s important to bring it up. I think the first thing is five years passed between me making that album and this one, which is a long time. I was 21 when I made that last one, and it’s just been a long time. I think over the course of those years, I have just grown musically and my tastes have changed. I’ve kind of become more honest with myself, with what I want and what makes me happy. I think that kind of takes some time to figure out what you want and for me personally when I first started I really just wanted to write songs for other people. And be free and not be so much in the limelight. I just wanted to write a good song. Period. And I think once I started in that realm I realized that’s definitely not all I want to do. I have this boundless creative energy sometimes. I think that would be really limiting to me to just do that. It’s more challenging to me--I’ve realized over the year it’s way more challenging and I enjoy the challenge of creating my own world. Rather than creating a song, you can you know create the visuals and try to do something new. Instead of just trying something good. It’s just more interesting to me to maybe push the boundaries a little more. It’s definitely something I’m gonna do on the next record. I’m not gonna let that much time pass again, and a lot of that was really out of my control. I just hit a lot of roadblocks trying to get this album out. There’s a lot of material that never even came out because of label issues and switching my management and all the stuff that people don’t really know, or care about.
Yeah, all that behind the scenes stuff. I also read that for Loner, you met with a lot of different producers before ultimately deciding to co-produce it. What was the experience like producing your own work?
When I first started I had just signed with a new label and I wanted to get in the studio immediately and I had a short list of producers that I really wanted to work with. I was just gonna let them do it because at that point, I had all these songs but I didn’t really have the direction that I wanted to go in. Then I had all these kind of setbacks with producers and there was just so many setbacks and failed opportunities and not quite getting the songs right, or the label not liking what we did. Eventually a year passed and cause it takes so much time to schedule everything—it just takes months and months to schedule stuff—and by the end of the year I had really developed what I wanted to do, like a voice and narrative and the kind of direction I wanted to take it in. I’d gotten a lot better at using software and I was pretty well versed in Pro Tools so I was just teaching myself different formats to write and create string arrangements and all this stuff. By the time I found another producer, I was pretty much already producing a lot of it myself and all I really needed was help with a very specific set of things. That ended up being very useful to me because now I feel like I can do all that stuff that I once didn’t have as much confidence in. But now I’m pretty solid on all of those voids I’d had starting this record.
Circling back to your creative vision, you wear a monochrome wardrobe and your stage set up isn’t just you on a stage; You have that cat on your keyboard, you’ve had piñatas and flowers everywhere…Is there anybody that you found inspiring when you were trying to come up with your vision, or anyone else you think does visuals really well as an artist?
Oh yeah! I think most of the aesthetic is inspired by films, and I have a handful of directors that I’m obsessed with. Pedro Almodóvar is probably one of my favorite directors ever. And I’m inspired by his writing as well and you can kind of sense a lot of it in my own writing because there’s an element of whimsy in it, but all of his films are really serious. It’s very serious stories that are 9 times out of 10 really violent or there’s some sort of trauma that is experienced by the characters. But it’s also filled with these really bright, fun colors and the characters are very quirky and whimsical but they have a dark side to them, and I am hugely influenced by stuff like that. And David Lynch and a lot of the Coen brothers using drama and comedy, blending drama and comedy.
Yeah like that sense of dark humor.
Yeah, sometimes even blending horror with comedy. I love horror movies, like B horror movies that are one second terrifying and the next second they’re hilarious. I’m really inspired by stuff like that. I think you can tell when you go to see the show, especially our headlining show where we can decorate the stage however we want and I like that there’s kind of like a seedy porno vibe to it, but it’s also fun. I want people to walk away feeling like they experienced something special and you know blending that drama with whimsy is important I think.
Yeah totally, and I actually planned on bringing up David Lynch if you didn’t because I saw another interview when you talked about him and Wes Anderson specifically. Going off of that, what are some of your favorite films from either of those directors or other ones you’ve mentioned?
Well I think one of my favorite Almodóvar films, it translates as The Skin I Live In, and there’s another really great one called Bad Education. Volver is another one that people are probably familiar with. All of those include some sort of just like bizarre story line, just completely bizarre. The Skin I Live In is probably my favorite because it is just grotesque and completely unique, but the story is about this plastic surgeon whose daughter is allegedly raped by this boy. And he gets back at the boy by kidnapping him--this is like an insane story, but by kidnapping him and surgically altering him so he looks like his deceased wife. So the boy transforms into this plastic surgeon’s dead wife, and it turns out he didn’t actually do anything to the surgeon’s daughter. So it’s all this crazy fucking story, it’s an insane story, and it’s obviously really serious, but it’s whimsical. It’s so bizarre, so unique. So is David Lynch…Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive. It’s like these really serious horror stories, but then there’s always this goofy character that comes out of nowhere for no apparent reason and is like wearing a cowboy hat in a casino. I think Tom Waits is a big influence too for that same kind of reason.
Yeah, just throwing in absurd references in a very serious plot line. I can see that connection for sure. Is there anything recent, like any new films or anything else as of late that’s inspired some new material?
Yeah! I’m really inspired by Kanye West’s mental breakdown in the public eye. It’s extremely inspiring.
Well I’ll be on the look out for the song or songs about that.
I’m also inspired by Britney Spears’ mental breakdown.
You should do like a parallel between the two!
I should! That’s a good idea.
Well I’d love to see what you’d do with it. So talking the headline tour, you mentioned you’ll have more control of the stage. Past times I’ve seen you, you’ve had a piñata and you’ve busted out a recorder to play some tunes. What kind of shenanigans can audiences expect this time around?
We’re gonna be playing some new songs! I may or may not have a new instrument on my pedal board next to my recorder. I actually broke my recorder yesterday so I have a new one.
Oh good, I was gonna say we’d have to bring one to you if not! So a little while back I interviewed Naked Giants and they were saying it’d be fun to start a New West Records super group with you and Ron Gallo…Besides your label mates, is there anyone you’d love to form a collaborative group with?
Oh man! Well besides Lana Del Rey or can I say Lana Del Rey?
You can say Lana!
I’m obsessed with her. I think she’s a genius.
Nice! Anyone else? Let’s say you had to pick at least two people for your hypothetical super group…
I can’t say that. Ok, I just wanna write a song for Lana Del Rey. I actually have written songs for her, but she hasn’t heard them yet. I haven’t sent them to anyone.
But they’re ready and waiting?
They’re ready! They’re pretty good though. So I might use them, but I would love to write a song for her one day. Supergroup though...that’s hard to say! That’s like putting myself on the same level as a lot of the people I admire.
Oh yeah, well don’t even think about it like that, it can be your dream collaboration!
I would say definitely Mitski and St. Vincent.
Oh, that would be amazing.
They really create their own little universe when you see them live, it’s very uniquely their thing.
Very true! So just wrapping up, anything else you’d like to share about the tour coming up or anything else you have planned for the rest of the year?
If there are people who have seen us--we’re just finishing up an opening tour this month--I guess I’d say if anybody hasn’t seen our headlining set, it’s a different experience. We add a lot to it. I’d encourage people to come to the headlining show if they haven’t seen it yet.