Caroline Rose on “LONER” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Caroline Rose on “LONER”

Finding Her Vision

Mar 26, 2018 Caroline Rose Photography by Matt_Hogan Bookmark and Share

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Caroline Rose isn’t afraid to embrace the uncool. With total control over her cherry-red artistic image, she’s donned Adidas tracksuits, huge feather boas, and crocs in her videos and press photos. Her game-changing sophomore album, LONER, engages with the world from an outsider’s perspective, filtering wary angst and no-holds-barred honesty through cheesy Farifsas and meaty pop hooks. And right now, as Rose talks to me, she admits that she and her band have “taken over” her parents’ house while they wait for their East Coast tour to begin.

Just four years ago, no hardcore fan of Rose would’ve ever predicted that the coy but serious songwriter would settle down and swap steel guitars for synthesizers. To be fair, though, the self-professed road warrior probably never imagined that, in 2018, she’d send joke prayers to “the lord (Rihanna)” on Twitter, or shoot a low-budget video with a bunch of female-identifying strangers in bikinis. “Pop music is so shallow,” Rose said brusquely to the blog Val’s List, not long after she graduated from college; in 2015, you can see her band sporting shirts that declare “FUCK FEAR” on her Tiny Desk Concert at NPR. “I just took myself way too seriously,” she confesses now, as she sips a fresh cup of coffee.

LONER, then, means more to Rose than a mere stylistic shiftthe album reflects three years of expansion, a marathon sprint headlong into modern irrelevance. And Rose, no longer the diehard songwriter, comes out as bolder, weirder, and 100% better because of that. Read on to find out how apartment living enables a more experimental approach to music, the uncanny existence of a brick-and-mortar Crocs store in New York, and how she surreptitiously flipped the middle finger at her old label.

Lee Adcock (Under the Radar): I read in an earlier interview that you’re from a small town in New York-where are you right now?

Caroline Rose: I am actually there, where I grew up. I’m at my parents’ house, currently. With my entire band.

Oh, wow. Was that just the easiest financial decision, or just a convenient decision, or what?

Well, we’re all just here temporarily, butour tour starts in the very beginning of March, and we all live in different places now. One of my bandmates lives in Vermont, which is where we all met; one of my bandmates lives in Phillyand I would love to move to Philly. But if we’re about to start tour, it doesn’t make sense to move into a new apartment until we’re back from tour. So I’m just staying with my parents until then. But it’s kind of a nice situationit’s like a meeting point for all of my bandmates, and we can just take over the house. I mean, I’m sure my parents don’t really like that, but we can have our own beds. The attic is where we rehearse, sometimes. I’ve got all my recording equipment up there. It really does sound niceit’s got carpeted flooring, so you can’t really hear it.

That does sound like a set-up. Wellthe reason I asked about where you are now, is because I know you’ve done a lot of moving around from small towns to big cities, and I was wondering if you feel like that’s been a part of your changing personality.

That’s actually a really good point. I don’t know if moving from small towns to big cities was the inspiration for the change, but definitely moving around anywhere. A lot of my music has really dictated that. When you listen to the music I made when I was first starting outwhen I was like 21 or 22I was living in a car and travelling around the country. I had a very vagabond-ish lifestyle, and the music dictated that.

[Suddenly Caroline yells off the phone“I’m doing an interview, dad!”]

My dad is yelling at me to come watch CBS Sunday Morning with themthey fucking love that show so much. They love it so much, that they just stopped going to church, and they call watching CBS Sunday Morning “going to church.” It’s like half cute, and halflet’s just settle on cute.

But okaymy personal belief is that the art that you’re making is just an extension of your life, and so the way that you’re living really dictates the art that you’re creating. And if you’re in a stationary place, you’re probably going to make more complicated music, because you have the tools to do itunless you don’t have the tools. But if somebody has an apartment, then you probably have a laptop. If you’ve been doing music for a while, then you probably know how to record music. And when you’ve been in that place for a long time, you start to accumulate gear, so you can start playing other instruments. And for me, I’ve always played different instruments, because I learned how to read bass clef and treble clef, and I’ve played in jazz band, where I learned how to play different instruments. But I didn’t have the lifestyle that dictated making experimental music. And I didn’t WANT to. I just wanted to a songwriter, period. I wanted to be like one of the songwriters I would listen to, like the classic folk writers.

Yeah, you mentioned [in the other interview] John Prine, Dylan, stuff like that.

Yeah. It’s funny that I mentioned John Prine, because I actually don’t know that many John Prine songs! He’s one of those people that is such a character, and so funny, and I love the funniness in his songs, butI actually couldn’t name five John Prine songs. [Laughs] I think was just catering to what they wanted me to say. But yeahI guess, long story short, I took the last two years to really

Find yourself?

Well, not so much find myself, as expand on myself.

Yeah, no, that is true. I feel like I’ve experienced this, toothat in a city, it’s just easier to do that, because there’s more people packed together, and there’s more events at any given time, where you can meet other social people.

It’s funny, too, becauseI feel like our truest self is as a toddler, before society has impinged its ways upon us. And I think that, at some point, you have this choice of either going in this new direction, or you can kind of re-find that toddler-esque person that you were, before society stamped out that individuality you once had. And I think I just threw out all the norms I had in my head. For example, I really just took myself way too seriously. I don’t know what I was thinking! ActuallyI do wanted to be one of those great songwriters, who could just play a song on the piano and it’s just a great song. Elton John has that ability. And I think there are a lot of great modern songwriters, as well.

But the biggest difference between four years ago and nowlike, when I was 23, and nowis that I really respect writers in genres of music that I thought were child’s play. Pop music, I always thought it was simple. And now I’m like, oh noit is the most complex genre.

Yeah, I was just about to ask you about that, because in that old interview, you just completely dismissed pop in a single sentence. And now that’s definitely not true, because now you have songs on your new album, like “Jeannie Becomes a Mom”which is so great, by the way, it’s the bomband it’s all to do with that backbeat. That definitely shows you’ve got a more active relationship to pop music than you did before.

Yeah, I totally do. I don’t know what I was thinkingit was right after I graduated collegeand I think I was trying to be a person that I don’t even recognize anymore. Not to discount any of the stuff I was writing then, because I do think that some of those songs I was writing then were good songs. But the songs that I’m writing now sound a lot more like me. And they’re a lot more interesting to me.

Speaking of thatone of the most direct changes is between your old song “I Got Soul” and the new “Soul No. 5”you completely gutted out the lyrics, and it’s now the exact reverse, thematically, of what it used to be. And that’s the epitome of your transformation.

Everyone always loves [the old] songthey’re all, “oh, that’s such a good song, ‘I’ve Got Soul,’ it’s got such a good message”I had played it for two years, and something always bugged me about it. It was just so earnest. It was like a semi-serious, earnest, feel-good song. And when we got into the studio theremy label, they just really wanted that song on the record, but it didn’t really connect with me anymore. The earnestness just didn’t fit anymore. And you know what, originally, when I wrote that song, I wrote it as a feel-good song. And I did. And I remember when I wrote it, too—I was listening to Jake Bugg! And I was like, “Oh, this is such a good song, I wanna channel it into whatever I’m feeling right now.” But I always wanted it to be more sarcastic. And it never came through.

So when we got into the studio, I was like, “I can’t sing this song anymore. I can’t feel it anymore.” And so my co-producer, Paul Butler, he had some great advice: “Well, just take the piss out of it,” [he said] in his cute little British accent. And he was like, “Just have fun with it! Let’s not put it on the record unless you’re enjoyin’ it.” So I just started freestyling a bunch of stuff that had been floating around in my head. I guess I’d either been catcalled, or I was thinking about catcalling, because I was channeling some catcalling instincts in it. And I think it’s really funny! It made me laugh. So I liked the song again.

And the video for that is just great. There’s just so much going on, and it’s hilarious.

Thanks. There’s a lot of subtleties going on that I don’t think everyone will catch, like me wearing a shirt of me wearing a shirt of me.

Yes! I saw that too. And the fact that you’re wearing crocs, which are like the least coolest shoe ever, is the best. It makes me realize, from a comment you made earlier, that we’re the same age, so we both were in that period when crocs immediately became both the most popular and unpopular shoe at the same time.

I was just in the city, in New Yorkand there is a Crocs store! A brick-and-mortar Crocs store! I was like, “Who shops here?” Who goes to New York and they’re like, “Oh yeahI know exactly where I want to shop,” and they go to the fucking Crocs store? But, I do think it’s pretty cool, when I posted a screenshot of me ordering those Crocs off the internet, and I literally got hate messages, almost death threats, like, “You can’t wear those, or I’m never gonna listen to you again.” [Laughs]

Yeahit’s weird, how people judge people on things like that. Though that reminds me of the first song on your record, “More of the Same,” which talks about how, even though we’ve got this notion of what it means to be different, suddenly that becomes a same thing, too.

Yeah, I actually just had to write a thing about that, and it made me think about what I was actually thinking when I wrote it. Concocting a succinct story about that took a while, because it really was about a lot of different things (no pun intended). But I realized that I had blended together a few instances, but really what it’s about, is being from a state of disillusion. And I think a lot of the songs that I write come from that place, in being disillusioned from something, whether it’s being disillusioned about love. And in that one, I was wondering if it was possible to feel like a true individual. And I was feeling different, I was changing, and I wanted to know why.

[The song] made me think about somethingI had gone to a party, a long time ago. And this memory always stands out to me. I had bumped into this friend in the middle of nowhere, in Maine, and it was a friend that I used to have a crush on. And he took me to this party, that was so strange. It was a bunch of people in those tacky shorts, with the little ducks on them, just wealthier white kids. So I went to this party and I felt sooooo strange, because I’d been living in my car, I hadn’t showered in days. And I remember being the only girl who was dancing! All the girls were sitting on the wall and being quiet, and all the boys were playing ping pong and being loud and obnoxious, and chugging beers. And I remember feeling so strange, like “I do not fit in here. Who are my people?” And then I remember thinking, “Who are my people? I don’t even know!”

I think identity is another thing that I think about often. And now I’ve completely committed to my identity. I know who I wanna be, and I know how I want to represent myself, and who my audience is, and who my people are, and who my friends are. I’ve embraced that. It is a strange feeling when you don’t yet know that. And it does feel like you’re just floating around. You’re not really anchored to any one group, and you don’t feel like you fit in anywhere. It’s very lonely.

No kidding! I feel like that’s a thing that happens when you first move to a place. I was like that for a full year here in Atlantait took me getting out, and then writing for the local blog, for me to really find my niche here.

And a lot of the lyrics really reflect that sentiment, too. I don’t really know what I was channeling in that, but it’s a really visual song for that feeling, of not really knowing where your place is, or who to listen to, or where to belong to, or who to belong to.

Definitely. There’s also, in your album, a lot about the stereotypes imposed onto womanhood“Bikini” addresses that pretty blatantly. I was wondering how that’s come up in your life…

Oh…I wonder if I can even say some of this stuff…well, I was signed to this record labelthey’re not my label now, they’re my last labelthey signed me up to do all these co-writes. And the one stipulation that I had was to do co-writes. I think it’s really important as a young songwriter, and as a female songwriter, that I should establish myself as the writer to all my own songs, and the creator of my own music. And he put me on all these co-writes, without even telling me. It was very shady. It was kinda fucked up. I mean, the co-writes were all with really cool people, that I respect. But I was just like, “All right, I’m just gonna meet all these people and hang out with them. But we’re not gonna actually write anything.” Because I was just like, “No. I’m not gonna do that.”

And I remember going home and thinking, “You know, if you want me to write more, I will write more.” And I wrote a dozen songs. And “Bikini” was one of them. I was definitely channeling this inner “fuck you,” of people who pretend to give you all this control, like you’re the controller of your own destiny, but they’re actually controlling the strings, and you’re just a puppet for them. And “Bikini” is such a fun, simple songbut I wanted it to feel that way. I wanted it to feel good. But there’s also something slightly maniacal about ithow many female-identifying people have to go through that experience of, “Well, it’s all yours, just sign here on the line and you’re gonna have all this stuff. But all you have to do is this one thing that we ask you.” And I just thought it’d be funny to visualize a bunch of girls dancing around in bikinis, or me dancing around in a bikini, to achieve their biggest dreams. My biggest dream is to play Japan, because I just love Japan. And I always tell myself, “I can die after I play Japan.” So that was channeling, what would I do to go to Japan? But that could be applied to a lot of different scenarios.

Speaking of that, thoughI think I saw on your Instagram that you’re about to shoot a video for “Bikini,” and asking people to come in [and wear bikinis], and you didn’t care what people looked like.

Yeah. I’m shooting it in a week-and-a-halfand it’s gonna be really funny! And I want the video to be really body positive. I’m trying to create a pretty safe environment for everyone to feel comfortable wearing bikinis and coming up on stage. And I wanted to represent different types of people. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with a video that has basically no budget, and is being done on a pretty short notice. But I’ve basically gotten all my friends to do it, and they’re amazing, and I think it’s gonna be really funny. Very satirical. I’m directing it, too. I directed the last one. I didn’t direct the first one, but I wrote the initial treatment for it, and I was heavily involved. I can’t not be heavily involved! It’s hard for me to sit back and let someone else work on my stuff.

Huh! I guess that’s why you got into producing, then. It seems like that’s where you want to be.

Oh, completely. And I got into producing, because I was really waiting on the people I was working with, and other producers. I went through four producers on this last album, and I ended up co-producing it and doing a lot of work on my own, because it was so hard to navigate, with all the hands involved. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, in a lot of ways. But now I have the perfect team. My label is amazing, my publishers are amazing, my managers are amazing. And all that time, I was getting better at recording, and understanding what a producer’s role is, and what they do. Paul taught me a lot about thathe’s a great teacher, in a lot of ways. He gave me a lot of confidence to do it on my own.

Oh, god, yeah. I can relate to that sentimenteven though you want to say you’re an independent person, sometimes it does take the strong encouragement from a certain figure to make it on your own. That’s really how I can continue to be a writer, because of people I really respect telling me, “Yeah, you need to keep doing this.”

I got that same advice from Aaron DessnerI wanted to work with him, but the timing ended up not working out. Aaron produces all The National stuff, and is in The National, and is a wonderful human. And he actually gave me some really good advicehe said, “Why don’t you just do it yourself? These songs are great, and you know what your vision is.” And I was like, “Nah, I want to do one more record with another person.” And I think he was rightI really could have done it myselfbut, knowing what I know now, and working with Paul, I think it was the right move to make this record with Paul. The next one, I’m planning on making myself.

Okayso I know this doesn’t flow very well with the last question, butI was looking at your tour schedule, and I see you’re playing Georgia four times, which is excitingbut you play Macon on the 11th, and nobody plays Macon!

It’s just routing. We’ve also played Macon beforeI have some friends there. I’ve actually played there a couple of times over the past four years. But it was 100% because we had days in betweeneither we’d take those days off, or we’d do a show. And why not, right?

Okay. Mind, I lived in Macon when I wasn’t really hip into music yet, so I probably missed a lot while I was living there, from like 2008 to 2012, while I was studying there. And from my experience, nobody really played there unless you were playing at our college festival thing, Bearfest. Other than that, you didn’t see anybody. But then, it’s probably because I was a stupid hermit then.

It’s okay to be a hermit. I miss being a hermit sometimes. I miss my alone time.

Yeah. Seems that, as you get more involved, and you realize that socializing is important, then suddenly you find that you have less alone time.

There’s not much alone time in the entertainment business. I feel like I’m always doing something.

Yeah. And I need it, since I’m a writer. But there’s always the going to gigs, that’s necessary.

We shouldn’t complain, though, because have the best jobs! People who have a career in the creative world have such a gift.

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