CAROLINE ROSE has finally found her groove. It would be relatively easy to call her “the next big thing” — given her complete reinvention and segue from Americana balladeer to indie rock badass — but the cameos in Rookie Mag and The New York Times, and her complete manhandling of the festival circuit point to an artist that’s comfortable with being more of an oddity than an “alternative haircut”. The New York-based singer-songwriter has been busy embracing her inner Red Ranger aesthetic and finishing one of the billion screenplays she has already started, and with that comes LONER (out now on New West Records) — a sophomore effort that has cracked the code in being unapologetically real.
At its core, LONER sticks out because it’s an expression of passion and personality. It’s fast, fun, quirky, heartbreaking, and constantly screaming “HEY, DO YOU HEAR THOSE SYNTHS?”. But as much as it finds Rose sifting through the sort of anxieties that can turn you into your own worst enemy, it’s a discourse on her ability to stare you dead in the face and shred. The record’s 11 tracks sip on trip-hop (“To Die Today”), give power-pop a new shine (“Cry!”), and even go as far as handing surf-punk themes a “riot grrrl” switchblade (“Bikini”). In one instance, she’s waxing poetic like a Bandcamp version of Craig Finn and in the next, she’s reupholstering blues and Annie Clark-ing the hell out of Brothers.
With her residency at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern (April 20th & 21st) previewing a hot summer (see dates), we caught up with Rose and chatted about going off-script with one of 2018’s best records.
In the past year and a half, music itself has witnessed a new wave of female songwriters and guitarists — including Angel Olsen, Courtney Barnett, Phoebe Bridgers, Lindsey Jordan, and Sophie Allison. How does it feel to be a part of that?
Well, the first thing I’d say is that’s amazing company and I’m honored to be among the artists that you listed. I adore literally every single one of them! The second thing I would say is that female-identifying songwriters and guitarists have actually been around forever. Maybe it’s just taken people a hundred years to notice?
What influenced you to take your sound into a new direction?
The transition was actually pretty gradual. I wanted to take some time to really figure out exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. There’s so much music out now that you have to be more thoughtful than ever about what you put out or else it just becomes more content floating around the ether. I knew I wanted to make music that was visual — that played out kind of like a movie — and I wanted it to sound like my personality. That was tricky because I often feel pretty manic; jumping back and forth between feeling like the life-of-the-party and being lonely, depressed, chill, and paranoid. So I just worked at trying to blend them all together.
Were there any artists or records that inspired you to switch things up and create an album that fully represents your personality?
For sure. Blondie and Devo are big inspirations to me for blending pop and punk together. I love how their albums sound produced but live they can really let loose, which is exactly what I was trying to do with my stuff. Tame Impala, The Cramps, Suicide, and early Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears are big influences. Artists like Tyler, The Creator and Lana Del Rey are also extremely inspiring in how they have really created universes that are so uniquely their own.
Speaking of universes, one of LONER’s greatest strengths is how it addresses personal subjects in a playful tone — diving into themes of independence, loneliness, and social anxiety while still giving the listener a reason to rock out in their underwear. What was it like trying to find that balance? And what pushed you to be more autobiographical?
I’m really glad that comes across because it really was difficult to find the balance! I think there’s a really fine line between being playful or sardonic and becoming a joke band. It kind of happened to Devo, who I feel like were never given enough credit for what they were saying and how they were saying it. I’m well aware of the line between being too jokey and taking myself way too seriously, which I try to avoid at all costs. I think the latter really plays into why my writing is far more autobiographical now. I stopped taking myself so seriously and started opening up, even if it’s somewhat embarrassing.
How do your friends feel about sometimes being the subjects in your songs?
Well I have a song that is very loosely based on a friend accidentally getting pregnant [“Jeannie Becomes A Mom”], but I know a handful of people who have accidentally gotten pregnant where no one actually knows whose it is. As far as romantic partners or exes finding their way into songs, that just comes with the territory of when you date a songwriter.
What are the stories behind the songs “Cry!” and “Getting To Me”?
“Cry!” and “Getting To Me” are both super visual. “Cry!” is more of a horror-comedy-esque story about the double standard I was feeling having to be both vulnerable and strong, and like I was going to be crucified if I screwed up. I imagine myself personified here as sort of a Carrie-meets-Drop Dead Gorgeous type — like a bloody prom queen or something. “Getting To Me” is about feeling extremely lonely, as in a pariah who’s been rejected from society. I like that both of them are pretty depressing and that they kind of have this catchy pop melody to them.
You mentioned in an interview that nowadays, every day feels like an episode of Black Mirror because everything is so absurd. How do you try to stay creative and free of distractions when society itself is constantly going off-script?
Well, I think society going off-script now is the script, if you catch my drift. I also don’t know if I’m ever really free from distractions anymore. The way I used to do it was basically cut myself off from society but I made a conscious choice to be a participating member of this crazy world, so here I am in this reality TV show! I now I know why everyone seems to have an anxiety problem.
What inspired the album art for LONER? And how did that come about? The first thing that comes to mind is The Royal Tenenbaums because of Richie’s headband and how he eventually caves in to his sister Margot’s smoking habit.
(Laughs) I like that! Wes Anderson really does have a patent on the red track suit, doesn’t he? The cover art was done with my talented photographer friend Matt Hogan. He really is an excellent photographer because he really makes me feel comfortable with trying weird ideas. This shot was actually a pretty magical outtake he took with my iPhone, so we ended up recreating the exact same shot almost a year and a half later in the same location at my old apartment in Vermont. It’s not meant to have any deep meaning; it just seemed to visualize how I was feeling at the time.
What was it like to actually take on the production reins for this album and be more hands-on with the rollout?
I actually co-produced it with the really wonderful artist Paul Butler, who really helped shape a lot of it and taught me a ton about recording and production techniques. I think where I really took over was after our recording sessions in San Francisco, when my work with Paul was done. I felt that I still had a lot to do in terms of making the album really gel.
I also ended up finding people to track my string arrangements and I added a bunch of additional recordings I did on my own rig to get it to flow better. I chose an amazing mixer, Andrew Sarlo, from a list of engineers that my label provided and the incredible mastering engineer, Sarah Register, who he recommended. With the rollout, it was just easier to direct it rather than explain what I was thinking.
What influenced you to get into engineering and experimenting with sounds?
The same could be said as to how I have gotten more into recording. It’s just easier to be able to make the sounds you’re imagining rather than trying to explain them to someone. Also, once you learn the ins and outs of recording you realize it’s completely possible to do it on your own. Paul was a big supporter of using the tracks I recorded on my own.
With the knowledge you have, do you think you will ever score an animated film?
Absolutely. I love film scores! I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about scoring an animated film specifically, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it as Pixar makes amazing movies. There are already 900 sequels but if they ever made another Toy Story movie, I’d be all over that.
What do you want to be able to say you’ve accomplished when it’s all said and done?
That I was able to pay rent every month.