BY KEELY MCAVENEY Caroline Rose, a paragon of pop-done-right, is capable of anything, whether that be fitting a pack and a half’s worth of Marlboro Reds in her mouth or writing, instrumentalizing and producing an entire album. Her most recent album, Loner, serves as a red tracksuit-clad reinvention of herself. She sheds her formerly folksy sound for the upbeat wonk of experimental pop. Each song functions like a vignette, building stories and characters that satirize everything from catcalling to capitalism. We had the privilege of talking with Caroline Rose herself about the difficulties that accompany artistic evolution, the color red, and humor as a means of not going fucking crazy. You won’t want to miss her in all her manic pixie nightmarish glory this Friday at Underground Arts.
PHAWKER: Do you feel like the sounds in the next album are going to evolve as much as the sounds have from your first one to Loner?
CAROLINE ROSE: Oh yeah, the reason I want to get the next record out as soon as possible is so that people stop asking me about the first one, laughs. If it was up to me, I would take it down completely just because it doesn’t make sense with the new material, and also I should something that a lot of people don’t realize is that the time span between the two was five years. That’s a lot between my early twenties and now. I think that is a significant amount of time when you’re in your 20s, and if all the material had come out in that time span it would have bridged the gap between the two, but unfortunately – or fortunately – it didn’t come out like that, so it does feel like a really stark contrast, but I can say with certainty I feel entirely more comfortable, and it’s taken me some time to really hone in what I want to say and how I want to do it, but I feel complete confidence in what I’m doing now. The next albums going to be kind of a stepping stone, kind of like a sequel to this one.
PHAWKER: Is it going to be as fun, and— you do a lot of balancing between really earnest stuff and a lot of satire, and just like really funny stuff. Is it similar in that sense, and very narrative driven like you’ve done before?
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, yeah. I try not to be too earnest. I don’t like that at all. This album is mostly satire. I think there’s a line to be drawn about being funny in your art but being a joke, and I’m very aware of that boundary, and I think that’s something that I’ve already been aware of it, and I know not to cross it. I think for the next album it is going to be narrative driven, but I’m going to be moving further away from anything that could be mistaken as a joke.
PHAWKER: What’s the best example of anything that you’ve had really be misconstrued in one of your songs?
CAROLINE ROSE: Actually people have really gotten it. I’ve been amazed by how much people have really understood what I’ve been trying to do and caught on right away to all the satire, and the humor in it, and all the seriousness. I haven’t had any big errors in that way which has been so nice. The biggest nuisance of anything is people coming up to me after shows or sending me comments who aren’t reviewers. They’re just listeners critiquing my work in a way where I’m like you’ve gotten this completely wrong.
PHAWKER: That’s weird, very assertive.
CAROLINE ROSE: Oh, people are remarkably assertive in giving artists constructive – or unconstructive – feedback. Unsolicited feedback. People do it all the time. All the time.
PHAWKER: What’s the worst one you’ve ever gotten?
CAROLINE ROSE: Oh well, it’s mostly men, but there are a lot of women who just really think that they understand what we’re going for, and think that I’m completely wrong. One time a woman sent me a message and said that I should take myself more seriously, and that I should be more funny and sexy – she said that. She said you should take yourself more seriously. I love your work, and I think that you’re letting yourself down. You should be smart and sexy and she said something else, and I was like, you couldn’t have gotten what I was trying to do more wrong. You couldn’t have gotten it any wronger, any more wrong than what you’ve just done. So yeah, there are people who really misconstrue what I’m trying to do, but luckily reviewers, anyone who is in the media at all has really nailed it. Nine times out of ten, people really get it. I get feedback about our show all the time, like, oh, you know, I wish I could have seen more of this. I wish I could have seen more of your old stuff. I really like our old stuff better. People say stuff like that all the time, and I’m like, oh my God…
PHAWKER: Do you play any of your old stuff, or do you really stray away from it, because you feel like it’s not a representation of who you are anymore?
CAROLINE ROSE: Well, you know, my job right now is touring this album, so when I think, like, if I was, you know, doing a greatest hits tour or something it would be a little different. It doesn’t quite make sense. It would be the same type of thing if Tom Waits were to come out and be playing a bunch of his old stuff and mixed in with his material from the last 30 years. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless people are really familiar with it, and I’m still in the very beginning of my career. It doesn’t make sense to anyone who’s only heard the new material, but it’s not to say that I’m throwing that out forever. That’s definitely not the case. I’m still in the stage where I’m laying the foundation of my aesthetic and my music and my art, and I just don’t think it’s necessary right now to confuse anyone.
PHAWKER: Yeah. With that in mind — with the foundation of image thing — are you driving for one specific image to have, or one character that you embody, and is it you or is it more of a character, because a lot of music videos and of the songs it feels like a different character?
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, I think the way that I like creating is a lot like the way that a movie is made. I like narrative driven material. I tend to lean towards narrative driven songs and albums the way I want to make my albums. It’s more entertaining. I do think that our lives, the way that we live, are a lot alike in that each day can be something different. It can be a completely different story, and I write about that all the time, because sometimes, especially, you know, the songs that I’ve made music videos for are made to be very cinematic, and be little vignettes of my life, so I’d say all these characters are versions of myself that I inject on steroids. Obviously when I’m playing characters like I do in “Bikini,” and stuff like that, I find it funnier when I’m playing the character, because the album’s called, Loner. I’m making it all up in my head, and it’s the way that I feel with more serious issues in my life. I think my use of humor in everyday life helps me cope with really serious things that give me anxiety or stress me out. Using humor is such an amazing tool in not going fucking crazy. In that same vein it’s the reason why many comedians are fucking depressed, and a lot of artists are really depressed, and a lot of people are really depressed, but especially people who feel a lot, and my whole life I’ve always used humor as a way of coping with things, but for some reason that I don’t completely understand, it never translated into my music probably until I was in my mid 20s, and I was like, oh my God, I’m missing key parts of my personality, so when I was making this album, I made a point of making it more like my personality, and I think in that regard I succeeded. It does feel like me.
PHAWKER: Yes, in that you found yourself in it, but it’s also a declaration of who you are.
CAROLINE ROSE: Yes, and I think a lot of artists that I love use characters and personification, imagery, and this very cinematic narrative qualities in their music, and they all have really nailed it, like Lana Del Rey and Tom Waits and St. Vincent are all really good at that.
PHAWKER: Are they some of your favorites?
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, I’d say all of those artists are some of my favorites. I’d say Mitski’s new album is a lot like that. If you dig kind of cinematic qualities.
PHAWKER: Each one feels very different.
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, each one feels like vignettes on the whole album, and you can definitely kind of get the same sort of energy from what I was trying to do with mine.
PHAWKER: Yes. Regarding more visual stuff, where did the red come from? Has it always been your favorite color? When was the last time you wore a color that was not red?
CAROLINE ROSE: Well, you know, funny enough, I haven’t been wearing red recently when I’m not on stage, because you can’t really hide, laughs. Not at all. It’s ridiculous when you’re wearing all red. It’s been helping me turn my brain off when I’m not at work. I’ve had one too many experiences from fans who haven’t been the nicest, and, yeah, I think either just disrespecting kind of my and my band’s personal space, or yeah, it’s that, and like I said before, critiquing when you’re not working, and you just, when we’re not on stage and not doing interview, when we’re not working, It’s important to be able to shut off for a little bit and get that mental space that you need.
PHAWKER: Yeah, you get tired of it.
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah exactly, it was actually my bandmate’s idea: why don’t you just not wear red? And you can just, you know, be normal, and kind of just kick it out a little bit. And it actually has really worked. It’s actually kind of something similar to when I, I actually work out of my house. I’ve always done that. I have a little room with a studio and then my bedroom. I find it way easier to shut my brain off when I don’t have my workspace in the same room as where my bed is. It really helps me separate work from normal life.
PHAWKER: Compartmentalizing in the healthiest way.
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, yeah. So I’ve been trying to do that.
PHAWKER: I read in one of your interviews that in the time in between your first album and Loner, that obviously you were lonely, hence “Loner,” and you hated Tinder, but that you felt that it was the only way to meet queer people in small places. How do you feel looking back on Tinder now as a means of meeting new people, and spending all that time alone?
CAROLINE ROSE: Oh, that’s hilarious, well it didn’t work out too well for me.
PHAWKER: Laughs, I don’t think it does ever.
CAROLINE ROSE: Well I mean I think it works for a lot of people, but it’s really hard to be on tour and have a significant relationship with somebody who you only see 1 or 2 days a week, but I’ve had way more success making significant relationships from just people that I’ve met already who are friends of friends. That’s one good thing about working as a touring musician – you just meet so many people. You’re just kind of in the know. You form bonds really quickly with people who you’ve formed bonds with. Like, if you meet another musician who is really funny or fun to be around, you immediately exchange numbers and become friends, and you see each other on the road multiple times a year. You end up making these really good friendships with people. Another thing I really like is, that since the album came out, is interacting with people whose work I really respect. And vice versa you kind of end up meeting people through the work that you make, from people reaching out being like, wow I really like your record. I really gravitated towards this part. I like what you did. Who’s the engineer that you used? You end up making a network with these people. I think romantically you end up meeting people through that network.
PHAWKER: Do you find that you connect with the people, or specifically artists who you’ve met and enjoyed prior, and what parts of their work have influenced you or that you strive to emulate?
CAROLINE ROSE: Well there’s definitely, people whose careers I try and emulate, because they have their priorities straight. And that’s really important because the type of career that I want is a slow burn, because I don’t think that the type of music that I make is ever gonna be the type of thing that smacks someone over the head. I think what I’m trying to say is that I like the type of music that you unravel a bit You might not get it at first, but the more albums that I put out and the more that I tour, and the more I making thing, videos, photos, interview, the more people will understand what I’m trying to do. Like I said before, I think most people get it, but I enjoy unpacking an album, and listening to it multiple times, and discovering things I wouldn’t have. Reading the lyrics, and yeah, but there are a lot of artists who have really beautiful careers. I think Rhino Bucket is a band that I really respect, and they’re wonderful people. Good friends. They have a nice career in that their albums are really good quality. They have a bunch of devout fans, and they’re continuing to grow as they put out material. I think Mitski has a beautiful career like that, has really built her career in a way that there is continuous growth you see improvements each time, and each time you put out an album you can get a little more experimental. You can try new things. I would feel very constricted if I either had a hit or put out a really big, successful album right in the beginning and would never be able to grow from that.
PHAWKER: You would be pigeonholed, because you’re successful and what the company wants you to continue making, or what you feel pressure to continue making.
CAROLINE ROSE: Yeah, yeah. I think Tom Waits has had a beautiful career in that way too, because he’s only blossomed as he’s gotten older, and as his career has advanced, as he’s an old man now and he can tour anywhere now, and all his shows will sell out instantly, and he can do whatever he wants, and that is more important to me than the money. More important than the fame or glory or legacy. I want freedom to create – to do whatever I want.
PHAWKER: How many cigarettes were in your mouth on the cover of the album and what brand were they?
CAROLINE ROSE: I think they were Marlboro Reds, naturally. I actually didn’t count, someone else did. There are 29.
CAROLINE ROSE: That’s like a pack and a half.
PHAWKER: How many takes did it take to get that photo? Was it pretty fast?
CAROLINE ROSE: Well the funny thing was, that photo was taken 3 years ago. I was having fun with a friend. He was a photographer, and he was looking to build out his portfolio and we had done some photos together before and we really hit it off. And this was at the end of the shoot, and I always had like really wacky ideas, and he just loved everything. He was like, what if we tried this, and I was like, what if we tried this? So it was a very lax photo we were going to take, and I had this idea. I had gotten this really great track suit and this headband, and this was when I was living in Vermont, and I was really nervous, because I wasn’t supposed to smoke in the apartment. We had all the doors and windows open and it was really cold. It was during early spring. We actually didn’t get the shot on his camera, he’s got this really nice camera. We got it on iPhone, but the one on the iPhone was perfect, and I posted it shortly after we did it, just on Instagram, and when I was going to make this record and submitted it, this was about a year and some change, probably about a year and a half ago, and I was starting to put together the album artwork, and I had this different idea and everyone hated my idea laughs. I thought it came out great. It was creepy, but they kept going back to that photo that I posted. They were like, this is so good. This was such a good idea. What did you do this for? I’d be such a perfect photo for this. And I was like, you know, that would actually be such a good idea. So I called up my friend, and we recreated it, almost identically. Lighting and all in my same apartment. I was like, we’ve got to get the magic back. We recreated it in my old apartment, and I didn’t even live there anymore. My friend had moved in, but he let us borrow the apartment, and it was cold again. It was probably around this time last year, and we got the photo on his camera, which was so much better, so it’s good quality, but we really did a good job. I thought it was perfect.