(photo: Matt Hogan)
Words by Erin Lyndal Martin
Caroline Rose copes through the magic of dark humor, and there’s a lot of coping on her 2018 album LONER. On it, she delivers lyrics about unplanned pregnancy, violence, and misogyny with her tongue firmly in her cheek as glossy synthesizers complete the tableau. That disjunction is precisely the point for the 28-year-old Rose, who identifies with the way disconnect can become synergy. “Putting ear-candy melodies over serious things is a little psychotic and I like that,” Rose says. “If you take those and you blow them up to find some humor in a really shitty situation, it gets people to listen to serious things.”
LONER is the third album by the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist, a 28 year-old New Englander who once turned down a full architecture scholarship and lived in her van in order to pursue her musical dreams. Her first record, American Religious, was self-released in 2012 after a Kickstarter campaign raised $10,000 to fund its production. Some of those songs ended up on Rose’s I Will Not Be Afraid, her 2014 record, which also marked Rose’s first album after being signed to a record label. Critics and fans alike praised her blend of folk, twang, and rockabilly.
With the release of I Will Not Be Afraid, Rose’s lyrics quickly garnered attention. She often penned wry commentary on contemporary issues. The album opened with “Blood On Your Bootheels,” Rose’s scathing indictment of institutionalized racism in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death. “Tightrope Walker” centers around a friend who worked for an impoverished Mississippi school system. And she could also be romantic, introspective, hopeful, like the title track’s paean to hope.
But, for Rose, there was something missing, something essential to how she sees herself: humor. After moving from her van into her own apartment and finally having room for a mixing board, Rose spent long days crafting music that spoke to her sense of whimsy. “I really wanted the humor in my personality to come out in this music,” she explains, as if whittling down her wardrobe to only red clothes (particularly red tracksuits) didn’t tip her hand already.
Rose has been pleasantly surrised at how listeners have embraced the sonically confusing new record — a genre she’s coined “schizodrift.” “Everyone seems to get it,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting that.” While her audience enjoys the new sound, they mostly seem to appreciate that even Rose’s unusual packaging is an extension of herself. And she was sure her audience could grasp her new blend of synth-pop pastiche and sardonic verses. “It would be ignorant to assume I have to explain things,” she says matter-of-factly.
Though Rose is a perfectionist and regularly worked over 10 hours a day on LONER, her main goal was that the songs captured and relayed something of her essence. “The thing you walk away with is how it makes you feel,” she asserts, applying that statement to her live show and her new record alike. The album brings her joy, and that joy is palpable when you listen. In the synthed-out surf-rock send-up “Bikini,” Rose cheers, “All you’ve got to do is put on this little bikini / And dance!” Elsewhere, she tucks her vulnerability into upbeat electropop on songs like “Cry.” Even the dreamier, slower songs like “To Die Today” are infused with the quirky imagery that Rose does so well.
When Rose performs at the Independent on February 28, she’ll take the stage with some of these songs in tow. She didn’t know her upcoming show at the Independent was a Noise Pop show until well after it was booked, but, as a fan of the festival, she was thrilled. “They promote a lot of shows that I happen to love. They put on a lot of great shows in some good rooms,” she says, eager for the space of Noise Pop as much as the sound.
Though Rose played most of the instruments herself on LONER, she brings a band with her for live shows. Her upcoming set lists — including the one at the Independent — will be comprised of songs with album arrangements, songs with new arrangement, and songs from a forthcoming album she’s “neck deep” in creating. When planning her shows, Rose seeks a balance between bringing familiar songs to life and treating crowds to live-only arrangements and new material. “I want the shows to be special,” she adds.
Erin Lyndal Martin is a writer whose music journalism has appeared in Salon, Bandcamp, The Week, No Depression, and elsewhere.