Interview: Caitlin Rose

Page 24 – right image, Caitlin RoseThis Caitlin Rose interview was originally published in Issue 3 of DrunkenWerewolf Magazine, February 2013.

Set to release her sophomore album The Stand-In alongside a full UK tour in February, it’s hard to believe Caitlin Rose once tentatively contacted DrunkenWerewolf through MySpace with a demo of her song “Sinful Wishing Well”. Back then Rose had only recently abandoned her pseudonym Save Macaulay, and besides a management contract with Theory 8 she was unrepresented on the scene. Now a billowing star still threatening her greatest work, she first received recognition for the bittersweet lyrics of her debut Own Side Now; an album that gained praise from across the board in the UK, a rare feet for someone influenced by the country scene of her hometown, Nashville.

First to strike a light in her direction however was Dead Flowers, an EP released in 2010, based around her version of The Stone Roses’ song of the same name. Also featuring a rendition of “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” by Patsy Cline, the record cemented Rose’s talents as much as it did her outspoken love for other people’s work.

“For me covers are a very important part of music,” she explains. “All my favourite artists do renditions of songs. Linda Ronstadt will always be one of my favourite artists, and she didn’t write very much, but that doesn’t make her career any less important or any less prolific. I think the fact that she knew how to pick songs and she just had to do them is one of the things that makes her a good artist – she’s an artist of songs. She’s just like anybody else, like Frank Sinatra, you know? I would never see covering songs as being frivolous; I couldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in it.”

This penchant for covering music has followed Rose throughout her career. Originally performed by Fleetwood Mac, “That’s Alright” appears on Own Side Now,and The Stand-In features two more articles loved, but not penned by Rose:

“The first time I heard “Dallas” was on tour with The Felice Brothers in Australia. [Ian Felice] was playing it solo at the end of their set, and I was like - I have to do that song, it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. It brought something out of me that I’d never felt before. It’s the same thing with The Deep Vibration song “I Was Cruel” [...] I didn’t start making music until I was inspired by other people doing it. I’m not some girl who jumped on a piano when she was three and started playing jazz progression. It’s a different thing for me. I think I’m more inspired by what others do.”

Fortunately the 25 year-old can rest on her own merit, should her inspirations let her down. As well as including the aforementioned two covers, The Stand-In boasts ten new tracks hastily written following a stateside tour last year, but the standard of her work hasn’t been compromised. Collaborating with childhood friends Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson in the studio, Rose was also joined by The Jawhawk’s Gary Louris, who contributed to the songs “Only a Clown” and “Silver Sings”.

“I didn’t have anything when I got back. I wrote pretty much, almost every song in the three or four months leading up to recording. If I were a better planner we would have [had more time]. I’m a master procrastinator,” she laughs. “For some reason I work better under the gun. I’m not a routine person. I’ve been saying I’m going to start driving a juice van and delivering cartons before I go on tour because I don’t feel like I have a routine.”

She talks of her colleagues and local scene with fondness: “We were Nashville rushed. Maybe I just have this idea about Nashville being a place where we get things done. I think it’s inherent in all of us, because Jordan comes from a music family, and Skylar comes from a music family. We’re like weird little miniature versions of our parents, and we forget that, but we kind of have the same hiccups as they do, maybe not creatively or personally, but as far as the Nashville mindset of getting things done, we kind of do.”

Though she remains committed to her music, Caitlin implies throughout our interview that being on tour for so long took its toll on her creative juices, and she began to doubt her capabilities. She also admits that getting back into the swing of studio life was difficult because she felt she had lost sight of her direction in the two years she spent on the road.

“The reason I started writing with Jordan and Skylar was because I was in such a rut after touring for that long, and I was so used to suppressing myself that I really just needed to be in an environment where I felt I could be myself. If there’s anybody in this world that I can be myself around, it’s those two people, so it was kind of like just fucking around and hanging out with my friends and people that I really respect musically especially. I have a very big peanut gallery in my own head, and I think when I get around people with a sense of humour it’s easier for me to really go out on a creative limb.”

This feeling of retrieval has inevitably had its effect on The Stand-In, whose title alone suggests a lack of confidence, as well as a sort of coming together of emotions for Rose:

“It’s a funny thing; I honestly was obsessed over the title, I didn’t know what to do with it. I [was thinking of using] Late Night Kings,which is a line from that song by The Felice Brothers, but The Stand-In was just one that stuck.”

“In Hollywood in the 1930s, a stand-in was a woman who tested the lights, and I think the reason I chose that as a title [was because] on tour I felt like either I wished I had a stand-in for the shows, or I kind of convinced myself at some point that I was more of a stand-in than a musician. Making this record, regaining that confidence and taking responsibility for what I do, that’s where that name comes from. Being a stand-in, you don’t have to take responsibility for anything. You’re not going to be in the final shot. I think it’s a sort of tongue in cheek way of poking fun at myself. It’s got a lot of meanings. It’ll take another year to really figure out if it means something!”

“I do feel more confident [in The Stand-In]. I never expected people to like Own Side Now the way they did. I still don’t quite understand it! I think I’m confident in the fact that I feel like I’ve achieved something and have gone a little bit further. It’s not so much confidence in what people will think of the record, but I am confident that I’ve done better. That’s the only kind of confidence that I need to really worry about.”

Fresh material, she says, was long overdue: “I’m tired of Own Side Now. I can’t really listen to it anymore. I didn’t listen to it anyway! [But] it was so long ago now, even my voice is different. It’s not a bad record, I just feel like I’ve changed so much, and the context... I need to get something else out because it’s driving me crazy.”

She goes on to explain: “My voice itself has changed a lot. I always started small because that was my go-to, you know, I worked without people telling me to do something, or going maybe you should do more of this... That was very good for me, because I had control and I was allowed to do [what I wanted], but I’ve learned so much more now [from others]. With this record that’s definitely where I’ve found my strength, having encouragement from Jordan and Skylar to do something a little bigger – because I’ve known them long enough that they can call me a turd,” she returns to the duo that helped her to reignite a flame for her recorded material. “That’s why I think The Stand-In is closer to what it is that I want to do and what I want to accomplish.”

But it’s not just Caitlin who’s changed; for her, her songs take on a different meaning over time too.

“Even with this record it took me two months to really like it. I don’t really like things while I’m making them, because I’m so critical, and so I have to get away from them. I listened to it for a while after it was done, and then everything started to make sense, which is unfortunate sometimes because it’s personalised. The title especially, but even the songs on the record, especially the songs on the record, all sort of changed their meaning for me, even after writing them. The same thing happened with Own Side,” she reflects, drawing the interview to a close with a resigned laugh. “I can’t wait to see what I find out!”

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