August 2013 “Band of the Month” – CAROLINE ROSE
When I started the “Band of the Month” feature last year, I had no idea we would be introduced to all the amazing artists that we wound up working with. From a feature with now-indie-giants, Of Monsters and Men, to the beautiful bedroom tunes of Faye Webster, the site found community and excitement in this feature. As we move forward into 2013, we plan to continue to share with you music that we’ve grown to love.
Caroline Rose played her first show in Macon on a warm, overcast evening in mid-July. Summer can be slow in Macon, but the modest crowd that gathered for her & partner Jer Coons’ debut at the Rookery was quickly attentive and responsive to their performance. Telling stories between songs and harnessing the casual vibe of the evening, the two steadily went through songs from Rose’s new record, ‘American Religious’.
In the weeks since it’s release, the album has received acclaim from American Songwriter, Paste, Sirius Radio, and the founding editor of Rolling Stone Magazine. The duo are on the tail end of US tour that’s taken them from Chicago to their home state of Vermont, down through the South and over to California, before trekking up the West Coast and back across middle America. I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for them.
Sean: Looking back, where does your story with writing and performing begin? I’m sure you were raised listening to music with your parents, and then your friends as you got older, but at what point did you first pick up an instrument with the hope or determination to write a song?
Caroline Rose: Oh I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I wanted to be a blues musician, which is kind of laughable from the perspective of a young, middle class white girl, but I heard Buddy Guy pretty early on, saw him with his polka dotted Fender Strat and that was kind of it. The songs at first were total shit, but who cares. When all the kids my age were having sweet sixteens, I saw Buddy live at a local theatre. It was amazing. He didn’t encore, which I now realize was because he was really old and probably seriously tired, but it was still amazing. I could care less about a sweet sixteen. I also got to meet Les Paul at the Iridium once. All my heroes were old guys with guitars and that sort of transferred to old guys with acoustic guitars later on. All my heroes are classic storytellers.
America Religious, your “official” debut album, was released earlier this year to acclaim from a number of publications and your fans. Are the songs on the record products of the past year or two, or have you essentially been writing this record for years now?
C: Well, a lot of the tunes were written after recent travels, but to say I just started thinking about all these things in the past year or so would not be true at all really. The truth is that I write all the time, and have been writing for most of my life, but what’s probably more important is I’ve been thinking and living and experiencing things my entire life, so America Religious is just one tiny little expression of that. I’m really just skimming the surface with this stuff.
When you played in Macon recently, you mentioned certain songs were influenced by time spent living in New York, Paris, and beyond. I know that Vermont is home when you and Jer aren’t on the road, but was all the moving around from school or simply to have a change of scenery?
C: Ah! Yeah, I’ve got the wanderlust, got it from my parents. I’m pretty much just like them when they were my age. They were both artists and would save up to be able to travel. My mom used to backpack with her friends and they’d travel through Europe, sleep under bridges, hide in the bathrooms of train cars so that they could save on a ticket…And I am kind of a pro at all that now. I sleep out of my car a LOT to save money, to be able to go anyplace I feel like going. I’ve got my regimen down. I actually think I’m better at road-tripping than I am at playing music. Anyhoo, it’s not that I necessary enjoy the change of scenery, it’s just that I need it. I can’t be in one place for too long, I don’t think it’s good for me.
Also during your show in Macon, you talked a lot about the things that make the South so.. “Southern” – the juke joints in Mississippi, long drives through the country, and the people you’ve met. There’s something almost intrinsically Southern about your work, though the lyrical content and playing style are by no means reserved for people from this part of the States. Still, how would you describe your connection with the region?
C: Well most of my family is from the South actually. My mom’s from South Carolina and that whole side of my family still lives around there, aside from her sisters. And my grandma on my dad’s side is from Columbus, Mississippi, so it’s kind of in my blood. Two totally different types of Southern too, between the Carolinas and Mississippi. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mississippi exploring, meeting people there, spending time with my family. I spent some time with a teacher who let me sit in on some classes in a mostly black day school, which was real interesting, slept in a lot of parking lots, sought out some old haunts of some of my favorite writers and musicians. The South is full of great stories and storytellers, there are stories everywhere. There is a reason why Southern Gothic is my favorite type of novel.
Jer, unless there’s some other look-alike version of you with the same name who’s been playing shows around the North East the past few years, you’ve had an extensive journey with music yourself. How did you come to meet Caroline and begin working with her as a full-time project? (I’ll be honest, it took a few minutes to figure out it was the same person..)
Jer: You found me! I did the solo thing for awhile and toured around a bunch, when I happened to play a show at Caroline’s college, and she was the student opener. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much, and within seconds of hearing her first song, I was pacing around the back of the room with my hand on my head, wondering how I could follow her. That was November 2008, and I had just really started getting serious about recording. She reached out via e-mail a couple weeks later, and said “I wasn’t expecting much, but you were great!” and sent a demo she had made of a song. I loved it immediately and wrote back, “If you ever make it up to Vermont, I’ll record you for free,” not expecting her to actually take me up on the offer. The next day she wrote back and said “I’m coming to Vermont for the summer, let’s make a record!”. So we made a couple CDs, and this past year made America Religious together and we both played so many of the parts it only made sense to tour together.
You cover a lot of topics with this new album, whether social matters and personal observations. A lot of the things seem to be subjects that the “average American” overlooks, ignores, or doesn’t seem to be bothered by. If there’s one thing in particular that’s going on that you feel more people should be aware of, what would it be?
C: Hmmmm. I don’t think I can say whether one thing’s more important than another. I’m not trying to move mountains with any of this stuff, I just want to get people to think, maybe notice a few more things than they used to.
You & Jer have been on the road in support of the record since the end of June, quite literally going coast-to-coast-to-coast before you’re done. What’s been the most exhilarating experience so far?
J: For me, seeing the Grand Canyon. it’s such a humbling experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone. But truthfully, this whole tour has been great. We’ve seen the country coast to coast, met some amazing people and played a ton of ridiculously fun shows so the entire time has been pretty glorious.
When we filmed the Acoustic Alley session with you in Macon, you all played a song that’s not on the new record called “Hey Miss America” that left me intrigued. I assume it’s something that was written since, but what can you tell me about the song and what you’re conveying?
C: So that song’s actually pretty old, I wrote it maybe three years ago? My grandma, we call her Mee Maw, used to love watching pageants and would video tape them. When I was little our house burned down and we lived with my grandparents down the street for about a year, so I became real interested with beauty pageants watching those tapes. Now that I’m older, I’m real fascinated by them and America’s obsession with beauty. “Hey, Miss America” tells the story of our country personified as an aging woman who has lost her beauty, who has the eyes of a dead person’s eyes. In other words, she has lost her spirit, as does the mortician’s son. She’s also controlled by a pimp-like character, an idea I probably took from watching too many movies about drug trafficking, who dolls her up so she can make them more money. Don’t forget, I’m talking about America here. It’s a song about freedom. There are many references about being free in the things I write, and they are chock-full that song in particular.
Going back to the record, you chose to work through a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for the record and ultimately raised more than the initial goal. To have nearly 200 of your friends, family members, and supporters contribute a total of more than $10,000.00 must be incredibly humbling. Most artists are lucky if they reach their goal at all. What was your reaction when you found out how successful the project had been?
J: It was incredible, to say the least. It’s such an interesting, democratizing time now with crowd funding and how the public can directly allow artists of all varieties pursue their craft, we’re just so grateful that so many people helped support this. It truly jumpstarted this entire process.
I noticed the gift for a sole pledgee of $10,000.00 or more would include your fully restored 1975 MGB convertible! I’m going to assume you’re still lucky enough to have the car, but how in the world did you come to own such a great car?
C: It was sort of an accidental eBay purchase. I’d been toying with the idea of getting a little British sports car for a while and had test-driven a couple of them. A guy I worked with at the time, we worked on a little farm together, was a mechanic and said he’d help me fix it up so I could get one cheap. So a couple weeks later I was at home visiting my parents and was dangerously perusing eBay listings, and found this really cheap partially-restored MGB convertible, vermilion red. In typical Caroline fashion I said what the hell and bid on it, thinking there was no way I’d ever win the auction bidding so low. Just a few days after that I was down in South Carolina for a friend’s wedding and checked my email. There was one from a name I didn’t recognize that just said, “So when would you like to pick up the car?”…I’d won the damn thing. But this is the amazing part that convinced me it was fate. I had to go back north for work the next day, but my mom and aunt had been planning to drive back and go through Kentucky to visit my cousin and it juuuust so happened that the car was in Northeast Kentucky, RIGHT on their way back home. I talked them into driving it all the way back, which is amazing because the car was a total piece of junk. It’s a miracle they made it back alive. It didn’t break down until it was on its way to the DMV––it knew how long it was going to wait in line. But I shadowed a guy who helped me fix it up and the thing still breaks down all the time. I named him Tom Collins after my favorite mixed drink. He kind of stumbles down the road so it’s a fitting name.
Tour has you busy until around the first week of August…then what? Eat, drink, sleep, repeat?
C: Also in typical Caroline fashion, I’m spending my time off adventuring! I bought a one-way ticket out West and plan on snagging a ride up to the Pacific Northwest, maybe out to the San Juans. My dad and I went together to the mountains out there, but I haven’t explored much of the coast. Would love to clear my mind and get some time to myself.
J: I’m back to Vermont to shoot a few music videos for a new Pop/Hip-Hop project I co-produced with a couple friends called “The Precepts” and finish a couple other artist’s albums at my studio, Parkhill in Burlington. When I’m home, I try and stay busy, it keeps me collaborating and learning and creating in a variety of ways. Caroline perpetually travels to stay sane, and I pretty much just try and juggle as many seemingly disparate projects as possible to do the same.
I’m sure you’re aware of CarolineRose.com, but have you actually looked at the people on that site? There’s one lady who looks incredibly devious, almost slightly creepy, however it seems like somewhere you have a fairly good marketing pitch to get a ton of free “designer sportswear”…
C: Hahaha! Yes! I have. I think it’s for plus-size women too. If I ever go Vegas-era Elvis maybe I can get some sort of endorsement deal? There are a lot of Caroline Roses out there, a lot of musicians too, but very few of them really carry that name. Most of the time Rose is the person’s middle name. There’s also a gal in France who has been making my life harder by having been on the French version of the Voice recently. I think those fans will be sorely disappointed after having accidentally downloaded my record.
“Eight for the Home State”
There’s a chance we’ll have a crew covering Grand Points North this year, which seems like a lot of fun. If we make it to Burlington, who serves the best tacos and who serves the best soul food?
C: El Cortijo
J: This is neither, but I’d have to wholeheartedly suggest The Farmhouse, it’s amazing. They’re great folks and it’s all farm to table fare. They also own El Cortijo, so they pretty much can do no wrong.
What’s the strangest fact you know about Vermont? (and is someone from Vermont really called a Vermonter?!)
J: As a Vermonter, I think the strangest fact probably is the fact that we as a state, didn’t have electricity until 2005. We just got 56k internet, and have recently only heard of this new thing called “the why-fi”
Name one historical site that anyone passing through the state should take the time to visit:
C: There are some cool historic places, Calvin Coolidge’s house is pretty cool, but there are way better things to do in my opinion. The best is Bread and Puppet, up in Glover. It’s far but totally worth it. It’s a total hippy haven. In the summer they put on very politically themed, circus-y type shows with these ginormous crafted puppets. They are basically giant sculptures and very beautiful. Also climb Camel’s Hump, you’ll get the best view of Vermont.
J: Anywhere along Lake Champlain is worth checking out a sunset from. Though you’re technically looking at the Adirondack Mountains, it’s one of my favorite VT views.
What is the most “Vermontian” thing you can think of?
C: Oh I don’t know, wear Berkenstocks while tapping a maple tree?
J: Playing in a drum circle. Clothes optional.
Who/What are some other newer artists from the state that we should listen to?
J: There are almost too many to name. The Dupont Brothers are good friends, and killer. Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band are a local staple, they’re incredible. The guys from Lendway have an amazing surf rock side-project in addition to their regular stuff. I’m biased, obviously, but I’m almost done producing a record for this honky tonk band called Reverend Ben Donovan & The Congregation and they’re a riot. Ben writes these amazing songs, with a voice like gravel that you accidentally spilled a handle of cheap whiskey on.
When you’re not on the road, where is your favorite place to spend time?
C: My car.
J: The studio. I’m there literally every day I’m home. I can’t get enough of it.
What’s your favorite small town in Vermont?
C: They’re all small! But I’m quite partial to Peacham. I used to work up in that area and it’s completely wild and untouched aside from a little collection of old clapboard houses. Nice place to visit when the leaves change.
J: A lot of them kinda blur into one for me, I guess I just enjoy perusing different parts of the state. Each town has its’ own unique charm. People around here seem to have their priorities in line, which is nice.
Our staff loves craft beer. What’s your favorite from “The Great Mountain State”? Yes, I did my research…
C: Heady Topper by the Alchemist and basically anything by Hill Farmstead. A friend of mine makes artisan sausages and puts Hill Farmstead in one of the recipes, so he took me up there to the brewery. The brewmaster, Sean Hill, runs it out of his garage on his family’s farm. Their best recipes are named after family members and the logo was taken from the old hanging tavern sign that belonged to great-great grandfather or something. They really care about what they do and it shows.