Future 'Superstar' Caroline Rose On Confronting The Pitfalls Of Fame

Mar 5, 2020
Originally published on March 5, 2020 11:12 am

After introducing herself to audiences in the early 2010s as a writer of upbeat and clever Americana, Caroline Rose is now firmly a pop singer. Rose first applied her songwriting talent to pop rock on 2018's Loner, and her newest release, Superstar (out March 6), is a synth-heavy concept album, telling the story of an unabashedly ambitious singer's rapid rise and unceremonious fall.

As the somewhat self-reflective title and story of her album implies, Rose is also interested in poking fun at the idea of fame and stardom. The music video for her single "Feel The Way I Want" features Rose as the album's main character, prepped and ready for an audition in Los Angeles — only to find out that it's actually scheduled in Hollywood, Fla., not Hollywood, Calif.

"I imagine it as though [it's] this sort of Icarus effect," Rose says, in which "this person is very brazenly confident, and then you watch this person really flying and soaring and thinking they're the best when they're probably not. And then throughout the album, it's sort of a fall from the sky."

NPR's Rachel Martin spoke to Caroline Rose about being underestimated, taking creative liberties and finding her voice as a performer. Listen in the player above and read on for highlights of the interview.

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Interview Highlights

On writing Superstar as a challenge to herself

I think the competitive side of me approached this album kind of like an experiment. I've had friends who are just wanting to be famous, and part of me sort of scratches my head at why anyone would want to be that famous. But the other part of me is like "It would be so cool to know that I could do it if I wanted to." So that's sort of the approach that I had, because over the years, I've just had so many people underestimate me, so I just wanted to see what I could do.

I was trying to create a little world where when you put on your headphones, you step into this story, so by the end you saw the deeper, a bit darker sides of me, really, and this character that I've developed based on aspects of myself.

On changing as an artist over the course of her career

I had this whole notion about this career that I wanted to kind of write songs in the shadows and let other people play them; I'd be this troubadour folk person that lived in a car and I'd just write songs about my travels and my thoughts and just let other people cover them. I got bored with that pretty fast, I think. Everybody's got to start somewhere. I think of Tom Waits a lot, because he started in a style of music that he did not end up in — and not only did he not end up in it, he actively regrets a lot of the early stuff that he did, and hates listening to it.

On the give and take of industry expectations

I do have regrets about, like I got talked out of using our mixes — it was my co-producer Jer [Coons] and I. It still nags at me that it doesn't sound the way that we had made it. So there's always one thing that I walk away with being like, "I wish I hadn't let people talk me into doing that." So now I'm like, "Next album, I'm just not going to listen to anyone."

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I don't want to completely blame it on everyone that I worked with; it was also me. Part of me wasn't ready. I don't think that I was fully comfortable with where I was at and what I was doing. but the other part of it is: It's really difficult because you've got all of the suits who are looking at all of the stats and all the numbers and they're like "I don't know if the audience is going to get the outro of this song. I think you're sabotaging this as a single." So I've got that in one ear and I'm like, "Yeah but it makes me feel something, and I like it." I feel like audiences don't want [the music] to be dumbed down, and also people like to be challenged.

On fame and ambition

I think I care way more about being respected as an artist than I do about any type of fame. I try not to get so wrapped up in it. In the larger scope of things, this just isn't that important. And I'm not trying to be a downer; I'm being honest. The climate crisis — that's important. This is not that important. And I think the most special thing about my creative life, and that I do this for a living is that I do touch people in a really positive way, and every time that I hear about somebody who has been really moved by my songs, it is reassuring to me that I do have a purpose in this life.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Caroline Rose wants to be free - free to make her own music, free to call her own shots and free to move, and I mean that literally. She recently decided to add a member to her band to play guitar so she can do her thing onstage.

CAROLINE ROSE: I am so much more entertained when the frontperson can really engage with the audience.

MARTIN: If you had to describe your dance style, what's your go-to move?

ROSE: Oh, I think the Elaine dance from "Seinfeld" has made a huge impact on me...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ROSE: ...And also the movements of jellyfish.

MARTIN: Wait. I don't know who that is. Am I too old to know who jellyfish is?

ROSE: Oh, I mean, like, an actual...

MARTIN: Oh, the - (laughter).

ROSE: ...Jellyfish of the ocean. An ocean creature.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEEL THE WAY I WANT")

ROSE: (Singing) I got this feeling, maybe it's just madness. I'm so in love with myself. It's so romantic. I see them staring...

MARTIN: And when you watch her performances, you get what she means. This track is called "Feel The Way I Want" off her new album, "Superstar." And in the video, she's wearing a baggy red pantsuit and sneakers, and, yeah, you see the Elaine jellyfish inspiration at work. But you can also clearly see the casual swagger of a woman who is done caring what other people think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEEL THE WAY I WANT")

ROSE: (Singing) Baby, watch me freak out. Going to feel the way I want to, feel the way I want to, feel the way I want to feel. Feel the way I want to, feel the way I want to, feel the way I want to feel. I'm going to feel...

MARTIN: It's a pretty big change for Caroline Rose. Early in her career, she fit more directly into an industry box - female singer-songwriter doing Americana folk with an acoustic guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACK EAST")

ROSE: (Singing) Listen to that wind that calls your name, calling from the east...

ROSE: I had this whole notion about my career that I wanted to kind of write songs in the shadows and let other people play them. And I'd be sort of this troubadour folk person that lived in a car. And I'd just write songs about my travels and my thoughts and just let other people cover them, I guess, was more of where I was at.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ROSE: I got bored with that pretty fast, I think.

MARTIN: Was there something specific that happened to make you wake up to who you really wanted to be?

ROSE: You know, everybody's got to start somewhere. Like, I think of Tom Waits a lot because he started in a style of music that he did not end up in. And not only did he not end up in it - he, like, actively regrets...

(LAUGHTER)

ROSE: ...A lot of this early stuff that he did and hates listening to it.

MARTIN: Do you hate listening to your old stuff?

ROSE: Well, you know, it's funny. I listened to it again somewhat recently. And I was like, you know, I do have regrets about - like, I got talked out of using our mixes. It was my co-producer Jer and I. It still nags at me that it doesn't sound the way that we had made it. So there's always one thing that I walk away with being like, I wish I hadn't let people talk me into doing that. So now I'm like, well, next album, I'm just not going to listen to anyone. (Laughter) Bless their hearts.

MARTIN: When talking about that time, you made it sound like there were a lot of compromises that you were asked to make that just didn't feel like you. What were they telling you that didn't feel true to you?

ROSE: Well, I don't want to completely blame it on everyone that I worked with. It was also me. Part of me wasn't ready. I don't think that I was fully comfortable with where I was at and what I was doing. So - but the other part of it is it's really difficult because you've got all the suits who are looking at all the stats and all the numbers and they're like, oh, I don't know if the audience is going to get this outro of this song. I think you're sabotaging this as a single. So I've got that in one ear, and I'm like, yeah, but it makes me feel something, and I like it. And I feel like audiences don't want to be dumbed down, and also, people like to be challenged.

MARTIN: What do you think is challenging about this new album? It's called "Superstar."

ROSE: It really tells a story. So when you listen to the words, I think by the end of it, I wanted to make sure that you saw kind of the deeper, a bit darker sides of me, really.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREAK LIKE ME")

ROSE: (Singing) My love is a bad idea, a drunk conversation, acting without hesitation. My love is a real bad seed...

MARTIN: She opens the door to that darker side of herself by creating a character, a protagonist that listeners follow through all the songs on this album. It's not clear if this is a man or a woman, and that's by design. It's just the story of a musician chasing fame wherever it leads.

ROSE: I've just had friends who are just wanting to be famous, and part of me sort of scratches my head as to why anybody would want to be that famous. But the other part of me is like, it would be so cool to know that I could do it if I wanted to. So that's sort of the approach that I had because, you know, over the years, I've just had so many people underestimate me. So I just wanted to see, like, what I could do.

MARTIN: But, you know, you work in this weird world, though, because, you know, not everyone's industry or line of work do you conflate ambition and fame. But if you are ambitious, you want to be successful, and with that success comes fame, inevitably. So have you figured out for yourself where the line is?

Like, you want to be satisfied with your art and your music, but if it's going to reach a lot of people - which I assume you want it to - you're going to probably get famous. I mean, you're already sort of famous. But you could be really, really famous.

ROSE: That's funny. This is like the conversations that, like, my parents have with me.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ROSE: You're going to blow up. You're going to be the next big thing. And I think I care way more about being respected as an artist than I do about any type of fame.

MARTIN: But I guess what I'm saying is it might just happen to you.

ROSE: Yeah, but I'll just quit. People will forget about it. Like, people will forget about me if I quit right now. They'll forget in, like, two years. You know, I try not to get, like, so wrapped up in it. In the larger scope of things, this just isn't that important. I mean - and I'm not trying to be a downer...

MARTIN: Yeah.

ROSE: ...I just - I'm being honest. Like...

MARTIN: Right.

ROSE: ...You know, the climate crisis, that's important. This is not that important. And I think the most special thing about my creative life and that I do this for a living is that I do touch people in a really positive way. And every time I, you know, hear about somebody who have been really moved by my songs, it is reassuring to me that I do have a purpose in this life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING'S IMPOSSIBLE")

ROSE: (Singing) Suddenly I heard the phone ring. I knew it was my destiny calling me from the Chateau Marmont La Vie (ph)...

MARTIN: Caroline Rose. Her new album, "Superstar," comes out this Friday. Caroline, thank you so much.

ROSE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.