'A story of me learning to love myself again': Caroline Rose brings new songs to Vermont
The last show Caroline Rose played in the Burlington area was March 7, 2020. She had just poured all her energy into creating what looked to be her breakthrough album, “Superstar.” She was about to embark on a big U.S. tour to support it.
That gig at Higher Ground – a sold-out show in the state Rose calls “my home in a lot of ways” - seemed the perfect sendoff for a victory tour.
Within a week, the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down all public gatherings. Concerts stopped happening. Gradually, painfully, everything Rose had been working toward the past couple of years fell apart.
The tour disintegrated. So did the relationship she was in at the time. Life ground to a halt for just about everyone in March 2020, but for Rose it slammed like a car head-first into a wall.
She fell into depression. She only began reemerging while quarantining in Burlington and going back to the basics. She picked up the acoustic guitar – an instrument she essentially ignored while making the programming-heavy “Superstar” – and remembered why she loved music so much.
Rose began writing songs organically, with no plan other than finding solace through music. Those songs appear on “The Art of Forgetting,” the follow-up to “Superstar” that comes out March 24. Rose returns to Higher Ground for a pair of shows April 4 and 5.
For her new album, Rose sets aside the characters – often thinly-veiled versions of herself - who tell the stories in the songs on the brooding “Superstar” and its predecessor, the fun, cheeky “Loner.” For the quietly intense “The Art of Forgetting,” the storyteller is clearly and completely Rose herself. The songs take a deep look into a life falling apart. The album is a blueprint for rebuilding a devastated self.
“It’s a story of me learning to love myself again,” Rose said in a phone conversation with the Burlington Free Press. “It sounds and feels to me like a person desperate to pull themselves out of a dark hole.”
From Austin to refuge in Burlington
Rose (who uses she/they pronouns) lives in Austin, Texas, but was based in Burlington when her career began taking off nationally, leading up to the time “Loner” came out in 2018. That album widened her audience considerably, and “Superstar” in early 2020 looked to do that even more.
When the pandemic arrived in March 2020, her managers told her the tour postponement would be brief, likely resuming in June. That didn’t happen. “Superstar” and its storyline about a self-absorbed musician’s rise and fall became “a very strange self-fulfilling prophecy,” according to Rose.
“It was like this slow unraveling of a sweater and this slow settling into a very deep and intense period of isolation,” Rose said. “It was a really sobering experience going from something that was so self-centered – that sounds kind of negative, but (with) my career I’m really pedaling myself and my songs, it’s so self-oriented – to go from that every day to pretty much the opposite of that, it’s really humbling.”
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As her life started crumbling in Austin, Rose sought refuge in Burlington, a place she considers home. She set up temporary residence near the Henry Street Deli. She found herself returning to her acoustic guitar, the first instrument she ever loved, and to songwriting as therapy. Those songs provide the foundation for “The Art of Forgetting.”
“We all went through this really intense, intense time of grief and loss and also camaraderie and a time of peace in a very strange way,” Rose said of the early days of the pandemic. “That to me was kind of a silver lining that was kind of unexpected.”
Burlington, Vivaldi influence album
Rose plunged back into making music.
“It was an open door for me to take the time to kind of look into myself,” she said. “I saw that opening and I walked straight through it into a very deep hole inside myself, for better or worse.”
Rose would sit on her bed and play guitar. She delved into Spanish-style finger-picking, and after posting a video of that online a fan sent her a classical guitar to hone her style. Rose would gaze out the window of her temporary Burlington home, “noodling while watching two lovers walk down the street,” and pieces of songs would develop.
“It was like really falling in love with the feeling of just simply expressing yourself with an instrument,” Rose said. “It was beautiful to just sit down and play for no reason. It was so pure, and fun. I hadn’t felt that sort of buoyancy about it in so long.”
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“I’ll always look back on that time with fondness,” she said.
“The Art of Forgetting” is beautifully baroque, with pretty interludes mingled with moments of dark drama. Rose listened to a lot of classical music as she put the songs together, and that sweeping quality finds its way onto the album.
“I kept hearing ‘The Four Seasons’ in all these different movies. Vivaldi was really like a pop star of the 18th century,” according to Rose. “He wrote such amazing music and ‘The Four Seasons,’ it’s really like a pop album to me. It’s perfect. It has hooks and themes and takes you on a journey.”
Lyrically, Rose’s new album contains perhaps her harshest, most-blunt lyrics of any of her records. On the dreamlike track “The Doldrums,” Rose sings, “I can’t erase the past/And I won’t close my eyes/All I ask is silence from the noise inside my mind.”
As she nears the album’s end, on “Love Song for Myself,” Rose blends her typical sardonic, self-deprecating wit with hints of positivity. (“If I am a doormat/Then I am handwoven/I am exceptional/I am a timeless treasure on a hardwood floor.”) Rose’s rebirth is complete by the final track, “Where Do I Go From Here?” (“Pick yourself up, babe/You’re gonna be fine/Take in a deep breath/Quit wasting your time”).
Having fun with ‘The Art of Forgetting’
Once she had the basic songs down, Rose returned to Texas. Influenced by “artists who found ways to manipulate audio” such as British producer Floating Points, she started “mangling the audio I had already made and finding new inspiration from it.” The result, according to Rose, is akin to a cubist painting, a refraction of reality.
That result is one that makes Rose happy.
“This is the only album of mine I can listen to and feel fully confident that I got across what I wanted to,” she said. “That’s a big thing for me to say. I have to give myself a pat on the back. I am by far my harshest critic.”
“Superstar,” she said, took so much out of her, leaving her reeling from the pressure of creating the record and then mixing and mastering it.
“Everything was stressful, it felt like,” Rose said. “But with ‘The Art of Forgetting,’ it just felt so opposite of difficult. I would go so far to say it was a joy to make, the whole process. That was eye-opening for me.”
“Just because something takes a lot of work and effort, it doesn’t have to be directly linked to pain and suffering,” Rose said, laughing. “It can be a fun process.”
If you go
WHAT: Caroline Rose with Hammydown
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 4-Wednesday, April 5
WHERE: Higher Ground Ballroom, South Burlington
INFORMATION: $26 in advance, $30 day of show. www.highergroundmusic.com
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at email@example.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.
This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Caroline Rose returns to Vermont with Burlington-inspired new songs