ABOVE: CAITLIN ROSE. PHOTOS BY AARON STERN
Caitlin Rose first heard London calling in the form of a simple MySpace message. “At first I thought, MySpace,” she says, laughing. “Who does that?” But when the request turned out to be a genuine invitation, she packed her bags and journeyed to the faraway town, where, greeted with open arms, Rose found a record label and a stage.
The next several years found Rose outsourcing the signature Nashville twang of her hometown to an eager UK audience, whose approval increasingly became more audible with each visit. “It’s really fulfilling for me to bring Nashville into a kind of performance environment,” she explains, “and to have less of a show, and more of a… carnival.” Eventually, Rose’s act garnered attention stateside, leading to enthusiastic press and a headlining tour from New York City to Seattle.
With the release of The Stand-In (ATO Records) last month, Rose has risen to the height of the Nashville conversation: boldly crooning alongside the likes of the Music City’s elite, Kacey “Merry Go ‘Round” Musgraves among them. Musically, Rose’s sophomore outing is a melting pot—citing the sounds of modern country in one fleeting moment and the dusty ragtime waltz of yesteryear in another.
Raised in Nashville via Dallas, 25-year-old Rose speaks with the introspection and sincerity of a much older soul (“It’s just the way things are when the weather’s right,”)—and yet, will gush with anxiety over the latest episode of The Walking Dead. (“I’m freaking out, because somebody posted something about worrying about Andrea, and I just, uhhh, I can’t deal with it,” she exclaims.)
Interview dialed up Rose at her home in Nashville, where, on her way to a rehearsal, we talked about clowns, pool parties, Lena Dunham, things left behind in hotel rooms, and Taylor Swift singalongs.
JOHN TAYLOR: Now, I heard that your first show, ever, was at a pool party.
CAITLIN ROSE: Yeah, it’s true. It was a mess. [laughs] A total mess.
TAYLOR: How old were you?
ROSE: I was probably 16. My friend Bridget, she threw this big pool party. I played—I tried to play these songs that I had written. And, this was a common theme when I was younger: I would write a song about somebody, and they would come to my show. I wouldn’t be able to play the whole thing, because, there would be some giant, loaded secret coming up in like, the third verse, or something. I struggled through about three songs, and then I jumped in the pool. [pauses] I remember, Bridget billed me as “Kaleidoscope Caitlin.”
TAYLOR: And your exit?
ROSE: I probably got off stage quietly. Maybe I… tried to hide from people for 20 minutes, and then got in the pool once my skin went back to like, a normal shade. I had a really bad blushing problem when I was younger. The first time I ever performed-performed was in an English class. I had an essay that I was supposed to write, and, instead of writing an essay, I wrote a song. So, I was playing this song in class, and I literally turned the color of this sweater that I was wearing, completely red. I think it was that feeling of challenging everything in me, my introverted personality. Like, “This is what you have to do. It doesn’t matter if you do it wrong, you just have to do it.”
TAYLOR: And now you’re rocking in the UK. I think it’s wild that, despite being a musician based in Nashville, you got your start in London.
ROSE: I went over there two or three times, and people listened to the songs. It was so strange, coming from Nashville, Tennessee, where I was playing to 15 people, to going to London and playing in this crowded little dive pub. I know Tom Petty had a similar thing—I realize, on a lot larger scale. [laughs] It’s easier to build something there.
TAYLOR: I love it when people from the UK get excited about country music. How are the fans over there?
ROSE: I get a lot of older gentlemen… [Taylor laughs] But that’s starting to change a little bit, to where these 16-year-old girls, 17-year-old girls are coming to the show, and coming up to me, and being kind of shy, and, I’ll end up doing a Taylor Swift singalong with them for 10 minutes.
TAYLOR: Taylor Swift! Which song?
ROSE: We were all really jazzed about the new “Trouble” song. I’m really into it. But it was just me and these three girls, and they went, “We want to know what you think about Taylor Swift.” And I was, “Uh… I knew you were trouble when I walked in.“
TAYLOR: And you know every word.
ROSE: Actually… I don’t.
TAYLOR: Uh oh.
ROSE: You can’t tell anybody that! [laughs] “Caitlin doesn’t know every word. She has to look at the karaoke screen.” I’m really into—here’s the funny thing, my Facebook page confuses a lot of people. I’ll post a Beyoncé song, and, people are like, “What are you doing?! This is bullshit,” and I’m like, “No! Beyoncé is the Linda Ronstadt of our day, you don’t understand!”
ROSE: I got an email from my dad after the Super Bowl, and he was like, “Will you send me all of the Beyoncé songs that you have on your computer?” I’m like, “You never listen to Beyoncé. I’m so excited right now.” It’s good to embrace new things. I like when I can show people that it’s not all one genre, and everything is very much inspired by everything else. You can’t just be focused on this one little pocket of music, or else you’re going to be bored.
TAYLOR: Speaking of genre, I came across this article that hailed you as the “Queen of ‘New Country.'”
ROSE: I think some people want me to be—
TAYLOR: But do you want to be?
ROSE: I used to say that I was making “country music,” because it was the quickest, easiest answer. I’m obviously heavily influenced by country music. There was a three-year stint in my life where I listened to nothing else, so, I learned it very well. You know, I started off with Bikini Kill, and then I started listening to Merle Haggard. There are a lot of people who don’t think I make “country music,” so I don’t know. People want to see a change, and they want to put it on people. [laughs] But I’m not a queen of anything, you know.
TAYLOR: Do you feel like, living in Nashville, there really is something changing in the country music scene right now?
ROSE: Oh God, yes. Definitely. And, Nashville in general—the town itself. This is a conversation I’ve had with people before who understand this town a little bit more, is, it’s always had these waves of popularity. It’s become a hub more than one time. This isn’t the first time Nashville has been talked about in national way. Even like the country stuff from the 1950s: Patsy Cline started doing Vegas shows, and everybody went, “That’s not country music!” It’s kind of the same thing with Taylor Swift. It’s all about everybody stepping outside of their boxes for a minute, and seeing that we can do a lot more.
TAYLOR: Anyone you’re looking up to at the moment?
ROSE: I’ve been reading this Lena Dunham interview in Playboy that’s really funny.
TAYLOR: Is it true that you’re actually in this month’s issue of Playboy? Or were you just joking on Twitter?
ROSE: Would I lie? Would I lie?
ROSE: [excitedly] No, I’m in it. I’m in it! I’m freaking for real. My dad, he bought like, four or five copies. And my mom—my dad was with her—was saying, the guy at the counter went, “Wow, this sure is a lot of Playboys…” and they’re like, “Oh! My daughter’s in it.” [Taylor laughs] Anyway, this huge Lena Dunham interview. It felt like a shifting, of some kind. This new female archetype—this new, powerful, honest, nonpandering kind of female is becoming more powerful than whatever else has been rocking it for the past 10 years. I heard that Hugh Hefner’s daughter is taking over. Which, if a woman is running Playboy, something is right. You should go out and get this copy of Playboy. And you don’t even have to feel like a pervert! The nude editorials are actually very classy. They look like a Robert Palmer video.
TAYLOR: [laughs] I’m sorry, I’m just stuck on this image of your dad at the gas station buying Playboy, going, “I’m so proud of my daughter!”
ROSE: My grandmother sent me—my grandmother. She’s hysterical. She sent me this email that was like, “I’m showing your pictures to all the old men at the retirement home! They don’t see too good. LOL. Love, Grandma.”
TAYLOR: And what about your relationship with your mom? Much has been made of how your mom wrote songs for Taylor Swift in the past. Do you ever go to her for advice?
ROSE: I haven’t sent her anything, for the most part—I’m bad at asking for help. It’s more like, if I send her a song and she can understand the sentiment in a song, I get really excited. Words are very much my thing. I’m very picky and choosy with them. So, I kind of edit myself to the point of, almost stumping myself, sometimes.
TAYLOR: Are you the kind of person who writes on napkins?
ROSE: The napkin thing I haven’t done since I was a Waffle House rat in high school. My new favorite thing is to wake up in hotel rooms, and write on the hotel pads. Usually, it’s nothing. I leave it in a hotel and get really embarrassed about the maid picking it up, wondering what in the hell I’m talking about.
TAYLOR: Last thing you wrote?
ROSE: I was really hungover and writing poetry about… someone’s mom’s nose job.
TAYLOR: [laughs] So, according to the dictionary, a “stand-in” is a substitute for something. What led you to use that as the title of the new record?
ROSE: It’s funny, because there’s a Humphrey Bogart movie called The Stand-In. I’m really into the Hollywood stand-ins of the ’30s, because they were so closely tied to their leads. It just kind of strikes me as this feeling of, like, being the underdog. The stand-in taking center stage.
TAYLOR: Best thing about being center stage…
ROSE: Trying to make a connection. I think when people watch a lot of artists, they’re expecting this showiness, and I’m cracking jokes with people. I’m heckling back. I’m interacting.
TAYLOR: Is that what attracts you to clowns? Or, at the very least, inspired you to dress up like one?
ROSE: When I did the video for “Piledriver Waltz,” I was thinking about rodeo clowns, and how they’re risking their lives just to keep an entire arena laughing. They’re in danger!
TAYLOR: Poor guys.
ROSE: The thing with clowns that I’ve always thought was so sad is that they mask all of their emotions to entertain. As a clown, you’re letting go of all of your bullshit. And, I guess that’s kind of what I do, what this job is. It’s not me up there, moping—pouring my soul—in a way, it’s about making sure that you’re living this experience, and you’re living what the experience is supposed to be, which is, entertaining, and being proficient, and doing a good job.
TAYLOR: Clowns obviously do this, but are you playing a version of yourself onstage?
ROSE: Definitely. It’s totally different version of yourself… a parental version of yourself. If you look at parents, parents do the same thing with young kids. Sitting there, making goofy faces at them. Like, I don’t know. You just try to make somebody smile.
TAYLOR: Did you always know that you would become a musician?
ROSE: All these questions sound so simple, but they’re so not! [laughs] You know, I only performed a song so I could not write an essay. I just enjoyed being around bands, and around musicians, and, I didn’t want to be the girl who followed the band around. I love singing, I love performing, but it’s never been this goal. I mean, I went to England because somebody told me to, and I loved it. And, “blessed” is a silly word to use for some people, but that’s how I feel. I feel blessed.
CAITLIN ROSE PLAYS MERCURY LOUNGE IN NEW YORK CITY TONIGHT. THE STAND-IN IS AVAILABLE NOW VIA ATO RECORDS. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HER WEBSITE.