Caroline Polachek Q&A takes a tense turn
That’s an interesting thing to contend with in an interview, someone who’s just uncovering your subconscious preoccupation.
Yes, but I also found it very beautiful and spiritual, like that feeling when you look at the stars and see them but can’t understand them. This is the state I always aspire to. At the same time, there’s a lot of humor on this record, and it’s a kind of humor that I really like to paint with, which is a little bit clever and a little bit absurd and a little bit psychedelic and a little bit sexy, so.
Do you think people underestimate the humor in your music? There’s a perception of you as that kind of quirky, eccentric new age artist.
I think whimsy and whimsical are terms that are pinned on women, while those terms aren’t thrown at men as often. But I think the way I see it, if people get it, they win; if they don’t, that’s fine. I do not care.
Getting Dido on a track, for example. How was this a joke, a gimmick, sincerely? Was that all?
[awkward laugh]… I mean, how insulting! To suggest that Dido always… How dare you!
Wow. But I mean, the idea of Dido as a pop star in the early 2000s…
Artists who invent the sounds of normality can never be seen for what they are in their time. I think it has to change the status quo of normality before you can see exactly what they contributed and what they invented.
So that was an absolutely sincere move on your part? You said, “I know what Dido represents in popular music, and I need that for this song.”
I know what Dido represents as an archetype and what she represents to people whose childhood and early teenage years, like mine, were so toned and comforted by the sound of her voice in those important moments of our adolescence. I know how healing, emotional and grounding her music has been for so many people, and I also know that she did what I do, which is to combine folk music’s vocal nuances with very forward-thinking electronic music.
yes good So were there other artists along those lines that you thought you could possibly tap into to give your songs that feel? Let’s say an Imogen Heap or a Nelly Furtado or someone else from that era?
I wasn’t particularly longing for that era, which is why I included Grimes in the song as well, because I think she does too, although she has a much more academic and aggressive way of existing as an artist. But I think ultimately all three of us are really interested in beauty and aesthetics and our voices just sound amazing together, so we did what needed to be done.
You seem to be in awe of these pop sounds that have been slandered or how they haven’t gotten their due. Do you use these references with the idea that they can be accepted with both irony and affection?
Ah. There is no irony on this album.
None at all?
So for you, where does the humor come from, those sly winks you mentioned?
Well, the humor for me is in the lyrics, but also in the spirit of the music itself, the twists and turns, the unexpected structures. But I do all of this with absolute sincerity.
So if you use a reference like this Spanish guitar sunset, is that a sincere move? You just love the sound of this thing and I don’t want it to sound like Jam & Spoon or anything Lambada or so? Because when I hear this I kind of giggle because it’s cheesy, but I also appreciate it as a reevaluation of pop history.
I think you’re trying to force your vision of irony on mine.
I’m not trying to force anything, I’m just wondering.
Well I will give you the same answer over and over again. And I don’t know who Lambada is.
You don’t know them Lambada?
No, and I love how it sounds! And to me, being evocative is not the same as distancing. I mean, at this point, we’re all postmodern beings. And I think references have more meaning here than sound and combining things in different ways. I like walking on that kind of tantric taste I guess. But I defend myself against all these accusations of irony.
But you can see yourself walking that line of taste, so understand that there are things that are considered “bad taste” and you kind of play with them or even force people to see them differently.
I don’t know. I’m a huge lover of fashion and I feel like what’s happening in the fashion industry right now is doing a lot of the same. I think it’s all one big dialogue.
I know you wrote for Beyoncé [2013’s No Angel] and other artists in the past. Are you still interested in that side of the industry like you’re dipping your toe into the machinery of it all?
Well, at the time it was all Beyonce, it was her who brought us into her very powerful personal machine. It was a great honor and a thrill to be invited, but since then I haven’t really made writing for other artists a priority, mostly because I’ve been so focused on making my own stuff. But it’s definitely something I’m open to, and I’m actually doing a bit of it this week, although I can’t say for whom.
Interesting. Do you enjoy this work, or does it just feel like something else you enjoy doing?
yes i enjoy it I mean, if only to realize how different my own way of existing in the industry is from that of other artists, or how down the rabbit hole really goes in the way other people work. But I’m up for a challenge, and I’m also so inspired by other people’s personalities and personalities that it’s a really fun way to get away from Caroline Polachek.
Do you ever see Caroline Polachek as a personality?
NO! Maybe that’s the problem.
I saw a quote in an interview where you said you enjoy being off the grid, but then I recently watched an entire five minute Instagram video of you eating spaghetti and meatballs. What’s the thought of posting something like this?
I mean, just, I wanted to take a selfie and I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s just go live,” so I went live. But the problem is, I then had to finish the whole plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and normally I probably wouldn’t have finished it, but you know, once you’re in front of the camera, you have to finish the whole thing.
As a public figure, how do you deal with social media?
I think as a musician there is so much going on in the calendar to post about and so I find it difficult to post anything about my personal life online because I just want to keep up with the professional posts and that’s enough for me. But I’m sure once this type of posting settles down and once I get on my way, I’ll inevitably start posting about my personal life again. But right now, to me, it feels like there’s a pretty clear split, and I’m kind of enjoying it.
Look, I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t offend you earlier. I enjoy the music and I think even if I find some irony in it, I think the listener finds everything they find in the work, right?
100 percent. It’s funny because my last interview that I just finished, the author was very interested in this narrative of how I had this kind of orgasmic catharsis just through the act of singing what I said, “No.” [laughs] So I just appreciate the very masculine and feminine approaches to the same work. You’re like, “Well, surely you don’t mean that?” and she’s like, “You must really mean it!”
I’m like, “I love that cheesy music too, but you know it’s a little cheesy!”
You know what, I think you just revealed what your agenda is: you just want to know that I know, and my answer is “I don’t know”.
It could be. I just want to know that we’re caught up in the same joke.
Yeah, but it’s just… I just don’t blink.
Caroline Polacheks Longing, I want to transform myself into you is out now.
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