Saturday, March 01, 2008

Caitlin Rose Interview And Mix Tape

What makes our favorite new country singer tick? Check out the first-ever STWOF interview to find out...

Setting The Woods On Fire (STWOF): Hi Caitlin, thanks for agreeing to be part of the first ever interview on Setting The Woods Of Fire! Let’s get started with your records, can you tell us a little about what’s available now and what will be released in the coming months?

Caitlin Rose (CR): Well, this first EP, Dead Flowers, has its official release next week. I worked on it with my friend, Andrija Tokic, over at Bombshelter studios in East Nashville. We recorded it back in November and only spent two days tracking the whole thing. It was originally just meant to be a small release for some dates I was playing in Boston, but it was so small that I ended up selling out so we decided to do a re-issue make a big stinkin’ deal about it.

I've got a 7-inch coming out in March. It's got the whole gorilla man saga, with a title to match. It's also got a cut from the full length and a dancehall western kind of music row players version of "Answer In One Of These Bottles"... They actually were music row players. Including Dan Dugmore, who has played on some of my favorite Linda Ronstadt tracks. I was kind of star struck that day.

This summer I've got a full length coming out, which was actually recorded last summer. It's engineered and produced by Jeremy Ferguson at BattleTapes studios with help from Joel J. Dahl of awesome groove master dance band De Novo Dahl. It's a raucous, rambunctious, ridiculous half hour of fun and what better time for fun is there than the summertime? There are so many great players on it, but what's so great about it is it sort of became this local brainchild. We basically just paired my songs up with the musical genius(es) of the Nashville music scene. There are so many talented folks here and I'm so grateful for their contributions to this record.

STWOF: How would you describe your style of music? Is it country? Or alt-country (whatever that is)?

CR: The term alt-country really turns me off. It feels like a sort of immature betrayal. Like when you're a kid and you're just too cool or too embarrassed to go see a movie with your parents. I can definitely understand it though. It was only a few years ago that I was still refusing to hang out with my own mom in a mall, but you get over it. I really love country music and don't mind being identified as such. I don't think I'll end up on CMT anytime soon, but I don't enjoy most of what I see on there anyway. Gram Parsons said he made Cosmic American Music. I think that's a brilliant way to put it, but I don't really do drugs so it's a little harder for me to relate.

STWOF: You’ve got a great list of “influences” on your MySpace page (including a ton of Setting The Woods On Fire favorites like Gram Parsons, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, The Band, and Loretta Lynn). One that struck me as interesting is Neil Diamond; how has he influenced your style?

CR: I used to roll joints on his greatest hits album.

STWOF: And the Waffle House?

CR: I've been hanging out at the same Waffle House since I was 15. I don't really know what it is that keeps me coming back. The coffee, the roaches, the dingy yellow lighting. I'm really just a moth to a flame, but I ought to explain that there's only one WAHO I frequent. Before I knew every one in there I would write, but I can't do much of that anymore. I read a lot. Or I chat with familiar faces and drink some seven or eight cups of coffee. Sometimes I even bring a scrabble board. It's the only place I don't feel rushed. I'm kind of an old man at heart. The old man that comes in around 5 with his overalls on and his newspaper rolled up and just sits for as long as he feels like.

STWOF: I hear a lot of Iris Dement in your voice, is she an influence?

CR: Had I heard of her before this year, she certainly would have been. I recently got my hands on that gospel album of hers, "Lifeline". In December I was playing some shows up in Boston at Club Passim and heard the same comparison from several different people and they all seemed kind of shocked that I hadn't heard her yet. The last night I showed up to play there was a big ole envelope addressed to me and it was from a couple at the show from the previous night. That album was in it along with a very sweet note. I think it was their personal copy that they just grabbed from their car or something. Instantly, I heard a real honest excitement in her voice. Like she was singing just because it made her happy. Anyway, I listened to the album all the way through again and again and again and I still can't take it out of my cd player. There's a real purity about it. Anyway, it's a real compliment.

STWOF: What makes for “good” country music?

CR: "Three chords and the truth," at least that's what Harlan Howard said.

STWOF: Is it possible to be musically-innovative as a “country” artist, or is “country” music kind of played out?

CR: Country music is no where near played out. Anyone making good country music, is innovative enough for me. Example: A mainstream guy like Dwight Yoakam, he's older, but he's got this coolness radar that not many other mainstream country artists have. "Dwight Sings Buck" is a class act! His version of and video for "Close Up the Honky Tonks" helped me understand just how all the ladies felt when Elvis came around. He reworked that song into something totally new and fresh (and incredibly sexy). To me, he's one of the prime examples of keeping country cool. These days any 6'5" stud with a nice smile can sing a shitty song and get airplay cause it's such a tacky industry. The fact that he can reinvent that old Bakersfield sound without making it sound dated or turning it into a novelty and on the other hand, not exclude the prime listeners of the genre by being totally pretentious about it shows that anyone with a real love and appreciation for country music can keep their integrity and still make a ripple, if not a freaking tidal wave, in a very scummy pond.

STWOF: Your EP has two excellent covers, Dead Flowers and Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray, how did you pick these songs?

CR: I had wanted to cover that particular Stones tune for a while after hearing that inspiring live version by Townes Van Zandt. The Patsy song was a bit of a mystery. I frequent a website called "Patsified" and there's a section of the site called "Patcidents" which are strange Patsy Cline related incidents. I think that's what this was. I was sitting outside smoking and stressing over what other cover to do since we had this great mandolin player, Bob Grant, over at the time. And it just came to me (PATCIDENT!), like she whispered it in my ear and thumped me right on the head. It was obviously the only song I wanted to do, I already knew it by heart, I just couldn't think of it.

I asked Bob if he wouldn't mind sticking around to figure it out. He didn't. He charted the whole thing down in about 15 minutes did and we did about 3 takes and that was it. For something that I had been so ill at ease about, it turned out to the easiest part and I'm almost as proud of that as I am of the whole EP.

STWOF: Can you describe how the songwriting process works for you?

CR: It's stubborn. I can't write a song to save my life. Well, I can, it just takes forever. Sometimes I just think a line/hook and sing it over and over for weeks in the car or when I'm alone and eventually I'll believe it's a good enough line to build an entire song for, but then I have to think up lines good enough for the one that inspired the damn thing and that's where it gets really tricky. Honestly, I think I need a new process.

STWOF: Is there a story behind Gorilla Man?

CR: I've been trying to convince people it's about James Taylor.

STWOF: Have you got anything special planned for SXSW?

CR: I've got a couple shows set up. On the 12th I'm playing a Theory8 showcase for RedGorilla along with Forget Cassettes and The Nobility. On the 14th there's a Next Big Nashville day party and I'll be playing around 1:00pm. On the 15th there's a party on South Congress called Four on the Floor and I'll be playing a show with my buddies, De Novo Dahl along with the Nobility again.

STWOF: Do you read music blogs?

CR: Just recently. I felt really out of touch with new music to the point where I was resenting it until I remembered that I'm new music and that I was just being stubborn. I've been surfing The Hype Machine a lot trying to find some real good new music. I actually found yours by looking for old music though, it was a Hank Williams song!

STWOF: Do you have a day job?

CR: Lately I've been singing cheesy music row demos, but I go back to my burger joint on March 1st. It's called Bobbie's Dairy Dip and it's basically the goodness vortex of the universe. In extreme heat or cold it's actually kind of an awful because the building's not very sealed up and everything is on the fritz except the grill, but I'm always happy to be there.

STWOF: Favorite movie?

CR: I could watch Robert Altman's 'Nashville' every day of my life. I love everything about it. Especially those songs. My mom actually had the original soundtrack in her record collection which is what sparked my interest in the first place. I'm also a real big Woody Allen fan. 'Annie Hall' is another one that I could watch pretty much any time.

STWOF: Favorite late night snack?

CR: I've been living off of pastrami and cream cheese for about a week now. That includes after hours, I guess.

STWOF: Favorite song of all time?

CR: Probably Jealous Guy by John Lennon. I love it just as much as the first time I ever heard it. I have a soft spot for apologies and whistle solos. This has both, but it's the whistle solo that always breaks my heart. Especially in the Elliott Smith cover.

STWOF: Merle Haggard or George Jones?

CR: George Jones. I'm sure Merle would agree with me on that one, they seem like good buddies. Really, they're both great, but the influence that the Possum had on Merle's sound is pretty apparent. George Jones is easily the greatest voice country music ever heard. I read that somewhere credible too.

STWOF: Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch?

CR: Emmylou Harris, hands down. She's one of those artists that rips my heart out regularly. I might have a little crush on her. [Ed. note: So do I.] In fact, I think having a crush on Emmylou Harris runs in my family. My dad's been fawning over her since the 70's. Sometimes those offbeat multiple harmonies on her records freak me out, she's got a lot of spunk though and I think that's what keeps me so wrapped up. There's that '73 video at Liberty Hall with her and Gram doing "Big Mouth Blues" where she's dancing like somebody's drunk mom at a wedding, flipping her long hair like she's at a psychedelic freak out and shakin her butt like it's nobody's business. It's just amazingly charming. There's no bad in her attitude. I like that.

STWOF: What record have you been loving lately?

CR: Definitely Bill Callahan's "Woke on a Whaleheart". I just started listening to it. He really has a wonderful voice and some beautiful things to say with it. Particularly the track "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to be a Man" it blows my mind every time I hear it. It's got kind of a western flare which obviously doesn't hurt, but it's this perfect combination of imagery and emotion. The lyrics read like this weird streamline thought full of longing and excitement that explode into this fireworks-show vision of gold lions, blue bears and green dragons...and that's almost a direct quote. It just floors me. I'm actually opening a show for him tonight (2-27) so I'm pretty excited/nervous about that. Also, as a rule, I've got Linda Ronstadt's two disc set The Best of the Capitol Years that I keep on me at all times.

STWOF: How does it feel to be Number 1 on the “Lust List”?

CR: It feels funny. I did have an awesome experience while shooting the photo. I met the photographer at a local soda shop and we talked a little bit about Gram Parsons. He asked if I knew anything about the Road Mangler and of course, the "Road Mangler" is the infamous Phil Kaufman, Gram's tour manager and also the man who set his casket on fire in the middle of the California desert. I learned that this photographer was Phil's old roommate. I gawked about it for a minute and he asked if I would like to speak with him. He busts out his cellphone and after thinking he lost the number, soon realizing it was under "R" for "Road Mangler", he calls him up saying, "Hey Phil, I got a friend who wants to talk to you! She's a musician and she just thinks you're great and blah blah blah." talking up a storm until finally he hands the phone to me and I finally put it to my ear and hear in a low growl...."What're ya wearin'?" It was a pleasant conversation and basically the best thing that's happened to me this year. I told him I'd buy his book if he bought my album, to which he agreed as long as I promised to tell anyone he owes money to that he's dead.

So, if anything, lust list provided me with the best 5 minute phone call of my life.

STWOF: And now the mandatory question for all Setting The Woods On Fire visitors: Do you love Tom T. Hall?

CR: Oh, I sure do now. I hadn't heard him before. I listened to the mp3 you had up though, "I Hope It Rains At My Funeral" and He kind of reminded me of a more hardass John Prine. I also just recently learned (thanks to STWOF) that he wrote Harper Valley PTA which I have always loved!!! That song is hilarious. I used to sing it at my mom.

STWOF: Thanks Caitlin! Good luck with the new EP.

See the post immediately above this one for a review of Caitlin's new EP, which you can buy HERE. (Notice: the "Caitlin Rose" who sings "country" on i-tunes is somebody else.)

From the looks of her interview, Caitlin might have a future as a music blogger. Here are some of the songs/artists she mentioned:

Linda Ronstadt - Willing (buy album).
Dwight Yoakam - Close Up The Honky Tonks (buy album).
Iris Dement - Our Town (buy album).
George Jones - You're Still On My Mind (buy album).
Emmylou Harris - Two More Bottles Of Wine (buy album).
Gram Parsons - Big Mouth Blues (Live) (buy album).
Elliott Smith - Jealous Guy (Live)
Neil Diamond - Solitary Man (buy album).
Bill Callahan - A Man Needs A Woman Or A Man To Be A Man (buy album).


cato said...

My interview spawned what is basically the best mixtape ever!
Thank you so much, Paul.
I really enjoyed it. : )

frankenslade said...

Great stuff! Her Neil Diamond answer was priceless.

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

Hey Thanks!

She's seems pretty funny and full of things to say (based on the interview and the EP). Probably born to be a performer.


Anonymous said...

I'm impressed. The girl's got real talent. It's both accessible and real - a rare combination in modern country.

Marsha V. Hammond, PhD said...

I heard Iris Dement's sound on the Pristeens just now... Also... Song named "Sorrow" on Sirius Underground Garage rock station