Interview – caroline
caroline whom Jeff Travis, founder of the prestigious <Rough Trade>, fell in love with. The eight-piece musical collective, who have roots from emo and Appalachian folk to minimal music, and whose work is based on the ‘improvisation’, has reached a new landing point with their debut album “caroline”.
An exclusive interview with ORM on the aesthetics of caroline packed into an album that illuminates a new future.
ー A fairly slow, minimal and spacious music ー
− In Japan, you are considered a mysterious band. Please briefly introduce yourself and describe your music.
I’m Jasper and I play the cello and the drums and do some singing. It’s funny that we’re a mysterious band and I am not sure why we are, but I guess it’s because we don’t have that much stuff released.
I guess the music is kind of a mixture of quite a few things and it’s generally quite slow, minimal and spacious. Lots of instruments as well.I don’t really want to talk about what it’s influenced by. It’s just weird talking about other people’s music and when you’re trying to talk about your own music.
− How did you decide the band name?
It’s actually a mishearing of a friend’s band. Mike, a friend of ours, had a band called “Cowlung”. He’d always misheard their band’s name being called “caroline” and thought it’s the potential name of the band. Because we thought the band was called “caroline”, we couldn’t use the name, but it turned out it wasn’t called “caroline”, and was actually “Cowlung” and we were able to use it.
− So it started from a mishearing.
Yeah, quite funny, isn’t it? At that time, when we decided the name, the music we were making were more suitable to that name. That’s because the name “caroline” reminded us of those American 90’s slow core, emo music, and the music we were making sounded more like that.
− The band has 8 members, which is a large group. Please tell us how you came to settle with the current members.
We basically just added people. There were Me, Mike and Casper, and the three of us just slowly added people on a kind of case-by-case basis. We invited people to play in specific parts and specific songs. At first, people would only play one or two songs and then set out for the other songs. Over time, we added more and more people.
I guess lockdown and the signing to <Rough Trade> fixed the number of people. We couldn’t have any more members and the people that we had were great. It was a good group and everyone contributed a lot. We didn’t feel like we needed anyone extra.
− Did you know each other?
Casper and I have known each other since university. I’ve known Mike and Hugh since we were children. I’ve also known Oliver from University and met him in Manchester. Freddie, who plays the trumpet, is Casper’s old friend from childhood. So, there’s a lot of old friends. Basically, everyone was old friends, apart from Magdalena. She played the violins in one show to cover Oliver, but she did it so well and came to stay in the band. Alex was the last person to join. Alex was in another band and they played a show with us. They contacted us afterwards and were like “can I join the band?”
So that’s how people got added. Starting from specific roles on specific songs, and now everyone plays on every song.
− We heard that label owner, Geoff Travis decided to sign to you immediately after he saw your performance. When you first met him, what did you talk about with him?
When I first met him, we were putting on a show at our manager’s house. Our manager lives in an old sports club kind of building, and has a big gymnasium. We played a show there. Me and my manager were at the doors, standing and giving people tickets. And then Geoff Travis came, but we didn’t know it was him. “We were like, do you have a ticket?” and he was like “Yes, I’ve got a ticket”. We just thought of him as a random ‘older’ man. But we were thinking “who is this man coming to the show?” We had no idea who was coming.
I don’t know if I spoke to him that night, but I think our manager told us that he wanted to do a record with us. It was really crazy. That was something I had never thought of happening. It was a massive surprise.
A month after that we met, and that was just before COVID happened. I did know who Geoff was before, but I didn’t ‘really’ know much about the music industry, because caroline was the first band we’ve been in, and we didn’t really know the “world of music industry” and “Geoff”. But afterwards, we read in a newspaper about him, and we were like “oh my god”.
There was a lot of learning in the last two and a half years. Trying to learn how the whole music industry works, which is quite confusing. Lots of different roles, lots of different jobs people have of all different sorts. But we’re trying to get a little head round of it.
*Geoff Travis：Founder of <Rough Trade>, an indie label / record shop based in the UK and USA.
− What kind of conversations do you usually have with Geoff?
When we see each other, I guess we have quite normal conversations. We just talk about how things are going, what we’ve been listening to recently. Also, we talk about what plans there are for caroline. We don’t work with Geoff on everyday-basis. It’s more like checking in every few months, and talk about things we’re excited about.
He always said he really loved the music and was really passionate about it, which was really nice. When he comes to our shows, he always dances right at the back. That’s really nice, because I think if I wasn’t in caroline and went to see them play, I wouldn’t want to dance to it. No one ever does. It’s really nice to see him expressing the enjoyment of the music in that way.
− We saw your session of “Dark Blue” taken in an abandoned pool. How did you come up with the idea for that video?
Well, that was the old studio of Hugh, who is the drummer of our band. He makes musical instruments for disabled people, and that was his studio. We wanted to make a live video but not a session. We thought it’d be interesting if we recorded the audio of us playing different parts from this building. It was also an exploration of how the music would sound in a unique place, such as that building. The pool has this kind of “artificial” image, but at the same time an extreme emptiness.
ー How ideas are improvised and progressedー
− Here’s a question about your song-writing process. Do you write down the lyrics first, or do you come up with the melodies?
Normally both me or Casper, develop small ideas, tiny fragments like a single line or text, and it’s always the melody that comes first. And then me, Mike and Casper talk about it and improvise as a three, and talk about how the idea can progress. When we share music with each other or write songs, we talk more than we play. Even in the practice room, even when we’re in the studio, we always talk more than playing. We basically talk and develop a structure for the whole composition. And then we bring it to the rest of the band, then we improvise again with everyone, always with specific people depending on what the idea is. They also add their own features to the part. It’s kind of a multi-stage process.
− On average, how long does it take to finish one song?
A very long time. The songs on the album, we were working on them for like 4 years. Some of them were shorter. “Natural death”, which is the last song on the album, was written in a short space of time, about 6 months. Basically, it always takes at least 6 months. But in the future, I’m hoping it’ll be faster because it took us a very long time to make this album. I think the next album will be faster. Throughout the making of this album, we were learning how to write music, and now we know our process better.
ー There’s something similar to ‘fossils’ on the album. It freezes the moment ー
− In an interview, you said “finishing the song is not top priority. What we want to do is to play the songs in that moment together”. As a band which emphasizes more on improvisation and the process of building up each song,the idea of a finished album in a way seems quite the opposite from your desire. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. I think it’s true that (there’s something about) a finished record is a bit opposite with the process of what we kind of do; constantly changing things, working on the songs for years and years. The thing is, now that we’ve made the record, I’m quite happy with the fact that we’ve made a collection of songs, and we really worked on them all together in “one-piece”. The album is not just a collection of random songs. All of them have a row and have purposes, which we thought carefully of throughout the composition of album as a whole. And on that level, that was an interesting task to do. So yeah, I think we’re quite interested in “open-endedness”, things being unresolved and improvisatory. There’s something about an album that’s similar to “fossils”, it freezes the moment. I found the process of making the album very interesting.
We’re interested in “open-endedness”, things being unresolved and improvisatory. There’s something about an album that’s similar to “fossils”. It freezes the moment.
Also, we felt the need to kind of put a full stop for some of the pieces. But I don’t know, maybe we’ll probably keep working on them, and they may change even more. I would actually be happy to do that. We would be very happy to carry on working on these same songs years more, but also we want to make new ideas as well. We’re basically going to prioritize working on new things.
− We took a look at some videos of your stage performances, which were uploaded on the Facebook fan community. All of the stages were intense and were full of spirit. From watching those videos, I noticed something about your performances, and that was the formation of the band members. Each member created a circle and faced each other. Was that style taken from the start of the band? And if you have any reason why you perform in that way, we’d like to know that as well.
We’ve always played in a circle ever since we first started playing live. That’s because it’s how we practice in the practice room. The music needs a lot of improvisation, and in order to improvise, we need a lot of communication.
When you set up a circle in the middle of the room, the audience all have a different experience of the music, depending on where they’re standing. Because all the amps are also in a circle, so someone might be standing near the violins, others may be near the guitar amps, or maybe near the drums and hear more of that. We’re interested in how people might have different experiences in relation to the circle. That’s something you can’t have when you’re on the stage with just two speakers at the front. I think it’s really important how the music is communicated to the audience live. We’ll carry on with this style forever, because it works so well, and we’re already used to it. We always play best like that.
− There’s an album titled “NC NJ NLFT”, and it’s only on Bandcamp and YouTube. Firstly, please tell us the meaning of the title.
Haha, it’s actually taken from a photo of graffiti which went round on Facebook in the summer of 2020. And it stands for “No Cops, No Jails, No Linear Fucking Time”. It’s kind of a slogan I guess, meaning abolishing the police. It has this weird twisted end about linear time. We just like the phrase. Around the time when that cassette came out, “Black Lives Matter” were happening, and then we saw that image on the internet, and we were like “oh yeah, we should just call it that”. We’ve never been asked about that actually.
− The album description noted that this work is a collection of voice-memos and pieces and ideas of songs which came up during your song-writing process. Had any of these pieces help you out when making the album?
I can’t exactly remember what was on that recording. But I think the approach to collage and gather recordings of ideas has been really important to us, and that was something we only explored while making “NC NJ NLFT”. We hadn’t really explored explicitly “collaged” way of making music. Obviously, our music always kind of has the idea of collage, and I think this work was really influential to the music we do now.
− Lastly, please give some message to the readers.
I hope you really enjoyed the record. You should buy it so that we can come to Japan, and that’ll be the best thing ever.
How would you like the listeners to hear the album?
They should listen to it from beginning to end. I would love it if people would listen to it sitting down in a room. But I guess that’s not how people listen to music these days. They’re listening to music while they’re walking around, and jumping between songs. But yes, I would love it if you can listen to it as one singular experience, and preferably on vinyl, because we kind of designed the album to be changed around on side A side B. But still, however they want, yes.
– Thank you very much for your time!
Yeah! Thank you too!
RELEASE DATE：2022. 2. 25, Now on sale
LABEL：Beat Records / Rough Trade
Formed in 2017, caroline evolved through weekly improvisation sessions and became the current eight-piece in 2019. Their music, which illuminates a new future for UK folk and minimal music, caught the attention of <Rough Trade> founder Geoff Travis and the band debuted in March 2020. The live video for the single “Dark blue”, shot in an in an abandoned pool, attracted a lot of attention all around the world, and their long-awaited debut album ‘caroline’ was released on 25 February 2022.