JBL Emerging Interview: Caroline Romano on making it as an emo kid in Nashville

At just 22-years-old, Nashville-based alt-pop sensation Caroline Romano has established herself as a versatile artist, effortlessly transitioning between misty-eyed ballads and fiery alt-rock anthems that capture the highs and lows of young adulthood. With each new release, Romano reveals new levels to her artistry. On her latest run of singles, she’s tapped into a bolder, alt-rock sound that has been resonating with fans. In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, the self-proclaimed “loudest sort of introvert” explains why she appeals to an anxious generation.

“In middle school I started writing journals about my days at school, because I was a nerd,” laughs Romano. “I knew I wanted to write songs, and I put my journal entries into two little chords I learned on guitar. I really fell in love with it and it became very cathartic for me.”

Romano’s songwriting abilities showcase her witty, introspective and hopeful take on modernity, romanticism and the highs and lows of being young in today’s world. Her music is refreshingly honest, which is probably why it’s struck a chord with millions of listeners.

“I feel like one of my biggest problems is that I'm such an oversharer,” she considers. “I really should have more of a filter on the things I let out about myself, but that's always come very naturally to me. Also, as a listener, my favorite music has always been songs that are so raw, and almost shocking to hear that someone would admit that about themselves. I come at it from that perspective of knowing I'd want to hear someone else say this, so I feel more understood. I try to rationalize it like that at times,” she grins.

It's a great time to be an artist in a genre other than country in Nashville.

Driven by steadfast determination and undeniable talent, Romano released her first single, Masterpiece, at the tender age of 15. By the age of 17, she’d moved from her hometown in rural Mississippi to Nashville in order to fully commit herself to her craft. Just one year after relocating to Nashville, she caught her big break with the release of I Still Remember (ft. R3HAB), which became a global sensation and entered the Billboard Dance Chart.

“I'm from Mississippi; there's really no musical community down there. Mississippi never felt like home to me and never felt like where I needed to be. I came here for the first time when I was 13,” she says of her first impressions of Nashville. “I asked my parents to take me up here to play open mic nights and I just fell in love with it. It's kind of strange that my parents let me do that, because I was playing college bars and I was 13, but it's awesome!”

Nashville may be known as something of a mecca for country music, but other genres are thriving there as well. “The songwriting community here has definitely flourished,” she nods, “and the pop and rock sphere as well. When I first started coming here, it was still very country. But I have so many friends who have really broken out into the pop and rock space because it's smaller here, but growing. It's a great time to be an artist in a genre other than country in Nashville, for sure.”

Songwriting has always been my diary and it's how I cope with life.

Aged seven, a young Romano became obsessed with Taylor Swift and absorbed the musical tastes of her parents (Bryan Adams and Shania Twain), and as a teenager gravitated towards the likes of Twenty One Pilots, My Chemical Romance and Five Seconds of Summer.

“I was kind of an emo kid,” she smiles, adding that songwriting-wise, something clicked when she heard the raw emotion and candid thoughts captured in Twenty One Pilots’ Doubt and Migraine.

“These were thoughts that I'd never heard articulated [in a song],” she reflects. “I'd never heard someone admit these feelings of doubt about their faith or their mental health, and feeling in such a descriptive and weird way, but it made so much sense to me. Those were two really big influences for me.”

After releasing a number of successful singles in 2021, Romano shared her 16-track debut album, Oddities and Prodigies in 2022 – a vivid snapshot of her personal and musical journey over the past few years. From tackling what it’s like to struggle with depression and anxiety to examining first loves and first heartbreaks, the record is an all-encompassing look at Romano’s personal growth and resilience, although basing her songs on real life events does have its downsides when living in a close knit musical community.

“It's been a challenge at times for me, especially in Nashville when we're all musicians and we're all constantly writing about each other and breaking up and writing about each other,” she laughs. “I typically draw from real events. Songwriting has always been my diary and it's how I cope with life. I write plenty of songs that aren't as real, but I've been into releasing the really real stuff lately.”

I love writing about heartbreak, drama, self sabotage and all the terrible things!

Since her debut album, Romano has released a string of singles. She reflects on the way her

songwriting has matured since then: “Even with my debut album, so much of it was songs I'd written throughout high school and when I was very young,” she acknowledges. “You can hear that juvenile way I was describing things and the way I had not experienced certain things in life yet. I think it shows through. By the time I put A Brief Epic out, I'd changed a lot. I’d had a relationship and I had grown up a lot. I write every day, so it's a little bit more artistic in the writing form. I can't say it's more advanced, but it's just different,” she considers. “It's all the same themes I find myself writing about, but through a different lens based on where I am in life.”

Romano certainly has a knack for channeling the more messy, relatable emotions of young adulthood into buoyant, unflinchingly honest songs. Does she find it hard to step out of that emo comfort zone?

“It's definitely hard for me at times, just because it's what I'm comfortable with,” she says. “People want to write about what they know and what they feel. Sometimes it's a fun exercise to totally detach yourself from the song and just say, ‘I'm just gonna write something totally different’. For me, that's any upbeat song whatsoever! I'm not typically writing about positive love songs or anything like that. I'm naturally a much moodier person when it comes to artistry stuff. I love writing about heartbreak, drama, self sabotage and all the terrible things,” she laughs.

one of my biggest problems is that I'm such an oversharer.

Romano shares that she wrote recent single, Girl In A China Shop, after her 22nd birthday. “A few days afterwards, I was in a perpetual state of feeling like, ‘I am like my own worst enemy – self sabotage’. “It's basically just how I break things in my life. A lot.”

Meanwhile, Tell Her I Said Hi is a cathartic release of anger packaged into an addictive alt-rock anthem. Equal parts tender and tenacious, the song navigates the messy emotions that arise after a transformative heartbreak.

“I viewed it as the final song I was gonna write about the chapter of my life that I wrote about on the EP,” she says. “I wrote it to the girl that I knew he ended up with after me. I really was so jealous of her. If I ever saw him again, I didn't even know what I'd say, but the phrase, ‘Tell her I said hi,’ kept coming to mind. It was my last hurrah for that songwriting escapade.”

Another recent single, Used by You, tells a tale of unrequited love. Romano describes the song in one word: brutal.

“This was very hard for me to put out, because it paints me in not a good light,” she admits. “It’s like, ‘I let this guy use me because I'm so in love with him,’ kind of thing. No one wants to admit that! At least I didn't. But I felt like it was important to say because I found out that a lot of people feel that same way too. I've always tried to spin some heroic or positive ending or something to make it feel lifted at the end, but with this song there's none of that. It's just very, ‘Dang, that’s sad’. That's what I think people will think when they listen to it. It's just brutal.

sometimes mics catch my voice a bit weird – they're hit or miss – but this AKG mic really brought out the best in it.

Inside her home in Nashville, Romano shares that she gets ideas down in her studio space, where she’s been using an AKG P220 microphone, K240 MKII headphones and a pair of JBL 305P MKII powered studio monitors.

“The first thing I noticed was they were very warm-toned, which I love in a speaker,” she says of her monitors. “The bass has a very present low end, which I always love. Those are two very positive things to me when listening and I'm very excited to keep diving into those. I tested them out by listening to some of my own music and music I'm very familiar with in general, and you're able to hear everything very clearly. They make for a great listening experience: you can hear all the elements you're trying to hear. I would highly recommend them as a speaker.”

She also points out how quick and easy they were to set up: “Oh my gosh, it was ridiculous! They're super easy to set up. I just plugged it in; the cord was right there. I didn't have to do anything. I just put an instrument cable into my Scarlett interface, and then I was there. It was great! Plus, they are pretty light, which is awesome because if you're like me and you're always moving around, or you decide you want to work on the floor today, that's great.”

The AKG mic has also left an impression on Romano, which she uses at home and on the road: “I love this mic because it has a great amount of high end – it's very sparkly and bright. I really like that sound, particularly with my voice. I like to do lots of delicate things with layering and adlibs and things like that and it picks up those very nicely. 

"As a female, sometimes mics catch my voice a bit weird – they're hit or miss – but this one really brought out the best in it. Again, it has a super easy setup and has an awesome case that I can take with me when I'm traveling on tour in case I want to record any ideas.”

AKG’s professional over-ear, semi-open headphones deliver a wide dynamic range, increased sensitivity and high sound levels, which Romano is also impressed by: “They've been great because they're sensitive and I don't have to absolutely blast my headphones. I feel like I'm always losing my hearing anyway with how loud I play music! But I don't have to do that with these. I can hear everything I need to hear. They’re very dynamic and comfortable to wear, which is a big bonus. They have a really great scope of being able to hear all the little details.”

Before the interview wraps up, Romano teases some upcoming music news: “I'm putting out a project later this year; it's going to be another EP, so I'm super excited about that. Lots of new music to come,” she smiles.