‘This is me piecing myself back together’: Caroline Rose on The Art Of Forgetting

On March 24, Caroline Rose releases their new album The Art Of Forgetting, an emotive collection of songs detailing a tumultuous personal and professional period between it and the release of 2020’s Superstar. Headliner caught up with Rose for an insightful, in-depth chat about piecing oneself back together through music

You can listen this conversation here or continue reading below. 

An intriguing juxtaposition exists between Caroline Rose’s new album The Art Of Forgetting and its predecessor Superstar. The former could be described as a concept album of sorts; a tale of a doomed pursuit of pop stardom played out across 11 tracks. From its linear narrative to its shiny production and cover shot of Rose looking like a lifeless plastic doll, it is a meticulously executed piece of work in which each and every element is seamlessly stitched together.

Fast forward three years to The Art Of Forgetting and once again Rose has constructed another record around its central character’s trials and tribulations. Yet what may appear to be a familiar proposition on the surface looks very different underneath.

“They’re both autobiographical,” Rose tells Headliner as we join them over Zoom, sat outside in a friend’s garden on a sunny spring Florida morning. “With Superstar I took a lot of creative license, but that whole time I was still actualising what I was going through. It was more in the way that you make a movie about someone’s life; there’s going to be truth to it but you’re stretching it. With this it’s different because I wasn’t planning on making an album, I was just writing songs about what I was feeling. The arc of the story didn’t really come until later, when I looked back on the year-and-a-half of writing I’d done and was like, this is me piecing myself back together, having really lost myself and any understanding of how to love myself… maybe I never knew how.”

In keeping with the cinematic analogy, if Superstar was a loosely-based-on-true-events tragicomedy, then The Art Of Forgetting is more gritty, unflinching documentary. While previous releases have occasionally employed melodrama and wit to soften their more emotionally charged edges, Rose makes no such attempts to mask or obfuscate the trauma that anchors so many of these songs. There are pockets of humour and hope to be found, but they are less frequent, or perhaps less obvious, than before.

The album’s roots can be traced back almost to the point of Superstar’s release. Having seen plans for that album’s tour almost immediately derailed by the pandemic, Rose was dealt another blow in the form of a harrowing breakup. All of which was compounded by the fact she had to manage this time of personal and professional crisis in isolation.

“I released Superstar on March 6, 2020, and we got about four shows in before the whole thing got its head cut off,” Rose recalls, explaining the origins of The Art Of Forgetting. “It was such a bizarre time. There was a lot of grieving and so many big emotions happening all at once. I was grappling with all the shows being cancelled and I’d worked so hard on this thing to try and get my career off the ground. We were looking at what we all thought was going to be our champagne year, with touring and hopefully a nice relaxing break after that. That happened simultaneously with a break-up that was very difficult for me. And not to mention the collective worldwide grieving and loss of people’s lives and the millions of lives being affected. And then mix in a human rights crisis and you’ve got a fizzy bottle that’s ready to explode.”

the whole storyline in Superstar ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Caroline Rose

In conversation, Rose is both candid and contemplative. There is a calmness in the way they address the toll of the past three years. Their demeanour is serene and philosophical, yet their voice still carries the weight of what they've endured.

“That was happening at a global level and a personal level for me,” they continue. “I had all of these intense feelings that needed to come out, and I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be, and there were no distractions. Usually, if you’re going through a hard time, your friends will take you out dancing and drinking to numb the pain, but there was no numbing; no novocaine. It was like, alright, if you have nothing to do right now, nowhere to be, you might as well start diving into some of the sources of this pain. That’s what the whole album was about, just trying to find anything to feel better. I had really lost myself in the process of making Superstar. And the whole storyline in Superstar ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Looking back, it’s like, of course that’s how it ended. It’s bizarre.”

It’s testament to Rose’s artistry that they have been able to take the grief and emotional turmoil of the intervening years and create a record that places all of their experiences front and centre without ever creaking under the heft of its subject matter. In fact, far from morose, The Art Of Forgetting is arguably the most vibrant, sonically rich, and musically eclectic set Rose has released yet.

There are moments of gut-wrenching catharsis. When Rose howls on the propulsive, guitar-driven Miami, “This is the hard part, the part that they don’t tell you about, There is the art of loving, This is the art of forgetting how,” the impact is breath-taking. On the flipside, Everywhere I Go I Bring The Rain almost seems to float by on a sun beam, its sombre, introspective lyric set to a sparkling, upbeat musical backdrop of airy vocals, acoustic guitars and shimmering synths. From one track to the next, it is an album that rolls and swells tonally, and narratively. Snippets of conversations between Rose and their parents appear in certain lyrics, while Jill Says is built around an exchange between Rose and their titular therapist. Meanwhile, a handful of voicemails from Rose’s ill grandmother are scattered throughout, adding further to the tenderness and intimacy that course through its 14 tracks.

“It's documenting every moment I was feeling, every big thought I had,” says Rose. “I had this document of an epoch in my life. And the beauty of making an album is that you can tell a story with it, and you can use all sorts of devices to tell that story. You have all this music, and you tell the story through the sequencing of it and any other flourishes you have in there - things like using my grandma’s voicemails and conversations with my family that are almost word-for-word what we talked about. They are these little grounding moments that capture that time.

“I like hearing people’s thoughts on how this album came together,” Rose smiles when Headliner asks if they had a specific vision for the record from the outset. “It was the same process with every song. I learned a lot from the last record, as it was the first time I produced an album in its entirety. This time it was different in that I didn’t go into the studio and start writing for an album. I had all these songs, but they weren’t necessarily album-ready. For example, there’s a song on the album called Tell Me What You Want, and I had a version, or versions, of it that I would play to my friends and family – mostly my family – and my dad is my fiercest critic. I played him the song and I had to rewrite it three times because he tore it apart. He’s also really sweet when he does like something, so when you give him something and he says it’s really good you know he means it.

I had all of these intense feelings that needed to come out. Caroline Rose

“I wanted to make sure that all of these songs could be played on their own, so there is this process of prepping the songs. I think of it as having a chunky sculpture that needs to be defined with a chisel, and you improve it so that you are squeezing as much emotion out of the songs as you can. And the fun part is then experimenting with the production. I’m not one of those people that gets into the studio and is like, right, here is exactly what we’re going to do. I usually come in with a handful of ideas and take it from there. Then it’s a case of piecing it all together, getting the carving knife out and turning into a sculpture.”

After spending some time discussing the reactions of those closest to Rose upon hearing the record, our focus fixes on single Miami. A significant musical departure from the electro indie pop of Superstar, were there any surprised responses to such a raw outpouring of heartbreak?

“I don’t think there have been many reactions of people being surprised by it, which is maybe more surprising to me,” they laugh. “Miami was a song that came really quickly, and you don’t need a whole lot to feel the impact of it because it’s just raw emotion. It’s a bit like when teenagers first start a band and it’s just full of all these unbridled emotions. It’s like smashing three chords on the guitar and screaming, ‘I hate you mom, I hate you dad’! There’s something so amazing about those songs because they are completely raw and completely honest, and I think of Miami as one of those songs. I had all these emotions and had been trying to keep them together through this really painful process of rediscovering myself after losing my mind a little bit. And going through this really painful breakup I was like, FUCK! I just wanted to scream and cry at the same time.

“But I still think there is humour in a lot of this album, even in Miami, which is pretty devastating,” Rose continues. “But it’s in my own way, it’s no longer very obvious but it still has my sense of humour. There is a line in it where I’m talking about a conversation with my mom on the phone and she’s like, ‘for God’s sake stop talking about dying’. My parents were taking care of my grandma, so they were stressed and dealing with loss, and they are now nearing the last quarter of their lives – assuming you live to a certain age – and I find it just a comical reset button. All these moments where we are grounded from what goes on in our head - we overthink everything. I do, I overthink everything and get stuck in my own head, and then little moments like that make you go, you know, you’re right, I’m being crazy’.”

At the time of our chat, Rose is gearing up for a full international tour in support of The Art Of Forgetting. It’s a prospect they are relishing but, in light of what transpired last time around, are not taking for granted.

“There are no guarantees, that was a big lesson for me last time,” Rose reflects. “These wrenches can get thrown in the mix that can stop your plans, but you can find something different to do instead. I’m more open minded to things now. At the end of the day, I went through this time, made an album about it that I’m really proud of, and that’s a big feat for me.

“Usually, I’m tearing apart my own work and just thinking about everything I could have done differently. But I made it part of my constitution when I was making it not to feel like that. When all is said and done, I have this album I’m really proud of, the songs still move me, and I think that in itself is a huge accomplishment for me, and I feel really proud of myself. And the fact that I feel proud of myself is a huge accomplishment.”

That Rose has not only been able to overcome the circumstances that underpin The Art Of Forgetting but emerge with a record of such scope and creative dexterity is an achievement of which any artist should be proud. The evolution they have undergone in the space between albums has been profound. And in this stark articulation of personal experience, they may have produced their most universal and affecting piece of work so far.