Caitlin Rose is the first to arrive at the neighborhood pub.
“We usually sit kind of in the back,” she says, gesturing toward the porch where music blares from the PA. “There’s this one long table, but they’re jamming out over there.”
She used to pop in fairly often, but now considers herself more of a “surprise regular”: “Any time I walk in here, I see at least one person I know, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I thought you were dead.’ Which is basically [the response to] this record, too. So that works out.”
These days, artists are instructed to keep the new content coming if they want to keep people interested. Rose is the rare exception to that received industry wisdom. She went nearly a decade without releasing an album—and yet the fans she earned back in the late 2000s and early 2010s eagerly awaited the new one. So did the long-time pals she worked with closely on the music. In a very real way, it was her casual hangs with the collaborators who stayed invested in her work that made way for her new album, CAZIMI.
Soon, Rose spots someone who’s been trying to book her to perform her new songs walking down the sidewalk.
“Hey!” she calls out. “You sent me a date, and I never responded, like a heel.”
“That’s Mike Grimes behind us,” she adds, identifying one of the proprietors of a beloved, local record store and a pair of venues.
Then we’re joined by someone else who thinks highly of her music, and has a hand in the making of it: her co-producer Jordan Lehning.
The waitress is out of Rose and Lehning’s usual beer, so after a brief discussion, they settle on a substitute. When it arrives, we all clink pint glasses.
“Geez! That was a very aggressive cheers, Jordan,” Rose chides her friend facetiously.
Maybe Rose is putting on a little bit of a show for her interviewer’s sake, but biting humor is also very much in her character.
“I’m not a super serious artist,” she explains. “It’s kind of about the hang a lot of times. Obviously only bringing in people who are super talented and super amazing, but if it’s not a good hang, it’s not going to be a good product. It hasn’t worked for me in the past.”
Lehning certainly witnessed that. He helped record Rose’s second album, 2013’s The Stand-In, which turned out to be her last for a sizable indie label.
“The process of making records with labels, it can be hard,” he weighs in. “And I’m lucky enough to not have to deal with that, because I own a studio and I can do what I want there. And so here’s my friend really frustrated with it: ‘Well, let me offer you something. Let’s just make something. If it sucks, great. If it’s great, great.’ And so that was essentially the beginning of this record.”
They started working on what would become Rose’s third album in a historic studio, and finished it at Lehning’s place, which happens to be right around the corner.
There, the only thing hanging over Rose’s head was a hefty slab of wooden sound treatment suspended from the control room ceiling.
“It probably weighed, what?” Rose prompts from the sofa where she’d reclined during many a session.
“Uh, easily 100 pounds,” says Lehning.
“So I would sit here,” she recalls, cutting her eyes upward, “and just be like, ‘Please don’t fall. Please don’t fall.’”
That plank did come down one day, Lehning attests. Thankfully, Rose wasn’t there to be crushed by it.
She’s always harbored a certain wariness toward professional pressures, too. As a teenager, she kept her first several years of songwriting experiments in DIY circles from her Music Row hit writer mother. When she started giving interviews, she resisted requests to neatly categorize her music as though the only two options were country or not. Barely into her twenties, she was unsure how to live up to the buzz her songs were generating in the U.S. and U.K.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Rose reflects. “I was 21, and then I was 21 for basically five years, and still being called, like, wise beyond my years, and a wunderkind or whatever. But there wasn’t a lot of time to mature with myself. It wasn’t something I could really keep up with.”
After releasing that second album, Rose went nine years without a follow-up. But during that time, she and Lehning would still tinker with tracks: “Me and Jordan would make something, and I would have kind of a manic moment and just post it on the Internet. And [there was] this process we kind of kept repeating where Jordan saw that I was in this crappy place and [was] just really trying to help me move forward. Because I knew people wanted to hear things [from me], and I love those people for not seeing me as sort of this little burst of energy. Like, people saw me as someone who they wanted to follow.”
What they loved about the character of her songs—the slyness of her brooding, the radiant melancholy of her melodies, her crystalline vocal timbre and clever phrasing—is still there, in more refined form.
“The only happy endings I saw growing up were Disney movies,” she says. “It’s not my M.O. to write something like that. I also think that I don’t write from a perspective of present feelings. It’s always sort of retrospective, and I think that’s led to more of an analytical processing of emotions. It’s all about understanding. It’s not so much all the time about feeling for me.”
Rose’s feelings certainly did come into play when she kept trying to put the finishing touches on the album, and deeming it not quite there yet. “It was really based on one harmony on [the song] ‘Li’l Vesta,’ and it was something that I just kept freaking out about,” she says. “Eventually, there was a moment where I sang like one more pass at it, and I was like, ‘That was it!’ And it was done. And we went inside and took a shot of tequila and took some Polaroids. Nothing is going to top that for me, because it was such a hard thing to do, to get to that moment.”
And now that Rose has pushed all the way through the recording process again, she has no intention of stopping before she gets her next batch of songs down, too.