“Salty-eyed and steaming”: Interview with Caroline Petty on her new album, “Mineral Woman”

In high school, Caroline broke convention and she did it with flair. This was immediately before “alternative” became the norm, and in those days she rocked neon colors and jelly flats as a theatre kid. Today, Caroline has just completed her degree in Written Arts and Music at Bard.

Start us off by introducing what you do and what you’ve done. Have you always sung?

I’ve been singing ever since I was a kid. When I was about 4 my dad brought out a microphone and a tape recorder and just put it in front of me. I made up short songs and stories and he later put them to his own guitar playing and onto a tape I titled “Kitty Lovin'”.

Other than that, I mostly sang in choirs and school plays until I started school at Bard College where I studied jazz voice and written arts.

My favorite in your album is ‘ice’. Do you write your lyrics? How did Crystalline germinate and evolve?

I’m glad you like “ice”! That’s actually the tune that probably changed the most from start to finish. It began as a much more sparse song in regards to instrumentation and rhythm, but the guitar player, Christian, had a different and exciting vision for it and ultimately took on the role of arranging most of it.

I do write my lyrics! I also write poetry separately from my music, and there are times where my poetry influences the content of my lyrics, although I haven’t used a poem directly as lyrics before; those two writing processes are very different for me.

So Crystalline is a bit of a play on my name, Caroline. I can be a bit shy in my everyday life, but Crystalline connotes a sort of hardness, brilliance, and boldness that sometimes I wish I embodied. The name has also allowed me to form something of an aesthetic around my music in addition. An assemblage of iridescence, vibrant colors, glitter, and other ethereal outfits and accessories give the performance aspect of Crystalline another layer that distinguishes the character from my own self.

Cool! Why is the album called ‘Mineral Woman’?

The title of the album comes from a poem I wrote of the same name. It was meant to be an exercise in putting into words what/who Crystalline is.

Here comes the inevitable cliché: what inspires you? I remember you being really into Sufjan Stevens – is that still the case? Who else do you cite as an influence?

Hm that’s a tricky one! I mean, nature is a huge one (also cliche, honestly). But more specifically on that, there’s a lot of water in my lyrics, and “yellow” goes through various yellow and red birds and flowers. I also tend to write lyrics that address the feeling of being an outsider in one fashion or another. Yes! I still adore Sufjan. My absolute musical hero is Bjork. But I also love Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond, Fiona Apple, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Corinne Bailey Rae. Lots of everything, really!

Did any old music, tapes or CD’s, or music in the family influence you?

My dad is a musician, so I’ve grown up around his music as well as all the different music he and my sister would play around the house. My sister actually introduced me to Bjork at a very young age. I have a mixtape she made me when I was probably five-years-old that has all sorts of gems on it.

I know it’s hard to pick just one – what are your absolute favorite three songs, ever?

Ho boy that is a tough one. I would have to say “Possibly Maybe” by Bjork, “Sprout and the Bean” by Joanna Newsome, and maybe the standard “Lazy Afternoon” but Eartha Kitt’s version.

Is music something very technical, cerebral to you? Do you believe in quite strict rules regarding music and music theory? Are you a feeler or a mathematician in the creative process?

Oh gosh no, it’s hardly technical for me. Math was never my strong suit, so whenever a music teacher tried to teach music to me in a more mathematical and technical fashion I just got scared and sad and rarely absorbed any of it. I’m not necessarily proud of that aspect of myself, it can make communicating my ideas to other musicians pretty difficult! I come up with the piano accompaniment for all of my original music solely by ear. I can sometimes take what I’ve learned about chord progressions and implement them when I get stuck.

What is the relationship between the written word and music to you? Are they inextricable or not?

Music and the written word are very linked for me in certain aspects, but also incredibly separate in others. For instance, many of the themes and ideas in “yellow” came about from a short series of poems I had written, however there are no direct lines from the poem in the song. I tend to write lyrics in one sitting (with minor edits made later) or each section in a separate sitting, whereas for my poetry each piece will go through a much more intensive and elongated editing process.

Do you feel the same when you write as when you sing?

I don’t feel the same! I feel much more confident when I sing. I’m full of seemingly endless doubts when I write, and I’m constantly putting energy into warding those off. When I get an idea I love, then that feeling gets closer to the feeling of singing.

What do you like to do that contributes to your music indirectly?

One thing I’ve already mentioned a couple times is writing poetry and sometimes fiction. Other than that, rollerskating outside by myself gives me a freeing feeling that probably sneaks its way into my music somehow.

You can listen to Caroline’s album here.

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