A decade old this year, Caitlin Rose’s debut record Own Side Now did some of the the heavy lifting for a new generation of young artists raised in country, setting the scene for what followed.
She was among the first country artists to emerge in the wake of alt.country, bridging the final gap between Americana and the indie world. Finding her place at the start of the 2010s – the same time as the likes of Laura Marling and Anais Mitchell – Rose followed up with a second killer record in 2013 but was mostly quiet leading up to the start of the pandemic. Hints of a third album drip-fed through her social media, with some new material dropping last July via her Bandcamp – and finally a confirmation that a record is, finally, on its way. But today we’re here to talk about the reissue of her debut, ten years on, and to look at the songs that have shaped Rose’s life.
Original copies of the record are currently changing hands for over £100 on discogs. “I didn’t have any vinyl,” Rose laughs. “And I kept getting really annoyed about that. “Jon Salter at ATO Records talked about a few years ago but I hit him up at 2020 and he was ready to start talking about it.”
What’s changed since she recorded the album? “I’m not carrying around the same baggage now compared to when [Own Side Now] first came out,” Rose tells me, “because I can’t change it. But people liked it. I think there’s a new confidence I have in it. It sounds like me at 21 and it sounds great.”
Compiling her favourite songs for this feature has been hard to say the least, Rose tells me – and anyone who follows her incredible Spotify playlists will know she’s no stranger to making them.
“Going to Georgia” by The Mountain Goats
Caitlin Rose: I think it’s the first song I heard by them and I used to play it with my best friend in high school when we were doing that Save Macaualy thing (Rose’s first band). John (Darneille) is a very intense writer. I never really knew where the song came from but he’s primarily a fiction writer who happens to be great at narrative.
BEST FIT: I read that he won’t play the song live anymore, that he now sees it as a very indulgent and narcissistic thing he did as a younger writer. He talked in some interviews about the misgony there…
Well, that’s interesting becauseI I feel like I have songs like that too. I feel like we all have self-aborsed songs. It’s where songwriters start… but then there are a lot of songs I would never play again because they’re not good! Songs you write when you’re younger are coming from a place of reaction, you’re being reactionary, because you just want to write something.
There’s a chance that a lot of my first, early stuff is a little bit petty, or misogynistic… One of my first songs was about stalking someone… I wouldn’t do that now!
You’re quite rare in being an artist with a career of over a decade, but with a relatively small catalgoue…
I’m not a prolific writer, in the sense that I write write, write… To me, that can be kind of self-absorbed. I take a lot of time to reflect on songs. I remember starting a song that’s on the new record, wandering around in a parking lot on tour like, five years ago…and it just kept evolving and evolving, and now it’s finally a song I really like. Output is not really my forte, obviously!
You’ve been putting stuff out through Patreon though – how has that gone?
I just started it as soon as lockdown started, mostly to have something to do – but it turned into something really cool. You get a good idea of who the people are that really want to support you and really like your music and feel inclined to see what’s going on kind of behind the scenes with your career. I just I enjoy it!
There’s still a lot of goodwill around you as an artist, and your music.
I feel like there are a lot of people who’ve been waiting [for new music] and it feels really good, because people have been encouraging a time where maybe I really didn’t have that in myself. But you don’t really hear that until you put yourself back out there. You know, I crawled under a rock for a while. And I wrote a bunch of songs…but it’s nice to be out from under that rock and be back.
“The Bottle Let Me Down” by Merle Haggard & The Strangers and “He Darked The Sun” by Linda Ronstadt
So John Darnielle covered this Merle Haggard song and I loved it. As you know, I grew up around country music, but for most of my first 17 years, I wasn’t playing country records. I don’t remember if I’d gotten into Linda Ronstadt yet at that point but the two sort of went hand in hand. Ronstadt had so many classic country songs and it just spiralled to the point where the person I was dating at the time said, “you’re really into this aren’t you?” Like this isn’t ironic?” It was, you know. I was was wearing my dad’s cowboy hat around town and not giving a fuck.Yeh
Were they both songwriters that you were aware of as a kid from your parents?
I grew up with Linda Ronstadt in the house and she’s not a songwriter but a great interpreter of songs. The song of hers I’ve chosen is a Gene Clark song….
I’d only ever heard his version from the Dillard and Clark record…
And I’d only heard her version! I played it at a show and somebody walked up to me and said, “do you know about this record,” and handed me their copy.
It’s a very dark song, lyrically.
It’s a very mysterious narrative, though. I always imagined it was in New Orleans.
A lot of the songs you’ve chosen to talk about are incredibly dark though; drink features quite heavily in a lot of them-
Yeah it’s pretty dark. But I don’t really I don’t really listen to happy music.
“Visions of Johanna” by Bob Dylan
Figuring out what what Bob Dylan song is most important to you chronologically would mean there’s be like seven Bob Dylan songs on this list. When I heard Blonde on Blonde, I’d been in that “Tambourine Man” phase for a while and I heard kind of what everybody else was finding in that record.
It’s funny because in the third verse there’s the line about “little boy lost” and a little boy loss and in my song “Learning to Ride” there’s also “little boy lost,” and I don’t even know if that was on purpose.
“Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko (From “Yaadon Ki Baaraat)” by Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi
Most people would remember Mohammed Rafi because all of us fucking watched Ghost World – and remember the first time I heard that song in the first few minutes of that film and for me a light just switched on. There’s so much that’s different in the harmonies and melodies, stuff that I didnt hear growing up. This song though? Wooo, I don’t know what it is but this is also from the days of Napster and stuff. You’d hear a song like this and be like, ‘what else can I get?’. I downloaded so much.
It feels like there’s a huge chunk of history around music discovery in that period that hasn’t been written about yet.
We were getting away with a lot of shit…but now billionaires are getting away with a lot of shit. I think it’s interesting that if I hadn’t had that, I don’t know what my exposure to music would have been like. I mean thank god we had a little bit of good college radio here. But you could listen to anything on that. You weren’t limited to your parents’ records. Spotify is similar in that way but I don’t know if it’s better, I guess. It’s just different.]
I remember the hard work that used to go into finding a certain song and waiting hours for it to download
Yes! Watching the screen, seeing the green line move
I still have a hard drive full of terrabytes of music. There’s hundreds of Replacements live shows on there.
For me it Weezer demos, that’s what I had, I was on the messageboards downloading everything.
“Lilac Wine” by Nina Simone
I was reading how Lilac Wine was actually written for Dance Me a Song, a musical that ran for a couple of weeks in early 1950. I’m not sure how it became a standard but why is the Nina Simone version your favourite?
I didn’t know the other versions; I had a friend who made me mixes when I was 17 of… kind of what this is – songs that changed his life – and they were amazing, the whole selection, every single song. I remember that one being especially important in different times in my life.
“Too Sick To Pray” by Phosphorescent
When I was probably 20 or 21, I kinda had this list of bands where I was like “I want to open for them!”. It was never “I’m gonna open for that band!”… but it just started happening. And I got to open up for Phosphorescent when they were promoting that record (Dear Willie). There was this magical night at the end of the tour where I wore my weird little 60s wedding dress and I kept praying that I would get to sing something with them. Just make the little girl happy!
And he did… it was one of my favourite moments I’ve ever had, and at that point I was so enamoured with them musically. And this record shifted me into a new place with country music. Finally someone had done it in a way that was so new and beautiful and very intentional.
I hadn’t heard this Willie Nelson song before.
Those songs on this album were so important to him but they’re some of the more underappreciated Willie Nelson songs. And the story is, as far as I know, it was a tape that his parents had in the car when he was growing up.
Of all the artists you’ve chosen on this list, Phosphoresent is the closest to the world you inhabit musically; he also bridges the gap between the country and indie worlds.
Yeah, and I think that’s another reason why I really love certain bands in that year. Like, I love Felice Brothers and I love Phos and Deer Tick. I think it could have very easily been ushered into Americana – but it was almost like this post-Americana thing, wanting to be the songwriter but also to be considered an artist. Once I realised that throwback isn’t what I was doing, I became very adamant about that territory.
What’s your take on the place country now occupiers within and alongside pop? You have people like Kacey Musgraves really bridging that particular gap.
Well “Breadwinner” is a jam! I don’t know though. The pop thing happens every seven years or something. Whatever the most popular form of music is, I think country will mimic it. I think maybe a country audience is only so big for so long and for artists to grow they have to crossover. It’s constant in country and it always will be but I do miss more of the element of country music in country. It’s gone.
“Fado Malhoa” by Amália Rodrigues
I don’t know how I found that voice. It’s similar to a lot of the things on this list – you hear that voice for the first time and it changes your voice forever. Because it’s like the first time I heard Linda Ronstadt for myself – like, oh, I’m doing it all wrong. Everything I’m doing is wrong! Linda Ronstadt taught me how to sing. But Amália has got this power in her voice; it’s almost masculine, not very delicate.