Interview by Natalie K.
September 25, 2009
Estrella: Can you please state your name and what you do in the band?
Caroline: My name is Caroline Polachek and I play synthesizer, sing, write and I help with production as well.
Estrella: I know you were just here in Chicago a couple of days ago with Phoenix, what brings you back so soon?
Caroline: We are doing a month and a half tour with Phoenix right now and Phoenix actually had to fly to New York to play Jimmy Fallon show and that left us with a couple of dates where we got to throw our own shows which is great. We have a couple of opening bands who we are really psyched about and we chose Micachu & The Shapes from London and they make DIY punk experimental music. They are really, really good it is young energetic, it really scratches an itch. Than we are playing John Maus who is the total other end of the spectrum, he is out of the mid-west but currently lives in Hawaii. He makes really doom and gloom epics, and his show is totally flooring so we are excited to play with both ends of the pop spectrum.
Estrella: You all got to choose which bands to take out?
Caroline: Yes, we kind of got to curate it.
Estrella: I heard that you guys are changing up your set a little and you are becoming a bit more focal?
Caroline: We are singing the songs as they are, and we are not adding any lines in particular but we are always and always have been changing up our live set-up for example we are extending endings, taking out sections, and having fun with the arraignments. We have been touring this record for almost a year and a half and that’s what we like to do. Even though they are already recorded and “done” we are always messing with them so for people that have seen us 6 months ago it will be in for a surprise when they see the same songs done differently.
Estrella: Is it a joint effort with the ideas of how you change things up?
Caroline: We are always suggesting different things, Patrick will say “I really don’t like this section let’s not do it anymore” or Aaron will hear something and say, “That sounds good, do it six times and we will write this section and we will write it over”. We have this song “Garbage” and we have had completely foreign sections added to it and taken out and added to it just for these last shows, like new lyrics that were not in the original added to it. I wouldn’t say that I am being more vocal.
Estrella: Oh I said focal!
Caroline: Oh yeah perhaps, Aaron used to play in the center and now I am playing in the center.
Estrella: How did that change come about?
Caroline: We like the idea of having it symmetrical by having the guitars on either side, it kind of spreads the action out a little more. Patrick and Aaron get to move around a little more with their instruments and I am strapped down so it’s nice to keep it visually symmetrical.
Estrella: Last year your song “Bruises” was featured on the iPod Nano launch commercial, how did that come about?
Caroline: Apple found out about us and asked if they could be on the guest list for a show at the Echoplex in LA over a year ago and we were so psyched that someone from Apple would come to our shows because we didn’t even have an album out. We were just this little band on tour with Ariel Pink who are one of our all time favorite bands of all time and we were so shocked that Apple would want to turn up at this underground show. They came and left because we saw their name had been scratched off the list and five months later we got an email from our record label Kanine Records which was before we switched to Columbia saying that Apple was interested in using “Bruises” as the soundtrack for the iPod Nano campaign. We couldn’t believe it we were like, alright there is no way this is happening they must send this to a hundred bands but we will play along. We got email after email, contract after contract and every time we said, there is no way this is happening. One day I got an email saying it was going up and I went on the Apple site which was the day it went up on SNL and it was between 2 classes, I watched the ad and it didn’t really seem like a big deal. When you are looking at a computer screen, you have heard a song on a computer a million times it did not really strike me as anything. Than I saw it on TV the next day in the middle of SNL it was a completely different experience, wait our song is part of the world of television. The world of TV always seems so untouchable and official to me, so much red tape and production, it doesn’t seem like anything I could ever penetrate even if I wanted too, it seems like the government or something, so official. To realize that it could be acceptable opened up everything in TV to me, it made me realize that there are real people doing everything, every letter that you see on a TV screen there is a person that goes home to bed at night that made it. It made the whole thing seem physical to me which it never did before.
Estrella: Do you think it launched your career up to next level?
Caroline: Yeah, it gave us a really interesting wide listener base, and I think for a band like us to have fans that are six years old and sixty years old at the same time is crazy, that would never happen from just our album being out there. There are a million pop albums that come out every year that could have six or sixty year old fans but don’t because they don’t get that kind of exposure. People are not reading Pitchfork unless they have spare time on their hands, shop at Urban Outfitters and are in their mid-twenties, and go to college. That’s who gets into underground pop, and I think it is a lot of luck that we got to reach out all over the world like that.
Estrella: I know you had a video up for Best Breakthrough video at the MTV Video Music Awards, did you all go to the show?
Caroline: We had a choice to either be on tour or go to the awards show and frankly the category of breakthrough video which is funny because I don’t think our video even gets played. I felt like the reason our video was up there was not for the song but for the video itself. We worked with this amazing director Ray Tintori who edited it using this brand new technology. The video made a splash because of the crazy editing, it really feels like you are on drugs watching this video. The way it got edited, it messes with your mind a lot. I think that’s what propelled that video up there, plus it is a pop song so it would be compatible with MTV. That whole world doesn’t really accept me that much, there is not a lot of other bands or artists up for other videos that I would be proud to be up there with so it wasn’t really our priority. We would rather be playing live shows than be at the awards ceremony.
Estrella: Do you all have any follow up plans for your album Does You Inspire You yet?
Estrella: When is that going to start, have you started working on songs?
Caroline: Well, we have been writing ever since that album came out. We have about fifteen songs that are ready to go but we are going to go into hiding and write a bunch more and pick the songs that fit the best together, makes sense together and that we are the most excited about. This record is scheduled to be out in fall 2010, so a year away.
Estrella:: Is that going to start after the Phoenix tour than?
Caroline: Immediately after, in November we are going to start writing.
Estrella: Are you guys going to take some personal time off?
Caroline: A little bit, I am going to Costa Rica with my boyfriend and my family, I cannot wait.
Estrella: That will be fun, have you ever been before?
Caroline: No, but he is from Costa Rica so I will have the insiders view.
Estrella: What is something you have always wanted to do but have not done yet?
Caroline: I want to play a show in the middle east or even just go there. I would love to have enough time in life to make some more art, because I actually went to school for art not for music. I consider myself super lucky that I’m busy enough as a musician because a lot of people end up working odd jobs on the side to be able to make it work, as I did for a long time. It would be great to be able to do a show with my drawings.
Estrella: Where did you go to school?
Caroline: NYU, also home to Lady Gaga and Grizzly Bear.
Estrella: What is a song you never get sick of hearing?
Caroline: “Among Dreams” by Ariel Pink, amazing song, it will get stuck in your head the first time you hear it.
Estrella: What is one of your favorite lines in one of your songs?
Caroline: We recently translated “Planet Health” into French and it led to a word by word picking apart of the translation because a lot of things that we say in English actually don’t have direct translation. For example we say “Stop, drop and roll” which is one of my favorite lyrics. It was written because on one hand it is a parody of the rule, but also it is a play on dance and hip hop, it is a dance move itself and a precautionary thing you learn in school. When we were trying to translate that song into French a lot of interesting things came up because I realized how specialty American phrases are and also learned ones that don’t exist in English. For example there is a lyric in ‘Planet Health’ that goes, “I found my friends in the forest of loves where we just said no to drugs” and say no to drugs is an ad campaign that went up in the US, and there is no equivalent in French. If you say, just say no to drugs they will take that very literally and it won’t be a funny thing to them. We translated the line as this; there is a way to say forest in french which means “lungs of the earth” which was perfect so instead of saying, “I found my friends in a forest of loves” we got to bypass that completely by saying, “I found my friends in lungs of the Earth” which means I found them in a forest which is perfect. It is actually a better version and then “Where we just said no to the grass” which they use grass as weed so it got completely cross-cultural.
Estrella: Do you speak French fluently?
Caroline: Not completely but I can get by, my grammar is pretty terrible but I can get by pretty well.
Estrella: If you could see any band or artist perform any song live what would it be and why?
Caroline: I’m a big fan of this 1970’s composer Meredith Monk, she is not dead she is very much alive but she did this piece called Dolmen Music where it’s all a capella, and when I first heard it scared the hell out of me. It sounded like either primitive human singing or futuristic alien beings. It’s just six voices in a room and it’s not so much melodic but the sound they are making sounds like conversation in a language you don’t understand and if I could I would love to sit in on the rehearsal of how she made that piece. If I could see anything happen live it wouldn’t be a performance it would be see her teaching the singers Dolmen Music. It’s on YouTube in two parts, you should go watch it. It is super epic and maybe too heavy handed but that kind of music gives me goosebumps.
Estrella: Is there any band or artist out there right now that you are currently listening to that may not be getting enough attention?
Caroline: John Maus and if they are just getting their feet wet, I suggest going to iTunes and downloading a song called “Do Your Best”. It is so beautiful, it is the perfect pop song.
Estrella: How would you describe his music?
Caroline: It’s lo-fi heroic anti-pop.
Estrella: Do you have any final comments?
Caroline: No, thanks for the interview.