I met Caroline Smith when we were freshmen at the University of Minnesota in 2006. A long time has passed since then, but I’ve always kept tabs on her career. When we were younger, she played lovely little folk ditties that would sound right at home on any indie radio station. This year Caroline underwent quite a change. Her music loosened up. It got sexier, more feminine. I could tell she was feeling more like herself just from hearing one song. Her latest album, “Half About Being a Woman,” struck a chord with chicks and dudes alike with its R&B-influenced sound. It sounded as if Caroline was bringing all the struggles (and the fun) of relationships and femininity in your ‘20s to the radio. So I asked her about it! Caroline has been touring all over the U.S., so even if you’re not in Minneapolis you have a good chance of catching her shows. Go!
I’ve known you for a long time. We were dorm neighbors. Recently, your sound has changed a LOT. How come?
When I turned 25, I just naturally started accepting who I am as a woman and being comfortable with it. Ultimately, it became clear to me that writing angsty folk music was a bit of a phase (surprise, surprise) that I got a little trapped in when I garnered some fans who appreciated it, and the Caroline that was belting out Mariah runs in the bathroom mirror every night was bursting to come out. And that she did, full force and in her underwear along with ten other half-naked ladies. (See: The “Magazine” video.))
With this new record you’ve talked a lot about womanhood; I mean, the title is “Half About Being a Woman.” What have you learned about womanhood/femininity? Did any of that inspire this record?
Well, personally, I really started to actively accept who I am and what I look like. And when I started to let myself be a little more free, I was so much happier. I’m a size 6 Beyonce wannabe and I’m totally fine with that. I also learned I’m a feminist. In the past, I thought being a feminist meant not wearing a bra and being aggressive but I was way, way wrong. Women can be whoever they want; they can be plumbers or a stay-at-home mom, and they deserve equality whoever they are. Whatever your truth is as a woman, I believe you’re entitled to it.
What’s it like to be a woman in the music industry? Though there are other people in your band, it’s YOUR band. I know you’ve talked a lot about being pigeonholed.
I think the biggest frustration is being pitted against other women in the industry. The media is infamous for painting caricatures of women: Hilary is a bitch, Beyonce is bossy, and it doesn’t happen to men. So when people ask if Dessa and I “have beef” it’s very frustrating. Why would we ever “have beef?” Does anyone ask if Jeremy Messersmith and Chris Koza “have beef?” No. No, they do not.
What inspires your songwriting?
My girlfriends. I’m in a relationship that, miraculously, is pretty healthy, so I have to find that bit of drama-inspiration from what I tell my friends to empower them.
What was the jumping point for this album? Why did you leave the indie sound and get a little funkier this time around?)
I wanted to make a record that I would listen to and I literally never listen to indie folk. I wanted to go back to where my roots were, and when I got there, Mariah and Janet were waiting for me with open arms.
Who are your role models?
My mother is the strongest woman I know. She taught me to always listen to my intuition and to always speak up when you know something isn’t right. She is going through a lot of changes this year and she’s doing it with such grace and positivity. It’s extremely inspiring to witness.
I remember interviewing you about beauty once and you said your mantra was “own it.” How do you “own it?”
Do not listen to anyone else when they say that they “don’t like it” or that you it looks “goofy”, ‘it’ being whatever aesthetic thing you’re stretching out. Granted, this is coming from a girl that’s been wearing monochromatic plaid for an entire month.
Let’s talk about the “Magazine” video. How did that come about? What message did you want to send with that?
I wanted to depict women of all different shapes and sizes feeling confident and strong, almost aggressively. Like we were reclaiming our rights and taking names. That’s why I’m eating messy food, as kind of a “Fuck you I’ll eat what I want when I want” and why we were tearing apart a kitchen and a bedroom, two places famous for housing a woman’s societal duties.