LOS ANGELES – During a recent performance at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles, indie musician Caroline Rose disappeared from the stage and emerged moments later atop a table in the back of the room.
“We’re going to do a trust fall,” they told the audience, encouraging concertgoers to gather around before plunging backward into the sea of people and letting it carry her back to the stage.
The stunt was emblematic of her latest album — admittedly, their most unguarded yet — about a breakup and its aftermath. One to always hide behind humor, Rose said this level of vulnerability was new for her and that she is still processing whether it was even the right choice.
“When I’m writing the material, it feels really cathartic. And I’m like, ‘Wow, I made something beautiful from this really dark time.’ But performing the songs has been totally different,” they said of having to recount those dark memories over and over.
But despite having some “huge moments of regret,” the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist tends to think it was ultimately worth it. “Because I’m fine. And, you know, hopefully, my ex is fine,” they grinned sheepishly.
The thoroughgoing melancholy sound of “The Art of Forgetting,” Rose’s third studio album, is complemented by lyrics of grief and frustration, such as her allusion to arguments with her mom in the song, “Miami.”
“Your father and I are in the last stage of our lives, so for God’s sake, no more talk of how you imagine dying,” she sings of her mother’s grievances and counsel to be stronger.
But the breakup and her ways of dealing with it were not the only intimate aspects of the album. Woven between songs are voicemails from her grandmother, who died shortly after the album was finished and would often call in the months before her passing, sometimes forgetting she was on the phone.
“There were like these different motifs that came up throughout the album. One of them was this theme of memory,” they said. “She’s losing her memory and all she wants to do is like, remember everything. And I’m just like, ‘I want to forget my life ever happened.’”
Rose has always known they wanted their personal life to inform her art, though they initially struggled with how best to balance the two.
After graduating from Wellesley College with a degree in architecture, they formally began their music career in Americana, a combination of country, bluegrass and folk music. But they eventually left after struggling with how to be frank about their sexuality within the genre.
“It was really confusing too, because I was dating a guy and I’ve known I was gay since I was, like, three,” they recalled of how much more difficult it was to come out just a decade ago. “I would have been very alone in that world.”
But Rose’s departure from any genre would have perhaps been inevitable, given their rejection of what they refer to as the “McDonald’s hamburger mentality.”
“You develop a brand and then you sell that brand. I never really do that. All my records sound different,” she said. “So long as people are cool with that and just let me kind of do my thing and express myself in whatever way comes naturally in that moment, that’s really all I want. It’s just freedom.”
In keeping with her early days in music as a self-described itinerant street busker, Rose maintains they are motivated more by a love for art and self-expression than by money and fame. “I’m not really out there looking to fill stadiums,” they said.
That ethos frees her from a lot of what many consider to be part and parcel of the job nowadays, such as maintaining a strong social media presence or making songs that go viral on TikTok.
But their aversion to social media is not necessarily a reflection of Luddite tendencies. As both a producer and savvy instrumentalist, she knows music has and always will evolve with technology.
“Musicians are already kind of cyborgs,” she said when asked if they object to recording artists using artificial intelligence in production. “Everybody tunes their vocals. There’s machines all over music and there has been for decades now.”
Although ostensibly not utilizing their degree – Rose said if they could do it over, they would skip college and go straight into making music – she relied heavily on her knowledge of architecture and her days as a “theater nerd” to design the set for this tour.
The set design is just one aspect of the “experimental theater” experience Rose tries to create in their performances. And although she has enjoyed the high-level production of this album's show compared to the DIY ethos of her last one, she is looking forward to this tour ending and to being “as far away” as possible from the memories she keeps reliving.
“I’ve always been a person with very unbridled emotions,” they said of the growing pains this album has laid bare. “I’ve learned so much in the process of the last few years of how to handle stuff better, difficult things and letting them go.”