Each March, legions of young and up-and-coming artists descend upon Austin to brave the entertainment conference-slash-bender that is SXSW, all hoping to launch their career into the stratosphere.
Among them is Caroline Rose, who just kicked off a tour in support of her latest release, Loner, which dropped Feb. 23.
“We might die because we’re playing like 14 shows or something, it’s insane,” Rose said, laughing, in an interview with Pollstar.
This isn’t her first rodeo at SXSW, however, as Rose has been at it for several years. A rebellious DIY artist from the beginning, Rose gained attention in 2012 as a folky singer-songwriter when she raised $10,000 via a Kickstarter campaign to fund her first proper album, America Religious. The LP earned critical praise for its poetic lyrics inspired by a road trip Rose took a few years prior to the record’s release, with some even drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan. She followed that up with I Will Not Be Afraid in 2014.
But with Loner, Rose has completely reinvented herself, abandoning the acoustic guitar for synthesizers and adopting what she calls a “fuck you attitude.” The result: a fiery cocktail of alternative, pop and 70s punk that tackles themes ranging from feminism and capitalism to loneliness and depression.
“I think the biggest motivator, especially for this record, is capturing my personality,” Rose said. “I tried to nail down everything and express that under layers of hooks or something that would make you bob your head or tap your feet.”
She is excited to share the album with a wider audience when she plays SXSW. Project Daybreak: Artist Management’s Edward O’Day, Rose’s manager, told Pollstar that although Rose and her team don’t make money off playing the Austin party, it’s worth the opportunity to get the word out.
“It’s such a financial commitment, we expect artists to go in to Austin, play three shows a day for multiple days and then hop in a van and drive back to Nashville,” O’Day said. “The majority of shows and parties don’t pay, and they believe that you get your bang for your buck in exposure. And in a lot of cases that is true.
“With Caroline, we are in a crucial time in her album cycle and we feel like the work that we’ll be doing in Austin will propel her into the next 12 months. We’re going in with the intention that we’ll maximize exposure, we’ll do interviews, we’ll work hard to make sure all the shows are strong.”
Rose added that she enjoys playing SXSW because, although the event has changed drastically since its inception, it still holds true to its original mission of serving as a showcase for the nation’s future artists.
“I’m actively losing money to go there so it’s not about that,” she said. “I think that the original intention is still there but it’s a little different because it feels corporate now. Obviously, things change, but I feel like it is still valuable in that way.”
Rose remembers her first time at SXSW in 2013, when she got the chance to see acts like Macklemore, Haim and alt-J before they saw mainstream success. “I remember it being somewhat overwhelming but also extremely fun,” she said.
O’Day said SXSW is still a good place for managers to meet up and connect.
“It gives you the chance to branch out a bit more and go a bit deeper. It gives us the opportunity to build some relationships with some music supervisors and get multiple impressions,” he said.
O’Day co-manages Rose with Brad Talley and the two have worked with the artist for the past three years. Rose’s team also includes High Road Touring’s Al Marano as booking agent.
Rose will be on the road for much of the next year. After SXSW, she has opening dates with The Weeks, and is booked for a string of headlining shows from March through April. After that she heads out on a co-headlining bill with The Go Rounds before hitting the road alone again in June. Stops include Nashville’s High Watt, Chicago’s The Hideout and Los Angeles’ The Moroccan Lounge.
Rose tries not to concern herself with looking too far in to the future, however, instead preferring to savor the moment.
“I think something that I kind of came to learn the last few years of my life is not thinking too far ahead because it leads to disappointment or being surprised because things didn’t work out how you planned it in your head,” she told Pollstar. I’m here for the ride, wherever it goes its exciting.”