Florida Shooting Among Caroline Rose's Rockabilly Inspirations

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Architect Caroline Rose decided to chuck her career to travel around the country in a van and make rockabilly music. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Caroline Rose about her new album, I Will Not be Afraid.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Boy, do we take you places. This next interview begins in the NPR parking garage. We've come down here to meet Caroline Rose, the singer and songwriter. She's driven here to meet us in the van, where she lives most of the time. Caroline Rose, nice to meet you.

CAROLINE ROSE: Nice to meet you as well.

SIMON: So can we come calling?

ROSE: Sure. There's lots of stuff in here. So I've got my little deck chairs...

SIMON: Yeah.

ROSE: ...And then I take the bike out and this mat comes out and folds down into a bed. Got all my books, first aid kit.

SIMON: Is that a picture of Paul Newman when he was young?

ROSE: Yep. "Cool Hand Luke" is my favorite movie.

SIMON: Personal question - where did you sleep last night?

ROSE: Last night I slept in Surf City, New Jersey. Yeah, it was on a beautiful spot. People are friendly there. It's free. It's wonderful. It's a wonderful way to live.

SIMON: Well, thanks for showing us around.

ROSE: You're welcome.

SIMON: Can we bring you upstairs into a nice, snug studio?

ROSE: So long as it's air-conditioned.

SIMON: It is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOOD ON YOUR BOOTHEELS")

SIMON: This is your song "Blood On Your Bootheels."

ROSE: (Singing) We'll jump round the ring and we're losing yours reins. I heard the man was flowing free, now he's living in chains. Everywhere I got the world until, no matter where I turn I got to carry the load. The shoe shine brother thinks I'm so naive, looking at me thinking I got something hidden up my sleeve. No siree. I'm cool as could be. I got no money but I'm always feeling free, free, free.

SIMON: Very strong song. What inspired it?

ROSE: A lot of it was inspired by - the Trayvon Martin case had just happened. And I guess it was just a subconscious thought of how much balance plays into our day-to-day life. And I don't know, it just sort of came out, and that's just what happens.

SIMON: You studied architecture, right?

ROSE: Yeah. It's funny, a lot of people ask me about that and I feel like it's one of the least interesting parts of my life. But I did for a time. But I also - I mean, I tried a million other things before I started playing music. And I think it's just mostly, in my mind I thought if I made music a jobs, then it would make me hate it, and so I just sort of put it off and put it off and I always did it on my own. And in the meantime, I tried to do boat building. I tried working on a farm. I worked in a grocery store. And then it just all ended up coming back to this. It always comes back to the things you really love.

SIMON: Some of that stuff might wind up in your music someday. Maybe it already has?

ROSE: Yeah, it's strange because the way that I write - I never really think about a certain topic and I'm like, OK, I'm going to write something about this thing - it usually - it just happens. It falls out of the sky. It's one of those magical things where if I live my life and I am free and I am doing things that are fulfilling and creatively stimulating, then the songs just show up - they just appear. It's like magic. I don't know what it is.

SIMON: Seems to be a lot of spiritual dimension on this album. One song's called "America Religious." You might also hear that in a song "I Will Not Be Afraid."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL NOT BE AFRAID")

ROSE: (Singing) No matter what all comes my way I will not be afraid. No matter what word slander my name I will not be afraid. So long as I got my heart a-beating, so long as I got my soul a-feeling, so long as I got that spirit in my I will not be afraid. No, I will not be afraid.

Well, I grew up religious. You know, I actually took it really seriously and my parents were very religious. I think after a while, I just - I lost my faith for a handful of different reasons. I think the biggest reason was there were so many questions that I had that just never got answered. And I had a problem that you have to give up independent thought in order to follow a religion devoutly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL NOT BE AFRAID")

ROSE: (Singing) Do what all you want to me, I will not be afraid.

SIMON: You grew up in a small seaside town?

ROSE: Yeah, I grew up in a working-class town. It's basically right before you get to a really, really rich part of Long Island.

SIMON: I've heard your hometown has had some problems?

ROSE: Yeah, I mean, it's like so many American towns - it just drugs everywhere. You know, my friends got into that and so - I don't know, some of that stuff's really personal and I don't want to get into it. But the truth of it is that it's a serious problem for a lot of American towns. Hard drugs come in and they just destroy families and it becomes so cheap that you can get it anywhere. And then when that became the reality, I could not wait to get out. Like, that was just - it was the last straw.

SIMON: What's the - let me ask you about another song. What's the story behind "Time Spent, Money Grow"?

ROSE: So I really - I'm going to nerd out on you real hard. I really like Native American history, and I've gone on road trips where I literally will just go follow all the historical sites, battlefields. Crazy Horse is a huge hero of mine. Cool Hand Luke, Crazy Horse, Meriwether Lewis - those are my three heroes. Wow, that was a tangent. So this song...

SIMON: "Time Spent, Money Grow."

ROSE: It was just inspired by something I read. And it seemed to speak to me because I'm of the belief that everyone around you in some way or another, even if they mean it innocently, is trying to change you. And that song in particular comes from a perspective of someone who has to assimilate to something. And I really - it speaks to me having to assimilate to anything because that's sort of a tenet I live by is not ever doing that. And I think the way I live is quite an alternative way to live and quite a lonely way to live because I don't want anyone to change me. And I constantly keep that in mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME SPENT, MONEY GROW")

ROSE: (Singing) He was born to run, born to be a dead man. Born with a pistol in his hand and a (unintelligible) above his head. His name was wisdom, but they called him Joe. Ain't it a shame that Uncle Sam always points his finger in your face, do it my way, you sad disgrace of a man. Pack your bags, hit the road, having got one place left to go. I walk alone down the highway.

SIMON: It's a very powerful song.

ROSE: Thank you. I think I'm just going to create stuff that I think is real to my life. And I'm pretty convinced that once my life stops being interesting, that my songs will not be interesting. And at that point I'll probably be ready to do something else.

SIMON: There's some artists who say that they have pretty mundane lives but they put the interest into their music.

ROSE: Yeah, and that's cool. That's what some people do. I just figure I can die at any moment, I'm going to live my life that way that I want to do it. You know, there's lots of hard times, but I wouldn't want to have an easy-going life completely. I mean, to have an easy life is not something I want.

SIMON: Caroline Rose, her debut album on Little Hi! Record is called "I Will Not Be Afraid." Very nice to meet you. Thanks very much for taking the trip to see us.

ROSE: Oh, it was a wonderful trip.

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