Set sail for Caroline Polachek's island
Caroline Polachek on World Cafe
- "Welcome To My Island"
- "Pretty In Possible"
- "Blood and Butter"
- "Butterfly Net"
You never know what might happen in a Caroline Polachek song.
On her latest album, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, she's created a wild and unpredictable universe filled with an eclectic mix of sounds: Spanish guitars, children's choirs, bagpipes and, of course, her one-of-a-kind vocals.
In this session, Polachek joins World Cafe to talk about the making of the record, how she uses her voice and the visual world that she created to accompany it all. Plus, you'll hear live performances recorded during Polachek's tour stop in Paris earlier this year.
Check out the interview highlights below, or listen to the complete session in the audio player above.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
On opening the album with "Welcome To My Island":
That song opens with this primal howl that I wrote in this moment of feeling so frustrated by lyrics, feeling the need to be so literal and narrative with words.
So much of the music I listen to isn't in English, and I have such a sort of pure, visceral reaction to just hearing people sing melody, so I kind of wanted to just throw away words for a bit and open this song with this pure expression of frustration and desire.
Once that song was in the bag, it was just so obvious that had to be a track one — like, you can't put that as a track three, right? It makes an entrance, and it wants to come in out of nothing, as well. It doesn't want to come in on the heels of another song.
On creating a visual world to accompany the record:
It's always inspired by the music. Both musicians and listeners have a very visceral and visual relationship with sound. Some of the first songs on this album, songs like "Bunny is a Rider" and "Crude Drawing of an Angel," have this kind of dusty quality to them.
I was thinking about physicality as being a sort of comfort blanket during this time when everything has become very ephemeral and very digital and very intangible ... I started thinking about what that means, visually.
I was looking at a lot of rock and cave paintings and mud and just kind of going back to what our idea of, like, physical stuff is, but I also found a lot of comedy in that; combining pop music with, like, mud as an aesthetic idea. So once a seed like that is planted, then I just start seeing little threads running throughout images.
On finding inspiration in '90s pop music:
I don't know why, but I just immediately thought of the color magenta. It all just feels like very magenta to me.
I mean, it was such an interesting moment. You mentioned The Cranberries, and there was so much rock going on at the time. Then, of course, there was Kylie and Dido and Madonna's Ray of Light was happening. There was this fusion of folk music with really forward-thinking electronic music that sounded nothing like anything that had ever been made before.
It was so connected to dance music and rave culture from the previous 10 years, and also to the kind of excitement around the internet being this brand new place ... I think it was like this utopian, shimmering, pastel-colored space where we could all be together, and I think the music at the time really reflected that. The digital space was a very soulful one, one very populated by women's voices, at least aesthetically.
On featuring a bagpipe solo on "Blood And Butter":
Bagpipes have always had a really emotional effect on me. Whenever I hear them at a parade or at some kind of public gathering, they instantly make me cry. I don't know why, but I think it triggers something for me. It's like the sound of civilization or the sound of community but in a very primal, very deep way.
I discovered this amazing artist who is Scottish from the Isle of Skye, and I discovered an album of hers called The Reeling, which stunned me. It presented bagpipe in this way that reminded me of really minimalist electronic music. It wasn't because of the way it was recorded, it was because of the way she writes.
But bagpipes also have this other really interesting effect on me, which is that the note changes in bagpipe — the way you can do slides and also do these hard clicks — also has this formal similarity with the way I sing.