Updated: Jun 15, 2020
equality factor: industry standard-defying force of feminine nature
last album: Pang
our favourite song: Hit Me Where It Hurts
based in: Los Angeles
With the dreamy alternative pop album "Pang", her debut release as Caroline Polachek, the Connecticut-born artist serves the pinnacle of ethereal pop, comparable only to other self-producing singers of the future, like Grimes, Sevdaliza and FKA Twigs. It seems as though Caroline Elizabeth Polachek might be the fastest-rising star in the alternative pop world, leaving many wondering - where did she come from? The answer: she has been here all along.
“I’m just beginning. I think women are taught in the music industry that once you’re 35, you’ve expired, and I’m here to prove that factually incorrect.”
Once experienced through "Pang", Caroline Polachek's unique vocal works, distinctive soundscapes and otherworldly aesthetics are immediately recognizable. It is very rare for a debut project to encompass this level of defined artistic personality and distinctive sound - especially when all songwriting and producing credits list the singer's name as well. The truth is, Caroline Polachek has been playing the game of the music industry for 15 years. From playing in an indie band for over 12 years to taking on a musical alter ego, and finally breaking through as the most refined version of herself: Caroline Polachek embodies ambition, female empowerment and artistic self-determination.
Caroline Elizabeth Polachek was born on June 20, 1985, in New York City and grew up in Tokyo, Japan and the state of Connecticut. Growing up, she took a lot of musical influences from Japanese culture and traditional music, as well as anime. "In school, we would sing, you know, traditional Japanese songs. I had a favourite anime cartoon called Creamy Mami – and even the theme song for that is so beautiful — just the sounds of the way Japanese singing is phonated and those syllables and even the tonality. It’s a lot of minor and pentatonic, with really angular melodies that I think really stuck in my subconscious", Caroline describes the influence of Japanese culture on her artistic aesthetics.
She started her musical education in high school and was part of several bands throughout her school years. In her sophomore year of college at the University of Colorado, she united forces with fellow musician and student Aaron Pfenning, founding the indie band Chairlift. The duo was later joined by Patrick Wimberly. Together, the musicians went on to release two albums, several successful singles and captivating music videos, several of which were directed by Caroline herself. The band is best known for their melancholic folky pop tune "Bruises" - sounding remarkably different from Caroline Polacheks later musical works.
Throughout the twelve years Caroline wrote, sang, directed and toured with and for Chairlift, she also actively pursued her own artistic career as a singer and songwriter. In 2013, she scored a deal most songwriters would not dare to even dream of: she was asked to write a song for none other than Beyoncé Knowles herself. A song Caroline had written over a year prior for herself, the daring high-note ballad "No Angel", ended up being the fifth track on the self-titled fifth studio album of Queen B. Caroline Polachek herself was surprised by this choice, since the song was more true to her own sonic style than to what is mostly known of Beyoncé, but it was exactly that newness and unexplored soundscape that made her pick the song.
"It absolutely was a life-changing experience. It changed my sense of how things work in this industry; It erased a lot of mental boundaries for me."
It seems as though the success of this song, solely written by Caroline herself, did indeed erase many artistic boundaries the artist had perceived prior to its release. Before the hiatus of Chairlift in 2017, Caroline Polachek released her debut solo work "Arcadia" under the artist name Ramona Lisa. The album was produced entirely on Polachek's laptop while on tour with Chairlift, without the help of instruments or external microphones. While this album already offers a glimpse at the unique voice and producing qualities Caroline Polachek would later display on "Pang", it was merely a foreshadowing of her artistic personality, the cocoon before the metamorphosis into the butterfly she grew to be.
"That solo record was a very two-dimensional record, intentionally. Everything from the choreography to the costumes, to the illustration to even the way the music was composed was meant to be very planar and very flat - almost like a sort of surrealist paper doll world."
Now, two years after the end of Chairlift, Caroline Polachek has created a full-blown three-dimensional project of cohesive soundscapes, outstandingly distinctive vocal production and unique accompanying visuals. After years of collaborating and songwriting for others, she has tweaked and edited her sound to perfection, embodying a new wave of synth-heavy, 80s-inspired, psychedelic ethereal pop.
Her first album as Caroline Polachek is a trippy journey through magical soundscapes that move between celestial-soft synths and arhythmic heavy beats, all topped off with outstandingly produced vocals, layered to perfection. For the 34-year-old artist, "Pang" represents "a verb; a secret twisting between your lungs that resists all logic". Lyrically, she is not bothered with regular taboos dealt with by many women of the music industry (sexual desire for instance). Instead, she sings about giving in to vulnerability and letting go of inhibitions or preconceived notions, embracing life as it happens.
One of the things she let go of throughout the making of the record is the unusual beginning of a solo career at the age of 34. “I’m just beginning,” she says. “I think women are taught in the music industry that once you’re 35, you’ve expired, and I’m here to prove that factually incorrect.” In fact, every aspect of Caroline is proof that there is no such thing as an expiration date to female artists: her production skills, vocal works and even visuals are more refined and feel more authentic than ever before. She is confident and has a curriculum to back her up. Additionally, she thinks that 2020 might be the best time yet for female artists to debut. “There’s just so much more public female intellect on display now than there ever has been,” she describes her experience as being respected not only for her looks but her artistic vision and work.
“I’m so obsessed with doing it myself.”
As our artist of the week, Caroline Polachek is the whole package of musical self-determination and equality empowerment. She defies ageist industry prejudice. She sings, writes, produces, directs - and loves the company of equally excelling females in music. On her most successful song to date, "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings", a song that landed her a spot on the celebrated late night of Jimmy Kimmel, Polachek is joined by songwriting superstar Teddy Geiger, the woman behind the hits of Shawn Mendes. Her latest collaborations with other powerful females of the alternative pop genre are several performances alongside French gender-role defying artist Christine and the Queens and an electrifying remix of Hayley Williams' solo debut lead single "Simmer".