Interview by Nicole Danielle
It's amazing how many ways one can discover great music these days. For example, I was watching Ladytron music videos on Youtube a couple of months ago and was curious about the other suggestions of what to listen to on the right hand side. So, I clicked on a few links, and one song in particular stood out. It was called Amanaemonesia by Chairlift. (Seriously, you have to watch the music video, it’s just the best.) I became one of Chairlift’s biggest fans after listening to just a few of their songs. The band's front woman, Caroline Polachek, is such an incredibly talented artist, so of course I am excited about her recently launched solo album under the stage name, Ramona Lisa. After hearing about it on Facebook, I immediately went to listen to some of the tracks on Youtube and instantly fell in love with the beautiful, original sound.
Nicole Danielle: Is there someone or something that inspires Ramona Lisa?
Caroline Polachek: No, not really. Ramona Lisa I definitely think of as a sound that was actually very mysterious to me at first because I didn’t really know where it was coming from. I’d been experimenting a lot with recording and producing music electronically on my computer and a collection of the songs started having this thing in common and I was really fascinated by those in particular. The more I focused on those it became clear to me it was kind of its own thing and the visuals started coming out of the songs. The entire album did from there.
ND: Did you always know that you’d release a solo album one day?
CP: I think so. And the funny thing is that I know I’ll make more solo records too and they might not be anything like this one. I’m always fascinated with different things and this record is one very particular manifestation of that.
ND: Tell me a bit more about the process you went through of recording and producing your solo album, Arcadia, on your laptop.
CP: I recorded it using a program called Ableton Live which I highly recommend to anyone interested in trying to make music on their computer. I recorded it using a kind of language called MIDI. You can type out the notes but in fact you’re not typing the sound, you’re only typing the information and you can change the sounds after. It’s as if you’re purely composing the way you want but on paper. Because of that way of working, I got really interested in the way melodies started interlocking with each other. At first it was very daunting having this infinite selection of sounds to choose from, and I think that’s one of the interesting things about making music these days because you actually have so many choices and you’re constantly paranoid about making an identity for yourself. It was only when I decided to really limit the palate and limit it to a couple of sounds, like all those organs, cicadas, these sort of pastoral sounds that also made it feel futuristic, that suddenly it was really easy for me to finish the record because I had a limited amount of choices to work with.
ND: Where were you at the time of recording the album, Arcadia?
CP: The whole thing took me about a year. For most of that year I was on tour with Chairlift, I was travelling around the world. It both began and ended in Rome. The two times in Rome were spaced exactly a year apart. Between June of 2012 and June 2013 the whole album came together.
ND: There must be quite a few memorable experiences that came out of recording this album.
CP: Yeah, definitely. One of my favourite memories is when I spent a whole day outside working on my laptop with my headphones on (and this was in Rome, the first time) and I was listening to cicadas and they sounded completely alien to me, they didn’t even sound like insects, they sounded like this future type of sound. So, I sat there in the sun all day on my laptop with one ear out of the headphones trying to match their sound, building a certain type of sound that sounded just like them, and you can actually hear that all over the album. Another thing that was interesting, is that I didn’t use any microphones - all the singing is done right into the laptop mic. It sometimes meant a lot of socially awkward situations, like someone walking in on me hunched over my laptop, singing into it, as if I’m going crazy, and often I kind of felt like I was going a little crazy while I was working on it.
"It both began and ended in Rome. The two times in Rome were spaced exactly a year apart. Between June of 2012 and June 2013 the whole album came together."
ND: What is your ultimate goal for your solo album - for you and for someone who’s going to listen to it?
CP: I think the ultimate goal is for people to not even think too much about it and just enjoy it. Personally, the album filled a gap in my own music collection. A gap that I was always looking to fill when I’m looking for stuff, like something that is pretty and dream-like but also wakes you up a little bit. It’s a thing that it feels like an old friend and I think my ultimate goal is that the record can feel like that for people.
ND: Beyonce included a track in her latest album called “No Angel” which you had actually written and produced. How did this collaboration come about?
CP: Beyonce reached out to Chairlift to produce the writing for her new record, and we did. We actually went to this amazing studio in Manhattan and worked there for about a week and a half, and we wrote five songs all which I thought were great, and we sent her the five songs and just at the very end I said, “You know I have this track that I think she would do much better than I ever could do with Chairlift.” I finished it in her style and sent it in. We didn’t hear back for months and one night I get an emergency text from her engineer asking for me to send the stems, you know the parts of the songs, and then of course I didn’t hear anything for a while and then I get a text from my friend saying, “Look on iTunes!” And the song was up.
ND: Wow. That must have felt amazing!
CP: I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t actually feel real. I was like, "No that can’t actually be what’s happening?"
ND: You’ve done a Japanese version of one of Chairlift’s songs, “I Belong In Your Arms”, and a French version of “Dominic” from Arcadia. Why were these languages chosen in particular?
CP: I love travelling. I love how different cultures have their own aesthetics, that I think even they take for granted there and don’t necessarily realise, but I love finding those different aesthetics in my own songs afterwards and then redoing them in that language. For example, even when I was writing “I Belong In Your Arms” I imagined a Japanese school girl with pink cherry blossoms falling over her while she was singing the song.
And Dominic, the song, was very inspired by Françoise Hardy. It’s a song about a boy that I was involved with very briefly and he loved Françoise Hardy.
ND: When did you know that you wanted to be in the music industry?
CP: Well, I never knew that. I didn't think I ever had a chance to be honest. When I was a teenager I had this impression that the music industry was like a mafia - you have to know the right people and kiss someone's ass at the right moment - and I never really thought that it was an option for me but I had a band anyway that I started in college called Chairlift and we never considered music as a professional thing. I was working four other jobs at the time and going to school and band practice was just this thing we did for passion in our spare time. We recorded our first record with this tiny label and before the album even came out, we got a contract from Apple Inc. asking if they could license one of our songs for a commercial. The next thing we knew there were much bigger labels trying to sign us and it kind of happened like that. Ultimately it all comes down to how much you love music or love songwriting.
ND: I'm curious to know who your favourite musician is.
CP: My favourite musician is constantly changing, but right now my absolute hero is a Japanese singer named Mishio Ogawa. I’m totally obsessed with her. It would be a dream to have lunch with her. Her style of singing and songwriting is just so incredibly confident and interesting but also so natural and organic. She's definitely my idol.
ND: Your sense of style, fashion-wise, is awesome. Who or what inspires the way you dress?
CP: I’m more inspired by certain designers, rather than individuals. Ann Demeulemeester and Valentino are currently my favourites.
ND: Favourite city in the world?
CP: I’d have to say New York. I love New York.
ND: What are the best things to do in New York?
CP: Have two or three days in the summer with no plans and just let things happen to you. You'll end up in the craziest places that you just never anticipated. Full of surprises here.