Caroline Polachek is arresting when she speaks to me, late one evening from her famed LA home studio. Every word is uttered slowly, and with intention. This is not what I immediately expected from her cadence as we hear what she describes as 'a long, lyricless-howl' to commence her new album, Desire, I Want To Turn Into You which came out on Valentine's Day this year.
She has cultivated her artistry for almost 20 years now, as part of the indie band Chairlift and songwriting for Beyoncé, and recently releasing the haunting track Sirens with Flume and supporting Dua Lipa across the US and UK. She still has that flash in her eye when she discusses the nuances of her lyrics and the techniques she uses to build the texture of her sound. Her sound is many things, ethereal, cinematic, and captivating are all descriptors that almost hit on what it feels like to listen to her music, yet especially in this album, the undercurrents of electro and techno-pop and streaks of raw and unbridled expression run deep.
The album tracklist contains multitudes, from vocally expansive slow burners like Crude Drawing Of An Angel, and Pretty In Possible to the enchanting collaboration Fly To You creating a cultural trifecta alongside Grimes and Dido. For the people who flocked to Polachek's previous album for saccharine pop bangers like Too Hot You're Hurting My Feelings, songs like Welcome To My Island and Bunny Is A Rider will offer a similar satisfaction.
Entering Caroline Polachek's world you understand that art and life are central to music making. She doesn't want to feel like she's building video games, but rather drilling down into the basics of art and reflecting her life through music. With the release of the music video to her song Smoke having just come out and her US tour about to commence, discover her tour rituals and what's keeping her grounded below.
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What are you doing to find your centre before you embark on your tour?
Great question. Right now, I am honestly trying to catch up with friends because, you know, there was so much intense nonstop, I guess focus on the record and preparing for the tour these last couple of months, that it can be really hard to kind of maintaining personal relationships with all that travelling and all the rehearsal. So I'm enjoying being back in LA for a minute. You know, watching films and going to the flea market and farmer's market and just that kind of daily fun stuff before heading back out on tour.
I read that you ask your friends to send you pictures to put up while you're on tour to inspire you. Who have you asked?
Oh, gosh. I actually haven't asked anyone yet for photos this time around. But ugh, I'm giggling to myself, because last time around, I asked friends to send an inspiring image. And I was just laughing because Christine and the Queens last time just sent a selfie. And I just loved the idea of your face being inspiring, but truly it is because if you love your friends, you do want to see their faces. So I think that's actually quite profound. So yeah, I'm hoping I'll get more selfies this time around.
I get the sense that you like building worlds. I was wondering how important the imagery and the graphics are when you were creating the album and packaging it?
Now I actually find the term world building to be one that I'm resisting at the minute because I feel like it implies that you're like making a video game or some kind of completely fabricated, enclosed thing. I feel like what I'm doing is just kind of basic art stuff. It all comes from my real life of course, but it's just sort of translating the things I'm thinking and feeling, into different formats. The album cover, for example, is you know, a scene of me on all fours crawling in the train, listening to headphones with coffee stains on my dress, but of course, there's all sorts of things quite visibly unusual about the setup. The ads on the walls make no sense the subway maps look like cave paintings. There's sand coming up from the front and it's peppered with little tie-ins and subtle lyrics on the album.
"For me, I really enjoy the process of merging the themes and lyrical motifs from the music with what my life was actually like while making it and using the visuals as a sort of bridge between reality and this kind of deeper place."
How did you come up with the album title Desire I Want to Turn Into You?
"Desire, I want to turn into you" is chorus one of track one. And it was a lyric that I wrote that just kind of blurted out of me while writing Welcome To My Island. And the day I wrote that song, I was just feeling so frustrated and annoyed by song structures, by narrative lyrics by the need for things to make sense.
"And I just wanted to go into this kind of like primal brat mode of just almost like having a tantrum or just pure expression of ego. And the opening of that song is just a one-minute-long lyricless howl. And everything just proceeds from there."
The phrase "desire, I want to turn into you," like I said, I wrote it very thoughtlessly, it just sort of came out and I loved how impossibly demanding it is. But then the more I thought about it, the more I realised it's like a little puzzle box of a phrase, right? Because when you're telling someone I want to turn into you, that my desire is to turn into you, that's pathological. Like if someone says that to you, run, that's terrifying. But at the same time, I think it does key into what it kind of feels like to be in love, like wanting to download someone's memories, wanting to share their clothes, to know all the spots they know, to fuse with them. In this way, that actually is impossible. But then also to flip the phrase backwards, that it could mean wanting to turn into desire itself, like wanting to become like this pure force of like electricity and will and not even have a body at all just to flow through people and, you know, like a force, which is very, for me a very musical idea.
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I've heard people say that they literally want to take the tops off to the Charlie XCX remix of Welcome To My Island...
I mean, I don't know why they're stopping at their tops...
The song Crude Drawing of an Angel just has such an immersive quality to it. Did you build the song around the 'red light green light' lyric?
That bit came later but I'm glad you pointed out that lyric because it is a kind of way of playing with vocals that I think really is emblematic of this album. I'm bringing a lot of spoken vocals into things in a way that feels to me very cinematic. Like different voices entering from different places and not in a way that necessarily has anything to do with like rap music. But again, like has more to do with like, a script or like character play. But um, Crude Drawing Of An Angel is a song that at least in my kind of mind's eye is like set in a hotel room where I'm drawing somebody as they're slowly waking up and realising I'm drawing them so I like this kind of creepy aspect of spying on someone and maybe even involving, you know, camera language like 'camera one camera two,' 'red light,' you know, when the red light comes on your recording when you're going live. All the kind of language that comes with, surveillance and observation and also privacy or the lack thereof, but just bringing it into this quiet, sexy dream space.
So you teased that you might be working with A24 and releasing a song. Are you a horror fan?
I am, and I'm also a fan of director Jane Schoenbrun who is the director of the film called I Saw the TV Glow. And I've made a song with A.G. Cook for it that I love so much and I'm so excited to release it. It doesn't sound like anything I've ever made before, but it's perfect for the film so yeah, I'm excited to have my first experience actually writing for film be coming up soon.
If someone jumps into your car what song are you playing for them?
I thought you meant in a scary way! Right now I'm like quite addicted to the song called Flowers by Sweet Female Attitude, which is a kind of early 2000s UK garage track but something about that vocal and the way it's chopped in that song I just find so addictive. My bandmates are addicted to it as well. It's like the first song that plays after I walk offstage right now.
What are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading A Sand Book bywhich I've been kind of reading on and off for months. Just popping in and out of it and rereading peds. She's an incredible poet. But the way she weaves her own personal daily experiences with this kind of spirituality of ancient history and surrealism and sexuality, I find like, very aligned with this album and what sort of my whole mission around this album is right now.