Caroline Spence: “this album is sort of a refresh for me…” (6/27 at Underground Arts w/ American Aquarium)

Friday, April 29th, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Caroline Spence will be releasing her fourth full-length, True North (via Rounder Records), which has already produced some of the year’s best Americana singles...

Friday, April 29th, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Caroline Spence will be releasing her fourth full-length, True North (via Rounder Records), which has already produced some of the year’s best Americana singles (“Clean Getaway,” “The Gift,” and, most recently, “Scale These Walls.”)  Although her headlining show at MilkBoy was cancelled after the musician tested positive for COVID, she will be back in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection on Monday, June 27th, when she opens Underground Arts for American Aquarium.  I recently got a chance to chat with Caroline Spence about her latest album, touring, and some of her favorite music.

Izzy Cihak: Later this month you’re releasing your fourth album, True North, an album that you had a lot more time than usual to work on due to lockdown (a common theme among a lot of artists I’ve been covering recently).  So, I’m curious, how do you think the album ultimately compares to previous releases, both in sound and sentiments?  What can fans expect?  I’ve been listening to “Clean Getaway” on repeat recently.

Caroline Spence: I think this album is sort of a refresh for me — for this record, I felt really compelled to not make decisions about the overall genre of the album and instead let each song take us down the path it needed to go.  That being said, it’s not a big departure from anything I’ve done in the past but, instead, I think it’s a bit of an arrival to a place sonically that I’ve always wanted to be — this world between genres where songs can be whatever they need to be.  As far as the sentiments of the record being any different, the first track of the album starts with the line “guess what it’s the same old song I’ve been singing all along” — which is meant as a sort of a smart-ass or self-deprecating way to answer a question like this because I know for sure that I will always be writing about the same things forever because figuring out what it is to be a person is the only thing that inspires me to write and you never really figure it out.

Izzy: You recently released a really cool video for “Clean Getaway.”  What is it that inspires the visual elements of your work?  Are there certain artists or works that you find to be especially inspiring, or just especially cool?

Caroline: It’s really taken me a long time to have a visual vision for my music — I am always so wrapped up in the songs and production that, in the past, the visuals came last.  For this album, I had a clear vision for how I wanted the packaging to look — it’s really inspired by vintage botanical prints and textbooks.  So, I wanted all of the videos to share that sort of fresh, spring feeling and color palette.  I wanted everything to feel like the beginning of a season, if that makes sense.

Izzy: I know you’re based out of Nashville, and you seem to be friends with a lot of my favorite musicians, so I have to ask your thoughts on the music and arts scene there in general.

Caroline: Nashville is home and I am really proud to be a part of this scene.  It constantly keeps you inspired and on your toes.  It’s also just such a privilege to see friends grow as artists and get to hear songs from the voice memo stages to the Ryman stage.  It’s really a special and rewarding thing to be a part of.

Izzy: I often try to avoid asking artists about their influences and, instead, ask them about some of their favorite albums.  So, what are some of your favorite albums, whether things you grew up loving, or stuff that you’ve fallen in love with more recently?

Caroline: Some all-time favorites — Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, Nada Surf Let Go, Damien Rice O, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s C’mon, C’mon, Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, Patty Griffin 1000 Kisses, Death Cab for Cutie Transatlanticism.  Lately though, I basically only want to listen to MUNA.

Izzy: I realize this is a super huge question, but what have been some of the standout, personal highlights of your musical career so far?

Caroline: Getting to write with Lori McKenna for this album was a huge full circle moment for me, as she’s one of the people I first looked up to when I was writing songs as a teenager.  Opening for Hayes Carll — I used to cover a song of his when I was 18 and in a band.  And, gosh, the fact that you can hear the voices of Emmylou Harris and Matt Berninger singing with me on songs I wrote still feels like a dream to me.

Izzy: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about music and the music industry?  Is there something that has really stuck with you through the years, or something that you regularly find yourself passing along to younger musicians?

Caroline: A kind person at a record label told me, after my first album came out, “the industry is slow, lazy and scared and if you can stick it out and stick to your guns, there will be a place for you.”  At the time it really spooked me, but it definitely helped give me permission to just put my head down and do the work, which is the advice I would give — do the work.

Izzy: You have a ton of upcoming live dates, including a handful overseas.  Are there any shows you’re especially excited to play, or just cities that you’re especially excited to visit or revisit?

Caroline: I really have had such lovely experiences on tour in the UK over the years and I can’t wait to get back.  I’ve been watching so much British television as a way to feel like I’m traveling there.

Izzy: You seem to play a lot of different types of venues, from listening rooms to barrooms to clubs to theatres to festival stages.  Is there a setting (or numerous) where you are most comfortable or most enjoy yourself?  Or do you like different aspects of each?

Caroline: Every one of those environments invites a different type of performance and they can all be memorable.  I do love the energy of a listening room or a theatre — there’s a calm energy between audience and performer in those spaces that really puts me at ease.

Izzy: What can be expected of the live show on your upcoming dates?

Caroline: If you come to one of my shows, you’ll leave knowing me a little better.  I’m not the strong, silent type on stage — I can’t help but to tell stories and crack bad jokes.  Part of what I love about performing is the opportunity to let people see the whole picture of the person behind these sometimes-heavy-hearted songs.

Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you?  What are you most significantly hoping and planning for 2022, in addition to the tour dates you have on the books?  Can we expect more of them, or possibly some more music videos?

Caroline: What’s next feels like it’s always changing so I am trying to be thankful for what is here right now — which are these new songs and this run of shows.  Really looking forward to being back out on the road.

*Get your tickets here.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.