In Conversation with singer/songwriter Caroline Meade
By Steph Prizhitomsky
With banger rage ballads such as I HATE IT! and Streetcar, Caroline Meade, a 21 year old singer, songwriter, and actress from New York City, is no stranger to music that makes you feel. “I’m uncomfortable with my sadness. I think I’m more comfortable with the anger.” The musician’s debut album is indie rock alternative at its finest, and Grow Up is only the tip of the iceberg. This master of hard hitting heartbreak anthems is well on her way to solidifying herself as the next big thing.
In stark contrast, Caroline got her start in musical theater as a kid in local productions, beginning to audition for Broadway at only eight years old. Though her sound has transitioned to a much different genre, she still cites musical theater as one of her great loves, despite her complicated experiences in the field. "I had a lot of issues, like a lot of people telling me there was one way to do things all the time and that I wasn’t good enough yet, and I wasn’t. They were right. That’s not personal. I wasn’t good enough yet. I also got weighed at every audition as a child for Broadway. Some casting directors I wanna sue for my therapy bills.”
From the start, she’s considered herself a performer first, with the writing coming later. And from writing her own songs, performing them, working as an actress, and running and editing her own podcast, those words definitely carry weight. She recalls wanting to be a musical artist before even knowing how that would happen or how to play a single instrument. “And my mom was like yeah Caroline; she’s starting a band on the playground, and I was like five.” At that point, she was listening to movie soundtracks, the cheapest thing to buy on Itunes at that distant old time when people still bought music, and later, artists such as M83, St Vincent, Lorde, Haim, Frank Ocean, as well as Cage the Elephant, Oasis, Radiohead, The 1975, and Paramore were credited as some of her big inspirations growing up. Going back to her musical theater roots, she remembered playing Wicked nonstop in the car as a kid. All that has shaped her style into what she described as an ambient sense of rock with a cinematic feel. Nothing clean cut sounding here.
It would be years later in middle school that she began writing songs and found her love for it, writing her first song fittingly after seeing the film The Thing Called Love starring River Phoenix that told the story of newcomers to country music moving to Nashville. Caroline reflected that she’s always wanted to write songs. “I have a language processing disorder, and I have ADHD. It was a huge thing growing up. It’s a huge part of me. Lots of doctors saw me as a kid, and I just feel like having those two issues made me perceptive and rageful and angry that I couldn’t say a lot of stuff, but I thought a lot of thoughts. Cause I was mute until I was like four. So I always say I’m making up for lost time.” In high school, she learned guitar, and the ball began rolling. She began collaborating with people. Before that, she wrote songs acapella for two years, which she does not look back fondly on. Still, one of the products of that acapella era did end up making it onto her first album.
Also off that first album, she wrote the song Streetcar during her first semester of a songwriting class at LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, describing that as the first time she felt seen in that program. “When I wrote music I could be whoever the fuck I wanted.” She recalled this as the first time she knew who she as an artist, not caring if anyone enjoyed it or not.
And while it may seem like songwriting came naturally from there, it did not come without its difficulties. The musician brought up a long period of time with writer’s block after completing a particular song and not knowing how to follow it up. “I always thought writing good songs was like a fluke. I was like ‘That was an accident. I’ll never write another one again.’ ”
Nonetheless, her first album titled Grow Up released in 2019 at sixteen years old. When asked if she had a favorite off that album, she eventually came to her answer: the song Catcher, though she clarified the song was not about her but about someone else’s breakup. “Because I was fifteen, and I had no experience, you know. So most of that album is not about me.”
And now she has a new album in the works and a single set to release in February with new music she’s described as much more her.
Caroline laughed when I asked if she’s had an oh shit I’ve made it moment, instead describing it as an oh shit I’m standing on my own two feet moment. “I haven’t made it by any means. Especially cause most of my art is not out yet cause it’s in the middle of being made. I don’t have an oh shit I’ve made it moment cause I haven’t, but I have an oh shit I’m getting better moment where I’m like oh, this is like for real. This is what I’m gonna be doing.”
She cited music as having been essential for her growing up in New York City, originally from Staten Island with a yard and some peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city. From Staten Island, she took the ferry every day to get to school: two hours there; two hours back and spending time on the train needing something to listen to, in addition to going to school for music where she’d be listening to music five hours a day. “I never listened to the same thing twice. Rarely. Just to listen to new music and just be knowledgeable; I mean I always say 90% of the music I listen to I don’t really like that much to be honest.” She saw bands that she wouldn’t have seen otherwise, went to all the shows of a high school boyfriend in a rock band, and to venues all over the city, making plans ahead wanting to play with the bands she saw. “I feel one billion years old cause a lot of those venues actually closed during covid.” One of these venues that closed, a favorite of Caroline’s, was Silent Barn which apparently was not silent nor a barn. “There was a treehouse.” She says her favorite venue she herself has played at would be The Sultan Room, which she described as having great sound, great people, and an awesome vibe.
In addition to being a musician, Caroline’s podcast Sidetracked. is now in its second year of running. A quarantine baby that’s stood the test of time, the podcast’s guests have ranged from actor David Iacono to musician ELIO. “I remember the clear moment when I had the idea which was when I was at New England Conservatory for my first semester of college. I literally stayed for ten minutes then I left cause I did not like it. And there was really nothing to do in Boston but talk.” Caroline calls herself a true documentarian stemming from a fear of forgetting and a fear of growing older to which a debut album called Grow Up feels appropriately titled. But the podcast is by no means all doom and gloom. She reflected that it gives her a chance to stretch her funny bone just talking it out with a variety of people inside the music industry or out, new friends and old. And that’s what she says is the main point of the podcast: to share conversations and make new connections. “I’m definitely most myself when I’m with certain people. Honestly I just kinda have conversations with people I’m too nervous to approach. Even though I’m extroverted I still do have really bad social anxiety.” Though she did note that she interviews so many men it just seems like she’s going on recorded dates.
When prompted for the most thrilling things the future holds for her, Caroline launched into a passionate rundown of her new music. Still only vague details with the far off release date and the work in progress status of the album. She also noted that she’s excited to get her acting shit together, to act in a play again, but that was something she left for the far off future. “This year has just felt like coming home to myself. I’m really understanding what I’m meant to do. I understand what I mean when I say things. I think I’m really excited to feel settled in my music.” On top of that, what’s in store appears to be a myriad of creative projects that she listed off the top of her head which included but was not limited to delving into film scoring, a short film working in front of and behind the camera, and a feature film script sitting on the shelf. And when asked about her biggest craziest goals in the long run, playing MSG and winning an Oscar was the response. “That’s like pretty big. I don’t know if it gets bigger. It always gets bigger.” The musician also expressed her desire to one day be recognized for all that she does, and she criticized society’s ever so familiar prejudice that a woman cannot be accomplished in multiple fields or even be capable of excelling at more than one thing. “And then probably just being able to live in New York the rest of my life.”
As a final sendoff, I asked for a lyric that would best describe her music overall and was treated to a snippet of an unreleased song that goes like this: "'Traveling alone, and I’ve never felt so unseen, but if loving you makes me wrong, what does hating you make me?’ That kinda sums it up. It always ends in anger cause I’m mad at both. Like I’m mad for being mad, and I’m mad for being sad, and I’m mad at the person who did it. I write a lot about grief. I write a lot from a place of really knowing someone and feeling like they’re half of you. I think closeness in music is one of the most beautiful things."