Caroline Bauer releases her first full-length studio album, To Kneel and Kiss the Ground, Sunday, March 15, at her album release show at Sam Bond’s. Joining Bauer are Portland musicians Jeffrey Martin (who the Portland Mercury just declared “might be the best songwriter in Portland”) and Anna Tivel (formerly of Anna and the Underbelly), who also played violin on the album. EW caught up with Bauer this week for coffee and discussed raising money for the album, collaboration and her musical roots.
Crowd-sourced funding for albums seems to be the trend these days. Did you crowd-source this album?
I funded all the recording costs on my own, but when it came to making actual CDs — I had album art, I had photographs, I even had a graphic designer I was talking to … I did an Indiegogo and it went incredibly well. I met my goal. I did flexible funding just in case, but it worked out.
Are you a musician full time?
I’m a student [at UO]. I’m a senior — I’m almost done. I’m a sociology major and a women and gender studies minor.
You graduate this spring? Any plans?
Yes. I’m going to push music pretty hard. I’m going to work probably part time still somewhere. I have a little tour booked for my spring break, but I want to plan a longer tour for my summer because I won’t be tied down anymore.
Where are you going for your spring break tour?
For spring break, it’s the album release party here on the 15th. Then the 20th, I’m playing The Waypost in Portland. Then I’m playing in Seattle the next night, the 21st, at Columbia City Theater.
Tell me about the album. What’s the story?
The story is — that’s complicated because the songs cover like six years of my life. Some of the songs are really old, and I wanted to breathe new life into them. Other ones are brand new … I wanted to definitely have a mix of very full cinematic sound and also a very sparse and naked feeling. I don’t think it tells a clear narrative per se, because it’s a patchwork of my life over the past six years. Even the recording process felt a little bit patchwork-y because I went through two or three different producers. The recording stretched over I think at least two years, if not three years. It’s been a long project. It’s had a lot of false starts, which just makes me so much more excited to be done and have a physical copy in my hand because there were a lot of times I didn’t think it would happen. I didn’t know if it would actually be an album I was proud of or if it’d even be finished at all, and it is. They are all stories of love or heartbreak, I guess. That was sort of the tone to it.
It does seem to be largely about relationships.
I try to keep the songs open enough where they’re relatable. Not necessarily consciously — they’re very intimate in their own ways, but it’s not like reading my diary on stage. It’s a fine line — it feels vulnerable to play them but not in an uncomfortable way. What was cool, too, is I had people write accompanying parts for other instruments for songs before with my EP, but this felt so different. It really felt like people who were passionate about my music found my EP, sought me out and were like, “Can I please write this part for this song?”
Andy Page for “Vegas” sought me out, and was like, “I have a part for ‘Vegas.’” He’s incredible. He went to the music school at UO. He’s with Bustin’ Jieber. He can play any kind of music and compose. It was a really powerful moment, too, with Vegas, because he wrote the part and I can’t read sheet music — I’m very self-taught. So he emailed me all the sheet music for a string quartet, and I was like, “Great, when can I hear it?” [laughs] And he said, “Oh, OK. Well, we gotta rehearse with some people and then I guess we’ll play it for you.” The night we recorded the string part — which was about a year before we recorded any other parts, which was kind of strange — was at the [UO] music school. We all met late at night at the music school and Elijah [Medina] and Noah [Jenkins] and Amara [Sperber] and Bryce [Caster] were all there with Andy, and they had already rehearsed it. I just showed up and got on the guitar and was like, “Are we just going to play through it once?” And we did. My first time hearing it, playing with them — and I just started crying; it was so powerful. He just really got the essence of the song. It was really beautiful. It’s hard, too, because sometimes a person will take away from a song something really different than what I want, and there can be some tension with that when you’re trying to do accompaniment. It seemed like Andy really got it.
You collaborated with a lot of people on this record. Anna Tivel for one.
She’s actually how I met Peter Rodocker who ended up producing the majority of the album and recording it. I did a show with her. I think I met her through Jeffrey Martin. We did a show together a year and a half ago for the first time in Eugene. She was coming to Eugene and Jeffrey was like, “Do you want to play with her?” I was like, “Yeah, of course.” I listened to her music and loved it. Then the next thing I know I’m playing at The Waypost in Portland about a year ago, and Peter [Rodocker] just shows up to the show, and he was like, “I would love to record your album.” He sought me out. It all just worked out so magically through these crazy few years of when I didn’t know if it was going to happen at all. It sort of worked out just the way it was supposed to in a weird way.
Tell me about the cover art.
She’s from Italy. I just found [Nadezda Fava] online. She has a blog online where she puts her illustrations, and I was just scrolling through and I really loved her style, because it’s feminine, but there’s a strength to it; there’s kind of a boldness to her colors and shapes and everything. I knew I wanted album art. I found her art pretty early on in the process. I noticed that she did tattoo commissions, so I wondered if she’d just let me buy this from her. I emailed her and she was really excited to do it.
You mentioned earlier that you’re self-taught. When did you initially get into music?
I mean, I took [guitar] lessons, but I’d watch my teacher and then kind of copy her. I took lessons with Laura Kemp, who’s in Babes with Axes, and she plays around town with everybody, and she’s been a huge inspiration to me. I started those when I was 10, probably. I took lessons with her for a few years and then I just started doing my own thing. She writes songs just so beautifully and she helped me write my first couple songs, just in lessons, like about my pet rats and stuff [laughs] — just whatever was topical. I haven’t taken lessons since I was 14. A lot of it is through learning covers and then writing your own songs — it was a mix of both of those, was sort of my training, I guess. But it never involved reading sheet music. I can read tabs and chord charts — those are more visual for me.
Do you want to keep building your music career here or do you want to go to another city?
The only other city I’d really think about is Portland, but I lived there briefly to go to school and it was a bad match. But I feel like I could go back in the near future and make it better. It seems like the place to be to play music. Eugene, for being the size it is, is really great for music; just I don’t know how long that will work. I love living in Eugene, so I’m hesitant to leave.