Caroline Polachek Is the Indie Diva We Want Now

Backstage forward of a Manchester live performance {that a} reviewer would later name “an alternative-pop masterclass,” Caroline Polachek radiates calm. Regardless of the 38-year-old’s packed tour schedule and dark-walled environment, she seems well-rested and glowing, surrounded by an aura of sunshine. (The truth that she’s resurrected her 2010s coiffure, the one with the halo of sunbeam-like highlights, provides to the impact.) If this have been a wellness-cult recruitment session versus a Tuesday morning Zoom interview, I’d in all probability be writing to you now as a card-carrying member, urging you to affix the Church of Caroline.

The hearth and brimstone lighting up her present tour is the results of volcano-like set items, lighting methods, and background animations, “however the smoke is actual,” Polachek says, “and there’s quite a lot of it. I preferred the thought of bringing precarity and unknowing into the stage set, how the band and I seemed very small in comparison with this factor which may blow.”

polachek standing in front of her stage set

Polachek in rehearsals for her present tour.


The tour is in help of Polachek’s second solo studio album, Want, I Need to Flip Into You, which got here out in February to widespread acclaim (it held robust as the best rated album of the yr on Metacritic for months). Written in the course of the pandemic lockdown in addition to the in-between occasions whereas on tour with Dua Lipa in 2022, the album is a maximalist fever dream that evolves from claustrophobia to catharsis. The video for album opener “Welcome to My Island” options Polachek wailing from inside a cardboard field and a purple dust pit that will or will not be an lively volcano.


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Later, she’s seen spewing lava from her mouth, casually swatting away big glowing sperms, and cheerfully working on the seaside holding the hoof of a thriller mythological beast who’s simply out of body and apparently filming her. The tune’s bridge, a spoken-word monologue, addresses her sophisticated relationship together with her father, a scholar of Chinese language historical past and musician who handed away in April of 2020 from the coronavirus. It’s delivered in a mode that recollects Debbie Harry rapping and Kate Bush’s over-the-top expressiveness.

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“For me, the lyric ‘Welcome to My Island’ is a joke about ego and being trapped in your individual head,” Polachek says. “I consider that tune as like a extremely bratty, silly, manic ego anthem, like, ‘Welcome to my world. I hope you prefer it. You’re not leaving.’ It’s only a joke about narcissism and ego, and the album unfolds from there, changing into more and more open and empathetic and coping with reminiscence and the thought of what we get to maintain and what we don’t. The album isn’t a story or idea album. There’s no storyline that runs via it. However one factor that does tie the sequence of tracks collectively, in a unfastened method, is that by the tip of the album, the ‘self’ has utterly dissolved. It ends with a gaggle of kids singing on my behalf. And it looks like this second of launch.”

caroline polachek dances while filming a music video

Polachek on the set of her video for “Smoke.”


Mid-pandemic, Polachek discovered herself in Sicily, not removed from Mount Etna, the lively volcano that options within the second season of White Lotus. “A tremendous factor that got here out of visiting Italy at the moment was feeling so linked to this legacy of individuals coping with chaos, whether or not it got here within the type of financial chaos, political chaos, biomedical, or simply the historical past of conflict and conquest and displacement and all of the lore round Vesuvius,” she says. “I really feel like Italian tradition, each up to date and historical, has so many solutions for coping with chaos that come within the type of sensuality and humor and colour and verve and keenness—simply this concept of ‘reside for at the moment, get on with it, transfer on, don’t dwell.’

polachek sits in a chair on the set of a music video

“Manufacturing rehearsals are at all times a extremely psychedelic time,” Polachek says, “since you’re on this studio crammed with fog and strobe lights for weeks.”


“There’s a sort of hot-bloodedness that I believed made a extremely deep sort of sense. And I wished to deliver that zoomed-out perspective on the place we’re at to the album, and never enable myself to indulge on this concept that this can be a uncommon or distinctive second in human historical past—that this has occurred over and over and over in numerous methods, and all the superstition and nervousness, all the snake oil, semi-wellness non secular theories that have been circulating over the past couple of years are simply part of human nature and human tradition. I selected to not take pleasure in considering that we have been significantly particular. It made me suppose lots about vitality, and I wished this document to really feel extraordinarily very important.”

Throughout manufacturing rehearsals for her present tour, Polachek filmed the video for “Smoke.” “We’d arrange all the reside present and have been rehearsing an actual model of the present with a full crew for just a few weeks to dial in all the things from the sunshine present to the sound combine to the choreography,” she says. “Manufacturing rehearsals are at all times a extremely psychedelic time, since you’re on this studio crammed with fog and strobe lights for weeks. Nevertheless it’s additionally, clearly, very costly since you’re paying for the group and the tools with out making a revenue the way in which you’ll in the course of the exhibits. So I had this thought to do a dream model of the present and movie it.” The method resulted in an epic, vintage-feeling live performance movie (and the cool BTS imagery illustrating this text).

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“Repetition is a extremely necessary a part of the id of this album,” says Polachek. “There are phrases in lyrics that repeat throughout the album, articles of clothes or tune titles that flip up in numerous movies like little Easter eggs. So it felt inside the language of the challenge to introduce the reside present within the type of a music video. Nevertheless it would not look the way in which music movies look now. It appears the way in which music movies seemed in, like, 1991, the place you’d put a rock band in a studio and shoot them in a vibey method and name it a day. I used to be really a bit nervous making a music video like that, however weirdly it had essentially the most visitors of any video I’ve ever made. So I believe individuals did reply to the physicality of it and possibly the realism of it as effectively.”

It’s straightforward to get swept up within the unbridled devotion that surrounds Polachek, whose Brooklyn synth-pop band Chairlift emerged on the peak of late-aughties social media stan tradition (and whose tune, “Bruises,” soundtracked one of many period’s most memorable iPod commercials). Her subsequent solo work—and its accompanying campy choreography—ensured a seamless transition to TikTok virality (see: “So Scorching You’re Hurting My Emotions”).

caroline polachek on the set of a music video

On break from filming the video for “Smoke.”


Followers will get an opportunity to see Polachek within the flesh for the rest of the summer season and fall with a sequence of pageant dates in Europe and the U.S., together with together with subsequent month’s inaugural Bleached Fest in San Diego and October’s III Factors Competition in Miami.

“I really feel actually grateful that individuals, each critics and listeners, have been so down to enter all these totally different zones inside one album and never see it as a battle,” Polachek says. “I really feel very emboldened by how understood the document was. On-line, I used to be seeing individuals’s feedback and their very own interpretations of the songs, and I spotted that what was necessary wasn’t that I used to be conveying my very own imaginative and prescient, however that I used to be really opening up individuals’s imaginations and letting them create, that I used to be giving individuals these portals or locations by which they may challenge their very own private meanings and sensory imaginations.

“That for me is extraordinarily thrilling and fulfilling, and in addition to have cultivated a fan base that may be very imaginative, inventive, and open-minded. In that sense, I really feel like that is the place I’ve wished to be my whole life and my whole profession—to really feel understood by a extremely inventive group of dreamers.”

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Melissa Giannini is the options director of ELLE.