Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Caitlin Rose with one hand on her hip and the other behind her head, in blue and purple lighting

Caitlin Rose is Done with Being Self-Defeating

15 November 2022, 17:00
Words by Alan Pedder
Original Photography by Laura E. Partin

With the long-awaited CAZIMI, Caitlin Rose finds her way back to the centre of her own sphere. She talks to Alan Pedder about how holding boundaries and looking to the stars shaped her welcome return.

It’s been a long time since we last heard from Caitlin Rose, Nashville’s queen of the quip and gutsy country-pop songcraft, and there’s a lot to catch up on when I call her up in early October.

“A lot of those years are not really worth it though,” she deadpans right off the bat. “So honestly, we can dart right around those.”

It’s the first interview Rose has done for her new album CAZIMI, and in a very on-brand turn of events, she’s hobbling around with her left foot in a cast and boot, having broken it in on the first day of a family holiday in Lisbon the month before. An X-ray she shared on Instagram shows six painful looking screws holding the bone together.

It’s the latest foot-related mishap in a five-year period of multiple sprains, which Rose starts to go into before screeching to a halt. “Oh god, I’m like somebody’s old aunt right now, telling you about all my hospital visits,” she says, feigning horror. “That was not my intention.”

Rose admits she hasn’t yet given much thought about how to navigate talking about CAZIMI and the years she’s spent in a sort of creative purgatory. She began writing for the album all the way back in 2014 but the road from there veered wildly through thickets of doubt and chasms of vagueness. Feeling some pressure to get out of her comfort zone but not really offered any specific direction to head in, Rose found herself adrift.

“I work in a very sensitive way,” she says. “Like, Nashville is something I can navigate. There are so many different styles of players here that I just ended up feeling quite limited in other places because I didn’t know anybody. I’d end up in a studio with a producer who’d be like, ‘Here are my people’, which was cool, but it just wasn’t fun for me.”

“Unfortunately, I’m not the brooding, self-serious kind of artist. Probably one of my main motivations with making anything is the hang. Like, I need a good vibe. I need friendship. Making music with strangers, it felt like it wasn’t really mine because I didn’t have as much autonomy there.”

As the failed sessions stacked up, Rose started to believe she would never be able to finish a new record. “I would just end up sticking my head in the sand after every kind of fall,” she says. “I felt like I was screwing up, and screwing up on someone else’s dime and someone else’s schedule.”

She corrects herself. “No, I’m not saying I screwed up. A lot of those situations weren’t right but there were things that were right about them. It just wasn’t a good fit. People around me were saying ‘Let’s get you out of your comfort zone’, and eventually I just kind of figured, ‘Well, actually, I’ve made two great records in my comfort zone.'”

Caitlin Rose with arms raised behind her head, photographed against a plain white background

It was her childhood friend Jordan Lehning who pulled Rose out of her rut and back into a circle where she felt supported enough to take things forward. “He was like, ‘This is insane. Let’s just do this. You need to do this,” she says, with a heavy emphasis on ‘need’. “He helped me to look at all of the material and figure out how to make it exactly what I wanted, and what he wanted. It made such a difference to be with people who I knew really cared and who were invested in the work.”

Revisiting some of their own early demos as well as recording sessions that Rose did with Justin Young of The Vaccines, Daniel Romano, Sam Cohen and others, CAZIMI began to take shape. The new recordings began in February 2020 (“It was a great first hang”) and overdubs in March, but when the pandemic shut everything down in mid-April, effectively removing any time pressure, Rose says making the record became a lot less focused.

“It became like Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Jordan wasn’t working with anyone else because of Covid so we were just goofing around.”

Although Rose stresses firmly that CAZIMI is “not an astrology record,” it’s impossible not to notice how often she draws from the cosmic lexicon across its dozen songs. The album title is a Latin form of the Arabic word kaṣmīmī, meaning ‘in the heart of the sun’. Although there’s some disagreement about the definition of a true cazimi, it’s essentially used to describe what Rose calls “a brief and perfect moment in time” when a planet transits the sun closely, amplifying its astrological powers.

“The concept of cazimi wasn’t something I’d really heard about until a couple of years ago, so I’ve probably got about as much insight on it as a Google search does,” she says. “I feel stupid trying to describe it. I keep trying to phrase it in a way that doesn’t make me feel annoyed at myself.”

For Rose, there was something deeply resonant about the idea of the fleeting glory that comes with being in cazimi with the sun. Thinking back to the start of her music career and how it had taken off in ways that she was wildly unprepared for, she saw that, far from being empowering, it often left her bewildered and desperately trying to play catch up.

“I was so young when I started out, and things went so fast,” she says. “With this album, I kept finding little ways to use the concept of cazimi to reflect on how I felt, about wanting to harness a shining moment instead of being burnt out by it.”

Rose doesn’t want to sound ungrateful for the experience. She remains incredibly proud of CAZIMI’s two older siblings and says she feels blessed to have accomplished enough with those records to be able to come back to an audience who still support her. “People kept encouraging me and wanting me to come back, and honestly, I don’t think I would be doing this at 35 if I hadn’t done what I did at 20.”

“I feel like things kind of got weird when I was around 24 or 25,” she says, which a quick bit of maths suggests was roughly around the midpoint between Own Side Now and The Stand-In. “I’m not bringing personal situations into interviews, but a lot of things happened. It was kind of a domino situation for me, in that all the upheavals just kind of stacked up. I wasn’t prepared for it, so I wasn’t able to move forward in a healthy way and just sort of continued to attract things that were not good.”

Being a Gemini moon, Rose has always been the talkative type. Her early shows were as much about the between-song drollery and self-aimed arrows as they were about the songs. But what’s charming on stage can seem very different away from the spotlights. Rose’s people pleasing tendencies, which she says were driven by nerves and “some pretty intense ADHD”, led to a lot of oversharing and, inevitably, a sort of feedback loop of anxiety.

I remind Rose of the last time we spoke, when she called me back sheepishly two hours later and retracted about a third of what she’d said. “Oh god,” she says, audibly recoiling. “I was just really, really bad with giving things to people for no reason other than I didn’t know any different. I’ve learned since how to not do that, and how to not feel like you owe journalists and other people more than you do. It’s like I was bartering personal information for I don’t even know what, man.”

Caitlin Rose with hands in pockets in blue and purple lighting

With the press cycle for CAZIMI kicking off, Rose is acutely aware that people will want to know where she’s been and what happened to keep her away for so long. This time, though, a line has been drawn in the sand. “I feel like right now there’s this tendency in the music industry to barter trauma for coverage,” she says.

“It’s becoming pretty commonplace to anchor a release or a cycle on something terrible, and I don’t want to bring this record into the world with that. I just want to be excited that I’m here again, and I want other people to be excited and not be focused on the personal stuff. It’s no one’s fucking business.”

She softens a bit. “I don’t mean to sound bitchy, but for me that’s almost ten years of a life. It’s not nothing. I got really disheartened for a minute because I realised that there was some of that potentially happening or trying to appear in the works around this album. But I just don’t want to do that. If I feel like telling people, I can, but it’s not going to be somebody’s fucking byline.”

I can’t help but cheerlead this reformed version of Rose with her newly established “middle-aged boundaries”. She sticks to them robustly, pulling herself up in an instant when she lets a small thing slip. It feels right and healthy, and honestly kind of an inspiration.

Rose describes her new outlook as something of a reset, for which she credits finding a therapist who really understood what help she needed. “I’ve been going to therapy on and off since I was 16 but I’ve gone my whole life thinking, ‘What the fuck is wrong with me?’,” she says. “Finding the right person was like somebody handing me a magic key. It was like, ‘Okay, wow, so this is how life is supposed to be!”

“The last two or three years have been really grounding for me, and in some ways I’m glad that it took so long to make this record because I don’t know if I would have been ready to talk about it otherwise. I feel more prepared to figure out ways to have a career that’s healthy and, you know, where I’m not so fucking self-sabotaging.”


Rose still holds a kind of romance for her self-destructive side, as we hear in the song “Lil’ Vesta”, but she writes it with a heightened sense of awareness. As a character, Vesta takes both her name and her impulses from a fixed asteroid that, in astrology charts, represents a person’s deepest desires. Its astrological symbol is a tiny fire, in reference to the sacred flame that protected Ancient Rome and the goddess Vesta who ruled it.

“This song is my way of asking, ‘What’s the fire inside? What is the thing in me that keeps me burning, that keeps me going?’,” says Rose, whose birthday falls within the water sign Cancer. “I feel like I’m a very watery personality a lot of the time, and Vesta is this character who is just throwing fire at everything. It’s kind of a self-destructive party song. It’s just me lighting matches everywhere and trying to figure out what fucking burns me, because I don’t feel anything…” She trails off. “Sorry, that sounds kind of sad. I just like lil’ Vesta as a character. She’s just so cute.”

“It’s funny, I can get so hyperfixated on words, and ‘vesta’ was one of them. I was trying to figure out what I loved about it and, well, I think everybody had their weird pandemic buys and one of mine was like a huge box of Swan Vesta matches from English. I don’t know why, but I never run out of matches, so…”

One unanticipated artefact of CAZIMI having been compiled from a long list of songs written over several years is the accidental easter eggs that pop up throughout. Rose says she never set out to make a record where the songs are referential to each other. Understandably, since she has so often felt like she’s been going round in circles, many of the songs were written in the same conscious thread. “It’s almost like there was a group chat of, like, four or five different versions of me who were building these songs together,” she says, laughing at the prospect.

Rose describes the organic growth of the album as kind of like being at a party. “It’s like some songs just stayed while others came and went and then the room started to fill up, and I actually really liked that idea. Every song is kind of its own character and they all sort of play off each other, but it definitely wasn’t intentional.”

"I never really sounded like country music. I sounded like me doing country music, which is a very different thing"


Just as the theme of “Nobody’s Sweetheart” is echoed in the bridge of “Lil’ Vesta”, Rose calls upon the Shakespearean image of star-crossed lovers in both “Lil’ Vesta” and newest single “Modern Dancing”, CAZIMI’s most irresistibly pop moment.

“That song is so funny because it started out as a literal waltz and now it sounds almost like a Rugrats theme or something,” she says. “I’d had the full song done for about two years but then I got this line in my head that was sort of in iambic pentameter – ‘It’s not for lack of trying / It’s just that I can’t seem to get it going’ – and I just kept repeating it until one day I sat down and rewrote the whole song.”

On one reading, “Modern Dancing” can be taken at face value as a song about failures and false starts in love. On another, it’s easy to pick out certain references to Rose’s career frustrations of the past nine years. But there’s a third reading, too, and the clue is in the spoken word fragments that are scattered here and there. Taken from one of the 1940s movies that Rose and Lehning were binging at the time (she can’t remember off the top of her head which one), it’s a nod to the more esoteric themes of the song.

“I think ‘Modern Dancing’ is pretty heavy in some ways, but it has a lot of imagination to it,” she says. “There are a few songs on this record where I felt like I could step out of the tangible experience and into something that’s a little more mystical or spooky. Time travel, man! Spies and space and crazy shit. It’s been fun to be a less literal on this record and to explore less confined writing styles.”

For all the earlier talk about comfort zones, it strikes me that a record like CAZIMI has always been well within her wheelhouse. The country singer-songwriter side was more of a comfort zone within a comfort zone, and CAZIMI jumps the fences into pastures of indie-pop and flowering new wave. “I realised that I have held back on a lot of my own musical influences in the past, thinking that they didn’t fit what I was doing,” says Rose. “I mean, I never really sounded like country music – I sounded like me doing country music, which is a very different thing.”

“On this record I referenced a lot of things in the studio. I really wanted to feel unselfconscious about embracing things that I love. I joked that it was daddy’s girl rock, which sounds a little bit disgusting. I can’t decide if that’s too creepy, but I just had this idea of it being like a little girl who gets her brother’s or her dad’s record collection and listens to it, and then being like [Shirley Temple voice] ‘I can do that’.”

Photo 2 by Laura E Partain

With Lehning on board, Rose had the luxury of being able to reel off a list of obscure references that only someone she had grown up making music with would grasp, from German fairground rides to Lehning’s old band The Non-Commissioned Officers. “Jordan listens very closely and he’s very conscientious of any creative notions I have,” she says. “He understands thing that no one else in a studio could understand. Either that or he’s really good at pretending.”

“I had a lot of autonomy on this record. It’s definitely a step into all different directions of all things that I've loved, for my whole life. As Jordan put it, ‘This is the most you thing you've ever made, and I think it's going to be interesting because nobody actually knows you.’”

With CAZIMI coming out imminently, Rose is feeling proud and accomplished, even thankful for the journey. Determined not to allow a full decade to go by between albums, she and her team have been working frantically to get the visuals done and the vinyl pressed before 2022 is done. “Making this happen in the last quarter feels like a bit of a win for me,” she says. “To have nine years between records is a little bit of a saving grace. Ten years is too round a number.”

So far the reaction has been great, especially in the UK where Rose has always been so warmly supported. “My boyfriend texts me every time Mark Riley plays one of the singles and that makes me really happy,” she says. “I’ve missed the relationship I had with people over there, which in a lot of ways felt like the first real kind of music family I had outside of Nashville. Who knows, maybe people won’t like the record but, for me, just to have the opportunity to get back into that world is really exciting.”

Wherever CAZIMI ultimately lands, that Rose even got to this point is something to be celebrated. And she’s owning it in ways that her younger self could never. Just don’t come at her with platitudes like ‘everything happens for a reason’. “When people say that I’m like, no, fuck that!” she snorts.

“Terrible things happen and it’s awful and they shouldn’t happen, but those things are not your whole life. I got sort of stuck in that cycle of thinking, and it took a long time for me to really remove myself from that narrative. But I think that’s the only way I could have made this record, and it’s awesome and I’m really happy about it.”

CAZIMI is released on 18 November via Names Records.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next