The pop landscape has taken a dramatic shift in recent years. Gone are the days where pop starlets were defined by rumoured tabloid flings, with a gaggle of dancers marching behind them and the stadium size-crowds they were able to bring in night after night on globe-trotting tours. Beneath the blustering top 40 mashes and million-dollar show productions, a new kind of pop-star has come into fruition; alternative soundscapes crafted within the four walls of a bedroom or dingy basements scattered somewhere in the underbellies of capital cities all across the world. Caroline Polachek is part of this new pop outlook.
Formerly one half of synth-pop duo Chairlift, Polachek performed under various pseudonyms before reaching her eponymous debut, including two LPs under Ramona Lisa and her more abstract, synth-driven project, CEP. Outside of her own releases, the songstress has spent over a decade lending her balmy vocals to tracks from the likes of Charli XCX and Blood Orange, even starring alongside Dev Hynes in a Calvin Klein campaign during the Raf Simons era. She has also penned scores for New York mega-brand, Proenza Schouler, and was the lead songwriting credit on Beyoncé’s 2015 sensual banger, No Angel – a cracking CV so far, we know.
Polachek has now entered new terrain with her debut solo record under her actual name via Pang, released less than two weeks ago. The project was welded together with Andrew Wyatt, alongside PC Music masterminds A.G. Cook and Danny L Harle, with the latter assuming the role as executive producer for the record. The result is essentially the musical equivalent of being catapulted into space, and then being in total tranquility within the unescapable eeriness. Whilst the record is still quintessentially pop (just listen to the block-buster So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings), Polachek parallels smash-hits with more subdued cuts which lavish in the spacious, experimental instrumentals courtesy of her quartet of producers.
Drifting between gothic, medieval and witchy stylings, Polachek has crafted a consistent narrative within her music videos and personal dress sense that separates her from her contemporaries. “It comes down to wanting to feel poetic and fresh at the same time,” the singer explains. Aiding her in a magical visual journey is Hugo Comte, who shot all the cover art leading up to the release of the album, including the record sleeve itself. “The lens he uses really distorts space in an interesting way, where things feel quiet at first glance but the longer you look the more distorted you realise it is,” says Polachek. “His subjects always appear to be caught in a sort of in-between state rather than posed, which is how I wanted to represent the songs too, to give a sense of being in motion rather than having arrived.”
This is Polachek just beginning to lean into her pop heel turn, and we’ll be lingering on to her every next step. In celebration of an album that’ll undoubtedly topple end-of-year lists across the board, and a sold-out London show tonight at the Hoxton Hall, we asked one of pop’s most promising stars 10 VIQs (that’s very important questions):
Caroline Polachek: You’ve got to get a little greasy, so no more showering between now and Halloween. Stolen jewellery and a bottle of rum are a nice touch too.
10: What can your London fans look forward to at your gig at Hoxton Hall this Wednesday?
CP: They can look forward to singing along! My fans love to sing, it’s so cool. They can also expect Pang in its entirety, a secret cover song, DJ scratching, and an enchanted gate.
10: What was your go-to look whilst recording your new album, Pang?
CP: I assembled a uniform of blackwatch plaid (the navy blue and dark green kind) from eBay; pieces from different designers and eras that are all slightly mismatcheed if you look close, which I love. Blackwatch plaid connects me to so many parts of my life simultaneously – the uniforms in the school I went to in Japan as a very little girl, the Abercrombie preppiness I was steeped in when my family moved to Connecticut, and the gorgeous 1980/90s English fashion like [Alexander] McQueen and [Vivienne] Westwood who were being so subversive with folkloric tradition. It’s important to feel connected with your history and your dream world while making an album and that look did the job.
10: Any pre-show rituals?
CP: I like to turn on my in-ear monitors so I can listen to the sound of the audience talking and drinking as I get ready. It puts me way more in touch with what I’m about to go do.
10: The music videos for this album era have been exceptional – which music videos were you obsessed with growing up?
CP: Thank you – I’ve really enjoyed making them! 1990s MTV was so amazing, music videos were at their absolute peak… Some of my favorite ones were BustaRhymes Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See, Marilyn Manson’s Dope Show, Bjork’s All Is Full Of Love, and Fiona Apple’s Criminal… All so singular.
10: What songs are currently on your pre-show playlist?
CP: It’s just Heaven Or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins, start to finish.
10: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
CP: Teleportation, hands down. There are always three places I want to be at once!
10: What’s your favourite tune to play on the mandolin? And it can’t be one of your own!
CP: Truthfully I can’t play any others, but if I could I’d like have a repertoire of Emmylou Harris and Bach for serenading friends after dinner.
10: What’s the saddest love song you’ve ever written?
CP: Definitely Look At Me Now, from my newest album Pang. Although it’s technically a post-love song I guess.
10: Lastly, we love your song Door and we know you love singing about gates. If you could design your own front door, what would it look like?
CP: Ooh it would absolutely be an intricately carved dark wood door with a massive brass handle in the shape of a reaching hand! You’d have to hold and twist the hand in order to open the door.
by Paul Toner