Blending euphoric lullabies with an other-worldly set of pipes, electric-pop artist Caroline has graced the music scene with passionate vocals and alluring ambiance. Returning from a five-year furlough, she is poised for her second studio release, Verdugo Hills. A native of Japan, Caroline’s path to stardom has taken her from the Berklee School of Music in Boston to a major label contract in Japan — yet one thing is certain: Caroline Lufkin embodies a true artist, and her exploits are a product of complete creative freedom. Caroline was kind enough to chat with Verbicide about her journey, life on the road, and the new record.
Your newest album,Verdugo Hills, is about to be released! Tell us about it.
Verdugo Hills is my second album that will be out on Temporary Residence on January 25th! These songs were a result of my time in California. I am very happy with the way it turned out! Andreas Bjørck, who helped produce my new album, is one of the best programmers in the world and his work inspires me to be awesome like him. (laughter)
It’s been almost five years since your last record — how do you think your music has evolved since then?
I think, naturally, my taste has changed a little. But the big difference is [that] I am no longer focused on production perfection. [On] my first album, I focused a lot on making the production clean and crisp. Now, I’m focused on creating exactly the image I set out to make.
How challenging is to restrain and simplify instead of add more layers to a song? Is it something you strive for, or does it come naturally in the writing process?
I think it’s my personality to keep things simple and only let parts I really love make it into my session. I don’t like adding anything that doesn’t have a function or doesn’t [add] anything special to the song. So, many ideas are immediately rejected before the idea is even complete. I guess it’s a natural process.
Verdugo Hills: is there a story behind the name?
When I moved to California I chose my apartment because I knew living down the block from the hills would make me happy. Verdugo Hills was the setting while I started and finished the album. Now I’m in bustling Tokyo…maybe my next album will be IDM dance music.
So you’ve spent a lot of time touring Europe and Japan with the eclectic indie troupe Mice Parade. What’s your favorite part about touring?
I love getting to know the people I tour with because each are incredible individuals that have a lot of wonderful things to share. All the amazing musicians you see or meet on the road, at shows, or at festivals (Chris Clark, Caribou, No Age, Amon Tobin, Laetitia Sadier, Silje Nes, etc.) really change your life.
Also, as an electronic pop artist, I get tied down to performing with a click track and this sets some limitations. So, playing with Mice Parade is a good balance. I am constantly on my toes not knowing what’s going to happen next. Also, touring with Mice Parade gets me excited about bringing in more live instruments — the new album actually features Dan Lippel of Mice Parade. Man, he makes the songs a million times better.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on the road?
The best experiences were playing and wandering around at Taico and Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. The worst experience [was when] our tire exploded, causing our van to swerve out of control — [it was a] near-death experience.
You were, for a period of time, in Japan recording a pop album and had a lucrative record deal, but ended up walking away from it. Looking back, what caused you to make that decision, and how has it affected your music career today?
My body was rejecting the album production process that came with the major label deal. I was assigned to a producer, who I actually really loved working with. But it didn’t end there. My songs had to filter through my management’s music director, a management president, and staff from the record label. Too many hands involved! I felt like I was an actress playing this pop star role and I didn’t want to go through with it.
Now, I’m extremely happy to be part of the Temporary Residence family. I need to be able to create exactly what it is I envision — otherwise, what’s the point?
You were born in Japan but moved a lot growing up. Did any of the cities you grew up in influence your music? If so, which places and how?
Okinawa! My Okinawan relatives had a huge effect on me. A family gathering meant busting out the sake and sanshin/shamisen for some singing and dancing. My music sounds nothing like traditional Okinawa music, but I think this is where my love for music stems. Also, I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston where I was exposed to an international community and all types of music. All this music that has made it to my ears have probably somehow affected the way I write.
Oftentimes, writers make music more for self therapy rather than to appeal to the masses. Do you identify at all with that? If so, in what ways?
I definitely identify with that! Music has always been therapy, and still is now. All of Verdugo Hills is self therapy. It was so personal and private that I almost felt embarrassed and wrong to release it.
Your sister Olivia is a popular recording artist in Japan, so you must come from a pretty musical family. Do you ever bounce ideas off each other?
Oh yes! Big time. My sis, bro, and I are finally living in the same city and we love being able to ask if something sounds okay — or we may even contribute ideas to one another.