Caitlin Park interview – A call to battle
Sydney-based singer/songwriter and megababe, Caitlin Park, is set to release her hugely-anticipated second album in May. Jess O’Callaghan catches up with her for a chat about the need for a section of snare drums at a certain stage in every relationship:
Hello Caitlin. It’s really exciting that you’ve got a new album coming out.
It’s very exciting.
And I loved your latest single, Hold Your Gaze. It’s been on repeat for a few weeks now. Can you tell me a little about the new album and maybe the ways it’s different from Milk Annual?
It’s not that far removed from Milk Annual. It’s probably less obscure. It’s a little more pop. After writing tracks like Baby Teeth and Warriors With Wild Hearts on the first record I really wanted to embrace how much fun it was to play those songs live and have people listen and really enjoy it. I really loved doing all the obscure stuff on Milk Annual and there is still a bunch of that stuff on the new record, but I wanted to step into more considered songwriting.
The record’s a lot bigger. It has big drums and still a lot of sampling. Mostly from travel – I went to New York and the UK towards the end of 2011, after Milk Annual got put out. I wanted to focus totally on things that I have a strength in. I think you start to learn what your strengths are as you perform more and more.
A lot of the songs are arranged around a melody of some sort vocally, and then the rhythms. So that’s where the big drums come in and vocal tracks come in. Most of the tracks on the album are between 20 and 40 vocal tracks for one song. And the arrangement was all done by myself as well, which was a really tough process. There’s a lot of layers happening.
You’ve called Hold Your Gaze a ‘call to battle’, and that decision to want more from someone. Is that a theme that runs through the songs on the album?
The record and Hold Your Gaze were actually written at completely different times. The album was actually written at the end of 2012, and I wrote Hold Your Gaze in July last year. I think, because of that, the whole album is in a different place, emotionally. But they actually are quite similar vibes. It definitely says something about my love life. It’s not linear, that’s for sure.
It’s a call to battle – I’ve always really wanted to make a song like that. I was having a relationship with somebody who wouldn’t make a commitment to me. I actually wrote the song quite a few months after the relationship ended. I wasn’t actually writing it to, you know, to get anyone back or anything, but I wanted to write a song about the experience.
It’s a little bit of an afterward to the relationship… just kind of, you know, ‘how dare you?’. But also when it boils down to it the song is meant to be really positive and it has this triumphant finish of getting a person to admit that they can be brave and be a partner and it doesn’t matter what other people think.
I sat down with Paul Derricott, who did drums for the record, and said ‘Ok, this is how I want it to sound’. Kind of soldier-ish, as though there were a long standing of marching band soldier guys with snare drums. Having those really big drums, basically saying you need to stand up.
I can kind of imagine a huge army of people standing in front of one person trying to convince them to make a decision.
I was speaking to a friend who has recently broken up with someone in that stage of a relationship, and it’s sort of something that happens in most relationships – there’s a decision period that no one really writes songs about. I think that’s why I was surprised by the song – it’s something that’s often not pinpointed.
It’s really funny that you say that because I’ve had that conversation recently as well where somebody says they’re at that time in a relationships and I’m like ‘Yeah!’ And everyone knows it. You get together with somebody and you say ‘Are we… are we… together? Do I call you my partner?’ And everyone gets weird about it. You definitely don’t hear that story of, ‘Are we together?’ and they say ‘Yeah! I guess so!’ and it’s really simple. It’s never like that.
There’s always weird anxieties. Everyone’s holding all their thoughts and feelings really close to their chest and it’s quite a difficult part of a relationship, to convince someone. To say ‘are you brave enough to be yours and yours only?’
But it’s something that everyone experiences, I think. And the lovely side to the start of a new relationship where you’re really excited and there’s a lot of sex happening and you just want to see that person all the time. But then comes the… it’s not the honeymoon period anymore, it’s actually. We need to talk about logistics. It’s a really strange time.
Well it’s nice to have a battle anthem for it.
Yeah! That’s what I experienced to write the song. I was just like, come on!
I remember seeing on Instagram that you were recording in the Blue Mountains. Is this the album you were recording there?
Me and my engineer Sam Brumby, who’s a very dear friend of mine… I called him at the end of 2012 and said ‘Will you record this album with me?’ I chose to drive up to the mountains the day after my birthday. For some reason in my head I was like ‘I want to be so focused on writing this album I don’t even want to have a big night for my birthday’. And of course that didn’t happen.
But anyhow, we chose the date and that gave me a really short amount of time to write the songs, re-edit them and make them really perfect, to be able to know exactly what we needed to record while we were away. I think that gave me like two, two-and-a-half months of writing time. I’ve never worked to a deadline like that before.
I had everything ready, we had everything scheduled. We hunkered down for eight days. I bought all of the food and all of the booze we needed in that time. We only left twice.
What made you leave twice?
Firstly, me and two of my friends who sung on the record, Kira Puru and Shanna Watson, decided we really wanted to go to Katoomba and have somebody else prepare breakfast for us, which was really nice. And all of us bought some underwear from Rivers, because we needed to.
The other time was when me and Sam and my other good friend Aidan Roberts – who also sung on the record – decided to have a really little break. We went to Kings Tableland, which is this really amazing outlook over the mountains and had a few beers.
I really wanted it to be a very focused project, so yeah we [otherwise] didn’t leave. It was really amazing.
I’m not sure how much you’re allowed to talk about the album, but could you talk, even very vaguely, about your favourite track on the album?
Ohhh, that’s a hard one Jess.
To pick or to be vague about it?
Probably to pick, to be honest. Only because it changes all the time. I’ve sat with this record for a really long time. I listened to it heaps when I first got it, and then stopped listening to it for a while. A lot of them are really different.
Hold Your Gaze was really hard to write, but the next single that’s coming out, was probably, I would say, the hardest song I’ve ever written. And the hardest song to ever put together in an arrangement. Like we’re talking hours and hours and days of putting this arrangement together. It was… I didn’t sleep for 24 hours arranging it. I’m really really happy with it, I think it’s really fun. A lot of people sung on the song, and the parts I wrote I actually wrote for them, for their strengths. The way that it came out as a result was really amazing. It made me feel good about what I do. It made me feel like if someone comes to me and says ‘can you do something like this?’ Then maybe I can hold my head high and say ‘Yeah! I can’.
There’s a lot of big songs on the record but there’s a couple of little, smaller ones as well that are just sort of stripped back, vocal, electric guitar. Most of the record means the world to me. I’m intensely proud of it and I really feel very strongly about what I wrote about in each of the songs. It’s hard to choose.
Caitlin’s new album comes out May 2nd.
Caitlin Park Interview by Jess O’Callaghan.