Caroline Polachek – In With a Pang

Photography:
Clark Franklyn
Styling:
Grace Joel
Words:
India Hendrikse

“All the Mugler pieces made me extremely emotional,” says Caroline Polachek, reflecting on the glamour she wore on our shoot. “They were designed for a 2020 that never happened. It felt like sitting down to a table that had been beautifully set, but nobody had arrived to dine.”

 

Caroline Polachek is our digital cover story for September 2020
Caroline is wearing Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader throughout

Butter plissé knit top & black trousers, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

This wistful sentiment speaks to the universal overhaul of life as it was – a life that for experimental pop artist Caroline went from the glitz of being a guest on Jimmy Fallon in January to “extreme input mode” a few months later. For someone who tells me routine is a foreign concept – “I’m so chaotic,” she confesses – life slowing down terrified her initially.
But like her 10 day trip to London in February with a small suitcase in tow, that morphed into living in the city’s West, the New Yorker is adaptable. She’s managed to shake the initial nerves triggered by a halt to her jet-setting schedule of promoting Pang, the 2019 album under her own name (after previously releasing under the moniker Ramona Lisa). When I speak with her, she’s in sunny Sicily on “work camp”, writing for her fourth solo album, which is set to come out soon.
Carving a solo career after more than a decade of success in indie-pop band Chairlift is brave. But Caroline’s great at backing herself. “I have zero routine and it would be so much easier if I did… but you kind of trust that new ways of working will appear,” she says. Her process is brilliantly random and totally off-kilter: “Sometimes I’ll make something and I’ll intentionally decide to do the opposite. Rebelling against what you’ve previously made is a really useful way of working for me.”

Black oversized blouse with a matching skirt, multi-ball necklace and bi-color boots, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Tiger print jacquard corset jacket with matching flared trousers and black pumps, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Black jersey silver studded dress, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Black jersey silver studded dress, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Brown multi-seam corset jacket over a white oversized shirt, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Brown multi-seam corset jacket over a white oversized shirt, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

The process has paid off. ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’, the single written about a long-distance relationship and released late last year, has been pure success, with more than 14 million plays on Spotify. Of Pang, Charli XCX, whom Caroline has previously written with, described it as “top to tail perfection”. Tour dates are already confirmed for 2021, her voice was enlisted for A.G. Cook’s recent albums 7G and Apple, and Christine and the Queens was a latest collab. For someone who insists they’ve slowed down, by 2020 standards, she really hasn’t.
For her forthcoming album, which she’s writing in the warm Italian sun, expect more humour than hyperactivity; While Pang was a nod to the adrenaline-filled jolts that used to wake Caroline in the night, and singles like ‘Door’ include lamenting lyrics such as “You open the door, to another door… To another door… And I’m running through to you”, her yet-to-be-named new release will be comedic balm in comparison; a nod to the chaos Caroline sees happening back home in the United States. “In America 2020, when most people feel more out of control than ever before, humour in any form helps us reconcile with the fact that we’ve pretty much never been in control, that it was always a cultivated illusion,” she explains.
And as society grunts and heaves toward social change, Caroline says she’s been thinking a lot about volcanoes. “About there being this pent-up pressure that’s building up underground, both in the subconscious and in the form of massively unsustainable systems, that surfaces as this uncontrolled release,” she muses. “Kind of like a laugh or an orgasm. A chaotic sexy laugh.”

Butter plissé knit top & black trousers, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Black wool jersey structured dress with a multi-ball necklace and bicolor boots, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Reflecting on her “input mode” during lockdown, Caroline says she nostalgically watched David Lynch and Federico Fellini films, taking creative inspiration from the female characters within these artworks. “It made me think about femininity in a completely new way. Looking at all these hairstyles in Fellini films… women used to spend so much time putting themselves together to be these sculptural beings. I’m very pro-decorating. I think decorating yourself or decorating things is a way of indicating that they’re special and that they’re loved. Decorating yourself is a way of consecrating yourself or preparing yourself for amazing, sensual experiences.”
This love of self-decoration is apparent in Caroline’s aesthetic. One which is sleek and chic, with a vibe of nineties punk. She’s what a goth would look like if they came straight out of high-end Soho – ink black hair, fine pixie features, monochrome apparel and leather trimmings, with a cut glass accent the cherry on top.
Caroline’s voice has attracted rave critical reviews, and is both powerful and ethereal. She’s classically and operatically trained, yet even when singing acoustically, she sounds autotuned; her high notes are so raw they teeter on the precipice of cracking, in moments reminiscent of Kate Bush, a high-pitched, soul-grazing drawl. And yet in others, she’s an amalgamation of Grimes and FKA twigs.

Black oversized blouse with a matching skirt, and multi-ball bracelet, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Tiger print jacquard corset jacket with matching flared trousers, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Black jersey silver studded dress, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Black sheer corset top with a wool harness skirt, multi-ball jewelry and bi-color boots, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Butter plissé knit top & black trousers, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Her recent collaboration with Christine and the Queens, for the single ‘La Vita Nuova’, is the perfect rendition of her place in pop. The duo are a heavenly visual and musical pairing – two synth-pop soundscapes, flirting with the mainstream. “Chris is an absolute madman,” she says. “She just has so much integrity and focus as an artist, it’s so inspiring to be around.”
While Caroline never planned on living in London, it’s definitely become a sanctuary of sorts. But seeing the political and social upheaval of America from afar has had its challenges. “I feel a bit guilty having left America, because I feel there is so much to fight for and so much that is redeeming about American culture, especially the ecology of America that’s at a tipping point right now too,” she shares. “It’s painful and surreal to be away, but at the same time, London is a second home for me. I made a lot of Pang in London and I have some very cherished friends here, so it’s a good place for me to be this year.”
When we speak of what the future holds, Caroline is borderline blasé, seemingly resigned to the fact curveballs are our new norm. “I have no plans for where I’m going to end up. It’s so strange to have no plans, but it is what it is.” But one thing’s for sure – regardless of what comes her way, she honours her energy. “I don’t have hobbies,” she says. “If things aren’t connected to the music, or to the people I love, I simply don’t have time for it.”

Black oversized blouse, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Butter plissé knit dress with a multi-ball necklace, all Mugler AW20 by Casey Cadwallader

Photography: Clark Franklyn
Styling: Grace Joel
Set Design: Penny Mills
Makeup: Amy Wright at Caren
Hair: Claire Grech
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