When singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose was a teenager living in Franklin, Tenn., there was only one place she wanted to be — Nashville’s dingy hard rock club, the Muse.
The daughter of two music industry veterans — her mother is songwriter Liz Rose and her father, Johnny Rose, has an extensive resume as a record label executive — Caitlin was raised around country music. Yet like many teens, she also loved high-energy rock shows, and those two influences still shape her songwriting today.
“It’s strange for me because I grew up in a very music business home,” she explains. “I got two very polar opposite ends of the spectrum guiding what I do. I was just a kid who wanted to play punk shows, and my parents did this for a living. It’s a very conflicting set of influences.”
The 24-year-old now uses that conflict to make country music with a gritty/pretty combination reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt (in her early career) or Miranda Lambert. It’s raw and unapologetic but still feminine. With a sweet and vulnerable voice, she sometimes sounds too innocent for her lyrics since they regularly capture the rougher parts of growing up.
On her debut album, Own Side Now, those lyrics show a writer whose adult life is just beginning to flower. In “New York City,” she fends off advances from men offering to let a coin flip decide their fate. And on the title track, she takes charge of a breakup and heads out to find relief in the arms of someone new.
Citing Ronstadt as her inspiration, Rose says it’s important that she speak from experience but not let her own bias interfere.
“Trying to edge out your own personality sometimes to make room for the song to grow is one of the most important things I learned,” she says.
Her own mother helped her with that lesson because a big part of her job is getting other songwriters to let go of their hang-ups.
“I never understood how she got into songwriting because she doesn’t really talk about her personal life very much,” Rose says. “I think that’s why she’s so good at it. You kind of remove yourself from the song just to make it better.”
That’s true in the title track, which she describes as very personal but “kind of cheesy.”
It’s about a girl who gets tired of waiting on her man and needs relief from her loneliness, even if it’s just for one night. With a plodding tempo and a soft guitar behind her, it’s easy to imagine Rose sitting on the corner of a bed or staring into a mirror as she asks, “Who’s gonna want me when I’m just somewhere you’ve been?”
“I really hope some girl in the crowd isn’t using it as an excuse to go sleep around with people,” she says with a chuckle.
Meanwhile, “Shanghai Cigarettes” is a quick-moving tune where she cuts ties by smoking the last-remaining symbol of a fling.
“It was this gold cigarette pack, and I loved it,” she remembers. “The first pack I got was actually on a first date — with he-who-shall-not-be-named — at this Japanese restaurant.”
Rose found international success last year in the U.K. with stripped-down club performances, spurring fans to grab her first EP, Dead Flowers, as well as Own Side Now. Those records are now available for the first time in the U.S.
By writing from real life experience but removing some of her own feelings, she says she’s found a way to relate to audiences, here and abroad.
The idea is quite similar to that of another young singer-songwriter who learned from Rose’s mom: Taylor Swift. Liz Rose is a co-writer on “Teardrops on My Guitar,” “Tim McGraw,” “White Horse,” “You Belong With Me” and many more.
Caitlin Rose and Taylor Swift might seem to be opposites in many respects. While Swift sings of meaningful high school relationships, Rose is burning bridges and not looking back. Where Swift keeps hope alive for a modern day fairy tale, Rose has already been disappointed enough times to give up. However, there’s at least one aspect that they do have in common.
Asked who she’s talking to in “New York City,” with lyrics like “Don’t try to claim me as your own/I’m not the girl I used to be,” Rose offers a familiar answer.
“It’s sort of funny. There’s always that ownership issue with artists, and maybe that’s what I was trying to express,” she says. “But I really couldn’t tell you. It was probably just about a boy.”