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One night at a bar in East Nashville, the singer and songwriter Caitlin Rose is ordering drinks. With a cigarette in one hand, she seems to be part of a new lost generation of Nashville musicians, writers, and artists. Through the haze of smoke, it’s hard not to see this as a revival of the Music Row of the 1960s and ’70s. But the world Rose is more acutely attuned to these days is 2,000 miles west and over half a millennium past.
That would be post-Production Code Hollywood, an era that produced films that tread a fine line of censorship and feature powerful and sexually liberated leading ladies.
Rose says her interest in this era started with Bob Fosse, a would-be Hollywood actor and dancer in the ’40s who turned to choreographing for Broadway musicals like New Girl In Town and Damn Yankees later in his career.
“I think Hollywood glamour is amazing. It’s beautiful. But what I’ve been interested in is the inner workings of it,” says Rose. “The studios when they’re empty and the cameramen when they’re on break.”
It’s this imagined Hollywood of stand-in actors milling around the set — Tinsel Town after the lights go down — that helped inspire Rose’s sophomore album, The Stand-In. On the cover, Rose strikes a pose over her shoulder. Blink your eyes and she could be Barbara Stanwyck or Norma Shearer.
Rose’s fascination with this transient world of show business may have come from staring at the inside of a tour bus or hotel room or greenroom for too long. Bored on a tour stop one day in St. Louis, she walked into a bookstore and discovered Joan Didion. “I’d never read anything like it,” Rose says.
Didion’s cool sarcasm and sharp prose would have a deep influence on The Stand-In. One of its early songs, “Pink Champagne,” is based on Didion’s 1968 essay “Marrying Absurd” about the Las Vegas wedding business.
“Do you feel like a midnight show? Because it may be all we’ve got,” Rose sings, picking up on Didion’s depiction of marriage as a craps game “to be played when the table seems hot.”
A propensity for humor and the absurd is nothing new for Rose. As a Nashville teenager, she performed under the punk moniker Save Macaulay and played local dives like Springwater and The End. (Rose’s mother is hit country songwriter Liz Rose, who has co-written 16 songs with Taylor Swift.)
“The songs she was writing at the time didn’t seem country,” says Skylar Wilson, who co-produced The Stand-In and played piano in her early bands. “They were these little teen-pop songs with a little punk in them.”
By early 2008, Rose had dropped the Macaulay moniker and was going as just Caitlin Rose. I remember seeing her at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip in the summer of 2008. She stood on a makeshift outdoor stage in an oversized sweatshirt and red sunglasses with her arms wrapped around a Gibson Jumbo. I mostly recall her telling jokes that day, but amid the crowd banter and beginner guitar playing you could tell there was something special about her.
Two years later, on the strength of her Dead Flowers EP, which came out on London’s Names Records in February 2010, Rose was being touted as the next Patsy Cline in the British music press. “Her voice is extraordinary,” Paul Lester gushed in The Guardian.
In August 2010, Own Side Now came out in the UK and Europe to glowing reviews and was picked up stateside by ATO Records in 2011. Rose toured relentlessly on three continents, earning a spot at Glastonbury Festival, where she opened for Radiohead.
While Own Side Now took Rose’s sound in a ‘70s-influenced Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt direction, she wanted to find a different voice for The Stand-In and began working with Wilson and songwriter/producer Jordan Lehning.
“I knew I wouldn’t end up with anything I didn’t think challenged me,” Rose says. “We never would have sat down to write country songs.”
Wilson co-produced Own Side Now and Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues and runs a commercial production and songwriting team with Jordan and Eric Lehning that has produced songs for Citibank and American Idol.