In anticipation of her upcoming second solo record, Red Coats, and following her recent release of the beautiful video for “Birds,” (above) I had the privilege of talking with musician Caithlin DeMarrais about the video, art and its place in society, and her overwhelmingly adorable son Oscar (see video and note jauntily worn newspaper cap…). Caithlin shot the video for “Birds” entirely on Cape Cod, where she has spent time every summer, and entirely on her own, using only her iPhone. In our discussions of this video, we talked a lot about how the medium and the location of the video were both very important, and very intentional. As to the medium, we talked about how the music industry has changed, particularly since her days as bassist and lead vocalist for the indy-rock band Rainer Maria, when “there was a very clear structure in the industry,” and how “because of new technologies there is now total freedom.” Where once an artist would sign a record deal, come to a recording studio with technicians, then turn to professional marketing and promoting agencies, now an artist can be as DIY, hands-on, and involved in every step of the process as he or she wants. And Caithlin has been nothing if not involved and hands on. She has wholeheartedly embraced the freedoms born from the changed music industry, using the early morning hours–the only time available to her while she balances her music career with Oscar– to learn for herself home-recording, video shooting, editing, and production, promotion and media, all while continuing the song-writing process. As Caithlin said, this album is truly about, “the importance of learning as an artist.”
As to the location of the video, Caithlin spoke at length about how her life-long tie to the Cape makes it a perfect setting for an album as personal as her new record is. “I can be happy, whether people like [her own personal voice] or not… I made this video for myself, for my friends, and for my family. If it was not from a personal place, it would not be authentic.
Over the course of our discussion of both the medium and the location of the video, Caithlin used the word “simultaneously” several times, and simultaneity is what interests me most. For that is really what it is all about: a sort of duality. “Birds” is both beautifully simple in it’s minimalistic instrumentation and pure/purifying vocals, and incredibly complex in it’s recording; beneath its surface, it features a string trio, recorded backwards.Likewise, the video for “Birds” is antique looking, with faded color, grainy quality, and vintage jumps in the “film.” But it was filmed on an iPhone. Finally, “Birds,” and the rest of the record as far as I can tell, are as intensely personal as can be, but the record is simultaneously rooted in the entire community of Brooklyn musicians with whom Caithlin performs, records, promotes and spends time (End Up Records, the Saltmines Studio, etc.).
That’s what makes this exciting. At times it seems at odds with itself, for there is a definite sort of tension. There’s a fresh, edgy, dynamic quality–an energetic sense of movement that both lies beneath and emerges from these simultaneities. It’s not quite a contradiction, but it is as exciting as one. And this is what gives me hope for perhaps the only low point in my discussion with Caithlin. As we were talking about the changes in the music industry, and the need for musicians to commercialize their music in order for their own survival, Caithlin wondered whether the “golden age of creativity” was over, and whether art for art’s sake is possible in capitalism. It seems to me that as long as there are musicians (and other creators) likeCaithlin who are willing to embrace the new and keep the old all while continuing to produce inspiringly beautiful art, we’ll be okay. I hope!
As a closing note, now that I’ve taken a break, had a drink, and returned to writing, what continues to strike me as I look back on my notes from our conversation is that “Birds,” the video Caithlin made for it, music, and hell, I’ll throw life into the conversation while I’m at it, can be as simple or as complex as you’d like to make them. But I’ll add that you’ll probably miss most of the real beauty if you stray too far in either direction.
Thanks for the read, I hope you enjoyed. If you have thoughts, leave a comment below. In the meantime, check out the video for “Birds” here, Caithlin and her fellow End Up artists here, and get excited for Red Coats. And if you happen to be in Brooklyn, Caithlin suggests you check out the food trucks at the Red Hook soccer fields for some great Central American fair, and try the Farmacy for old fashioned Brooklyn Egg Cream. Think Mr. Gower’s Drugstore in It’s A Wonderful Life. Hot Dog!
J. Frederick Quinn