Caithlin De Marrais talks moving on from Rainer Maria and recording “Red Coats”


It wasn’t so long ago that Caithlin
De Marrais
was rocking out loudly as the frontwoman for indie
darlings, Rainer Maria. In the
time since the group disbanded in 2006, Caithlin has gone through a lot
of the life changes many of us go through with settling down, shopping
for condos, having a baby and going through the dreaded internal, “Do I
have to give up everything I was?” conversation that we all eventually
have when a big life change sets in. While the answer to that question
can sometimes be polarizing, the musician actually turned this
circumstances into a fantastic learning experience resulting in her
latest release, Red Coats.

We got to catch up with Caithlin to talk about family, not letting
preconceived gender roles dictate what you’re going to do with your
life post-pregnancy and how growing technology is changing the way
music is being made, distributed and possibly even learned. Do you have any big plans
set up for the holiday season?

Caithlin De Marrais: Visiting
parents, which we do every year, so it’ll be a nice chance to get out
of the city.

AE: Well that should be great! By the
way, were your parents in your “Birds” video?

CDM: Yes, they were in my
“Birds” video!

AE: Well I love the song and the
video. Both are so playfully nostalgic, even when singing about some of
your former insecurities. The video really shows how happy your family
makes you — especially your little boy, who is absolutely adorable. He
looks like the spitting image of you!

CDM: Oh, that’s so sweet, thank you so much. Usually people say the
opposite — that he looks like his dad.

AE: In this video he looks just like
you. How has your song writing process, and, in turn, I guess your
worldview, changed since becoming a mother?

CDM: It changed my songwriting
process a lot because I’d have to do it all in the wee hours of the
night. When I was first writing it he was a newborn and I’d have to do
it while he was sleeping. It was literally like, the minute I put him
down to sleep, that’s when I would start my work. So other things had
to slide if I wanted to get the record done. I had to make a lot of
choices and for a while it was just him and music, so it really
me to take risks that I had never taken before.

One of the risks I took
was to teach myself these recording applications that I had never used
before and they were conducive to putting my headphones on and writing
songs in silence so that no one else would hear and I wouldn’t wake
him up. There are such a wide variety of instruments and sounds you
have to choose from so I made this lush sounding record of the demo and
many other songs.  I was going crazy, all of these songs were just
coming out. Then I took the songs to the studio where I recorded it.

As far as changing my worldview, I think, I’ve always had a love for
children but I feel this affinity even more so now that I’m a mother.
And I can see how everyone was once a child, too! Like, people who say
they can’t stand children or get very annoyed by them, I just
think, “That was you, though! You were a child.”

AE: I’m sure that reading the press
release about the making of Red Coats
played a small factor in my
overall takeaway as a listener, but I have to say it really struck me
as being a great indie answer to the obnoxious CDs from Kidz Bop. It’s
not that the content is necessarily directed towards children, but your
voice is so soothing and even the percussion is played in such a way
that the album seems perfect for pleasing indie-music loving parents
and the children they’re trying to keep away from Ke$ha.

CDM: [Laughs] Well one of the
producers of the record has kids and the drummer has kids. I think now
that I’m a little bit older, I’m surrounded by musicians who are
married and have kids, so — I don’t know. The children are in the
studio sometimes and Oscar, my
son, played on one of our songs and I
just think that’s so great. Some friends have reached out to me and
said, “Oh my son really likes your record,” and I just think that’s the
sweetest thing.

AE: Definitely! I don’t know if you’ve
been to Lollapalooza in the last few years but they’ve opened up
Kidzapalooza and it’s awesome. They’ve had really big acts play there.
Chrissie Hynde, Perry Farrel and Ed Kowalcyk from Live have played. I
love the idea of getting kids involved with great music and
not just the music you would hear on your local pop station. Is that
something you’d ever be interested in doing?

CDM: Oh, for sure. I think my
career will take me places I’ve never been to before. It has to,
what I used to do isn’t sustainable for me anymore — to go on the road
for weeks at a time and live that lifestyle. You know, I have friends
in a band called Mates of State,
who take their kids with them on tour.
They’ve changed everything to accommodate their family, which is
incredible. So I’m open to whatever I can create and collaborate on
with other people in terms of where I play and for whom I play. It’s
always changing.

AE: Well it’s interesting talking
about technology and needing to change the way you’re doing things
because the album was in part brought to the public by the public with
your Kickstarter campaign. So first, what made you decide to go that
route. And second, do you think something like this is the future of
releasing music? I mean, there’s so much going on with illegal
downloads and that’s really mostly effecting the labels. From
what I’ve heard, the artists don’t really get much money from the
albums they sell anyway. So do you see these campaigns as changing the
way music is being distributed for the future?

CDM: Oh yeah, definitely. Well
it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. At a time when a lot
of people are poor in our society, (music is) seen as a non-essential
part of
our world. And in ways it is, because it’s obviously not building a
house for somebody. But in a way it is essential because it is very
fulfilling. So how do you compensate that? And artists of all types are
trying to figure that out. The internet is awesome and free music is
great. So we need to figure out how to keep going. The Kickstarter campaign was
the way to do that for me and it was also used as a way to gauge my fan
base and I was so grateful when that went through. I don’t know if it’s
the future of music, though, because it’s tough to do.

AE: Yeah, I really hadn’t thought of
that — especially, I guess, for someone who is just starting out.

CDM: Right, and to get flooded
with Kickstarter requests, you may not be likely to donate to any of
them or as many of them. So you would have to pick and choose. I mean,
I think it was great,  I would recommend it, but I don’t know if
I would do it again, though. I don’t know.

AE: Well, and I think with the
emergence of more technology, there will be even more ways to do things
that we can’t even imagine yet.

CDM: Yeah and I was actually
just wondering about this the other day: Will there be less people who
actually know how to play instruments? You know what I mean? Like, you
can play the guitar on your computer or keyboard.  So why would
you want to learn how to play the guitar. Or playing actual
instruments, will all of these instruments become antiquated?

AE: Oh I hope not.
CDM: Well it might be! It might
become a novelty, kind of like how very few people know how to knit now, or sew. Whereas in the past it was essential and not just a skill to

AE: Well, now you’re just scaring me.
CDM: [Laughs] Well, I’m trying
to embrace it — even though it’s hard to lose something we know and love. You know I just saw a quote, I don’t know if it was C.S. Lewis but,
it was something saying like, “Don’t regret what you’ve lost because
other things will come. So keep looking.” Like, now I can think as a
mom, “Oh my God, what will my son be doing when he’s my age? Things
will be so different!” Because everything is changing so quickly. What
are the skills he needs to have? What is he going to enjoy doing and
will be able to make a living off of? It’s really important.

AE: Well I guess the good news is that
we’ve been able to somehow adapt with the technology and still make a
living doing what we do.

CDM: Yeah and music is just
like water: It always finds its way around every stone. You can make
music out of anything, even just using your body like singing and
clapping. So music always finds a way.

AE: Well and for listeners, it’s
certainly a much less-expensive form of therapy.

CDM: Oh yeah, it’s certainly
saved me  many times.

AE: Yep, and even in ways you would
never think about unless you actually sat down to think about it. So,
while we’re on the topic, who are some of the artists that you can
point to and say that they’ve influenced you as a person.

CDM: Well as a teenager, Siouxsie and
the Banshees
were just awesome.
That’s who I listened to and I was lucky to grow up in the alternative
world where there were people like Kate
and Bjork and
those were
my heroes. So I feel really lucky because I looked up to them and
they’ve all had sustainable careers and some of them have families. And
now, really, everything influences me. Like when I was making this
album, I was listening to bands like The
and The National and
— particularly The xx — I was like, “Wow, they’re taking risks but
things stripped down that sound old and new at the same time — just
dialed in so perfectly.” And that really inspired me especially because
I was using digital recording and it showed me I could reach for
that.  You know, I had been in a rock band for so long – but I
love what people are doing with electronic
music right now. It’s just awesome.

AE: Yeah, I guess with The xx in
particular, you kind of forget the electronic element. Which is really
exciting because a lot of the times — and I keep going back to pop but
I don’t have anything really against pop music — but a lot of times it
will just drill the electronic elements into your head and
everything starts to sound so similar. But with The xx, and with a lot
of some of the other music coming out, you would just never even think
about it being electronic. It’s a really refreshing take on electronic
music and it opens up the doors to so many other genres using it.

CDM: Absolutely, because when
we went into the studios, we had my demos there that had all been done
electronically and we said, “OK, now let’s make the analog equivalent of
this.” So, sometimes, like in one song we ended up playing a drum case
instead of the actual drum because it sounded more hollow or absurd in
a way. So it was like us being like kids and having fun with sound. We
were just running around having fun. It was such a great experience.

AE: Well it sounds like a great way to
record an album, especially to have your kids involved on the album.
Since this was creatively such a huge experiment for you, what would
you say was the biggest creative lesson you learned while making the

CDM: Well, never give up. Never
give up on yourself creatively or on what’s possible. There are gender
issues as far as what’s expected (being a woman and a mother) and what
I’ve learned — what my
expectations are of myself. And it’s like, breaking through all of
that. Stop limiting yourself. So what, you’re a mother? Cool, go
downstairs and mess around with GarageBand. It’s so accessible right
now to find your creativity. A lot of people are doing that. We’ve got
a lot of young creative people who are playing around and going crazy
with it — so the future of art and music is just going to be

AE: You make a really interesting
point in terms of — well, first you say there are a lot of young kids
playing around with this, and I’m not saying you or I are old — but
you just saying that you can do this even as a mother and not let being
a parent get in the way is big. I feel like a lot of new parents feel
like once they have kids, they have to give up their creativity and
their passions and just settle down.

CDM: Right, or even just, “OK,
well now I’ll be creative through my kids.” And that’s just not going to
be enough for me. I want my son to be creative in any way he wants to.
I also want him to see me being creative. And who knows, it might look
ridiculous to him. [Laughs] But some day he’ll understand. When he
becomes an adult or a parent he’ll look back and say, “Oh, that was
cool.” So just keep your head down, keep doing your work. Do whatever
is going to fulfill you. I’m at a turning point and that’s a lot of
what this record is about. It’s a lot of loss but with that loss comes

Caithlin will be starting her tour on the West Coast in January. Keep up
with her on Facebook and make sure to check out Red Coats
along with her music with Rainer Maria.

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