“I know 16 songs on your debut album is kind of… a lot,” Caroline Romano says over the phone earlier in the week. “And I’m like, ‘Who’s really going to listen to 16 songs from someone they have no idea who she is?’ But I didn’t really care.”
The statement sounds simple but when spoken by the 20-year-old singer-songwriter, it is layered with the knowledge gained from her time in the industry. A lesson taught through experience and one Caroline still needs to remind herself of.
“I’ve learned that it’s never enough. With every success I see, it’s always never enough and I think that’s a good thing and a bad thing,” she says of the expectations that come following success. “I have struggled a lot with knowing that I’m the one who punishes me when I don’t reach a certain goal or hit a certain thing. In a time where numbers are everything – whether it’s streams or followers or, you know, numbers on a scale, numbers are everything and they control my life in so many ways.”
Over recent years, Caroline has been teaching herself how to cope with the heavy expectancy of what measures up as success in the ever-changing modern world. She says she tries not to let that happen to herself. “Set these goals for myself, but also just let it be. At the time I wrote ‘I Will Be’, I was really struggling with, how am I going to get to where I want to go? and I’m not there yet, but I have to know that I can be okay in between.”
The way in which she does that is to focus on the present, something that she has brought to her songwriting as well. “I like writing about what’s to come and what hopefully will be one day,” she says.
“You can make it whatever you want. You can make the future looking forward whatever you want to be and it’s kind of you writing your own story. I think you’re manifesting, in a way, what you’re setting yourself up for and it’s exciting! It’s pretty! It’s what stories are meant to be about.”
She continues, “I think there will come a day when I know it’s time to start looking back and I think it’s a long way away, but that’s also just another wonderful part of life. To be able to write down stories like people have done for centuries. Write about it and hold it for people to listen to in the future.” Being able to tell a story in such a way is “cool” to the singer, and she adds that she likes being able to tell things in a pretty way. “I think things are too lovely or horrible or tragic to not constantly write about them,” she says.
Her debut album Oddities & Prodigies covers that extensively. It explores the highs and lows of growing up, the struggles that accompany coming of age in today’s world which she later acknowledges her generation is more open about.
Having premiered in late February, Caroline shares that she is still excited and eager for listeners to hear the album and that already has her working on her next album. “I’m never going to stop. I’m too addicted to this to ever stop,” she says of songwriting. It shows in the best way through her extensive catalogue of tracks to choose from.
Oddities & Prodigies uses its length to its advantage, telling the story of young adulthood through its various tracks. The album crafts itself through an effortless flow, building momentum like a crescendo before hitting a climax and then slowly releasing the energy only to build it up once again. Each song partners with the one before and the one after it to make the changing tide seamless and irresistible to the ear. One cannot simply stop listening or skip a song, too entranced in the ebb and flow of the album by its design to even whisper such a thought.
“This was something I wanted to do. It’s a story I wanted to tell and I felt that all 16 [songs] needed to be in there,” Caroline says. “I’ve written so much music over the past two years but when I sat down to put [the album] together, I just thought, ‘What is fitting this story?’” Walking TEENPLICITY through her thought process, she explains how she knew what the story was and that it would start with ‘Oddities & Prodigies’ and end with ‘Arrivederci’. Deciding on the flow in between, she looked at the seasons of her life.
“The first half of the album is more of the beginning, more like setting up the story. It’s not as negative, to be honest. When you get halfway through [the album], things kind of take a darker turn. It gets a little more introspective. It gets a little more serious and I wanted to feel like the climax is like a movie. Then bring in a resolution of some sort,” she explains. “That was how I decided. It was the songs that I knew I couldn’t live without it. If there was a song that I was like, ‘I can live without this on the album,’ I didn’t include it. I felt it had to be essential to tell the story.”
The overarching story of the album, according to Caroline, is learning to live with yourself. “I think that’s one of the hardest things in the world and learning to live with yourself is the most important thing.” She explains that it is also about figuring things out in life even though she admits, “No one has it figured out.”
When I sat down to put [the album] together, I just thought, ‘What is fitting this story?’
“This album for me was a telling of my life up to this point. I feel like I had not told my coming-of-age story and when I’ve come to look at life and when I moved out of my parents’ house and started to look around, I realized there are a lot of other people who look at youth the same way I did and how it felt like they weren’t doing it right somehow,” she says, a note in her voice that shows how deeply that realization has stuck with her. “I spent a lot of time chasing after my dreams and it’s isolated me in many ways, but it’s also what made me… me. I definitely don’t feel like I’m the only one who has that experience and who some of the darkest moments of their life has been in the teenage era. That’s the inspiration for [Oddities & Prodigies].”
Much like the rest of the world, the singer-songwriter is constantly trying to navigate through life to the best of her abilities. “Our generation, you know, we’re more open about depression and anxiety and how it’s affected us and I think it’s really hard right now to just be and that’s the figuring of this album. I think the overarching theme is this is just the beginning then. No matter what stage you are in your life, this can still be just the beginning.”
While the title track of the album kicks off the exploration of this concept and holds a number of lyrics she loves, it’s the song ‘Leaving Wednesday’ that embraces it to its fullest. She points out the lyric I hope there’s more to what I am than just my plans as a favorite of hers off the album. “I don’t think people expect that to be one of my favorite songs,” she comments. “I wrote [‘Leaving Wednesday’] during the pandemic, and something I have to keep reminding myself of is that there is more to me than just my plans. I think it’s true for all of us; we have to find more than just one thing to live for, to be for.”
The pandemic, Caroline explains, put her mindset in a place of ‘What am I doing? Is this my biggest focus? Am I living at all outside of music?’ “I realized I really wasn’t,” she confesses. “I realized that in order to write good music, I have to live life. I have to have something to write about. It also made me take myself not too seriously – I have a big problem with that. I’m a serious person. I feel like it goes hand in hand with depression or anxiety. You’re like the comedic relief friend but also, you’re super serious about yourself and your own life. [The pandemic] made me stop and try to observe and live in the moment more, which I think really helped every aspect of my life. It also set my priorities in order like what really does matter. Music can’t be the only thing that I’m chasing after.”
Her songwriting, particularly lines like I hope there’s more to what I am than just my plans, even inspires herself to reevaluate her outlook. “It’s a humbling perspective that I’ve taken from that line,” the singer-songwriter comments. “It’s just been me trying to be more present in every moment and trying to live a life that obviously you want things to work out, but should things not work out, would I be okay tomorrow, type of thing.”
The new perspective she’s taken a chance on has led her to new friends and relationships she never thought she would have. All of which came about because she is less focused on the future, according to Caroline. “I’ve lived a lot more life these past two years, which I’m really grateful for. In turn it actually progressed my future plans a lot, so that’s kind of how it helped me.”
It also helped her better shape her debut album.
Turning the discussion to the sound of her new album and how it has evolved since last speaking with TEENPLICITY in 2019, Caroline says, “It’s definitely more alt-pop. I used to be pop then I went more alternative for a second.” The mix of the two genres that she’s created for Oddities & Prodigies is the sound, according to the singer-songwriter, that she finally has figured as her.
Though her sound has changed slightly over the last few years, Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne remain atop her inspiration list. “Especially folklore inspired a lot of the more love songs,” Caroline begins before stopping to correct herself. “There’re very few love songs, but you know [there’re] break up songs, I guess, on the album,” she says with a laugh. ‘Perhaps It’s Mine’ is one notable track that parades this influence, the piano chords reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s ‘champagne problems’ off of evermore.
It also set my priorities in order like what really does matter. Music can’t be the only thing that I’m chasing after.
Other musical influences include Noah Kahan who she notes that he will go down as her favorite artist of all time. “I started listening to him in 2020 a lot and, for me, his albums are the things that have really…” She pauses as she searches for the words to best describe the affect his music has had on her. “Nothing else has touched my soul the way his writing has. He definitely inspired a lot of [Oddities & Prodigies] in the fact that I think he sees the world the same way I do. That’s kind of the goal for any artist is to find that group of people out there who see the world the same way you do and be able to write to them. At the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask for.” She admits, “This album is very self-centered and I can’t beat around that. It’s not a lot of love songs; it’s very self-focused and it’s really a battle with oneself, and I think that I got a lot of inspiration from him to write that.”
Lauv, Alexander 23, and the Bo Burnham: Inside special on Netflix are listed as other inspirations that Caroline can look to and draw from. “Bo Burnham: Inside really inspired me with this album. I really, really took a lot of thought from that.”
While Bo Burnham’s discussions take more of a comedic and satirical turn on various topics including mental health, Caroline approaches these conversations through a retrospective lens of her own experiences.
In late 2021, she released her song ‘Panic Attack’. The song details her thoughts and feelings as she suffers from a panic attack and the response to it shocked her. “I didn’t expect ‘Panic Attack’ to be a song that really resonated with people,” she says. The singer-songwriter explains, “I knew it resonated with me. I knew that this was my experience with panic attacks, but I didn’t know how everyone else’s was and I wasn’t painting [the song] as intense, because a lot of people would think a panic attack would be. It’s a very chill song, honestly, and it’s more of a recounting of events of how I went through them, how I see myself looking down in those moments. But the response has been incredible. The fact that so many people have resonated with it and have told me that it helped get them through panic attacks has been absolutely crazy.”
There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment that fills her voice as she continues to speak. One can only imagine her sitting up straighter, chin held high, as she says, “All I could ever ask for when I play that song is for one person to literally relate to it in a way that helps them. For so many people [to relate] and the messages I’ve gotten, – it’s been wonderful.”
Her greatest pride lies with another song off of Oddities & Prodigies: ‘Leaving Wednesday’.
Caroline recalls when she wrote the song while sitting down in her childhood bedroom that she became reaccompanied with during the pandemic. She wrote it in less than 20 minutes. “It just felt like it had to come out,” she says of the experience. ‘Leaving Wednesday’ became the first song completed for the album, she mentions, as she wrote it towards the end of 2020. “I think I’m just proud of it because I think it touches on almost every other aspect, every other song on the album somehow. It encapsulates the whole idea of it in a lot of ways.”
One ear already listening for inspiration for her next album, she laughs as she teases what’s to come next. “It may be partly less sad, like there might be some love songs in there,” she says coyly. “So if you are desperately craving a love song, there might be some in there.” She is blunt, though amused, as she teases, “I will still make it very depressing and very self-centered, but there might be some love songs so… it’ll be fun!”
Her response begs the question then of what she does when inspiration strikes. Some writers carry around a notepad where they can physically jot down any ideas that come while others have post-it notes everywhere. Caroline belongs to the group of writers who have ideas scattered throughout the Notes app on their phone.
“It’s the Notes app one. 100%.” Her answer is quick, her words hinting at a grin growing on her face as she speaks. “If my iCloud ever gets deleted then my entire life’s work is down the drain. Absolutely. It’s the Notes app because it’s just so convenient.”
This album is very self-centered and I can’t beat around that. It’s not a lot of love songs; it’s very self-focused and it’s really a battle with oneself.
She relates to the disorganized chaos that can come from relying on the app to house inspiration when it hits. “I’ll write one word and I’ll wake up the next morning and I’m like, ‘What profound message was I trying to say there?!’” she recounts through laughter. Caroline goes on to admit, “I need to probably figure out a better system and I need to probably get it somewhere physical or put it on a hard drive because Notes app is where it’s at for me.”
Though she doesn’t mention any new songs about Ireland on the horizon, the country played as a featured character on Oddities & Prodigies. The album consists of at least two mentions of Ireland, once in a passing lyric of a song and another front and center in ‘Ireland in 2009’, inspired by the Rupert Grint and Robert Sheehan film Cherrybomb. When she’s asked what draws her to write about Ireland in her music, it takes her a moment to articulate her thoughts.
“Okay, so, I am obsessed with that actor Robert Sheehan who I wrote ‘Ireland in 2009’ about,” Caroline starts off, a grin palpable in her voice as she refers to him as her muse for the song. “I got into watching a lot of films that are made in Ireland and looking at the nature in Ireland and, for me, there was just something very drawing about it. There’s this cool young scene there – very discotheque, Jet Trash type of vibes. They’ve also got this beautiful scenic nature and it is something that I’m really drawn to.”
She reveals it is a goal for her to visit Ireland sometime in the future.
Whenever that trip happens, there will be a certainty of what music can be expected on her flight playlist as she shares the songs that tend to go on any playlist she’s curating.
“Right now, I’m really listening to anything by Conan Gray. I’ve got ‘Jigsaw’ on a million different playlists. I’ve got Greta Van Fleet – ‘Heat Above’ will always be on a playlist for me, no matter what. I literally just project into another dimension.”
She continues, listing ‘Howling’ by Noah Kahan, ‘August’ by Taylor Swift, ‘Angela’ by The Lumineers, and ‘The Freak Show’ by YUNGBLUD. “Those are always on my playlists.” Jumping off of that question and asking her what albums she considers to have no skips, Caroline is quick to answer. “Sour by Olivia Rodrigo and folklore by Taylor Swift. But also 1989. Those are unskippable in my eyes.”
When she finds out that it has been a while since TEENPLICITY has heard 1989, the singer-songwriter encourages a relisten in the near future, a recommendation that has the phrase ‘Trust me,’ unspoken in her voice. Her last statement, though about 1989, is one that TEENPLICITY would also apply to her debut album Oddities & Prodigies. “It’s a vibe.”
Oddities & Prodigies is available now for purchase and to stream!
***The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.