Hailing from Holland, Caro Emerald brings retro stylings up to date with grace and flair. On debut album Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor, she charmed audiences across Europe with songs that evoke vintage jazz clubs like “Back It Up” and “You Don’t Love Me.” Backed by producers David Schreurs and Jan van Wieringen, Ms. Emerald delivers her songs with equal parts heart and sass, netted fascinator always perfectly in place. “We put a lot of love in everything,” she says, and it shows.
Next month, the smoky-voiced singer is set to make her American debut performance at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. I called Caro at her home in Amsterdam to talk touring, influences, and the Dutch music scene.
What does a typical Friday night look like for you?
You know what, I don’t have them anymore. I used to have a typical one, my regular night with my friends and we would drink wine and update each other on our weeks. Now it can be so different. Last week, I was in Berlin on a red carpet. Now I’m just at home, chilling.
You’ve been on tour for quite some time now.
Yeah. Well, for the past years, it’s been really busy. For the first time in years, I’ve got some time on my hands. Right now, I’m working really hard on my new album. In the meantime, I’m home a lot. That’s quite different from what I’m used to.
Looking forward to getting into some new material, then?
Oh yeah, very much. I’m also enjoying my time in the studio, because I’ve been really looking forward to that as well. I’m starting to miss the touring and traveling to do TV shows, but I guess that’s a good thing.
What’s the pressure like?
I’m not really feeling it right now, but I know there’s a lot of pressure. Obviously, a lot of fans are waiting for a second album, so there is some pressure, but I guess I’m handling that well. Yeah, of course I’m a little bit nervous, because the first [album] went really well. I know there’s a lot of expectations, and there will be a lot of opinions on my new album. That kind of gives me some nerves, but at the same time, I know it’s just music. It’s something I like to make, and hopefully people like it.
Can you sum up your style in a few words?
I’d say pop, beats, and jazz. ’40s and ’50s, I guess.
In creating this retro vibe, what are some of your reference points?
Movies, music used in movies, film noirs and stuff like that. Also big band music.
Do you have a favorite film noir?
The one I really like is Rear Window.
Are you a big Hitchcock fan?
I like his movies, though I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of them. I like his style, definitely. I’m a little too scared to watch Psycho and stuff like that.
Would you say your set of references has changed over time?
I think it always changes a little bit, while you’re in it. At first it was just trying to search for inspiration as well, we just thought it would be fun to do something like this. We were just looking at stuff, and then we started performing. In the meantime, you also watch stuff as a reference or inspiration. I guess it kind of changed, but it would be hard for me to explain where it went.
In Amsterdam, where you’re from, are a lot of other people into retro fashion and that kind of thing as well?
I guess just like the other part of the world. Not any more or less. Holland is, you know, a European country and a small country, so we also follow a lot of trends from the big countries here, like Germany and the UK. I guess it’s just in fashion right now, the whole retro vibe.
Does coming from a smaller country impact how you approach your success? How so?
I’m so sure of that. Holland is a very good example of what it does to the psychology of the culture, to be a small country. It’s a really big part of the culture here to adjust to being normal and staying rooted to who you are and not saying you’re bigger than anyone else. That can be very positive and negative at the same time. I guess it’s kind of the opposite of the American way of thinking. Americans think very big, at least that’s my perception. Dutch people tend to think very small. What’s happening to me right now is something that feels very much like a miracle, something that would never happen to anything else.
Do Dutch artists tend to get a lot of attention in Holland, or is it more of a global thing going on?
We’ve definitely got a global thing going on. I don’t know about live playing, because that’s a whole other production, but as far as radio goes and the whole music scene, it’s very internationally aimed. I would say about 70 percent of the music that is played here on the radio is in English, not in Dutch.
Are you familiar with the French language quota on the radio over there?
Yes, that’s the other way around. That’s so different. But because Holland is a small country, it’s so normal to us to look at other countries. We have to adjust. We never expect anyone else to speak Dutch, we’re always adjusting to languages. Dutch people usually speak English and German, and some of them a little bit of French, because we’re surrounded by other countries. It makes sense. For the French people, I can imagine, they’ve got a big country going on, and that stimulates their own culture.
Did you ever consider singing in Dutch?
No! Not ever. No, it’s such a logical thing to me to sing in English. I started singing a long time again, and then it was already cool to sing in English. All the kids at school would only listen to English music. It didn’t even occur to me to do that. I also studied jazz, and jazz is, by definition, not Dutch. That just really made sense to me. There is Dutch music that’s really gorgeous, it’s just not for me. There’s a technical difficulty to it, it’s a very glottal language. It doesn’t really attract singers, it’s just not a really musical language and it gives you throat ache to sing in Dutch. It doesn’t really appeal to me at all.
It’s basically that English is the language of jazz and pop in terms of the way it sounds?
To me it is, yeah. That’s something that fascinates me so much, not only just language but also dialect and what it does to your musical timing in a song. Like [Portuguese], for instance, I sung it in school. It gives this lazy feel to a song, because it’s part of the language.
Would you say that your music is approached differently in different countries?
No, and that surprises me. I’m not sure if I have the best view on that, although when you go to a country for the first time, that gives you the best sense of what your music does, because people don’t know you. They just have to judge you on the songs. I’ve noticed that everywhere I go, the response is just really positive. I’ve also noticed that [the audience] is very broad. It doesn’t really matter what age or what kind of person you are. I’ve seen all kinds of different people at my shows really digging the music, and that surprises me so much. There are slight differences in how an audience will behave during a show. The English are really loud, and the Germans are really quiet, basically. Those are the biggest differences I can point out.
What do you hope people take away from your show?
A good feeling, and the feeling that they had an intense musical experience, and an emotional one as well. I try to pull people into the atmosphere of the songs, not only by playing really well, but I try to do a lot with lights and costumes. Not really in a circus kind of way, but in a very subtle kind of way. I want the evening to be all about the music.
Is there a particular song that you think has the most distinct atmosphere?
There’s one called "The Lipstick On His Collar," and there’s not even a lot of vocals in the song. When you hear it on the record, it’s just verses for me, and the choruses are instrumental. Live, we try to make that bombastic, very big and dramatic. It’s kind of inspired by the music that Emilio Morricone makes. It’s really grand, and that really stands out.
Do you think it’s the grandness that makes it impressive to audiences?
Also, the specific kind of sounds that we use. There’s a choir, and we also use samples onstage. Those can really influence the grandness of the song. We use backing vocals as well, and there are these kinds of guitar licks that are typical of the style of music, so that also adds to it.
Where are some of your favorite places that you’ve been on tour?
This summer was a very special summer, because it was mainly international. I was in Romania, a country I’ve never been to before. It was not a very special location or anything, it was just a field somewhere and it was really hot, but I remember that the audience was overwhelming. The enthusiasm was so big that it really touched us. That might just be the best audience we’ve ever had. And there are so many places that are so gorgeous to play, like Curacao, we were playing on the beach. In London, there’s Shepherd’s Bush, that’s kind of a legendary place, that has a special place in my heart. To me, the most special is Amsterdam’s nicest venue, the Paradiso. It is a nice venue in Amsterdam, but it’s also across the street from my high school, so it has special memories for me as well.
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