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Q&A: Caitlin Rose

Growing up, Dallas-born, Nashville-raised singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose initially rebelled against her country roots. Well, maybe "rebellion" is too strong a term.

"As a teenager I'd tell my parents, 'I'm going to play in a punk club and y'all stay away,' " said Rose, now 25. "But it wasn't rebellion. It was more like I was trying to find my own place."

She does exactly that on her excellent sophomore LP, "The Stand-In," staking out a vintage sound that pays homage to Nashville's Music Row roots (the heartbreaking "When I'm Gone") while remaining a product of the modern era (note her cover of the Felice Brothers' "Dallas").

By phone, Rose held court on her disastrous theater debut, the surreal nature of life in Nashville and the reason you're wasting your time if you tell her to check out a band.

Considering the title of "The Stand-In," I was wondering if you've ever been drawn to the theater.
You know, I had an ill-fated run with it. When I was in high school...we had this ragtag theater crew we tried to get going. I remember we put on a Thornton Wilder play, which was OK, but when we had our big debut of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" the whole theater group had a meltdown and we had to scrap the entire thing about halfway into it. So, yeah, I had a moment. And then the moment passed.

Did you learn anything from acting that you were able to apply to music? You are putting yourself in the shoes of these various characters with both.
Being on a stage definitely is performing. One of the main reasons I've always loved Linda Ronstadt is because she could sing a song like she was feeling it for the first time.

Is that a skill that comes naturally to you?

I'm not a trained singer, and I'm not someone who grew up singing. But, yeah, I think it's always come natural to me. Even so, there are a lot of singers who can just burst out into song at any time, and that's something that makes me feel horribly uncomfortable. Singing is something I can really only do on a stage or when I'm by myself.

So you're not out doing karaoke on your off nights then?
Oh, karaoke is a different vibe. But you have to be very careful. I did "Stand By Your Man" at a bowling alley one time, and once that song begins everybody looks at the person who's about to sing it with this intense hatred. But I think I got a standing ovation when I was done.

I've interviewed a number of Nashville artists, and everyone seems to have these surreal stories about running into famous musicians.
You can swing a cat and hit anybody. I grew up with parents in the music industry, so we would go to parties in Reba McEntire's backyard. I've been to Arnold's on 8th Street a few times when John Prine was there, and I've never been able to talk to him. A very high-profile female country artist gave my sister the finger while she was canvassing for Obama a few years ago, which was really funny. Have you ever seen [Robert] Altman's "Nashville"?

Of course.
It's one of my favorite movies of all time. The more I live here...the more I think the city really is like that. It's just a strange place people seem to gravitate towards. Some of the weirdest people I've ever known in my life are from here, and it's not a put on. It's a place you can be yourself to the point people are like, "OK, you really went for it."

On the album's opening song, you register a common complaint about the radio ("Now the songs I want to hear, they never play"). Have you ever heard your own music on the radio?
I have, back when we still had local radio. That's what that song is about more than anything. I used to call into our local Vanderbilt station and make requests. It was such an elemental part of growing up for me. I remember the first time I heard Tom Waits I called in and said, "What was that?" And they were like, " 'Chocolate Jesus' by Tom Waits." That's something I feel like a lot of people are missing out on now.

How do you discover new music these days then?
I'm not sure. Everybody else uses Pandora or Spotify. I tend to be drawn to older songs, and I think I just wait to hear things at the right time. People will tell me, "Listen to this band!" and usually I just say no. I can't stand having something forced upon me music-wise.

What is it about those older songs, and specifically older country songs, that really speaks to you?
They're written well. They're clever, or they're the most emotional thing you've ever heard. I don't think they skimp on anything. I think a lot of songwriters today tend to be lazier, where it's like, "That was a great hook! We've got a song!"

Caitlin Rose, 8 p.m. April 9 at Schubas. $10

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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