In seventh grade, Caro’s teacher asked the class what profession they’d prefer as adults. There were the firemen, presumably, maybe a dancer or two. But it was Caro who had the clearest vision. At five-years-old she was playing the violin by ear (which made learning guitar and piano later a breeze). The 12-year-old knew nothing of entertainment, only that a career outside of the arts was “never an option.” When Caro’s turn to speak arrived, she was unshakably self-assured: “Music producer,” she responded with certainty.
Though Caro, nee Caroline Barker, doesn’t remember the class exercise, it was recounted to her recently by an old schoolmate. He revealed to the now 24-year-old that he also hoped to express musical ambitions, but Caro had got in first. In the years since, coming out ahead has proved a running theme in the artist’s career. The Nashville-based producer, singer and songwriter taught herself production programs while studying voice in college, because she couldn’t afford to pay local guys in the business $400 per demo. Now, the male producers of the past come to her.
“Every time a guy enters the room, they’re always surprised that I know more than they thought I did,” she laughs, adding: “And it’s so nerve-wracking being in a room like that — but if I shied away from producing because I was worried no one would take me seriously, there’s no way I’d be at this place.”
“That place” is one year on from her debut seven-track mixtape, songs from 3am, that made her an immediate indie darling upon release. Though, the months since have dragged on for the multi-hyphenate. She’s gearing up to share her second offering, The Longest Year, which will be followed by a second installment, The Longest Year Pt II. The two-part EP is an ode not only to her own personal growth — documenting the missteps, mayhem and magic of one’s early 20s — but also to the irrevocable cultural shift in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s a timelessly relatable time capsule.
“I was in a really destructive phase,” she recalls. “There were a lot of great things happening, but there were times when I just couldn’t get out of bed. After a point, my writing changed. I used to write something and wake up and absolutely hate it. Now I’m not as calculated. It’s more honest, more vulnerable.”
Caro describes her music as “bedroom pop,” partly because she’ll rarely write anything for her own catalogue in the studio. Sonically, The Longest Year is the artist’s favorite work yet. Over catchy guitar riffs she breathily transcends scales, her lyrics fostering a unique kind of intimacy with the listener. It’s hard to believe she almost never became a singer — determined to be viewed by publishers as a producer.
“It’s just so interesting because I don’t really know any female producers who are just producers — you have to be everything. But producing has given me room to be much more particular about my vocals — I’m so glad I learned to write and produce on my own, because I don’t know if I’d be making the caliber of music I am now.”
Caro now juggles her solo career, while writing and producing for other acts across a range of major labels (Loren Gray and Midnight Kids regularly recruit the her). Then there’s her all-female band, The Tramp Stamps, that delivers y2k pop-punk nostalgia through a fourth-wave feminist lens. The group will frequently schedule writing camps, trading Nashville for a cabin in the woods every other weekend to write and record. Their creative connection now veers on telepathic.
“I’m honestly at a point in my life where any opportunity to be creative is a blessing,” Caro claims of her separate ventures. “It’s fun to do it all. But for my own stuff it’s all on my own time, because I’m always writing for others. So, for my music it really comes down to inspiration and honesty. I write what I’m feeling.”
For that reason, the concept of ‘success’ looks a little different to Caro. It’s writing a Top 40 hit for another artist, while her own song blows up in Korea. It’s producing an award-winning pop track and releasing an album that’s the most authentic extension of herself. Most importantly, it’s surviving as a musician. Paying the bills with paws in many different pies, just to live to create another day. If not for Caro, then for 12-year-old Caroline Baker.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where I feel like I made it. I just want to do it all and show people what I’m capable of. I’m just not going to sleep, and it’s fine, because I’m where I need to be.”