The Red Coats Are Here: The Caithlin de Marrais Interview
Former Rainer Maria frontwoman Caithlin de Marrais releases her solo effort, Red Coats, today on End Up Records, a Brooklyn-based artists’ collective. Says Pitchfork, “[De Marrais delivers her music] like a soft slap to the face.” After listening to Red Coats, I couldn’t agree more. There is a definite softness to to record, usually found in de Marrais’ ethereal vocals. But this record is no less a slap than it is soft as it weaves through a variety of musical terrain, all driven by de Marrais’ acute songwriting sensibilities. Drawing on wealth of source material, Red Coats is a glimmering gem of indie pop that will haunt ears for many days to come. The Red Coats are here indeed.
ELM: How did you approach making Red Coats differently than you made Rainer Maria records?
CD: I painstakingly demoed out the entire record for about a year in my basement on Garage Band and Logic. Once I got into the studio with Steve Salett and Josh Kaufman we chased the songs with every instrument we could get our hands on in hopes of honoring the spirit of the demos.
Rainer Maria would write and demo songs together in our rehearsal space. In the studio we tried to capture what we played live.
ELM: In the press info I received for Red Coats, you mention being influenced by Patti Smith’s Horses. That was a life-changing album for me, too, and I’m curious about what it was like when you first heard it and what it meant to you.
CD: I was a fan of Robert Mapplethorpe in high school and I listened to new wave and punk rock. It was destined to be in my record collection. I was already listening to Blondie and Talking Heads so I associate that album with being a teenager and hanging out in the Village. I relate to it totally differently now. It sounds old and wise to me. Like a force of nature that won’t be silenced.
ELM: In “Rose Wallpaper,” you recall a stay in an abandoned house. Can you tell me more about that?
CD: The house on a hill hadn’t been lived in for some time and my family had just bought it. There were strange things in the closets and graffiti in the rafters from the 1800s. I was terrified of staying there. But we overcome our fears and eventually lose our memories of what frightened us in the first place. The song is fragmented like my memory is.
ELM: What made you decide to include an instrumental piece (Fizzy Wawa) on the record?
CD: Steve suggested we write one song in studio that would create some breathing space on the record. My 2 year old son was visiting the studio one day and he played along on the keyboard to what we had already tracked. His word for fizzy water is “fizzy wawa” and I thought it was a perfect name for an instrumental song a 2 year old had played on.
ELM: What is your songwriting process like?
CD: I wrote a lot of this record on the piano because it lends itself to my style of writing. I usually write a song very quickly, in an hour or so and then I spend many days playing it and making small changes to the lyrics and arrangement.
ELM: Do you ever have songs come fully-formed to you, or do you always have to chip away to find what Michelangelo called the angel in the marble?
CD: Usually the chorus comes to me and I have to chip away at the verses.
ELM: This album seems to include several moving elegies, like for Alexander McQueen and Don Hill. Are there any other unspoken elegies here?
CD: I think there’s a lot of loss on this record. Loss of self, loss of childhood, loss of fear. I suppose this record is an elegy to a loss of self. But as I’m discovering with loss comes freedom.
ELM: Can you tell me more about the video for “Birds?” Do you have other videos planned for the album?
Josh’s beautiful guitar on that song immediately put me in mind of surfing and the ocean in summertime. I filmed the video entirely on my iPhone on Cape Cod last summer and preplanned most shots. But a couple of shots were filmed by my 8 year old niece. Having my niece and my son involved with this record wasn’t preplanned and that’s how I like to work. I leave some things to chance.
I’m working on another video right now. It also was shot on my iPhone.
ELM: Were there songs you wrote for Red Coats that you decided not to include?
CD: Yes, I had about 5 other songs that we didn’t record.
ELM: You use Revolutionary War history as a metaphor on the title track of the album. Are there other phases of history that fascinate you?
CD: I’m brushing up on my ancient Egyptian history. I can be fascinated by any point in history.
ELM: What is your live show going to be like for this tour?
CD: Three piece, guitar, bass and drums. Very tight and dynamic.
ELM: Who are some of your favorite writers? (In general, not just songwriters.)
CD: I was recently blown away by A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It won the Pulitzer.