Raised on a diet of Taylor Swift and Shania Twain, pop punk powerhouse Caroline Romano, a self-proclaimed “loudest sort of introvert,” has had a whirlwind of a past few years. She first caught the attention of the public with her debut single, “Masterpiece,” in 2017, combining the iconic lyrical zingers of Taylor Swift with the dark anti-pop drawl of early Lorde. A year later, she achieved a Top 3 hit on Radio Disney’s chart with the commanding and ultra-magnetic single “Ready,” and later went on to work with one of the most in-demand producers in pop music when she teamed up with DJ R3HAB for a remix of her song “I Still Remember”—all at the tender age of 20.
And while it may seem shocking to some that she’s already achieved this level of notoriety at such an early age, it’s only natural; Romano has done this her entire life. The Mississippi native first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and started playing at open mic nights in Nashville—the songwriting capital of the country—when she was just 13. One of her most recent singles, “PDA of the Mainstream,” has received critical praise for her witty, cerebral songwriting that captures youthful Gen Z angst with a distinct pop punk flair.
Today, Romano unleashes her latest single, “The Hypothetical,” a gritty tongue-in-cheek punk-pop banger where she ruminates on her innermost fantasies involving a romantic interest. “I wanted to capture that feeling of being so infatuated with a crush that it’s borderline a state of psychosis… even if it’s only in your head. It’s just hypothetical,” she said in the press release.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Caroline about the new single, as well as her upbringing and her first trip into Nashville.
Was there anything specific (an artist, a song, a movie, a friend, etc.) that initially sparked your interest in starting to play the guitar?
I’d definitely say my affinity for guitars started with my love for Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana. “You Belong With Me” and The Hannah Montana Movie both came out the year before I turned 9, and I was physically addicted to both. Particularly, I think my interest in guitar stemmed from the “You Belong With Me” music video. It was one of the first music videos I remember ever really watching. It was unlike anything I’d heard before, and I think it was the first time I realized that Taylor Swift was just a girl too. I wanted to make noise like that, and I knew a guitar was what I needed to do so. I remember holding my first real guitar for the first time. My hands were too small to fit around the neck, and my arm was cramping from trying to strum. Despite my inability to reach the E string, it still felt inexplicably right. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, 9 year old me knew exactly what she was doing with that guitar.
What are some of your most vivid memories of your very first trip to Nashville and how have you grown as an artist since then?
I’m convinced no trip or vacation or beautiful place will match the wonder I experienced my first time in Nashville. I begged my parents for weeks to take me on that trip. I made a PowerPoint presentation to try to convince them that I was ready. I researched all of the best places to try to play, and I planned our entire week around trying to do as many shows as possible. My mom and I would wake up super early in the mornings at our hotel to call different venues and try to secure a spot for that night. The first night we got there, I played an open mic night at this little outdoor college bar. I was the youngest person there by nearly a decade, but I felt so certain that it was where I needed to be. With my mom and dad and little brothers in the audience, I got up there and played one of the first songs I’d ever written. It was called “Chase Your Dreams” (very creative title), but that’s what I knew I was doing in that moment. I was literally chasing after my dreams. It was happening. I played shows every single day that week, while exploring the city I’d one day call home. One of my favorite memories from that trip was when I played the Bluebird Cafe. That was the big one, the place I’d dreamed about since I first heard the name Nashville. While I was there, I happened to be in line behind a kid and his mom. He was very kind and he shared that inexplicable, silent fire that I also felt for music. It was a silent understanding that we were both going to give this all that we [had]. I played a show later with him in the week, and I told my mom that he was going to be a star. [That kid was] Jack Avery from Why Don’t We. I hold those memories close.
You seem to have found a sweet spot between extremely catchy pop hooks and head-banging rock instrumentation. Has combining pop and rock sensibilities always felt natural to you?
I’ve always felt a natural inclination towards the punk-pop space. It’s what I listened to to get me through middle school, and I find it’s the genre I turn to in the most intense of my feelings. I don’t like rules, and alternative/rock pop feels like a giant F-you to the rules of musical genres. I’m all about words. I simply cannot get enough of them. When I write, I often just word-vomit onto my paper. I like things unedited and raw and far from perfect. What I love about punk-pop is that you work to fit the music around the lyrics, instead of the other way around. The less edited and manicured, the better. There’s so much passion to it as well, combining pop and rock. I am not a lukewarm person. I often want to feel the extremes of everything I experience. Punk music is so dramatic and I love it. It’s always the end of the world. I can scream and whisper and jump up and down and lie on the floor all while performing the same song. It’s awesome.
Do you find that songwriting can be like having a conversation with yourself?
Songwriting started for me as writing journal entries after I’d get home from school in the 6th and 7th grade. I’d write about my day, or whatever 6th grade tragedy was occurring. I could always understand it better if I wrote it down. Once I started putting those journals to guitar, there was songwriting. I spend a lot of time in my head. I can’t say I like it there, but I’ve yet to find a way out of it. The only way I can really cope with my brain is talking to it through music. I’m always having a conversation with myself, whether that’s a good or bad thing. I am incredibly self-aware and self-conscious. I’ve never grown out of that feeling like when you’re twelve or thirteen and you’re at the popular kids pool party. You feel like everyone is staring at you, and no one likes you, and you definitely should’ve worn a different color swimsuit because everyone is judging you. In reality, none of that’s true, but I think a lot of us go through life like we’re still at the 8th grade pool party. Though it’s terrible, putting it into words makes it so much less terrible for me. It makes it kind of pretty in a way. Through me publishing these internal narratives I have with myself, I’ve come to find that most of us feel the same way. I don’t have much to write about when it comes to love or parties or kissing a boy behind the bleachers. Those things are not my field of expertise. But, I’ve been with myself for as long as I can remember, so I thought I might as well write about it.
How did the collaboration with R3HAB first come about? Was he the one who reached out to you or vice versa, and what was it like getting to work together?
I had written “I Still Remember” back in 2018 with some friends of mine. I knew it was a special song from the moment it was written, and I knew an opportunity would one day come along to do something special with it. I had the opportunity to reach out to R3HAB in late 2019, and I was ecstatic when he said he was down to remix the song. However, this was occurring basically at the start of lockdown/quarantine, so we basically sent him the song and said “do ANYTHING you want to it.” The first mix I got back from him is extremely close to what ended up being the final product. He’s a genius, and it was such an honor to get to work with him.
What I really loved about “The Hypothetical” was how relatable the subject matter is. It’s very common to have a fantasy play out in our own heads, and I was wondering how the song initially came about?
I’ve always said that I’m not much for reality. It’s just not as fun there. I’m fascinated with the scenarios and romances we create in our heads. You can imagine an entire wedding after an interaction with a hot stranger at a Target. In these little worlds our brains create, the only thing impossible is impossibility. I love that, and I try to take a bit of that mindset out into reality with me when I’m there. I wrote “The Hypothetical” with two of my good friends in Nashville, Michael and Chuckie Aiello. They are both well aware of how my brain works and my aversion to the limitations of reality. Michael came in with the idea of letting me build a hypothetical world for a song. We had way too much fun, as again, the laws of reality simply did not apply to this song. We took it to the extremes, in a psychotic Barbie sort of way, and I love it.
What is your favorite part of being a songwriter that you wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else?
Sometimes I still can’t believe that what I write in my lowest moments, or through tears in my childhood bedroom, is heard by people. I get to tie up my experiences and views on the world as they occur in little bows of poetry and ugly emotions and guitar strings. And sometimes, crazy things happen, like when someone reaches out and says that my words have helped them in some way. There are people out there who understand what I’m trying to say through my music, even when I didn’t at the time of writing it. It’s the loudest form of communication, often to people I’ve never spoken a word to. The thing I hate the most about myself is that I’ll never be able to put it into words. Words don’t exist for that innate whisper of a calling deep down in my bones that begs for me to make music. I must sit at my piano and thumb through my brain for words, or I will simply die. It is as simple and complex as that.