Songwriter Interviews

Caroline Jones

by Carl Wiser

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Though born and raised in Connecticut, Caroline Jones is very much a country singer. Now splitting her time between Nashville and Florida, her sound and ethos are a collision of Jimmy Buffett and Jewel, with a dogged determination tempered with lighthearted equanimity. Start with the video for her song "The Difference," where Paul Walker's brother, Cody, pursues her up the East Coast. In the sequel, "Chasin' Me," he tails her to Zion National Park.

Jones writes and co-produces her own songs; she's opera trained, and adept at many instruments, including guitar, piano and banjo. Jimmy Buffett took her on tour in 2018, and this summer will mark her fourth run with Zac Brown Band. In this interview, Jones talks about some of her most popular songs and explains what it's like touring with Buffett.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Caroline, can you please tell me about your song "Chasin' Me"?

Caroline Jones: Yeah, absolutely. "Chasin' Me" was the first song that we released after we released my debut album, Bare Feet. It's also the title track of an EP that I released last year. It's a song I wrote about the kind of love that I want and believe in, and the kind of man that I want. It speaks to a lot of the more traditional, old-fashioned, romantic values that aren't really that trendy or popular anymore, but that I still really believe in.

Women especially, but I think everyone wants to feel romantic at some point in their life and wants to feel valued and special in a relationship. So it's about that older value of being being chased, and the thrill and excitement of that and the romance.

Songfacts: Bumping up against the #MeToo movement in a way.

Jones: I guess you could juxtapose those two things. I don't know if I would go that far. It's so individual. I think it's beautiful that in this day and age we have more choices and more options to decide what we want in a relationship and in a romance. But for me personally, I'm not a casual person in any aspect of my life. In every aspect of my life I'm pretty deliberate and focused, whether it's in my music or in personal relationships.

I just love something that's deep and something that is meaningful and special, so that's important to me in love, and I want to present that in my music because I think there's a lot of people who feel the same.

Songfacts: I like how you spent the budget on the video to take a road trip.

Jones: Yeah. The video is a two-parter. The first part is to a song called "The Difference," which actually is much more fun and upbeat and sassy and sexy, but it shares a lot of the same lyrical content and values as "Chasin' Me," so they're bookends to the same story.

The first video, "The Difference," is kind of the eastern half of America, and "Chasin' Me" is the western half. So we started in Florida and we went all the way to California. "The Difference" comprises Florida and Tennessee, and then "Chasin' Me" is Utah and California.

I'm so proud of those videos. "Chasin' Me" is super romantic and beautiful. I liked having the road trip as a metaphor for the kind of building of trust in the relationship that is taking place in that song. And he's literally chasing me too, which is very cute. And then in the end the guy gets the girl, which is also very cute. So yeah, I'm really proud of those videos. Paul Boyd directed them - he's directed Stevie Nicks, Shania Twain, Sugarland and just a bunch of legends. I always love working with him.

Songfacts: Is that Paul Walker's brother in the videos?

Jones: Yeah. Cody Walker starred in the video. He's the nicest guy and just the best team player. I was really nervous because I've never had a co-star in my video before - it's always just been me. Actually, I had a horse as a co-star, but never a human.

Those are such treasured memories for me. Those places are on people's bucket lists, and we get to use work as an excuse to go there, shoot a video, and have this piece of art to show for it. It's the best of all worlds.

Songfacts: Caroline, what's your song that you most identify with that you've written?

Jones: "Tough Guys" is one of them. It's a statement of stubborn individualism, and I would say that speaks to me a lot as I've built my life and my career in unconventional ways that allow me to have creative freedom and march to the beat of my own drummer. That's something I really stand for and that's a message in a lot of my music even when it's not a lyrical message in my music. It's kind of a buried or blended message in my production or in my instrumentation in ways where I'll blend things that are unconventional.

So I would say that song is kind of a mission statement for me. Also, "Bare Feet" is one of them. It's not as sassy or aggressive but is basically highlighting the same message.

Authenticity is big for me and I tend to write songs that remind myself of that. They kind of act as Northern Stars or mission statements.

Jones' song "Country Girl" tells her backstory: Her dad's from Memphis but moved to New York, where he met Caroline's mom. He made sure his daughters knew how to bait a hook. There's also a line in the song about her dad writing a letter to his parents, telling them he'll be a millionaire by 25.
Songfacts: How true to life are the lyrics to "Country Girl"?

Jones: They're 100% true to life. As a song, as a lyric, that's kind of an outlier for me because I tend to write a little bit more poetically rather than literally. A lot of country music is very conversational and very literal, which I love. That's one of the things that drew me to country music. But I have a poet's heart, so I tend to write a little bit more poetically or maybe ethereally. But "Country Girl" is one of those songs that just fell out and every single word of it is accurate to my childhood and my upbringing in my life. That song really felt like a gift and it means a lot to me.

Songfacts: Did your dad become a millionaire at 25?

Jones: No, but he does have that letter - I actually have to find that letter. I remember my grandpa telling me about that. But the next line is, "I have his heart and drive," and there's just this ambition that I've always had since I was a little girl, this big-dreaming mentality that I believe I got from my dad. But that song is so special because it speaks in a broader way to the shoulders we all stand on of people who have come before us who have allowed us a new platform to live out our dreams in a way that maybe they couldn't. I'm even getting emotional thinking about it now because no family is perfect and no one is perfect, but we all do the best we can, as hard as that is to see sometimes in the moment, no matter where you come from.

Sometimes when you grow up you gain a certain perspective as an imperfect adult yourself and you realize how lucky you are to have grown up in a loving family - just to have love and to have values. It's so special, but no matter what kind of family you come from or place you come from, there's value in all of it.

The second verse talks about my mom not having a present father. Even the hardest things make you who you are, and then your kids and the kids that come after them will benefit from the strength that you had to develop. It's a very beautiful thing if you look at it from a big-picture perspective.

Songfacts: What's it like being on tour with Jimmy Buffett?

Jones: It's really, really fun. It's a whole culture and a whole lifestyle in itself. In the beginning it was something to get used to because I hadn't seen it before, but the Parrot Heads are just such a special, unique group of people and it's so interesting because they're all walks of life with all different jobs - doctors and lawyers by day and then at night they put a parrot on their head and have a margarita in their hand and are wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops.

Something that touring with Jimmy taught me is the value of a shared value system, and also imagination. Being able to imagine yourself in his song in a place where you have no responsibilities and no burdens and no cold weather and you're just living free and unburdened. That emotion through music is so powerful for people that they spend their hard-earned money to go to that show and feel those feelings. It's really powerful and really special. It's the power of art and music, and Jimmy has tapped into that very authentically because that's what he loves. He changes people's lives. He inspires them through that.

Jimmy Buffett and Mac McAnally wrote a song for Jones called "Gulf Coast Girl," which was released on Buffett's Mailboat Records in 2019. Billed as "The Pelicanaires," Buffett and McAnally also served as her backing band on the track along with Kenny Chesney and Lukas Nelson.

Songfacts: Can you elaborate on "shared value system"?

Jones: A lot of the headliners that have taken me under their wing have values in their music and a message in their music. There's a lot of overlap, whether it be Jimmy Buffett or Kenny Chesney or Zac Brown. They all stand for something, and their fans get it. Their fans know it and their fans identify with it. That's why these are people who have had decades-long careers. That's why Jimmy can sell out amphitheaters and arenas and stadiums at 73 years old: because people identify with that music. They associate certain emotions and values with that music and they want to feel that. We all want to feel those positive emotions and we all want to be reminded of the beauty and authenticity and freedom of life that is expressed through those people's music. That's what music is really about at the core of it.

Zac and Kenny are great examples. Kenny stands for community and love and not taking yourself so seriously. Being in the moment. I could rattle off all their values because it's so obvious when you go to their shows - they talk about it on stage they sing about it in their songs. Everyone is on board.

Zac stands for being your own person and giving your all. They are just monsters on stage - they're giving their all to the music, and they're not really one genre. They're kind of jam-bandy and their fans love that.

Songfacts: What would you say you stand for if you had to summarize it?

Jones: I'd say authenticity and joy. Joy is a big one for me. Music brings me so much joy and freedom. There's nothing like being on stage and just pouring your heart out doing the thing you love to do the most. When you feel an audience come with you and connect to that, it's the best feeling. So I would say authenticity, musicianship and joy.

Jones hosts a monthly show on the Sirius XM channel The Coffee House (ch. 14) called Art & Soul, where she brings in musicians and songwriters to talk about their songs and perform them. James Bay, Dan Wilson, Natalie Hemby and Ben Folds have all appeared.
Songfacts: On your radio show, who is a guest that left an impression on you for what they stand for?

Jones: I would say Regina Spektor. I was really struck by how well spoken she is about all the aspects of her music.

I haven't had her on my show, but Jewel was a huge one for me early on when I was just discovering singer-songwriters as a teenager, because Jewel has written extensively about artists as the carriers of cultural conscience and cultural values, and how important art is as a player in carrying on those values. She was a big one for me who wrote and spoke about that outside of the music as well as inside it.

Songfacts: She had such an amazing story about how she came from Alaska, lived in a van, and ended up becoming a major recording artist.

Jones: Yes. She has an incredible story and just so much resilience, and she's so smart. I really admire her.

Songfacts: When you're an opening act, what is that like?

Jones: I love being an opening act. My biggest dream has been to be on stage, and then to have a headliner give me the opportunity to stand in front of their fans and share my music is just such a privilege. The whole crowd isn't there when you start, but that kind of stuff never fazed me. I know that fazes some people, but I feel like I'm so lucky to be up there in front of these people I wouldn't see otherwise. They wouldn't know me otherwise, and I would have to find some other way to get to them.

And then, not everybody's going to like you, but the ones who do are going to be lifelong fans, and you just can't get that anywhere else. So I love being an opener.

I had the privilege to share the stage with a lot of these headliners: They'd bring me back on during their show, or we'd collaborate outside of the tour, like I have with Jimmy and Zac and Kenny. So I love it. It's really fun and it kind of feels like summer camp. It feels like you're a cog in this big wheel. Everyone has the same mission, which is to inspire the audience and connect to the audience and have fun.

Songfacts: Where are you when the headliner is on stage?

Jones: It depends on the night. Sometimes you'll watch the whole show from side stage from the monitor board. Sometimes you'll watch part of the show and go home. Sometimes you have to get in the car and go to the next place so you don't go to bed at 4 a.m. So it just it depends. Every headliner, I've seen their show but maybe not every night.

Songfacts: You were talking earlier about how you're very deliberate and very structured, which I think translates into your routine for staying in shape mentally, physically, creatively. Can you talk about that?

Jones: I come from a very disciplined family, which is not always a characteristic you associate with creativity. The energy of it is a little more volatile and it ebbs and flows. So creativity can come in waves, but then there's aspects of your lifestyle that can lend to a more creative and healthy relationship with music and with yourself.

Jewel was actually someone who made me realize that artists can fall victim to their own creativity, because it can be very intense. Artists tend to be extremely sensitive, extremely emotional, and then they go into an industry that is hypercritical, hyper-competitive. It's a recipe for disaster if you think about it.

In order to be a great artist you have to be hypersensitive and hyperemotional - that is the crux of your creativity. So learning how to structure my lifestyle mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally to be a little bit more balanced gives me a better foundation for that crazy blend of being super emotional and then being in an industry where you want everyone to love you but it's never going to happen like you want. Your biggest dream is to be on stage inspiring people, but then you're also an artist, so you have to be brave and you have to put yourself in positions that sometimes aren't conventional or aren't popular. If you think about it, it's very weird.

So I meditate, I try to spend a lot of time in nature, I try to spend time without my phone, and I just try to stay tuned in with myself. I stay super healthy, eat healthy, take care of myself physically so that I have stamina on stage. And also, I just love being strong. I love dancing. I love singing for hours many days a week. So it's important to me to be energetic and stay fit and in shape just for my balance and my well-being.

But I think the biggest piece is mental, emotional, spiritual for an artist. That's what we struggle with sometimes - all those skills we don't really teach kids in school. We don't teach kids how to have more autonomy over their emotions, what to do when you're sad or what to do when your feelings get hurt. We never teach kids that really, so you have to develop your own skill set for that later in life if you want to be happy, especially if you're a really emotional person.

Songfacts: I understand you have some new mixes of your song "All Of The Boys" emerging. Can you talk about that song and what you have coming up with it?

Jones: Yeah. "All Of The Boys" is my upcoming single and we have a few different mixes of it. We did an album mix last year that went on my EP and that will go on the album. Then we made a few different mixes. I love a lot of different styles of music and sometimes it's a real journey in the studio to blend together all the styles that I love and all the elements that I love. There's a lot of organic instruments that I love - I play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo - I love all these organic instruments.

And then I love modern pop music. I love stacked, processed vocals, I love programmed drums and drum sounds, I love synths and synth bass and all that stuff. So it's a real journey.

The options are endless nowadays because of what you can do with technology, and I think that is yielding some of the most creative production we've ever heard. But even if you go back to the '70s and listen to Queen, they were already blending all that stuff then. So sometimes there can be a more organic mix of a song or a more acoustic mix of a song or super-electronic mix of a song, and we've done all three here. We did a dance remix, which I always wanted to do with one of my songs because I love a lot of modern dance production. Then we did a country mix that features the more organic instruments more heavily and turns down some of the more electronic elements, and then we have a coffeehouse mix which is actually completely unique - we completely re-recorded the song with a little cocktail jazz drum kit, upright bass, acoustic guitar and a Rhodes piano. We did that in like an hour. We didn't know how it would go, and that's turning out to be some people's favorite. So it just goes to show that it's kind of fun to reimagine these songs, because when you slow down a song and do a coffeehouse version, the lyric takes on another emotional color, which is really beautiful to see.

Songfacts: Why does it take so long to release an album?

Jones: I can't speak for everyone, but when really delving into your soul and your creative well, you're not just going to write 12 great songs in a week. There are some artists who take 10 years to write 10 great songs. You're lucky if you write a few great songs a year.

The more writers and the more outside songs you add to that equation makes it easier to gather a lot of songs in less time, but I'm basically writing by myself for an album, and I'd rather have five great songs that I wrote over two years then like 15 songs and only five of them are my best work.

Honestly Carl, I don't even write songs unless I think they're great. I don't finish that many songs a year. I only finish them if I think they're special, so that takes a while. Then if you're producing the way that I am, which is from the ground up playing most of the instruments and being involved in every single aspect of every single sound of every single note of every single song, it just takes time unless you're in the studio 24/7, which I can't be when I'm touring.

I know some people turn out songs a lot faster, and I feel like, more power to them. That's awesome, and maybe one day I'll go through a phase like that where I'm just like, Boom. Boom. Boom. I got to write with Zac and Ryan Tedder, and Ryan Tedder just turns out songs like a machine, which is amazing, but that's also his job. He is a commercial hit songwriter. My job is my own artistry, so I feel like they're slightly different things. But that's why it takes me so long.

March 19, 2020
More at carolinejones.com
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photos: Tyler Lord

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Comments: 4

  • Nicole Poudrier from Cocoa, FlThoroughly enjoyed this interview. I'm a huge Parrothead and loved the way, Caroline described us, Jimmy's fans. I was in a life-altering car wreck in 2002 and the local Parrothead Club I belonged to at the time got a banner that Corona beer donated saying "Nicole may the Power of the Parrot be With You" It had Jimmy playing a Corona bottle as a guitar. People in 2002 signed "get well" wishes to me at Jimmy's concert in Orlando. They raised a great deal of money for my family. I had two little ones at the time who their dad and I raised on all types of music. My son when he was a toddler used to say mommy will play that "I don't know song" lol. He would also go around saying, well my friend Jimmy says.... Fast forward to 2017, when I found out Jimmy was coming on Tour. The name of his tour that year was the I Don't Know Tour. It was my teenager's first Jimmy Buffett concert. What a coincidence!? I am loving your music as well Caroline...... I will be buying some of your music too. Thank you for writing and singing beautiful songs. I truly get into lyrics as well as the music. You have made a fan for life Caroline. Be well and I wish you all the best!
  • Ted Robishaw from Kingsville,ohioI fell in love with Caroline and her music when she was on the Hoda and CathyLee Today show when she made her tv debut. I’m almost 80 years old and nd have loved country music all my life. I saw my first country concert at the Seattle Opera House in 1961 when I was in the Navy stationed in Bremerton Wash. Caroline is a natural American beauty with a ton of talent in the music industry and I hope she has a wonderful life, such a beautiful voice. I’m on Facebook under Ted H. Robishaw if you would like to look me up and read my history. I lost the love of my life almost 3 years ago-at 74 years old. We were high school sweethearts and were married 51 years. My best to you Caroline and I will be your most devoted fan for as long as I’m still here. Much love, Ted
  • Nathan Harrington from Mckenzie Tennessee Love the interview great job keep the great work up Love It
  • Nestor Cartagena from Jersey City,n.j.I'm very satisfied with this interview with Caroline Jones my GOD I never thought for a minute all the things she have to endure just to complete one song;even when I love all her songs and music ,I will keep following her for her new music coming up,and videos .
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