You probably don’t know her name. But you should. In 2004, Carina Round was signed to one of the most powerful record companies in the world. She’s collaborated with Brian Eno, Ryan Adams, Dave Stewart, and Glen Ballard. Her music was featured in FX’s American Horror Story. And yet, Round remains an unknown quantity among the general public, failing to generate the kind of praise and notoriety that’s been enjoyed by the female pioneers of rock who came before her, including Patti Smith, Ani DiFranco, PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and Fiona Apple. It’s an elite cabal to which the British singer-songwriter’s new album, a retrospective of her 15-year career, proves she belongs.
As the album’s title, Deranged to Divine, implies, Round’s music, voice, and lyrics span a wide spectrum of sounds, emotions, and influences, and yet it all coheres into a singularly captivating identity. To paraphrase my review of her 2004 major-label debut, The Disconnection, Round is a living musical gene pool, her voice summoning the complete history of rock n’ roll, but never to the point of distraction. I chatted with Round about her influences, what she thinks of electronic music, and how she strikes a balance between “deranged” and “divine.”
Deranged to Divine is a self-curated retrospective rather than a traditional “greatest hits” collection. How did you go about choosing which songs would make the cut?
I started by simply listening through my entire catalog and taking note of the songs that to me felt most “necessary.” The songs that had a definitiveness that was expressed by a congruence between the melody and the lyrics generally were the ones I ended up including. There are two songs that, following that logic, should be on the album, but refused to flow in the sequence: “Pick Up the Phone” and “Do You,” which contains the lyric that the title of the album is taken from. To me, they stand alone as their own complete little narrative universes so that once they were taken out of the context of their respective albums it was hard for me to find a place for them amid the other songs. They derailed the already somewhat schizophrenic journey.
Is there a thematic thread that ties your songs, specifically the ones included on the album, together?
I made a conscious effort not to worry about being objective. I wanted the retrospective to be my own personal introduction to my work, for someone who’s never heard me before. I didn’t want it to be balanced or have all the “favorites,” for want of a better word. More than anything, I wanted it to encompass the most eclectic examples of moments in my career where I feel that I’ve had a breakthrough and achieved something with a song or recording that was unexpected to me. “Message to Apollo,” “Backseat,” and “Mother’s Pride,” for instance, share nothing in common thematically or mood-wise, but the feeling I had while writing and then when they were completed was almost exactly the same: that in spite of whatever ambition or focus I initially had going into the process, something inspired happened out of my control, or I consciously made a choice to move into an uncomfortable state and the result was better than anything I could have willed into existence.
As the title implies, Deranged to Divine ranges from soft, more introspective fare like “Backseat,” to more aggressive rock tracks like “Into My Blood.” Where do you think this range comes from?
Without wanting to state the obvious, music is visceral to me and I’m a very emotional writer. The initial idea for something comes to be based on this fact, if it feels good to me, wherever it’s on the spectrum, and somehow translates what it is that I’m trying to express, then I can draw from that and arrange a song based on emotional reaction. That’s how the initial inspiration forms, and then, once that’s in place, I can approach it more cerebrally in the later parts of crafting it.
Are there are any artists you admire who similarly play with mood and dynamics?
Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Patti Smith, Roxy Music, David Bowie, and Kate Bush all played a big part in inspiring me to express myself through music. So did Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell.
What else inspires you?
I recently had some time off at home and took the opportunity to sink into a movie coma. Discovering the works of Antonioni, Michael Haneke, and Abbas Kiarostami kept me in a beautiful alternate-state bubble. I was recently given books on two of my favorite designers, Alexander McQueen and Issey Miyake. I want to live inside them. I’m also very moved by the works of Yamamoto, Watanabe, and Kawakubo.
Independent-minded singer-songwriters often struggle to get the attention they deserve at major labels. What was your experience at Interscope and was it an amicable split?
I had the kind of confusing experience you hear about a lot with a major label. It was a battle. I finally asked to be excused when they wouldn’t issue a nominal amount of tour support for my tour with Annie Lennox. After that, I started my own label and began putting out my own records. Both have been very valuable experiences.