I fell in love with Karolina Rose's voice instantly. Her new song "Goodnight, Mr. Moon" is so gorgeous and poetic it's hard to believe she worked on Wall Street. We talked to her about making the transition to music and what's been inspiring her lately.
You used to work on Wall Street? What was that like?
KR: Yes, I was a portfolio manager for a fund of hedge funds. The thing I loved about the finance industry is you’re really surrounded by very educated, intelligent people. In anything I do, it’s always about the people. There were a lot of conferences I had to attend as part of my job where you discussed global trends, such as current events, geopolitics, portfolio positioning, investment opportunities, you name it, and you had those who were really experienced investors and trained economists speaking on the subject. That being said, the hours were grueling. I worked till midnight in the office sometimes and countless weekends. That’s the grind it takes to finish the work. It was often very lonely for me when I had big projects to do all on my own. I prefer collaborating with a team. Now, I basically work those same hours with my music! I put everything I have into what I’m focused on. I have to be careful to not run myself into the ground.
Tell me about how you made that transition to music?
KR: I’d be in the middle of working on a report and some lines which were sort of like poetry would just come to me. I’d grab my phone or a piece of paper and write it down. I always loved 'philosophizing' as I like to call it, but at the time, I never looked at it as lyrics. I was on a work trip in Paris, I was feeling quite lost with what to do with my life, and I had this epiphany one night coming home when there were a few European musicians casually playing on a corner near the apartment where I was staying. I noticed I knew the song, so I went over and started singing with them. I thought to myself—"I could hang with them. I could do this." I had always loved karaoke—I’d cover songs by Shakira, Alanis Morissette, 'Sweet Dreams' by Eurythmics (my go-to’s), but I didn’t think of myself as a singer in my own right. I realized that what I really love is singing and performing more than anything else. When I returned to New York, I started taking music lessons and taught myself to play the guitar. I started turning my poetry into lyrics. I would spend more and more time writing music and performing at local open mics. It got to a point where all I could think about was music and I knew I had to take any savings I had and take a leap of faith. I met producer Andros Rodriguez in Williamsburg right around when I quit my job. We started working on my debut project, which I am now starting to release.
What were some of the challenges that came with that decision?
KR: I was scared to death to make the drastic change and to give up a steady, comfortable living. All my friends around me were getting promoted, getting graduate degrees, getting married, thinking of kids, and here I was looking to pursue a dream with a sharply narrow, longterm success rate. My parents pointed out on more than one occasion that I was throwing away my Wharton education and how many people would kill to have my job. I felt so incredibly foolish, but I also felt that I had no choice but to try. My thoughts were and still are today entirely consumed by music, so I don’t regret my decision.
What inspires your music?
KR: I tend to philosophize about my life experiences, I write it down when it comes to me, which sometimes turns into lyrics. I try to write about the ignored aspects of human emotion. It can be something very dark, or also just exploring anything that breaks my heart, passions and pains. Maybe they are things unspoken or left in the subconscious. I keep all my journal notes. When I go to write a song, I usually draw inspiration from those notes. I also write down my dreams. If I write the dream down as soon as I wake up, I can usually remember a good amount and then it fades away from conscious memory "poof" so I have to be quick. When I read those dream notes, weeks or months later, I am sometimes so shocked to read what came out of my half-awake mind. I also love museums and art exhibits so much and when I finally have freetime, that’s where you’ll find me (The Met and MoMa PS1 being my favorites). Art contains all the relatable aspects of life. I feel you can find everything beautiful that you’re searching for there.
I’ve always had this lurking feeling of being unusual, like I didn’t belong. Luckily, we are currently in an age of empowerment for outcasts and underdogs to come forward and be themselves. At least in my mind, I feel we are encouraged more than ever to let our authenticity shine no matter our color, preferences, gender and religion. How lucky are we? It’s a good time to create and enjoy art. I tend to be very idealistic and always hopeful for people, and people make up the world, so there’s hope. Being a quixote, I think that hope and that quixotism tends to inspire my music as well.
Tell me about the song Goodnight, Mr. Moon
KR: There were a few inspirations for the song. The initial spark came from a conversation with my friend & visual artist, Heide Hatry, who occasionally runs some artist showcase nights in conjunction with her work. She asked me if I could write a song about death and perform it at her showcase (which I did at the end of last year). She told me her project 'Icons in Ash' all started with her dealing with the loss of her father. I felt her emotion that she would do anything to bring him back. He was cremated, so she took the ashes from his body and created a portrait of him in his utmost essence. She felt a lot of relief in having that portrait in her apartment. Her project caught on by word-of-mouth and before she knew it she was commissioned to make portraits of clients' deceased husbands, wives, sisters and even pets. She's received quite a bit of press regarding her work as well.
Fast forward, as soon as I left the concert in the LES here in New York where she and I had met up, I had the song coming to me in my head and was singing it as I was walking down the street. Initially, it was just "How do I get you back? All the pieces in one. How do I get you back? All the pieces came undone". I kept thinking about the theme of putting the pieces together to bring one's loved one back.
Further, I have suffered from nightmares for many years. I often have hallucinations when I sleep. I wake up and see things in my bedroom or projected onto the walls or something within my room takes a different shape and moves. It's frightening. The first verse of the song takes inspiration from one of my nightmares where I woke up and it literally looked as if the moon was projecting a spotlight onto my wall and it looked like a scene was playing out. It may sound magical, but it was quite frightening. I started coming up with the visualization of someone hallucinating in the middle of the night, bringing back their loved one by talking to the moon, and so the loved one becomes "Mr. Moon". She communicates with her lost love in the nighttime. She processes her grief in her dreams. She thinks it is totally real until the end of the song when she wakes up from the dream and knows that it's really time to say goodbye, indicated by the last lyrics: "Goodnight, Mr. Moon", "you gave a kiss of peace", "sweet gentle release". There's a climax to the song at the moment of awakening—that's when it picks up. If people listen through the entire song, it has a definitive journey that was quite intentional. I enjoy writing and performing all my songs on stage, but as far as my songs to listen to personally, 'Goodnight, Mr. Moon' is my favorite one.
There was an additional sidenote inspiration to the song where I was obsessed with Moon emojis at the time and sending them to my s.o. Imagining my s.o. passing away is a very frightening, emotional activity so it was not hard to tap into that feeling to finish the song. There were several rounds of writing this song. I would have lines come to me almost as a chant and that's all it would be. I also had a moment of staying at Coney Island until sunset, and I swear the moon was huge that night. As we walked off the beach onto the boardwalk, I saw the moon shining on the water, so I immediately wrote that line down in my phone, which is the opening line to the song and sets up the tone of the conversation with the Moon.
What do you want your listeners to take away from your music?
KR: I want them to feel hopeful and inspired for their own lives. I want them to feel like they can reach the utmost highest ideals that they are searching for in life. I want them to feel an escape at least for a moment from whatever they are dealing with IRL. I want them to know that no matter what pain they’ve been through, they are strong and life can still get better, much better. I want them for a moment to imagine their life that can normally only be found in our daydreams and to feel like they can attain it.
What’s your best advice to young women?
KR: It’s easier said than done, and I have to remind myself all the time, but try not to spend your precious time on Earth worrying about things you cannot change. Focus on what you can change. Make a plan for yourself. Put it into action. It will manifest. Don’t let anyone put in your head that you’re "too anything" to do anything. You’re a warrior. Channel your inner goddess in all that you do. It is your power. Always be grateful. You are a wonderful gift to this world.