Karolina Rose, a former Philadelphia native, was born and raised to Polish parents, who like most European immigrants (and I should know because I’m of Croatian descent) only want the best for their children, right? So, imagine the utter surprise to family and friends when Karolina, a prestigious Wharton Business School graduate, one day decided to turn her back on a successful career on Wall Street, to pursue her dream of making it in the music industry. It takes guts to make a decision as bold as that. I can definitely empathize with that. If we don’t venture out of our comfort zones sometimes, our mundane lives seemingly just eat us up whole.
I also learnt very quickly that Rose presents as a very gentle and lively person who’s more than just a pretty face. Moreover she is a musical talent on the rise with an unconquered spirit likened to the Roman sun-god Sol Invictus. Interestingly, Karolina chose to name her superlative debut EP Invicta, a variation of the Latin word invictus, meaning unconquered as a representation of her strength and who she is as a person. Incidentally Invicta is found on the coat of arms of Warsaw, the former city of her parents. It makes for a lovely connection to her heritage and her musical odyssey moving forward.
Having recently dropped her incredible debut with renowned producer Andos Rodriguez (Madonna, Shakira, Florence + the Machine) and in between write more new music, I had the privilege so to speak to catch up with Rose recently at home in New York City. Here is some of what we talked about.
Karolina, your story is a fascinating one. From high finance to dance pop it seems like a whirlwind of activity has happened to get to where you are now. Where were you when the penny first dropped which ultimately pushed you in the direction to pursue a music career?
I was in Paris. I was lost and found. I knew I was seeking something. It was like 4am coming home from a night out and on my way home I saw a bunch of French & German musicians jamming on a street corner close to my apartment. I knew the lyrics to the song they were playing so I decided to go over there and join them. We started singing and playing a bunch of songs on the street and that was the epiphany moment that I can do this. I had done tons of karaoke up till that point, but I never took myself seriously. That moment launched me into a whole journey. I just realized quite simply singing was what I loved to do most. Once I put my energy there, it kept giving back to me and pulling me in more.
What were some of the difficulties you encountered along the way?
I knew very few people in the music industry. Finding the right producer was a challenge. Finding musicians. Other creatives. I was so green. Navigating who was legit in any capacity was also challenging. There are many offerings and promises that people can throw at you in this industry that are empty. It’s so important to trust who you’re working with. It takes time to develop relationships so another way is to look at a person’s prior work and see how it makes you feel. Overtime you meet people you love to work with and that usually can expand your network organically. Another challenge is an artist may just want to make music, but there are so many other aspects of the business one needs to get up to speed on. I felt like I was playing catch up on everything I didn’t know whether it’s how to register copyrights, typical splits in legal contracts, music marketing, etc. It’s an entrepreneurial endeavor that requires knowledge.
I understand you first began writing songs on your acoustic guitar and subsequently performed them in New York City venues. Was there ever a temptation to become an acoustic guitarist and undertaking maybe a pop folk vibe career instead?
I might still do that, haha! I mean even though I have an alternative electropop band, I still love doing solo shows with my guitar anywhere I go. I’m planning a few radio appearances and I can’t wait to strip down some of these songs for them. I wrote all the songs from Invicta initially on my acoustic guitar.
Teaming up with Grammy Award winning producer Andros Rodriguez for your debut EP Invicta was a game changer. Is that a fair summation? Could you tell me something surprising about working with Andros?
Yes! Absolutely was a game-changer. Production is so important and it put my acoustic songs on the map so to speak. I’m not sure if it’s surprising, but Andros definitely challenged me. He wanted my best to come out. He’s a good teacher and has so much experience. He actually does teach at universities and regularly goes back to do production seminars.
It might be just a coincident but Going To Berlin has a very Eurodance feel about it. Was that deliberate or something that evolved out of the process with working with Andros?
It was deliberate and my intention from the moment the song was born. I wanted it to be a club banger. It would be cool to do a few remixes of it. Any producers & DJs reading interested? 😉 When I was playing it on guitar and hadn’t met Andros yet, it was frustrating me because I just wanted to hear the song with a dance beat already. Now with time passed I’ve adapted an acoustic version of Going to Berlin that I’m actually quite happy with, but it sounds pretty different! Much more soul/folk vibe.
Crystal Gem is without a doubt one of the standout tracks and in fact maybe your most personal tracks on your EP. With lyrics like “No one can stop me now, from doing what I want to do. How nice it would be, to be taken care of endlessly” it’s hard not to mistaken your determination to succeed on this track. What was going on in the background in your life while crafting it?
Thank you! It came from a lot of self-doubt and discouragement from family & friends telling me not to throw away my “Wharton education” and all I’ve worked for. At some point though I think the mind & spirit just breaks and you have to do what you love or you’ll die. Maybe not literally, but you’re basically dead if you’re not living and bringing out the full truth inside of you. You have to dance on the edge of death, the place where you’re so afraid you might die and in doing so you’re actually most alive. That boiling point is different for everyone, but I wish everyone to take the deep dive to find out what it is for themselves.
When you recorded Invicta did you keep the set of songs as close to something you could easily perform in a live setting? I understand you did an acoustic set a few weeks ago?
Yes, I wanted to celebrate Invicta both ways, with the full sound of an electro band vibe and an intimate show with just me on a stool singing the songs as I wrote them on guitar. I didn’t focus on that aspect when recording Invicta. I worked on my live show production afterwards with my musical director. The musicians I work with also have given ideas over time. I’m so grateful to have this support.
I saw a beautiful photo of you outdoors sitting outstretched seemingly soaking in all that nature has to give. You’ve shared some thoughts also recently where you said “Nature is my secret weapon”. Can you elaborate a little bit about it and why it’s your secret weapon?
I feel calling it a secret was me being funny in my sense of humor because I feel we’re all in on it. We are nature. We come from this earth. We are all connected here. We’re all earthlings. There are so many false social constructs created to turn us away from this truth. Nature is our mother. The stars are our ancestors and the multiverse is the source of all our divinity. Life starts in nature. It’s energy. It’s light. It’s peace and love. It’s all that matters. I always draw strength from nature and reset my spirit when I need it. It’s an aid to my perseverance. I don’t do much drinking, drugs, pills or that sort of thing. I do nature.
What’s it like living in New York City as a musician? How does it inspire you?
Anything you want can be at your fingertips here with a lot of work and a little luck. It can be daunting. I love traveling. I don’t need NYC to feel inspired, although somehow my adult life has always brought me back here so far. I draw my inspiration from anything happening in my life. It’s quite autobiographical in that sense. I jot down lyrics as they come to me.
Finally, what are your plans for the year ahead? Also I have to ask, did you set yourself a New Year’s resolution and how’s it working out?
My second EP is nearing completion. I can’t wait to share it!!! I have lots of ideas for the visuals. Now I just need to realize them. I am about to announce my first radio tour as I firm up final dates. Probably one of my most ambitious goals is to write 100 new songs this year. I need a lot of freedom and space in my days to make that happen. We’ll see.
Karolina Rose’s EP Invicta is available via streaming services on iTunes | Soundcloud | Spotify | Apple Music | Google Play | Amazon Music. Invicta is also available for download via Karolina Rose’s online store. For more information Karolina Rose, including upcoming shows, check out her website, Follow her on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram. Watch her on You Tube.
A lovely interview Robert. Karolina is a courageous and talented woman.