Slam Shut The Doors, a conversation with Caithlin DeMarrais of Rainer Maria

As the guitars swell in loops leading into the opening track of 2017’s beautiful s/t release, Rainer Maria’s Caithlin DeMarrais announces "I powered up, owned who I was, changed how I look, broke open love” like a declaration of independence. This isn’t a new stance for her, but it feels like a victory cry to me as a listener.

Since 1995 she has been the voice of the once midwest now east coast trio, releasing six full length albums, a slew of Ep’s and 7”, as well as two immaculate solo records under her own name. Her delivery can have a pensive breath immediately followed by a howling wail all in the course of just a few seconds. In my opinion, it is the thing that truly sets the foundation of the sound they help cultivate in the 90’s apart from other contemporaries. 

Caithlin has managed to be both delicate and powerful while commanding the rhythms and soundscapes laid out by her bandmates over the years, and it seems like once again she is ready to heard.

 "I try to write from the most honest place I can connect with in myself." - Caithlin DeMarrais [Photo © Good People Bad Habits]

"I try to write from the most honest place I can connect with in myself." - Caithlin DeMarrais [Photo © Good People Bad Habits]

GPBH: Melody is always present in your phrasing, lyrics, and bass lines. Is that what draws you most into a piece of music as a listener, and where does this harmonic assembly process begin for you?

Caithlin: Melody is the thing that most draws me into a song. Often it’s the vocal melody but also can be in a melodic bass line. I usually begin writing a song from either place and I like hearing and writing surprising melodies. I will hear a melody in my head and sometimes two very different melodies for vocal and bass and then it’s an interesting job writing them both together and assembling them. It can feel a bit acrobatic and challenging. I want to feel that physical and mental challenge. 

GPBH: Having stepped away and now come back (so to speak), what do you find has most changed in the current musical climate as a performer, and is there anything that surprises you still remains the same?

Caithlin: I have observed there seems to be more acceptance of a wider range of performance possibilities. What has remained the same for me is the devotion to having a shared experience between performer and audience. The expansion of possibilities has increased the enjoyment of performing for me.

GPBH: One of the things I've always admired about your songwriting is the authenticity you convey in the longing for understanding. Do you find that writing about scenarios where information wasn’t exchanged quite as intended or simply voicing desire has allowed you to grow in your own ability to be compassionate? 

Caithlin: There is a great longing for understanding it’s true. I find I sometimes write lyrics that I don’t understand completely. I let intuition guide the writing process. These songs have the playful habit of revealing their meaning to me later. Then I’m like, oh, so that’s what it meant. I don’t mind moving forward without answers or resolution and it has helped me hear when others are voicing their own desires. I try to write from the most honest place I can connect with in myself. When I don’t I consider the song a failure. I judge my own lyrics by how honest they are.

 Photo © Good People Bad Habits

Photo © Good People Bad Habits

GPBH: Through this new Rainer Maria exposure there is now a second generation of young women being inspired by your force and presence who look to you as a roadmap of what's possible as they pick up an instrument or learn to sing. What is the first thing you think of when reading that statement and why? 

Caithlin: I think of the musicians who were there to influence me, and there were so many of them. I feel compassion for their journey and wonder how I can help someone else’s journey be a little more successful, however they want to define their success. Mostly I want to have a conversation with them and listen to where they’re at. I observe people coming together to talk and be inspired. It’s amazing. 

GPBH: How have your children changed your approach to your craft? 

Caithlin: They have made me more grateful and more focused. I hope they have made me less selfish but it takes some selfishness to get any work done or go on tour. Or maybe I am misdefining the word. They are the best teachers and simultaneously I need to be their guardian. It’s a mind blowing, evolving connection.

GPBH: Finally, what three albums by other artists should someone who is just learning about you listen to for a better understanding of your material, and why? 

Caithlin: 

  1. The Verve 'The Verve E.P.'

  2. Siouxsie and the Banshees 'Peepshow'

  3. Depeche Mode 'Violator'

To better understand Rainer Maria you would have to listen to each one of our selections. I like that they would be very different. To understand the early foundation of my approach I guess I would suggest listening to the first Verve ep, Peepshow by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Violator by Depeche Mode. Well, that last one I just included because it’s one of my favorites of all time. The expression of desire in it goes very deep. 

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 Rainer Maria | Brooklyn, NY [Photo © Good People Bad Habits]

Rainer Maria | Brooklyn, NY [Photo © Good People Bad Habits]

Chris McFarland