The Artist’s Way: Caroline Polachek, Singer-Songwriter

In this special feature, T photographed and interviewed 34 artists from various disciplines about 24 hours in their creative lives.

Article by Jason Chen

Caroline Polachek, photographed at Terminal 5 in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, on Dec 2, 2021. Photography by Melanie Einzig.Caroline Polachek, photographed at Terminal 5 in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, on Dec 2, 2021. Photography by Melanie Einzig.

I lived in New York for 15 years, so it was meaningful to play here, like a coming-of-age moment as an artist. There were three very important shows for me this past year: one was at the Greek in Los Angeles, which is a big amphitheatre; then the Roundhouse in London, this huge, ornate Victorian hall; and then Terminal 5 in New York, which I call the Death Star.

I hadn’t been here in about six years, and my memory had really inflated how large the space was. You know how when you’re older and you go back to see your middle school, you feel like, “Oh, it’s so much smaller than I remembered”? In my mind, Terminal 5 was this giant room but, as I was walking in, it felt very approachable.

Sound check is the first moment that I get a feel for the space. Every venue is so different, whether it’s an old church or a high-tech, well-outfitted auditorium. My band and I will play through a couple of songs to hear the room. On a technical level, my sound engineer’s trying to figure out what the resonant frequencies are, to avoid any feedback. I also use the time to rehearse moving around: during the actual performance, I often can’t see where the edges of the stage are, since it’s dark and smoky, which can obviously be dangerous. This is my moment to get my bearings.

When you’re on tour, this is also the time to make any adjustments to your set, whether it’s the lights or the projections or the vocal effects. I have to adapt because my voice won’t sound the same in every room. It’s quite different than the creative process of being in a studio, where you’re doing more problem solving or exercising control over the art. Sound check is more like a ritual. You start to imagine what the show is going to be like that night. That’s what being an artist is, as far as I’m concerned: trusting your imagination.

I used to look at creative people and see their output as a kind of weather pattern that was generated by the world — something inherent — but the more I do this, the more I realise that nothing good happens without being imagined in extreme detail. Things don’t happen by accident. Things happen because people believe in them to the fullest degree.

During this sound check, I was actually trying to figure out what I was going to wear that night. I had two outfits that couldn’t have been more different: one was a very strappy black leather look, and the other was an ephemeral gossamer white outfit. I was trying to visualise what might make the most sense. Of course, I went with the black one. It’s New York City.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 76 of T Australia with the headline: “The Artist’s Way”