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Caroline Vreeland is an open book, and it ain't the Bible

Mar 4, 2020
Originally published on March 5, 2020 5:37 pm

Caroline Vreeland is on the phone, fresh out of the shower. Usually it's the other way around; people want a shower after they talk to me.

She is the great-granddaughter of Diana Vreeland, formerly the lofty columnist and editor of the fashion magazines Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. It's a connection that has led Caroline Vreeland to walk the runways herself, and even design a lingerie collection for Kiki de Montparnasse. Thongs with a wine-glass motif, that sort of thing.

"People want me in their jeans, you know?" she says.

Vreeland shares a lot of information. While sipping your wine and browsing the internet, you can see that she has been an actor. Her role in "Children of Moloch," also known as "Red Handed," didn't register beyond the child-sacrifice thriller audience, but her recurring role on the Fox network show "Star" was a bit more visible. Vreeland has a big internet presence -- in the media biz, we call them "influencers" -- where she discusses her breast size with fashion bloggers and describes herself as a vegetarian and "sexually fluid." She was writing a sex-advice column, "Going to Bed with Caroline Vreeland."

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"For better or for worse, Jeff, I am an open book," she says. And the rest of this is one long sentence: "You could literally put a camera on me, from the minute I wake up, through the entire day, the good, the bad and the ugly, the glamorous, (she utters a nasty word) front-row couture fashion show" -- and here she affects a European accent, 'Caroline, turn around you're so sexy, Caroline!' -- industry, everything, and then you could see me pushing a granny cart down my street in Brooklyn to wash my panties at the laundromat."

That's a mouthful. But now, "You Google me and it says 'singer.' "

Indeed. Last week, Vreeland released her debut album, "Notes on Sex and Wine." A short tour brings her to Rochester for an 8 p.m. Friday, March 6, show at Three Heads Brewing. Curiously, she's been touring with two bands from Rochester. KOPPS is high-energy dance-club rock, although it won't be at the Rochester show. But Roses and Revolutions will be there; it is the synth-throbbing, indie singer-songwriter pop duo of Alyssa Coco and Matt Merritt. With Coco, KOPPS lead singer Patricia Patrón and Vreeland, this tour has put a little edge on March as "Women's History Month."

(It is. Look it up.)

As we were talking last week, Vreeland hadn't even met KOPPS. The relationship was at what she calls the "flirting on the internet" stage. The Rochester connection actually comes through Roses and Revolutions. They share the same producer in Tampa. Vreeland was poking around in his studio wine cellar and picked out a good but not too expensive bottle. Upstairs, she found Coco and Merritt in the studio. "So we poured the wine," Vreeland says.

"We just started playing 'Dreams' by Fleetwood Mac. And she and I were just riffing off each other, switching off the verses, harmonizing on the chorus, without even discussing who was going to take which part. It just flowed."

Lingerie and sex advice aside, Vreeland says all she ever really wanted to do was sing. Born 32 years ago, in Washington, D.C., she was Caroline Olivia Zickerick. Her father was a German diplomat and the family spent time in Jamaica. Caroline's parents divorced, and she and her mother moved to the San Francisco Bay area. At 8 years old, Caroline began working with a vocal coach. After 10 years of that, she decided, "I need to get out of this small town as quickly as I can and get my life started." Los Angeles. A career in music. Ready to become an overnight sensation, like the Grammy-winning singer Lizzo.

"I love what Lizzo posted when she says, 'Really, overnight sensation?' " Vreeland says. " 'Try eight years living out of my car, working at McDonald's, being signed and dropped.' People don't really see that part of it.

"Of course there was a lot of mishaps, you know, being signed and dropped and you're trying to network and meet people, and you're young and in a new city and people want to take advantage of you."

So she was just another singer working as a waitress and bartender. But she had a card to play. Her friends said, "Caroline, why don't you glom onto the Vreeland empire?" At first, this "20-something kid with a really stubborn soul" wasn't interested.

"I didn't want that to be my story; I wanted to carve my own path," she says. "And they were like, 'Listen, this is not something to go away from. Like, we need to use this in our favor. And if this can benefit your music, then you should be more open to it.' "

That's when Caroline Olivia Zickerick became Caroline Vreeland. And the modeling jobs started coming in. "I started to be seen as a little bit of a fashion girl," she says. Vreeland didn't need to bartend anymore.

"All of it was so that I could promote the music. And finally now, over the last two years writing the record, I've been able to funnel all that money and all that time and effort into what I love. So I did my video, I paid for that all myself, I paid for my record. And finally, on Friday, it's coming out!"

Yes, she concedes, "I guess I've been granted a lot, I've gotten by on good looks and charisma and talent, and I've been lucky in that regard."

But a songwriter's pain is the audience's gain. "Like the thing when Katy Perry said, when she had her first hit on the radio and she had zero dollars in her bank account," Vreeland says. "Like, I'm wondering how I'm going to make it through this tour financially, by being able to have all the moving parts go.

"But I just have an uncanny ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I think."

In that light, "I wish I could read Dostoyevsky in Russian, wouldn't that be nice?" she says. Step away from the glamour and "curl up with a whiskey bottle and write songs." Sometimes the excess catches up with you. "Even when I got my DUI 10 years ago, I literally presented my wrists to the cop and said, 'Thank you, take me in,' and then I never drove drunk anymore."

Yet the torchy blues of "Notes on Sex and Wine" doesn't heed many rules.

"I really wanted to show this, like, giving in to the intoxication of the self," she says. "And like maybe kind of reveling in that, like, darkness. When I wrote the album I was obviously going through a bad relationship, coming out of that, and I was not in a great place. I was drinking a lot, and that was just kind of my way of coping."

Out of those tough times came the album's first single, "Stay Drunk With Me." And the accompanying video, set in a mansion amid a party of excess. If the new album has a theme, that's pretty much it.

"It is kind of at the heart and soul of it because it has that bacchanal vibe," Vreeland says. "And I think Bacchus is, don't know what he is actually, but I'm trying to figure out: Is he my lover, is he my father, is he my brother, what is he to me? Because I haven't had a healthy relationship with men at all. So he kind of represents all of the men in my life, and then I just like indulge, obviously he is the god of sacrifice and wine and all that. So I guess you could say 'Stay Drunk With Me' is the crux of the whole project."

As is spaghetti. Vreeland loves pasta, eating dinner with friends, pouring the wine, sharing the stories.

"It's important to me, honestly," she says. "Like I said before, I'm really into indulging myself and not denying myself the things that I crave. I think so often we have this idea of what it is to be civilized, right? And to be civilized, we say that you curb your natural desire to do things. Now, I'm not talking, like, a curb as severe as murder. Of course we shouldn't be doing that. But why is it celebrated to stop yourself from being your natural animalistic self?"

She believes she knows where she is going. "Standards, but obviously having the content of a modern woman." So the new album closes with a sad jazz number, "Where is My Love?" She's a chanteuse, brushes washing over the drums like a rainy night. "I call it my 'falling out of the window song,' because it's a Chet Baker homage."

Yes, she knows Baker fell out of a window to his death.

Tickets ($10) for Caroline Vreeland, opening for Roses and Revolutions at Three Heads Brewing, 186 Atlantic Ave., are available at eventbrite.com.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI's Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.

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