When Caroline Pennell relocated to Los Angeles alone at 20-years-old in March 2016, she didn’t just find her sound—she took a big step towards finding herself. The New Jersey-born and L.A.-based indie pop songstress cataloged this coming-of-age story on her 2017 debut EP, Phases.
“I’m a completely different person,” she admits. “It happened naturally. I had just ended the longest relationship of my life, and I was by myself in a different place for the first time. I went through homesickness and adjusting to a new city and meeting new people every day. I felt like I had to figure out who I was. When I got into the studio, I had a lot to talk about. Phases is all about moving and growing up.”
That move proved pivotal for the singer and songwriter. Inspired by everything from Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson to Ben Folds, she wrote and recorded her first independent EP, The Race, in 2013. It serendipitously landed her a spot on season five of NBC’s The Voice where she joined team Cee Lo Green and advanced to the Top 8. Impressed by the EP and her performances, Nettwerk founder Terry McBride signed Caroline in 2014, but she took a short detour before diving headfirst into that impending career…
“I decided to go to college in Tulane for a year-and-a-half, because I wanted more experience at life,” she laughs. “I dropped out and headed to Los Angeles. That was when I really started listening to music with the intent of making it. I felt it on a deeper level, and I got into artists like Lorde and Jon Bellion. They were big for me.”
Caroline made big waves of her own with the 2016 single “Lovesick” [feat. Felix Snow]. Awash in dreamy electronics, her show-stopping and stunning delivery took the spotlight as the song landed on high-profile Spotify playlists such as Pop Chill Out, Good Vibes, Trap Nation, and Fresh & Chill in addition to amassing over 22 million streams in under a year. Meanwhile, she regularly averaged 1.4 million monthly listeners on the platform. Simultaneously, the multitalented artist became an in-demand collaborator throughout the dance music world, lending her inimitable vocals to Steve Void’s “9PM” and ROLF & Yellow Claw’s “Vertigo,” among others.
Along the way, she began co-writing and recording what would become Phases with production duo The Gifted [DVBBS, Tayler Buono].
“My sound really developed when I met The Gifted,” she goes on. “It was the first session where I didn’t have to explain what I was hearing in my head. They just understood me. We’ve got this creative pop vibe with very personal lyrics. That’s my style”
The single “Drive Me Home” first introduced Phases. Over breathy production punctuated by synths and finger-snaps, she softly carries the cinematic refrain, “You drive me home.” Within a few months, it quickly surpassed 1.7 million Spotify streams, priming fans for the EP’s arrival.
“I was so homesick when I wrote that song,” admits Caroline. “The track made me feel really nostalgic. I was like, ‘I miss my family. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my sisters. I miss everything. I want to write about that.’ I did. I was sure I wanted to go home, but I stayed in L.A. because I had all of my family believing in me and assuring me I could do it. They love me so much it’s enough to stay. The thought of them got me through that first year.”
Elsewhere, hypnotic harmonies give way to a buoyant refrain and giggles on the lively “Little.” The solo piano of “Patient”—co-written with her first music teacher Jay Stolar—closes out the project with a personal revelation.
“No matter what, I know who I want to be and what I want to accomplish,” she says. “‘Patient’ sums everything up.”
For as much as Phases documents her journey thus far, it most importantly hints at a very bright future for Caroline.
“I’d love for people to walk away from these songs knowing they’re not alone,” she leaves off. “If somebody else can feel that, I’d be so happy. I want them to know there’s somebody who empathizes. To have a platform like I do is more than I could’ve ever asked for. I’m constantly changing. I don’t think I’ve completely discovered who I am yet, but I’m on my way.”