Caro Emerald almost became famous by accident.
Not that the young singer — already a multi-platinum, chart-topping success throughout Europe — lacks the talent, or the songs, to be successful in her own right. But at one point early in her career, Emerald was one of many talented, unknown performers trying to make her mark.
A call from producers David Schreurs and Jan van Wieringen changed everything. They had a song (written with Canadian songwriter Vince Degiorgio) that needed some vocals, but their first choice for a singer wasn’t available. Could Caro come in?
“I was doing demos at the time, and when I heard about this song, I thought it would be fun to try,” says the singer. “I figured right! I came in and heard this new style of song that I completely fell in love with — it was this crazy mix between pop and jazz, all the ingredients I love in music. And then I guess they liked my voice, because we kept it.”
That track, a retro-tinged party starter called “Back It Up” (complete with DJ scratches), heralded a unique new sound, a blend of pop, mambo and cool jazz. Soon, that demo helped land Emerald a TV performance, just as a YouTube video of the song began to catch, propelling that song to a top 20 hit.
Although she landed on the charts in a roundabout way, the retro-yet-modern stylings of “Back It Up” were perfectly suited for Emerald’s personality. The singer, who grew up in a musical family and fell in love with singing after performing a solo during a school play (she sang the 1931 jazz standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” later made famous by Mama Cass), started her career studying jazz at a conservatory. “I really liked Ella, Louie, Billie, all that really vocal jazz,” she says. “At the same time, I loved Motown, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, all that funky stuff. And I was just getting into Duffy and Amy Winehouse when we recorded that demo, so it just kind of fit together.”
Instead of using the single’s success to start a label bidding war, Emerald and her production team decided to make a go at it on their own. “Once we had done that first song, we all realized we wanted to keep going, that we had a potential for building something great together,” remembers the singer. Using “Back It Up” as a template, they recorded the album Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor, a bold, brassy affair that nods to everything from big band to vintage soul to mambo, topped with modern beats.
Released on their own label (Grandmono) with the production/writing team handling the business side, the indie record became a sensation throughout Europe, propelled by the #1 hit “A Night Like This.” In her home country of Holland, the record managed an astounding feat — it set a new record for number of weeks on top of the carts (30), breaking Michael Jackson’s previous 26-week reign for “Thriller”. Along the way, the singer made a number of major TV appearances (Jools Holland) and was nominated for several awards (including the Echo Awards, where she won “Best Newcomer International” over the likes of Lana Del Rey and Gotye). Her music also ended up in a number of films, commercials and TV shows on both sides of the Atlantic, including “The Playboy Club,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “Dancing with the Stars” and the films “2 Days in New York” and “Chimpanzee.”
“It’s funny, because I went into this knowing nothing about the business side of the music world,” she said. “So it was great to do something on our own label, in our way, and have it really work out.”
Emerald also raised her profile with a sold-out European headlining tour that saw the singer attach a visual flair to her music, winking at the 40s/50s jazz era through both costumes and her performance. Surrounded by an eight-piece, all-male band (says Emerald: “I love it. I’m the girl in the middle and I like all the attention!”), Emerald belted out tracks from her debut record accompanied by a horn and rhythm section, as well as a DJ.
Currently the singer is readying round two, writing songs with her producer/songwriter partners for a new album in 2013 and planning out another tour, hopefully including the U.S. this time out. “We built this amazing thing together, in such an unusual way,” says Emerald. “And yet, this is also really personal to me on so many levels. I like the idea that this can keep growing.”