PREMIERE: Karolina Rose Supports Sexual Assault Survivors with “Runaway Angels”

Photo Credit: Alexander Bemis

Shortly after the #MeToo movement began, Polish-American indie pop artist Karolina Rose knew she wanted to write a song supporting sexual assault survivors. However, it took several years for her to feel prepared to release the end product — her latest single, “Runaway Angels.” After a lot of hard work and emotional healing, she’s sharing it today.

Working with producer Elliot Jacobson, Rose created a balance between live guitar sounds and programmed synths and drum machines for the song, which embodies the dark power-pop aesthetic she’s known for. The lyrics describe the inner turmoil involved in processing sexual trauma: “You’re something in my eye/I make tears and wash it all away/All those times I tried so hard/Fantasize just to make it through the day.” In the chorus, she sings about “a place to hold these hollow hearts,” which to her means that it’s okay to “feel really empty for a while, and we’ll hold onto you while you feel that way,” she explains.

Since the topic of the song hit close to home, she sat on it for a while after writing it. “I wasn’t able to listen to the song for a long time because it would make me cry — I’d get really triggered by my own song,” she says.  It ultimately took an ayahuasca ceremony for her to feel emotionally prepared to put it out into the world.

When the shaman who conducted Rose’s ceremony listened to “Runaway Angels,” he told her, “I hear pain in this song… this song has a dark energy.” She doesn’t disagree with his assessment, but she views the music as cathartic rather than polluting. “I think overall, it can be a healing tool, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bringing to light those shadow parts of yourself and feeling that in music,” she says.

In fact, she hopes those who listen to it can relate to her pain and understand they’re not alone. “It was just this collective support that I wanted to transmit in the song — this collective pain but equally collective support,” she says. “I feel like all of these primarily female victims — the angels — need the world’s support.”

Since the world is undergoing another reckoning of sorts today, she’s glad to put out the message in the song right now, as its messages feel equally suited to the fight for racial justice. “For so many of us that are not racist, it’s so obvious — like, of course we love everyone — but you have to step forward and actually show your support,” she says. “Otherwise, if you don’t say it, you’re remaining silent. And that’s how I felt when I was writing this song about the fact that it’s so hard for sexually abused victims to come forward when they aren’t guaranteed support.”

The track is off her upcoming EP, Rosemary, which comes out August 21 and explores the process of healing and finding love through four songs. It also includes “Greytopia,” a more upbeat, Lady Gaga-esque single about transcending difficulties; a dark, electronic cover of Shakira’s “Objection“; and “White Lies,” a dynamic, danceable track that’s currently unreleased.

Rose was working in investment banking in New York City when she decided to take a leap of faith and follow her passion of making music. “I felt like I wanted to have more out of life, that I wasn’t going to be okay with a stable, secure job and that’s it,” she says. “I thought I had more to say about my story.” Outside her day job, she practiced guitar and wrote songs, then started doing acoustic shows. She wrote and recorded her first music in New York, with her 2019 debut EP Invicta carrying a similar theme of strength, then spent three months traveling Europe as she worked on Rosemary before settling in LA.

The videos for the EP were filmed in a Croatia villa that Rose swears was haunted, which inspired a scene with an apparition in the not-yet-released “Runaway Angels” video. After a filming marathon, Rose fell asleep at the wheel of her car and almost swerved off the road. She remembers the friends she was filming with telling her, “‘This could happen to anybody. Don’t feel that way.’ They were helping me, so it was just like a family. … I think this just adds to how much this means to us.”

Because she was able to release so many negative emotions in “Runaway Angels” and the rest of Rosemary, she predicts that her future music will have a whole new sound. “I feel like my pain is trapped in those songs,” she says. “Anything recorded going forward from the new me, I’m pretty sure, is going to be really different.”

Follow Karolina Rose on Facebook for ongoing updates.

HIGH NOTES: 7 Songs That Will Connect You to the Spirit of Ayahuasca

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British-Portuguese musician Nessi Gomes had an artistic awakening after living in Central America; could her work contain thinly veiled references to ayahuasca?

According to traditional belief, ayahuasca is not just a powerful psychogenic substance – it’s a spirit. When you ingest the Amazonian plant, “Mother Ayahuasca” scans your body and soul for places that need healing. And after the ceremony, she lingers in you, guiding you to implement her lessons in your life.

After I developed an illness that prevented me from drinking ayahuasca, my therapist told me, “This is your ceremony. You can contact ayahuasca whenever you want.” She suggested I play music that made me think of ayahuasca while calling on the spirit, and I thought back to the songs played by Maria Johanna during ceremonies at her house in the Netherlands. I began searching for them on Youtube; the site’s recommendations led me down a rabbit hole of ayahuasca-reminiscent songs. Before I knew it, I had a playlist that altered my state of mind, almost as if I were actually on ayahuasca.

Sometimes, when I play these songs, I’m transported back to those ceremonies and the lessons I learned. And I remember that I’m still learning them every day. This is my ceremony. And this is its soundtrack.

“Machi” by Peia

This is an ode to the machi, a shaman in Chile and Argentina’s Mapuche culture, and everything she represents. Peia’s soaring voice transports the listener to a higher plane of existence, so they can absorb the shaman’s healing power wherever they are.

“Mother I Feel You” by Windsong Dianne Martin

Ayahuasca connects us to the earth and reminds us we’re part of nature, and this song describes that connection. It could, in fact, be addressed to mother ayahuasca herself. We can always feel her under our feet.

“Pacha Mama” by Nessi Gomes

Pachamama is mother earth to the Andes’ indigenous people, and this gorgeous ode to her could also be an ode to ayahuasca. The lyrics translate to: “In the sky and on the earth / The little moon and the stars / I feel the fire inside / I feel the fire here and I find you / Pachamama in this fire.”

“Medicine” by Rising Appalachia

This incredibly catchy song is about the power of plants and shamans to heal us — and our power to heal ourselves. Ayahuasca is often called “the medicine,” and this song’s lyrics reflect what ayahuasca teaches us: “Wise men say that rushing is violence / And so is your silence / When its rooted in compliance / To stand firm in loving defiance / Make art your alliance / Give voice to the fire.”

“Wonderful Life” by Katie Melua

This song’s sound may not mimic traditional Amazonian chants, but its lyrics encapsulate ayahuasca’s message. Ayahuasca reminds us of the wonderful life we’ve been given — and makes us painfully aware of how our minds make it seem less than wonderful. Though the song was originally released by Black in 1987, Katie Melua’s voice captures its sad yet celebratory mood. I’d cry each time I heard it at Maria Johanna’s ceremonies, thinking of all the ways I “run and hide” from what would be a “wonderful life” if I would only live in it.

“Wise in Her Ways” by Luna Deva & Tombaba

Ayahuasca is considered a feminine spirit, and this song (which I also first heard at Maria Johanna’s), celebrates and empowers the feminine within all of us, reminding us to sing, dance, and “speak the truth” of who we are. I’ll never forget the ceremony where all the women got up and danced to this song, and then a man entered the circle and said, “I want to be a woman now.” Ayahuasca affirms the woman in all of us.

“How Could Anyone?” by Shaina Noll

I have to credit Maria Johanna for finding this one as well — and for approaching me during one ceremony and saying, “This song’s for you.” The lyrics — “how could anyone ever tell you you were anything less than beautiful? / How could anyone ever tell you you were less than whole? / How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle? / How deeply you’re connected to my soul” — encapsulate the theme of many of my (and, I’d venture to say, others’) ceremonies. Who can’t relate to those words? Ayahuasca shows us all that we are no less than beautiful or whole. And many of us keep returning to ayahuasca, in and outside ceremony, to live life as our true, whole, beautiful selves, to experience the miracle of our love.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

HIGH NOTES: Music Can Completely Alter the Course of a Trip

I’m in a living room overlooking the water in Vinkeveen, The Netherlands, surrounded by a dozen people tripping on ayahuasca, when the ceremony’s leader approaches my bed. “This song is for you,” she says. “I’m being guided to come to you.”

She sits down in front of me and looks into my eyes as Libby Roderick’s “How Could Anyone” plays:

How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle
How deeply you’re connected to my soul

I’ve spent the past two ceremonies understanding the impact of my hypercritical parents’ words, and these are the exact words I need to counter them. Tears fill both our eyes as she says, “I’m crying for the same reason you are,” and we hug and cry and hug and cry.

Two months earlier, in the jungle of Yelapa, Mexico, I complain that I can’t feel the ayahuasca. “Focus on the chants,” the retreat’s leader advises. Three shamans chant strange sounds into the darkness as cartoons appear and disappear and warp and dance on the inside of my eyelids in tandem with the rhythm.

What the people in both The Netherlands and Mexico understood was that, whether through chants or pre-recorded songs, whether through tunes or lyrics, music can alter the course of a psychedelic journey.

The ancient tradition of chanting shamans exploits our brains’ affinity for repetition, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. “A repetitive pattern can be grounding or evocative. Grounding can bring you to a continuous sort of neurological activity.”

The “inductive chant” in ayahuasca ceremonies intends to “put you in a trance-like, meditative state” to bring on the drug’s effects, while other chants may calm down a person in the midst of a difficult trip, he adds.

Music has the power to shape trips outside these ritualistic chants, and this isn’t specific to ayahuasca. “In aboriginal societies, music-making has often been closely linked to shamanic work: the medicine-man or priest is often also the musician,” says Mendel Kaelen, an Imperial College neuroscientist who studies therapeutic uses of music. “In our research, we have shown brain processes that music and psychedelics interact on to stimulate the imagination and intensify emotionality. In our therapeutic work, music is often described as a guide or even as a transportation vehicle that carries the listener to various places.”

This is why some designate “rescue songs” to play during bad trips, says Giordano. They find this helpful for the same reason a song we love might lift our spirits after a bad day. Whether it’s a tune we like, positive lyrics, or something we associate with pleasant memories, music alters our mood.

“Very often, you hear songs, and songs will stimulate your autobiographical memories: ‘Where was I when I heard this song? What does this song mean to me?’” says Giordano. The downside of this is that music you dislike or associate with bad memories can exacerbate a drug’s unpleasant effects.

Sometimes, the same music that uplifts you in your usual state of mind can also improve a trip. “There are a range of artists who have become excellent in creating music that help people feel calm, safe, and present in their body,” says Kaelen. “Ambient music was originally invented with this purpose in mind, but other styles – for example, calm neoclassical – can provide the same means.”

But this strategy can backfire if the music pushes down the emotions rising to the surface, rather than helping you work through them. If the song isn’t meaningful to you, it can detach you from your feelings.

“A common fallacy is to think that the best solution when someone is sad or fearful is to play happy, cheerful music,” says Kaelen. “In fact, this is likely to make it worse in most cases. At most, it may help temporarily avoid [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the pain] but not provide a long-term solution.”

“The purpose in psychedelic therapy is to not move away from oneself but to come to greater understanding and compassion for oneself,” he explains. “Emotions carry meaning, and music can be an effective aid in tuning into these emotions constructively.”

Psychedelics can take us to places where distinctions of sight vs. sound, body vs. brain, and self vs. other vanish. I’d like to believe the folk wisdom that says even plants know this, and that ayahuasca itself guided the leader toward me during “How Could Anyone” on that magical winter night.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

HIGH NOTES: A Music Festival, Post-Ayahuasca

When I arrived in Mexico for my first three ayahuasca ceremonies, I had a checklist of questions to address: What repressed childhood memories were shaping who I was? Why did I hate my mother so much? Could I stop lying? What was wrong with lying if I didn’t get caught? So, I was surprised that after my first sip sunk in, the face to appear in my mind’s eye belonged not to my partner or my mother or my father but Dutch, the publicist for Houston’s Day for Night music and art festival. And accompanying his image was the message: Receive love and you’ll learn to give it.

Three months prior, I broke it to Dutch that after two years of covering Day for Night, I’d have to miss it. My ayahuasca retreat overlapped with the first two days. But he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He said he’d convince the shamans to hold a special, non-overlapping retreat just for me. He asked for the website so he could contact them. He was actually serious.

His idea was absurd, but it was also full of love. Love I couldn’t feel. I could only feel guilt for not coming. Yet another obligation. I hated being tied to others.

A few weeks later, he apologized for making me feel guilty. It wasn’t about the press coverage — he just wanted to see me. So, I asked if he could fly me there even if I missed the first half. He pulled some strings and got me credentialed. And when I didn’t like the flights he proposed, he pulled more strings and got different ones. I’d come in time for the second night, stay for the third day and a few extra days, then fly to Boston to make a meeting.

They say ayahuasca stays in your system for as long as you follow the “dieta,” a sugar-free, salt-free, alcohol-free, dairy-free, caffeine-free diet aimed at bringing out the medicine’s effects. But I wouldn’t know. The moment I got off the water taxi from the retreat, I ordered an iced cappuccino with extra milk. Fuck the dieta, I thought. Fuck rules.  

Yet I swear that as I flew to Houston, the insights kept streaming. “Dutch, you’ve done it again,” I thought as I entered my five-star hotel room. The love in his actions sunk in. Maybe being tied to others wasn’t so bad.

I barely felt the ayahuasca my first two ceremonies. The shamans kept me at a lower dose than others; it was their intuition. During the third ceremony, I got fed up with feeling nothing, and in the dark, when the shaman offering seconds (to everyone but me) said “who’s this?” I said the name of the woman next to me.

This time, I felt it, and my body came alive. I realized how dead I’d been, how checked out. My goal from then on: to check in to life.

After that, the people on the retreat told me I was looking them in the eye for the first time. I had no idea I wasn’t before. But as I walked through Day for Night’s festival grounds, it became clear something had changed. I was holding people’s gazes. I wasn’t spacing out. 

One man who met my eyes followed me to the art installations upstairs. “I just had to say I think you’re gorgeous,” he said. I was careful not to mention my boyfriend as we flirted and left the festival for a drink. As it turns out, ayahuasca is not a magic potion that cleans up your behavior.

The irony of doing what you love for work is that once it becomes work, you start to love it less. In 2015, Day for Night became the first music festival I covered. Wandering its six acres of art installations, I felt like a child in a funhouse. But then, festivals became exhausting. An obligation.

Despite reaching for a new, hyper-connected way of being, I felt numb to the festival’s excitement. I tried checking in to The Album Leaf’s show. I heard drums and a guitar and a violin, but still no emotion. Thoughts like “You should see Solange; she’s Beyonce’s sister” filled my head. I keenly felt the joylessness in these statements. I remembered why I’d begun taking MDMA at festivals.

If you want to recover your lost joy, take MDMA. If you want to discover how you lost it, take ayahuasca.

A man from LA was selling CBD gummy bears and chocolates, and I bought a package of each, hoping they’d help me sleep. Five minutes later, he found me by a circle of white, sound-producing screens, where he pulled me in for a kiss. I pushed him away. “I thought you were giving me ‘I want you’ eyes,” he said. This is the risk of looking, of being seen.

I retreated to my hotel for a nap as the CBD kicked in, and on my way back to the festival, three guys invited me for drinks. As I sipped my first, I told them the story of how I got ayahuasca by pretending to be someone else. Midway through my second, I told them I had a boyfriend. If ayahuasca won’t bring out the truth, alcohol will.

They didn’t care. “I bet you look good naked,” one said as he looked me up and down.

“I’m not wearing underwear,” I replied. “Fuck underwear.” Fuck rules

We parted ways before he could confirm this, but later that night, I met up with the man from the first day, and we went back to my hotel. A few minutes into a forced-feeling hookup, I realized I didn’t know why we were there. I wasn’t attracted to him. After shoeing him out, it hit me that despite all the eye contact I’d made, I felt just as disconnected as before. I was having my cake and eating it too, but I was eating it alone in the dark.

Then came the answer to a question I’d asked ayahuasca days before: The problem with lying is that nobody gets to know who you really are. And whether we’re vomiting our guts out in the Mexican jungle or peeking through strobe lights to meet everyone’s eyes at a festival, all we’re really seeking is to be seen.


Two days later, I met Dutch for a drink on a bar porch in Montrose. I told him about lying to get ayahuasca, about hooking up with people I don’t even like. “I don’t know why I do it,” I said, eyes darting down at the table.

“Because you’re a homo sapien,” he replied.

I may not be ready for the world to bear witness to my truth, but at least I have friends who can bear witness to my lies. I  soak in the love in this witnessing, so that maybe one day, I can be my own witness.