Past the Pageantry: An Interview with Cinema Hearts Leader and Miss Northern Virginia Caroline Weinroth

Caroline Weinroth has stuck the pageant life with the rock star life, winning and serving as Miss Northern Virginia while leading her band, the Cinema Hearts. The calm, lovey-dovey vocals and lyrics of the D.C. band make you want to pull up at a drive-in with your partner and just slow dance the night away.

The front woman of the Cinema Hearts, Caroline Weinroth, brings one of the most unique perspectives to the music industry. The crown and sash she wears on-stage aren’t just for show. Weinroth currently serves as Miss Northern Virginia. But the lead vocalist and guitarist doesn’t call it quits there. She also works in live sound at a venue in Washington D.C., and is enrolled at George Mason University, pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing.

Ethan Sahlin
Photo by Ethan Sahlin.

Weinroth uses her platforms to do what so many of her generation have been doing for the last two years under the current political administration: voicing her thoughts and concerns and advocating for what she believes in.

In this interview, she talks about her hectic schedule, how her band Cinema Hearts came to be, and what feminism is about to her.

Cinema Hearts consists of Caroline Weinroth on vocals and guitar, Caroline’s brother, Erich Weinroth on bass, and Dylan van Vierssen on drums.

Antonio Villasenor-Baca: How’s it going? What are you up to right now?

Caroline Weinroth: Not much. I work at a concert venue in D.C., so I was doing three shows in a row and so I’m just taking it easy before I go back.

AVB: Which venue do you work at?

CW: I work at Comet Ping Pong, in D.C. How long have you been there? Um about three years now.

AVB: How did you start working there?

CW: It was actually a funny story. In addition to playing in a band, I also work in live sound. I’m a sound engineer. And I was at a women in music event, like a local conference and I didn’t want to pay the ticket entry so I was trying to get in for free. They said, ‘if you do a workshop, you can get in for free.’ So I did a workshop on live sound for bands. And someone from the audience came up to me after my presentation, she said, ‘I want to hire you for my music venue.’ And this was my now-manager, Sasha Lord. So she produces different events around Washington D.C. So she hired me on the spot because I gave this presentation and I was hired to work sound at Comet Ping Pong and then overtime I also started working the door, taking tickets and things. I help put together shows there.

AVB: What came first, and how did you get into both your rock n’ roll and beauty pageant careers?

CW: It’s kind of hard to say because were kind of concurrent in a way. I entered a pageant when I was 18 at first, and one reason I entered was because I wanted to play guitar on stage. I was just learning how to play guitar and sing, and I wanted something besides open mic nights. I didn’t have a band at the time. It was kind of hard for me to find band mates at the time and I also didn’t write songs at the time, when I was 18. There weren’t a lot of good places for an 18 year-old girl to go play, so I entered a pageant because my mom did some. And at the time it just wasn’t for me. But it always stuck with me, so when I started Cinema Hearts a couple years later, my idea was ‘what if I take this very masculine instrument, the electric guitar, something a lot of people don’t expect a woman to play, and I sort of combine it with the imagery of Miss America; which I’ve always loved and to me is the most iconic idea of femininity. So I started the band I would always sparkles and high heels and then I entered a Miss America pageant again when I graduated from college and I loved it and won, so now I do both.

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Cinema Hearts playing live. Photo by Ethan Sahlin.

AVB: Where did the want to play guitar from originally?

CW: I’ve always done music. My mom is a piano teacher so she made me and my brother Eric, who plays bass in the band. she made us take piano lessons from when we were really young. And my dad plays a little guitar, and I was always a singer so I was doing musical theatre. And I wanted to be able to sing more on my own, outside of theatre, but I didn’t want to do it to karaoke tracks. I asked my brother Eric if he would play guitar with me and he was like, ‘no. I don’t want to play with you.’ So I had to learn myself. And then later, Eric joined the band on bass. I guess for me, it’s always been a sense of self-sufficiency and power in a sense. Being able to not have to depend on whether or not there’s going to be a CD player, or an iPod hookup, or having to depend on another person. I can just grab my guitar and go out and play in the world. I know what I want to do with my own music.

AVB: How do you find a balance for your schedule working at a venue, doing your music, and preparing for these pageants?

CW: Yeah, so it’s a lot because I have Cinema Hearts, serving as Miss Northern Virginia, preparing for Miss Virginia, I also freelance doing work for Arlington County, and I’m also in grad school for my first year. So it’s a lot of wild things that I didn’t plan in a sense. It just all kind of happened all at once. I mean one thing I really love about all of it is like it all works together very well. I actually when I was first entering pageants, I didn’t realize how similar it is to how I play in my rock band and vice versa. Not just the performance aspect but going out and talking to people and advocating for causes you believe in. When it comes to working at this music venue or working my other job, all my managers and other coworkers love it. For school, I study creative writing and poetry so it also works in with how I synthesize things creatively. It’s also a nice break to get away from the very exciting entertainment world. Which university are you attending? I’m at George Mason University. I also went there for my undergrad, and I’m very lucky that I’m there for my graduate degree now.

CW: I’ve always identified, I’ve always wanted to be a woman who could represent and speak for those who maybe aren’t ready to speak up yet or don’t know how to articulate what they believe in. Like one cause that’s always been important for me is feminism in general and advocating for women in music. That was one motivation for me to go to grad school because I was on the fence about it. Then I realized I have the time, and ability, and privilege, to be able to go and to be able to learn how to write and push myself further so that maybe one time in the future I can do that for other people. When I was first starting my band and when I was a teenager, I didn’t really have those resources. I definitely feel like now, with the #MeToo Movement, political marches, and all the momentum that people have going, that wasn’t happening for as a teenager or if it was I didn’t know about it because the internet was still very new for me. So I’ve always thought about how I could make things better for girls and for women today. Because when I was first starting my band, nobody wanted to be in my band, and I got teased for it.

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Caroline Weinroth. Photo by Ethan Sahlin.

To answer your question about music, I love 60’s girl groups. And I love very feminine styled music and so where I am in Northern Virginia, I remember posting on Facebook looking for band members. I think I posted something like, ‘I really want to start a rock band inspired by 60’s girl groups and 50’s Doo-Wop.’ So many guys in this group were like ‘no one wants to be in your band.’ They were just teasing me. Fortunately now, everyone is much nicer to me. And what about literature-wise? Which writers do you like? I really love, there’s this book I love called A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman, which I had to read for a class. I love this book. It’s a collection of essays about the five senses and making the ordinary and making it extraordinary; the everyday things we take for granted like our sense of touch, or smell, or just beautiful things we see in the world and just expanding it and going into the science and psychology of it. I love that book! Also, I was a theatre major in college so I did a lot of acting so one of my favorite plays was The Fantasticks, which is a musical. It actually inspired a lot of the content and the title of Cinema Hearts’ album, Burned and Burnished. I love being able to combine from each form of art to make something new.

AVB: You mentioned these feminist qualities to the things you do. What is feminism to you and where do you see the music industry in regards to feminism?

CW: I always defined feminism as liberation and equality and that people will be treated as people within their identities and also not be limited by them. I’ve always bristled at the time, like ‘female fronted,’ or ‘girl band;’ you know like those kind of generalizations? I believe for music there’s so many different kinds of musicians whether they’re women or people of color or another sort of identity that plays into their music or maybe it doesn’t. For me, for Cinema Hearts, my identity as a woman does play into it. But for other people, they just want to make music because they can. I think I’m fortunate for where I am in the Washington D.C. music scene, everyone is super friendly, maybe because we’re a very political hub, we’re all very aware of social issues. A lot of people strive to make things better in the music scene and beyond. I have fortunately not experienced too much discrimination. For me, it’s always less overt sexism and more like if I’m at a gig for the first time with the band and maybe the sound engineer or the manager doesn’t know the band yet, they will sometimes go up to my brother and ask him, ‘so what do you need for the show?’ They think he’s the manager or the lead. He has to point to me and be like, ‘well you have to ask her. Caroline is in charge.’ Or sometimes people just assume I’m the singer and they don’t realize I’m the lead guitarist and the only guitarist in the band. So for me I’m interested in expanding the different roles of women in music and showing that they have a real influence.

AVB: And where did the name Cinema Hearts come from?

Ethan Sahlin (3)CW: Yeah! You know what’s funny, is that I think you’re the first person to ask me that in an interview and I’ve been waiting for it. I use to work in a movie theatre called Cinema Arts, when I graduated from high school. And that’s when I was first starting to play guitar. So I would practice guitar. It was a small theatre so when the movies were all showing, there would be nothing to do for those two hours so I would practice guitar. And I told my coworkers, ‘if I ever have a band, I’ll name it after this place and I’ll call it Cinema Hearts.’


By Antonio Villasenor-Baca

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