An Interview with Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton recently released her fifth full-length studio album Liberman and an EP entitled Blue Pool.  She’ll play The Asylum in Portland on December 5th with opener Joshua Hyslop; tickets are still available.

vanessa-carlton-libermanWhat’s the story behind the title of your latest album, Liberman?
Liberman is my grandfather’s (on my mother’s side) original last name. He changed it when he got back from the war because of anti-semitism. He wanted to open a showroom selling his beautiful button down shirts that he designed for women and felt he would be more successful if he changed the name to Lee. He also happened to be a gifted painter and I have one of his painting hanging on my wall in NYC (this is when I still lived there). From where you sit at the piano you basically just stare at this painting and I get lost in it and I ended up writing most of the songs in that position. The music is the sound of that painting. It’s all about the palette. The original painting is the backdrop for my website.

What are you most of proud of with this album?
We set out to create a very specific sound and concept and me and all the artists on the record were able to follow through to the end with the idea. That’s hard to do sometimes. I’m proud of that.

You’ve mentioned Liberman is more of a sonic experiment, can you tell us more?
It’s not really an experiment its an album that priorities the sonic decisions. I’ve been heading in this direction for a while actually The sounds that we created and the palette Steve and I worked on is just as important as the songs in my opinion.

What’s your songwriting process like – does a song come all at once, lyrics first, melody first?
A couple songs came all at once but that’s rare. I wrote most of the instrumentals first and usually instantly have a vocal melody in mind but take a lot of time working on lyrics these days.

You recorded a duet with your husband, John McCauley, on the Deer Tick song ‘In our Time’ on their album Negativity and I see he plays on your new album… any more collaborations on the way?
Anyone is lucky to collaborate with John. Sure. Our finest and most high maintenance collaboration at the moment is our daughter Sid.

I’ve read that you started playing music at an early age, went to school for ballet, and turned back to music. What brought you to that place and is there anything you’d do differently?
I always played the piano even when I was very seriously studying ballet. I started writing songs when I was 16 and I got a publishing deal when I was 19. The music took over. Ballet is all or nothing.

Once Be Not Nobody was released things really took off, particularly with ‘A 1000 Miles.’ What was that experience like? Can you talk about how the music business has changed since that album was released in 2002?
It was pretty crazy. I was not ready for that and I was very much packaged and sold. That’s when people were still buying records. Things are different now obviously. There are more quality artists out there that are available to anyone around the world to listen to but it sucks that artist aren’t compensated for their work properly.

Related to the previous question, you released new material in an unconventional way this year on EW.com, Esquire, Nylon Magazine, Southern Living, and USA Today. What interested you about this approach?
I have great management, you’d have to ask them. That’s not my expertise by any stretch of the imagination!

You’re very open about your sexuality, your past with eating disorders, and health in general – your honesty is refreshing. Is it important to you to be honest with your fans? Has anything ever made you regret being so open about your personal life?
Not really.

My wife and I have a 16-month-old daughter and I know firsthand how much changes as a result. You have a 10-month-old girl – how has marriage and parenthood affected you personally and professionally? Congrats!
It’s the best thing ever. Our little family is everything to us.

What prompted your move from New York to Nashville?
I knew John wanted to be back in Nashville and frankly I was ready to finally leave NYC. I’d been there since I was 13! My dog needs a yard. And of course Nashville is such a wonderful place to live. Especially if you’re a musician.

What current music excites you?
I like the new Kurt Vile a lot. I can’t wait for new Deer Tick. I love the Florence and the Machine album. And the new Alabama Shakes sounds beautiful.

Lastly, any advice for musicians starting out?
Stay true to your instincts and seek out a mentor. Someone you trust that will push you.

Visit vanessacarlton.com to learn more.

Stephen Quirk

Prior to landing his dream job at Automattic, Stephen served as Associate Director of a Boston-based non-profit overseeing the organization's technology, visual design, social networking, and event planning. For twelve years, he worked in the Technology Department at his alma mater, Maine College or Art.

Additionally, Stephen has exhibited his photography in Portland, Maine, Boston, and California. He lives just outside of Portland with his wife, Megan, and daughter, Kate.