Vanessa Carlton on Growing Up, The Creation of Liberman & A New Tour

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In 2002 a woman took the music world by storm with her musical talents, piano skills and great vocals; her name is Vanessa Carlton. After years of success with songs like “A Thousand Miles,” “Big Yellow Taxi” (with the Counting Crows) and “White Houses” Vanessa Carlton decided to take a well deserved break. She came back with Rabbits on the Run in 2011, and now, Liberman.

Many people may not have known that she released anything after “A Thousand Miles” and something tells me that she would not be entirely happy if that’s the only song of hers people have ever listened to. As she grew up, got married and moved on in her life she finally came to create a dreamy trippy sound that is honest and true to who she is. Liberman is the epitome of that sound. After years off from touring, Carlton has returned to the circuit to support this new album and will be at City Winery in New York City for two nights, November 30 and December 1.

Pop-Break got to discuss with Carlton how her life has evolved and how she handles the stresses of her life, the progression of her sound, the sonic elements that were missing in her past records and the new tapestry she creates every night on stage while on tour.

Vanessa Carlton Press Photo
Photo Credit: Eddie Chacon

How’s the tour going?

It’s been really well actually. Today’s a day off. I’m driving. We’re on our way to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re coming from Chicago and it’s been really wonderful. A nice reception. I mean I haven’t been touring in a long time and it’s been a kind of nice experience so far coming back to the thing.

I know you’re touring right now to support your new album. Are you playing any of your old songs or are you sticking with predominantly new material?

It’s mostly new stuff. Liberman is very much its own sound, sonically, so I can’t really like jump between songs once I start the Liberman stuff but we do a few in the beginning and in the end, I do some earlier songs that people have come to know so yeah.

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I know that it’s definitely a different sound for you. Do you think it had more to do with the fact that you’re down in Nashville or do you think it’s more about where you are in your life right now?

I actually wrote and recorded the majority of the record before I moved to Nashville. So the timeline [for the album was] it wasn’t quite in Nashville yet though I did record three songs in Nashville to finish the record. I recorded the record in England with Steve Osborne an hour outside of London at an amazing studio called Real World that Peter Gabriel built. It’s beautiful and we ran out of time. We took a little too long and he had his next artist coming in so I had to finish the record without him. I found an amazing guy through my husband, his name is Adam Landry and I worked with him in his studio in Nashville for the last three or four songs. But I  will say this, the concept of the record, the mood of the record is all reflective of not anything geographical. It’s much more of a philosophy and definitely a state of mind.

You mentioned your husband, I had read somewhere that Stevie Nicks is the person who married you. is that actually true?

Yes she did. We didn’t have a wedding. We just did a little five minute ceremony and Stevie was the officiate. We were with her for the holidays so I asked her to do it and she got her little minister card online and she did it!

That’s crazy! Sorry, I’m a big Fleetwood Mac person so it’s kind of funny to see you and her coming together for a wedding.

Yes, Minister Stevie at your service.

That’s so funny. So for your new album, what song on the album are you most proud of?

I think I love the sound overall of “Take it Easy.” I love where it takes me when I listen to that and also for different reasons. I love “Matter of Time” which is a bit folkier but it was one of those magic recording situations where we just did it two times and we were done. That is one I wrote on the piano. It wasn’t really working on the piano and my husband John was visiting me in England. I asked him what would this sound like on the guitar and he did this really cool finger picking thing and I sang over it and it was one of those really great recording moments but I will say I am proud of the whole thing as a body of work. There is definitely a thread moving through each song.

Now to totally flip the script on you, what song have you recorded and had on an album that you wish you could change or decide not to have published as part of an album?

I mean honestly it’s like however many things I want to take back in my life it’s like what can you do? You can’t. There’s no point. I wouldn’t be where I am without those recording experiences. I will say this. I think I didn’t really release a record that was the sound that I always wanted until Rabbits on the Run that came out in 2011. That like throws my first three records under the bus and I totally don’t mean to do that but I was really learning and in many ways had no awareness of the engineering of a record, the sonic landscape, the sonic art of recording and so if I could say my first record was Rabbits on the Run and that would be rad but that’s not going to happen and I don’t want to put down all the songs that a lot of people like but I will say that I didn’t get my act together for a full sound and a reflection of my aesthetic until Rabbits on the Run.

I know that obviously in your personal life you have gone through a lot. I personally turn to music when something is going wrong or I’m feeling stressed out. I’m sure a lot of people turn to your music. Is there anything in particularly that you turned to sonically and musically when you were going through any of your hardships?

I think you learn over the years. Well some people are better than others but self soothing is a skill that people need to learn sometimes. Some people have it naturally and some people don’t. Some people go crazy and beat themselves up or start drinking too much or doing too many drugs or whatever when they feel bad and other people turn to like a hot bath and a record and we all have different things that we turn to to make ourselves feel better. I think over the years now I feel like I don’t have these crazy highs and lows. Things are a bit more balanced. I’m 35, I have a family. I think it’s awareness about what I think if you get out of control. when I feel stressed or when I feel overwhelmed I think it’s important to have a best friend you can talk to and tell everything to and also being able to listen and getting feedback and a hot bath isn’t too bad either.

Photo Credit: Eddie Chacon
Photo Credit: Eddie Chacon

You mentioned you went to London, you recorded this album, what was the draw for you to go to London? Was there something specific like I need to go there and I need to record this?

No. I was pursuing, I was wanting to work with an artist, Steve Osborne. He produced Rabbits on the Run and the majority of Liberman. I was looking for him. I was like, ‘I’m never going to do another album unless I can work with Steve Osborne.’ That was like 2010 and he happens to be English and he lives in Bath and he works an hour from London. I fell in love with a record by a band called Dove and the name of the album is Lost Souls and that’s why I ended up in England. Because I was looking for that artist and he’s an incredible artist and I learned so much from him.

So you’re on tour right now. Is there anything about your tour that makes it unique versus what you’ve done in the past. I know it has been a little while since you’ve been on tour. Is this a different vibe for you? Is this a different ride for you than it was before?

Yeah, we, definitely we’re not doing traditional singer-songwriter thing. We’re really trying to create the world of Liberman in a live setting. So it’s more of a sonic experience for the audience. We’re trying to recreate that vibe so it’s not like piano vocal all the time, the more of a traditional singer songwriter experience, it’s not that at all. I want it to be a little bit trippier and more kind of dreamy like the record and so I perform with this guy who is primarily a violinist but we have tracks up there lutes we have pedals we are recording live on stage and  then playing over that so we’re layering sounds and stuff so it’s much more of a tapestry of music rather than just a classic singer songwriter setup.

Obviously your music has reached a lot of people in the span of a long career but you did take a bit of time off so people are excited to have your music back. I know you said you only recorded this album if you could work with this person, are you hoping to continue on after this tour? Are we going to get any music after this or is this kind of a one off because you wanted the opportunity to work with somebody?

I don’t know what my next thing, honestly I’m kind of taking it day by day. I’m so proud of the record and it’s totally, we’re able to actually keep the concept from beginning to end and any artist will tell you that’s the goal so i’m really just kind of enjoying this moment and put on a good show and reconnect with people and not think too far into the future.

Do you have any message or anything you want to get out there to your fans or people who haven’t listened to you in a while and maybe didn’t know you had a new record out there?

I said this before but the reception of this new record has been really great and it seems that people are really totally open to the fact that I’m a grown woman now and that’s a big deal. It has given me permission to evolve and to move forward in my, in the perception of who I am. It’s great. I can control my work. People have accepted where I’m at now.

Vanessa Carlton performs at City Winery on November 30 and December 1.