An interview with Vanessa Carlton


Vanessa Carlton has gone through a lot of changes since her last album released in 2007, which is why it’s taken so long for us to have new music from her. Rabbits on the Run will release on Razor & Tie Records next month, and it appears that, in addition to getting older, the singer/songwriter has also gotten darker and more adventurous. And if her first single, “Carousel,” is any indication, it’s hauntingly good, and just in time for summer evening listening.

Vanessa chatted with us about how she writes songs in her sleep and why she came out as bisexual at a Nashville Pride performance last year. It’s been a couple years since your last album. What has it been like from 2007 to now? What has happened to you, what has fueled the album?

Vanessa Carlton: It’s been a couple years since I woke up. There was a lot of analysis of my past — personally and professionally. … I think I was on a path to answer a lot of those questions. … Everyone goes through their trials and tribulations — especially in their late 20s — and I was no exception to the rule. I would say that all that kind of darkness — I went on this huge quest of personal revolution that led to me to writing again.

I’m sorry, it’s difficult for me to articulate because there is so much that went on. I think, slowly over the years, I’ve felt more comfortable talking about all the stuff that’s going on, so it’s just a huge shift in my life and I’m just so grateful. I’m so grateful to be able to wake up and I’m so happy to be alive and turn 30 and to be able to do this record.

AE: With the song “Carousel” I noticed you had tweeted that you woke up and were singing this song. Could you tell me a little about that?

VC: Yeah. I have these dream songs and they’re wonderful dreams, but then you wake up and they’re crap songs — they’re not great. Or I forget them because they’re just snippets of your subconscious, I guess. I don’t know. But this one, I just woke up with that singing line in my head [hums melody] and I love that. So I went out, at 3:30 in the morning, and played it on the piano and put it on my Garage Band and then went back to bed. But I couldn’t go back to sleep so I just lay there and the lyrics kind of slid in and I wrote it just with my thumbs on my Blackberry, in the dark. And the next morning I woke up and I forgot that the whole thing went down. I just thought the whole thing was a dream. Then I went and checked my iTunes and I played it the little demo I made and it had really happened. And it was a really kind of lovely.

You know, things were getting really dark and my friend KT Tunstall, a wonderful singer-songwriter — I played her another idea, it was about death or something, or lavender, I don’t know, and she looked at me and said, “Vaness, don’t get too dark.” And I’m really glad she said that because it really gave me permission, in a way, to let the light in. This was the first shard of light that crept in on this record, and I just love that now it’s opening the record.

AE: At what point did you bring in the kid’s choir to work on the songs like that? Because I feel like it does give it a little brightness but also kid’s choirs can be haunting, they use them in horror films to be kind of creepy. [Laughs]

VC: Yes, I love things that creepy and provocative and beautiful at the same time. When the kid’s start singing, it starts to sound like music from another dimension. And that’s the greatest compliment anyone has ever given me: “Your music sounds like it’s coming from another dimension.” The middle of that song is almost like a séance, like a ritual or a mediation on those lyrics, and that kind of prayer. The children bring that to life.

AE: Are those elements on the rest of the album? Is “Carousel” a good introduction to what the entire thing is going to sound like?

VC: I would say that the palette of sounds that you’re hearing on “Carousel,” yes, that’s the palette of the record. Again, though, that’s on the brighter side of the spectrum lyrically. Kids are woven throughout. It is a more stripped back record, it’s arts and crafts, for sure. It’s the record I’ve always dreamed of making.