Following the release of her How Are We Ever To Know? EP and its successful promotional tour earlier this year, I caught up with Charlotte “most likely to succeed” Carpenter. The singer/songwriter is about to embark on a UK tour next month and releases her new single “Fire” on 2 December.
Your latest EP, How Are We Ever To Know? has been out a few months now, what has the feedback been like so far?
The response to this EP was more than I could have hoped for. It was an incredibly personal and delicate set of songs, so I was apprehensive, but listeners seemed to soak it in. With every release, people are seeing the journey I’m on and are being so supportive, so I couldn’t feel more content.
Do you arrange your own songs during the writing stage, or is this something worked out with your producer in the studio?
The songwriting process is personal but when it comes to production, I work closely with my producer, Lee Russell, and we build the arrangements together, sharing ideas and giving each song a world of their own.
When I saw you play live at the Hare and Hounds, I felt that you had a mix of Carole King, Jeff Buckley and Billie Holiday in your music and performance. I’ve read that it was Avril Lavigne that ignited your spark initially but who inspires you musically now?
They are big names, so thank you. It was indeed the angsty Avril which ignited the songwriter in me, but these days I look to Bonnie Raitt, Led Zeppelin, Feist, Blake Mills, Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, and Sheryl Crow.
I loved the way you introduced your songs live, explaining how conversations and situations had led you to write lyrics to your songs, particularly as those people were in the crowd that night. Michael Stipe said of his own lyrics in 1995, ‘Don’t confuse the singer with the song’ to distance himself from his own words; are you more comfortable singing about yourself and letting your audience know the songs are about you, or are we actually confusing the singer with the song?
I’m very comfortable with crowds knowing why and how I’ve written my songs. As a music listener, I love to know the ins and outs of my favourite records, I love to dissect them and know the backstory. It makes them feel more human and this approach I feel is necessary with some of my songs. Especially when they come from an interesting place which you might not assume.
I have found there is a distinction between contemporary young male and female songwriters, and where a male songwriter will either write about trying to win affection, unrequited love or having a broken heart after a relationship, female songwriters are more pragmatic and will state that either, a) don’t get involved with me (Eliza Shaddad’s “Run”), or b) we broke up and I’m moving on (a great line in “Contracts” – “my heart ain’t gonna stop”) or c) it was my fault ( in “Burn” – “darling the blame’s on me”). There’s a sense that men want someone else to blame and women want to grow and improve (i.e. ‘Wasted’ – “I could have been better than I am.”). Is that a fair assessment?
This is an incredibly in depth assessment, and interesting, however, I wouldn’t want to generalise how men write, just as I wouldn’t want a woman to be generalised either. I think songs are incredibly personal, they are your imprint and which ever way they are written should be appreciated for what they are and not compared. As humans, we think and behave in an endless amount of ways, and they can change so drastically too, so I think it would be unfair to compare.
I love your article for The Line of Best Fit and how you totally justify the place for the independent artist. However, when musicians have to rely on paid jobs to finance their music, how long do you think they can live this dual existence?
It’s a struggle, but we all have our own ideas of what success is. There’s a lot of compromise for any artist, independent or not. I don’t think it’s impossible but it’s testing, so as long as you have determination and can see a long term goal to work towards, and you’re doing all you can to get there, you’ll find a natural balance perhaps. There’s no right or wrong way anymore, so the lines can often get blurred. For me, I know what my long term goal is, and working part time and being independent feels like the best place for me right now, but we can never quite predict where opportunities will take us. It’s a game of cat and mouse, constantly.
There is a tendency as an independent musician to pretend you are more than you are, I am guilty of doing this myself in biogs and press releases, making out the label you are with (that you set up yourself) is a major and you are a serious, professional artist. Describe a normal, everyday 24 hours in the life of the independent musician Charlotte Carpenter.
I’ll wake up at 8am, send any emails I need to before I go to work, where I’ll make coffee 9am-3pm. After, I’ll then drive to the studio to record or have rehearsals with the band. On a good day, I’ll get home for around 8pm, zap in the microwave whatever mum has made for dinner, get into my comfy clothes and sit down to watch a film or continue some emails for the next morning. It doesn’t sound too exciting but I enjoy making coffee and feel very fortunate to be making and playing music nearly everyday, so for now, I feel quite content. I’ll be asleep by 11pm most nights and will usually sleep like a baby.
With the advent of cheaper and better professional home recording, anyone can make a decent recording now. Anyone can get free digital distribution and release an album. Anyone can organise an album launch party. For good or bad, there is no quality control and the market is saturated. This means that sometimes it is harder to find the really good artists. Is this frustrating or are you happy that so many musicians have access to making their own records?
I’m totally on board with how people can make music now, we are all doing our own thing and don’t need major recording deals to do what we love, so I feel like DIY records and artists should be championed more. Yes, the market is saturated and it is harder to feel like you have a place, however, the ones who will eventually grow their following and their careers are the one’s who never gave up.
How do you feel when Jake Bugg says: “Anyone can get a number one now. You only have to sell 20,000 albums or something.” When that is only possible with a multi-million pound marketing campaign?
That does seem a little off the mark, but we can’t blame him or feel resentment because maybe this is all he knows. He’s in a completely different world compared to independent artists. I’m personally a fan. He has a song on his second record called ‘Kitchen Table’ which I highly recommend.
Did your Popular Music degree at Derby look at the business of music, or just the creative side, and did Let It Go records take off through necessity (i.e. to get your music into digital stores), or because you decided it was the best business decision to take (i.e. remain in complete control)?
My degree taught me so many different aspects of music, from recording techniques, songwriting, session musicianship to social context and music (my personal fave), but ultimately it gave me the tools to be confident enough to begin my journey in music. Let It Go Records is a place for me to grow, a foundation in which I can make my own choices and feel limitless. It didn’t feel important to me until the end of last year when I began to feel proud of the achievement I’ve made on my own. For whatever is to come in the next few years, I’ll always know that Let It Go Records was my beginning.
Do you feel that the struggling artist will always have more to write about than those with a 3 album record deal and huge advance?
I don’t. It’s life which makes us write, and signed or independent we all have our own shit to deal with and a means of expressing it. We’re all human no matter what success we have.
Would you accept a 3 album record deal and huge advance and have less to write about?
If a deal was right for me, then who knows, but It’s important to me, that between working and writing and band rehearsals etc., I still have time to enjoy life, my friends, relationships and see the world. It’s the living part we need to be able to write real songs anyway.
How did you get involved with your PR team and management and have they made a difference to raising your profile (as your new EPis reviewed on many music sites and you are getting festival gigs)?
My PR team are great, and totally understand my vision on the sort of artist I want to be. They’ve helped me place myself into a world I didn’t think I could be in, for example, Blues Mag, Classic Rock, Louder Than War, NME… I have a big huge love for guitar music so to be acknowledge and associated with that world has been overwhelming. I feel really thankful. As for management, I’m self managed. I’ve definitely had advice and guidance along the way but any decision has been my own.
Your live band compliments your guitar and voice perfectly. How did you get together with them and tell me more about the Moog foot bass (Taurus 2?) and how does your guitarist play both instruments at the same time!?
My guitarist and moog player, is Lee, he’s also my producer and music partner so that’s been a natural progression to play together. He is the most talented person I know and has these crazy abilities which has taken him years of practise. My drummer, Matt, is a sound engineer and I met him when I had a residency at The Cookie in Leicester. I really liked him as a person and he had a good ear, so I was overjoyed to hear he was a drummer, so I stole him. It’s been a really exciting journey for all of us so far, sharing some great highs and miserable lows. We all love scotch eggs, coffee, kebabs and fish and chips too, so touring is always fun.
You use the same amp (Fender Blues Junior) as fellow rising star Eliza Shaddad, although your sound is bigger and crunchier. This maybe down to your use of a Tele and Strat (both with rosewood fingerboards wow!). What made you go for this set up when you made the move from acoustic to electric, and what effects unit are you using?
Many musicians use a Fender Blues because they’re not only classics but they’re able to take on so many different sounds, players, and characteristics. Rosewood fingerboards are better for me, as they aren’t as spikey sounding as maple fingerboards. Maple necks have always been too exciting for my style of playing and writing and often reveal some bad habits. Rosewood necks feel quite forgiving and smoother. All of my effects are from a Line 6 M9, and I mostly use a slight overdrive, a tiny amount of delay and tremolo. I like having subtle changes for the most part and using the more exciting effects like sub octave fuzz when I want to create a certain or different sort of emotion or expression. For me, it’s all about dynamics and emotively, what these sounds are doing for my songs.
Are you working on new material at the moment and is there a chance that an album will be next or are you happy with the EP format?
I’m always in the studio, recording and honing my craft so there will definitely be new music by the end of the year but I’m some time away from an album. I’m going to release some singles and tour a lot but I’ve definitely started to think about a debut record. I’m pushing myself to write in new ways and putting the time in to stretch my mind so when the recording sessions for the album begins, I’m ready and sure of what it is I want to say.
“Fire” is out via Let It Go Records on 2 December.
UK Tour Dates
17 Nov – Hug and Pint, Glasgow
18 Nov – Drummonds, Aberdeen
19 Nov – High and Lonesome, Leeds
20 Nov – Yellow Arch Studio, Sheffield
21 Nov – The Castle, Manchester
24 Nov – The Moon Club, Cardiff
2 Dec – The Cookie, Leicester
7 Dec – The Victoria, Birmingham w/ The Greasy Slicks
8 Dec – Birthdays, London w/ The Greasy Slicks
For more information and tickets visit charlottecarpentermusic.com.