Vanessa Carlton

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
Vanessa Carlton is well known for her album, "Be Not Nobody" with hits like "A Thousand Miles". Now the big question is will she do it again with her second album, "Harmonium". How did she grow as an artist in making the second album?

DM) How is Harmonium different from your previous album?

VC) It's different from the first record, in that... well I say that the first album is wearing a dress while this is wearing a t-shirt and jeans. It's dressed down I guess you could say. The approach is also different. I like to call it organized chaos. I wanted to preserve that wild approach to writing music. I know with the second record there are expectations and all of that and I just wanted to shut that out. Making something and arranging it in a way that is in line with my aesthetic, I learned how you can change the sense of a song by changing its production and details of the track. I learned so much in production of the album and I ended up making a really personal album.

DM) I interviewed Phil Ramone once who talked a lot about the fact that the first album is something that an artist has worked on for their whole life, while the second one is something that was only worked on for a few years at most. He seemed to indicate that it always seems to add to the pressure.

VC) Well, I feel like I had success on the first record but there was room to grow. I sold a few million records which is amazing, but it's not like I saturated the culture. I made a little dent which was great. It was a question of "who am I" and "where will I be a few years from now?" I loved that. I loved proving myself and proving myself to myself. To realize that I'm not going to make commercial music just to sell albums, I ultimately felt pressure but only at the end of recording. I was able to protect that creative process and not let it thwart my path.

DM) In some sense though you got embedded in pop culture pretty quickly. There were even skits and such talking about you already. As they say, if you're joked about on SNL, you've made it to a certain level. Then again people are fickle, and after two years the public seems to forget who people are.

VC) That's exactly how it is. It's a good thing in that makes me feel like I have yet to grow. I think this album is an album I needed to make. You want to make a deep impression and lasting impression on people. If you make an album that people will listen to years later, then you will remain on people's radar. I don't need to be a huge superstar chick. I just need to be proud of the albums that I'm making. Who knows what will happen? I just have control over the art I'm going to be releasing and promoting.

DM) Have you grown from the first on this?

VC) I'm so much more educated in terms of production. On my first record, it was like, okay, here's a song: it's me and the piano. For everything else, I knew what I didn't like but I didn't know what I wanted in terms of arrangement. I worked with a producer [Ron Fair], who had his own aesthetic and his own tastes and I think that showed up a lot on the album. I think in this case, the dominant taste and aesthetic is my own. I was able to realize if it doesn't sound like this it would sound cheesy, or if it sounds like this it would sound real and heart felt and quirky and this is what I like.

DM) Is this more of you and the piano on this album?

VC) More than anything it's a record that allows everything on it to breathe. There's a lot of space on all of the tracks. You don't feel like there's a million things going on. It's really easy on the ears. It's very organic. There's nothing going on that shouldn't be going on. It's very simple in that sense.

DM) As you've learned more on production, do you ever play with your first album's songs?

VC) As you grow, you definitely start to reinterpret your older work and bring it up to the level you're at, at the moment. It's fun, because I'm about to go on tour at the end of October and it's just me and the piano. It's really that stripped down approach. I just experiment with the keys.

DM) Does that make you more comfortable because that's how you started?

VC) Definitely, I think that is where I am the most comfortable. Just me and the piano. I do practice every day to get my hands strong. I've been working on Harmonium for a year, so it's nice to come back out of my cave and just start playing music again and just start sharing it with people. At times I feel more vulnerable because it's all on me, but I also feel more powerful in some sense because I'm in control of all of the elements that people are hearing.


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