After 16 years, six major releases and a nod from Billboard, the Grammys and the AMAs, Vanessa Carlton refuses to slow down. She’s only getting better, really. The singer-songwriter known for “A Thousand Miles” may have made a purposeful exit from the mainstream stage, but Carlton has never ceased to gain ground; she has found her sound and navigates the stage and studio with surefootedness.
“There are people who know ‘A Thousand Miles’ cause everyone seems to know that song, of course … but it’s 16 years old, so if you were to hear a record of mine now, you can tell I’m that pianist but it’s a different sound,” said singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton.
In a phone interview, Carlton mused on the makings of her latest releases, Earlier Things Live and Liberman (Live), while touching on the arc of her prolific career and upcoming tour.
“It was probably the easiest way of doing a record I had ever experienced,” Carlton said, when asked about the process behind her first live record. “It was the last show on tour in Nashville one night, and it was a good night and we captured it. People who don’t know much about me or my life or what I’m doing now who haven’t seen a live show, (Liberman [Live]) is a good record to get.”
Nodding to her now-veteran singer-songwriter status, Carlton confessed it took time for her to build up the self-assurance to do a live album.
“Over the years I really have been able to evoke more of a vocal confidence and sound, and I’m glad I waited so long,” Carlton said.
Coming hot off of Liberman (Live), Carlton also released an EP, Earlier Things Live. The short record is a compilation of older songs from that same magical Nashville night that bore Liberman (Live). When asked to explain her drive to compile a separate EP, Carlton expelled the virtues of vinyl and the power of choice and authenticity it brings to the digital streaming age.
“Either you’re streaming all the time or you’re into buying actual vinyl records which is higher sound quality, it is better,” Carlton said. “I think people understand that medium no matter how old you are. It is a superior sound, so I wanted there to be different products for my followers and fans.”
But now that Carlton has done due justice to Liberman and its beautiful moments, she is ready to put on a tour that more encapsulating — one that reflects her breadth as an artist.
“I’m going to do some older songs and some songs peppered from different records to create a little bit more of variety in the show than the Liberman tour,” Carlton said. “(We will play) songs that we like, songs that we want to rearrange, songs that haven’t been played in a while.”
Though the upcoming tour aims to more fully encompass Carlton’s decade-and-a-half long career, her work is not impervious to the stressors of the present day. Touching on the tense socio-political climate, Carlton spoke of the essential role that art plays in bringing people together.
“Right now, I’m so disturbed by what’s happening to civil rights in this country and as a woman reproductive rights are really under fire and so I feel very protective of my daughter and I feel protective of the earth and of human beings,” Carlton said. “I think more than anything … an artist during this time, the most valuable place is making art and making something beautiful or something that can connect people, or something that is telling the truth about the present day.”
Despite her personal feelings concerning the state of the nation, Carlton does not plan to make her show a political spectacle. Instead, embarks on her tour with a hope for partnership and trust between her and her audiences.
“There is a trust that you are going to be taken care of by the audience and that the audience is going to be taken care of by the artists, you gotta be there for each other,” Carlton said. “With every tour there’s usually a handful of really great feeling shows that transcend the typical performance and you go someplace else.”
It is these moments — these instances of transcendence — that make the grind worthwhile for Carlton, that have driven her to break from the mechanized pop mold and dig into her own voice.
“(‘A Thousand Miles’) is 16 years old, so if you were to hear a record of mine now, you can tell I’m that pianist but it’s a different sound,” Carlton said. “I’m still privileged that I’m able to have a vibrant career doing music and making albums in a way that I want to make them. I’m not a part of the huge machine anymore, I left that … and never looked back.”