Meet Vanessa Carlton Again, A Thousand Miles Later (Sort Of)

Vanessa Carlton needs little introduction. Her debut single, “A Thousand Miles,” became the overnight obsession of an entire generation, thrusting Carlton into pop star fame—a status she achieved all while maintaining artistic integrity and praise. Five albums later and the aughts icon is all grown up, focusing on seeking a balance between her ongoing career and recently formed family, consisting of husband John McCauley and their baby girl Sid.  

We spoke with Carlton about her latest album Liberman, her growth out of the “pop star” sound, and what it’s like taking a baby on tour. Read Vanessa Carlton’s exclusive interview for Galore, below.

Another publication wrote, “Forget the Vanessa Carlton that you used to know.” Do you want people to forget the old you?

I mean, I think I know why they said that because I’ve totally grown up. I’m thirty-five years old now and I made a record that, if you were to compare it to my first record, you can maybe hear some similarities, but it’s basically a total evolution. I think change is good. I’m fine with that. I don’t think people need to forget. I think it’s been so wonderful how people have been really accepting of the fact that I have grown up and the stuff that is reflective of where I am now in my life.

Now that the album is out, are you able to listen to it and pick up on any themes you didn’t realize you were working with?

There’s definitely a concept that follows through all the songs. I really love playing it. It’s like a meditation, the songs. It’s my favorite part of the night, when we play the Liberman chapter of the set. People are starting to get to know the song and know the words. I mean, it only came out about two weeks ago. The album lives sonically in its own world. So we’re doing lots of loops and pedals onstage and it’s not piano at all. There’s a lot going on so that we can recreate the record live. I love going to that space; I very much am in the place that I was in when I first came up with this album’s concept. 

What’s your favorite part of the live shows?

My favorite part of the night is the Liberman stuff. Any artist you talk to will say they love their new stuff the most, because it’s most fresh. But I also play older songs that people know. The night is kind of like a sandwich and the bread is some of the songs that people know, or older songs from other records, and the whole middle—the roast beef of the night, if you will—is Liberman. It doesn’t really work back to back with other songs from other records so I have to play them all as a chunk. They all come from the same dimension.

You recorded half the album in London and half in Nashville. Did where you were recording affect the end sound?

The main collaborator on the album is a producer named Steve Osborne. He’s also the engineer and mixer for almost all the songs and he is incredible…he’s done New Order, he’s done some U2…I mean the guy has done a lot. He’s even done A-HA. He’s one of the greats in my opinion. So his style is very English for sure. He has this milky, dreamy, sort of trance-y aesthetic that I…like, when he and I come together, it just becomes it’s own thing. We only really learned this while we were making [the album] because we didn’t have to answer to anybody except ourselves and our instincts. So that’s the sound of the album. But then I had John McCauley, my husband, play on some stuff. That finger picking guitar stuff is very John. I guess you could call it “Nashville” but that’s just John’s style and that comes into play.

You are married and you also have a baby girl. How has that affected the career?

Well, I am tired, let me tell you. It’s funny we’re doing this interview tonight because this is the last night that Sid is out on the road for two weeks. She’s almost ten months and she’s been on the road with us since we started the tour, which has not been that long. It’s been like almost two weeks we’ve been out. She did great, but we’re really on her schedule. I have to make it as comfortable as I can for her and it’s hard because we’re touring in a Sprinter. It’s not like we have some huge, fancy tour bus.

It was really important for me to tour this record and do it whatever way I can that isn’t too crazy hard, and it’s definitely exhausting to a certain degree, but we’re also making it work and I also find every night on stage, I don’t have the energy to think too far in the future, think too far in the past; I feel very in the moment, like very present. Much more so than I have in the past, and particularly for live performance, which I think makes for a stronger performance, you know. She’s my priority. My family is my priority. My work is very important to me because it’s just part of who I am, so I of course have to continue with whatever project I’m inspired to do. I have to bring it all together in my life. I have to make it all work. I’m figuring it out. These past two weeks were an experiment and it seems to have worked, but my husband takes Sid back to Nashville. So for the next week or so there’s no baby on the road and it’s kind of back to normal. We’re figuring it out as we go.

As someone with both a family and strong career, you seem to be an example of what it means to “have it all.”

I think, “having it all” is always a balance. It’s never like always smooth, easy riding. There’s always something that you have to sacrifice a little bit to make the whole career and family thing work. But I think it’s doable for anybody, and it’s just about knowing your limits and asking for as much help as you can get. I think your work gets better—if you’re a writer, if you’re a musician—whatever line of work you’re in, I think once you aren’t so much in your head anymore and I think maybe a lot of times a family keeps you out of that place and you’re less lost in your own world, and now you’re providing for somebody else and you’re connecting constantly to other people in a really authentic way. I think it makes your work better because whatever ego or narcissism creeps into all of us it kind of just gets quieted down. Or at least it’s done that for me.

Do you have any plans after touring?

Dude, I’m gonna chill so hard at the house. I’m done on the 19th so I don’t have much time. Then I have to travel to see family. But we are going to have a hardcore holiday, all wearing the same pajamas type thing, including the dogs. We’re gonna go all the way with it. And then I go back out on the road in January. It’s just enough time for me to reboot.


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