Vanessa Carlton may have deliberately made a record devoid of autobiographical confessions, but in the process she also gave us her most honest, confident effort to date. “Liberman,” which dropped in October 2015, is a huge step for the singer/songwriter, who first made her industry mark in the early 2000s by writing sugary pop songs so coated they could rot your teeth. But with her latest album, she’s relaxed into who she is, no longer relying on labels or managers to tell her what that means but rather figuring it out for herself.
You might even say that she’s a thousand miles from where she was then, even though “A Thousand Miles” is exactly where she got her start.
But people change. They grow up. And in Carlton’s case, that means four studio albums, 12 singles and three Grammy nominations before making the record that feels most like herself. And with good reason -- there’s something real about “Liberman.” It makes you trust Carlton, which is even more impressive given that she made a point to not make herself a lyrical focus. The result is a natural, inviting flow of what Carlton herself calls a “reduction.”
Before the singer/songwriter performs at Casbah on Sunday, Jan. 24, she connected with SoundDiego to talk about growth, “Liberman,” and putting the record release on hold to start a family with husband John McCauley of Deer Tick.
HLS: What was the timeline like for this record, when were you writing and recording? Tell me a little about what was going on as you were writing this album?
VC: I started writing it in 2012, I think, shortly after I did a short tour for “Rabbits [on the Run],” then I went out to the desert to this dude ranch I go to almost every year. And I wrote “Unlock the Lock,” and I did two trips to Steve [Osbourne]’s studio in England. We commenced recording in 2013 -- we did it in like a month -- and then I finished it in Nashville. And then I had gotten pregnant, so we delayed it another year.
HLS: How was that, having just finished this project then having to delay it for a year?
VC: It kind of felt perfect. There’s something about the record, too, because it’s not so hyperpersonal. It’s not very timely.
HLS: You say this record isn’t hyperpersonal, lyrically, and I’ve read interviews where you say something similar. But there’s definitely something that feels very honest about it. Was that a deliberate move on your part, it not being so personal?
VC: I think I was. I think the record, it was a concept. The record is very much an execution of a concept, lyrically in particular. The sonic palette, the sounds on the record were first and foremost. Those were hard to get together, and then lyrically and philosophically I had some serious parameters that I put on myself. There’s something somber.
HLS: You’ve been doing this for more than 10 years now. What’s changed in your approach?
VC: So much has changed. I guess any person changes the most between 20 and 35 -- you hope. I was marketed as a pop star of some sort -- I think I was -- that’s a very attention-seeking style to art, like pop culture. For me, it’s all been about reduction. It’s been all about simplicity and authenticity and trying to find authenticity again, and that has come through reduction, just pulling back. For me, I had to figure out something else that worked better for what I wanted to do. I think, yeah, I think almost every single thing has changed in my life for the better. It’s been a natural evolution for sure. A lot of it is a reflection of my choices and me honing in on my aesthetic. For some artists, they can see it clearly, and they connect to it clearly. And I don’t think that was necessarily the case with me. It took me a minute, and where I’m at now is a really comfortable and honest place for me.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.