interview with Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton has been a household name since her debut single “A Thousand Miles” reached the Top 5 Billboard Hot 100 in 2002. But to me she has been so much more, she has been a household member (essentially). My aunt took a liking to her long before I can even remember and Vanessa has inevitably become a part of my family. We have spent Christmases together for years, and I would have never guessed that we would become moms together. Well, sort of. Her daughter is 2 years and 3 days older than my son. I have thought a lot about the impact that growing up in the music industry with a famous family has had on me, and so I asked, and Vanessa graciously gave me the time to pick her brain on her feelings towards motherhood in this crazy world that we live in. Finding the balance of being a working mom is hard, but when you’re working in an industry that requires (sometimes international) travel, late nights, and adult-only events, it takes the difficulty of parenting to a whole new level.

What is it like being a mom in the music industry?

Vanessa Carlton : Well, for me it’s not industry anymore, I feel like I’ve carved out my own world. I will say that I know a handful of other moms, that do what I do…their babies are all different ages, so they all have different approaches with their partners on how to do it. Because Sid is two, for this tour that I’m on now, it’s not going to work for her to come on the road with me, which has completely affected the routing of my tour. So I have to go home every week. The longest stretch that I have been away was two weeks and four days and that was, like, brutal. And yet I have still been able to do a two-month tour with a two-year-old baby. I’m able to do it because I have a partner who is really wonderful, and he is off tour.

Your husband John McCauley is a musician, as well, as the front man for the band Deer Tick. How do you find a balance between both of you being touring artists?

VC : What we do is we have a dry-erase board, a calendar, and we are slaves to our calendar. Everything goes into the calendar. And 3 months in advance, if there’s a conflict and we both have performances, then we would figure out help from (for example) grandmas. Look, everybody does it differently, but for us, we never tour at the same time. And he is on dad duty when I’m gone, and when he goes on the road it will be my turn. And, so far so good. Sidney is not in school yet, she will start school this fall. So just logistically, that is kind of how I have been able to make it work in terms of being a touring mom.

Liberman came out in October of 2015, and Sidney was born in January 2015. Had you already written the songs that you recorded for Liberman prior to becoming pregnant or did it happen after you found out, and if you did know you were pregnant while writing your songs did she have an impact on your writing?

VC : I wrote and recorded most of the album before I became pregnant. I did have a couple songs I needed to finish (River and Operator) that I did have to finish while I was pregnant, and it’s interesting because, you know, your voice changes when you’re pregnant, and I definitely sound a little bit different on those two songs. But I’m now in the boat that I have this baby, this wonderful little girl, and how do I write in a household with a toddler? It’s a whole other thing. I literally have been calling Sid the song destroyer! The minute I sit down at the piano, she used to be super into it, and now she’s like NOOOO and she wants to play it or she wants me to stop doing it. So now I think that my whole approach for sure is going to be different. I never was the kind of writer who would carve out time to write, the muse just finds you when she finds you… now I think that is going to happen less. I’m going to have to be more strategic with my time of silence. But I feel this record brewing, I feel like it’s right there beneath the surface. I started writing it and I feel very inspired. So I know that I’ll execute it one way or another, even though I have a song destroyer in my home [laughs].

So would you say that your daughter will be the underlying theme of your next album?

VC : My first song that I think is like the theme of my next album, I’ve written it, it’s called “Love is an Art.” It is so about the art of love; there is this amazing book written by Erich Fromm called The Art of Loving and that is real. So you know, like I said, I think that absolutely this shift in my life is going to add dimension to this record. I can’t tell you how at the moment, but you know things reveal themselves.

I keep going back to your song “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” (Rabbits on the Run) and wonder how you feel about it now (being married) and how you feel you’ve changed since then.

VC : “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” is a premonition song. That song is about that deep thing with someone else that you’re never sure that you’re going to find. Once you find it you realize that the ritual of marriage, all of those things fall by the wayside… they are wonderful to do, however, they are secondary to the connection. So, you’re not driven by this need to have to do this ritual, and this ritual… and that will make it all okay. And it’s a premonition song because even to the state, I mean I wrote that song in London and I talked about moving to Tennessee and at the time, I was a hardcore New Yorker with an expired driver’s license, and there was no way I was going to live in the south with a car and drive around… and it all happened. So that was kind of a profound experience, writing that song and then having it all come true.

In the past you have gone away to create your albums, do you plan on doing that again now that you have Sidney?

VC : What I love to do is I love to do destination recordings. I went to a town called Box, it’s in the UK, about a two-hour train ride from London. I need to go someplace to execute a project. It’s like, what am I going to do if I record my record in Nashville? I feel like “Oh it sounds good guys, but I think I need to go home and take a nap and then I’ll be back.” You go home and the chain is broken, the energy is not there. I need that pressure and that different energy of being in a completely different environment. So for this next record as well; I don’t know if I’m going to go as far as England, because it’s very much all about the producer that I find. So I just go to them. I want to be in their art space. I’m eyeing this producer who is based in Buffalo, and he doesn’t even know me, and I don’t know him yet, but this is my dream, to work with him. So if we do work together, I’m gonna go to Buffalo, of all places.

Do you have any advice for new moms who are in the music/entertainment industry and don’t want to stop doing what they’re doing?

VC : I will say this, every woman is different. So every woman’s impulse is going to push them in a different direction. For me, I keep going because I can, and it’s working still. You have to be flexible, for sure. I think my advice is that it happens before the baby, it’s about picking the right partner. Being in that place where you can really give yourself over to somebody else. You can do anything if you’re a team. I think women are so powerful and I feel like we are our strongest when we are united with each other. Every pregnancy is different, every mother has a different style. And the most important thing is SLEEP. I prioritize sleep more than anything. My husband and I and our baby, we’re all good sleepers. But we worked at it. We know that none of us are functional without sleep.

Final thoughts?

VC : In terms of the way being a mother has affected my work, my art, I will say it has had a profound effect on my approach. I feel more present, I feel more honest, I feel more connected in front of a bunch of strangers, somehow. Because A. I want to be an example for my baby, and B. I feel like if I’m going to be away from her the time away from her better be worth it, better be well spent. The show better be a truly connected show, or else, what is the point of any of us being there?

Vanessa Carlton

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(Pictured photo taken by me at Vanessa's Casbah San Diego show, April 14, 2017)