Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Deana Carter interview from 1996

Deana Carter comes from a rich musical background. No, not that Carter Family. Her father was legendary Nashville session man Fred Carter, Jr. That name may not be familiar to you, but it's a sure bet the man's music is. He's played with everybody from Buck Owens and Marty Robbins to Simon and Garfunkle.
"There was a thing way back then called the Nashville Sound," explains Deana (pronounced DEAN-AH as in Dean Martin, after whom she is named). "And my dad was an integral part in creating that sound. Kind of post-Chet Atkins and the old school guys. The younger guys who came to town in the mid fifties had a new sound. He was one of the main architects of that sound, and it was something that Paul Simon wanted on his records. So did Roy Orbison, and Levon Helm (The Band) and a lot of other people.
"He was reeling off some the names he's played with and it's a wild list - Red Foley, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Anderson, Waylon and Willie. Alice Cooper. He's played with everybody. He was the first musician to go double scale. Studio musicians used to be paid a flat rate. He was the first one to say you're going to have to pay me double because I'm getting worked to death. There was a big upheaval in Nashville, people hated him for a while, but now (some) musicians are triple scale and he was a real pioneer in that movement. And he's a good dad, too."
Surrounded by music and musicians, Deana always knew she wanted to follow in her father's formidible footsteps. She made her first attempt at snagging a record deal when she was seventeen years old. Things didn't work out, and although she was disappointed at the time she's philosophical about it now.
"It didn't work because I wasn't ready. Plain and simple. Looking at it now from age 30 I can see I was nowhere near ready - especially for what I wanted to do in music, which was to be different and to have an artistic quality about myself, that would be distinctive. And I didn't have any of that stuff at 17. Lee Ann Rimes has it, her voice is great, but she's not writing - maybe she will - but at 17 you just haven't lived enough to have anything of value to say to anybody. At least I hadn't."
Plan B involved college and a career in rehabilitation therapy.
"I worked at rehabilitation therapy for about a year. It just broke my heart every day. I had a couple of patients that died. When you've been with someone every day for six weeks or three months, and you come in and their bed is pressed and starched and empty, it does something to you. Another thing that bothered me was the reality of government pull and insurance and things that have nothing to do with the side of medicine that cares if people get better. It's just numbers and money and I just couldn't handle it. I can't stand that stuff.
"I still kept at music while I was in college, just kind of messing around. Humoring myself, doing cover bands. My dad gave me a guitar when I was a senior in college and that was the first time I really started playing. I was 22. I was trying to write and I'd never had a lesson so it was kind of a long haul."
"When I decided to get serious about music, I quit therapy, did odd jobs - selling china door-to-door, temp services, cleaning urinals. Then I landed a job waiting tables at Zaney's which is a comedy club here (in Nashville). And that was really a blessing for me because I learned a lot about stage presence and about entertaining and relating to people as an entertainer, when I had no clue how that worked. It was great to see that from another genre of entertainment. I waited tables at Zaney's for a couple of years and I wrote songs, went to writer's night, took notes, bought albums, just did my homework."
Deana made a difficult task even harder by refusing to settle for writing anything less than the perfect, definitive song.
"My professor referred to Bob Dylan in class, so that became my goal. I wanted to write a song that was credible enough to have depth and meaning and be in a poetry book in the year 3000. I ended up sabotaging myself cuz I was trying to write deep, murky dark stuff, trying to be creative - which means I was just faking it. And it doesn't resonate if it's not real."
Eventually all that homework started to pay off.
"Willie Nelson gave me what I guess you would call my big break. He asked me to perform at Farm Aid in 1994. And I was the only female on the bill. I didn't realize till it was over when I was standing on stage and I looked around and saw that I was the only girl. I saw Willie Saturday at this past Farm Aid. And it was wonderful to be able to publicly credit him with helping me so much. Farm Aid was excellent. I got to introduce John Conlee, Steve Earle and John Mellencamp, which was great. We played and there was tons of great people playing from Son Volt, Jewel to Rusted Root and Hootie and the Blowfish. It was great to meet everybody. And to hear people that aren't even in country music say stuff like "I can't wait to hear you play," and "I love your song". That's a trip in itself. It's like you're all camping together, cuz you're all in your buses hanging out. You're bus hopping all the time"
The song the performers are referring to is of course "Strawberry Wine," a wistful erotic ballad about first love. It is one of the cuts (no pun intended) off "Did I Shave My Legs For This?" Deana's Capitol Nashville CD. Deana is more mature now. She's not trying to write perfect songs, she's trying to write them honestly. She co-wrote six of the eleven songs here, unusual for a new artist.
"I insisted on doing much of the writing because I wanted to make a statement that I was serious, so that people don't think I'm an ornament, or that I'm hovering above. It bothers me that they give Shania so much grief she did write those songs and she was probably involved as much as I was. And my name isn't even on production credits. Sometimes you only get one shot, and if this is to be my one shot then I want to go down kicking and screaming."
Deana's stamp is all over this album, from the 3-D multi-image cover ("I know they've had varieties of that in pop and alternative music, but they've never had a holographic cover in country. I am excited about because now we kind of have poetic justice to do wild things on the cover now. Right out of the chute we did a swan dive there.") to the inspirational aphorism from Theodore Roosevelt inside ("I am a history buff - mainly for the knowledge of people who achieved very high standards. I've always tried to find little sound bites like that, to put in my car or on my refrigerator. Or if I get a great fortune cookie I'll put it on my mirror for while. Little things like that have encouraged me and kept me going.")
The CD was delayed several times. Some of the executives had qualms about releasing a CD with such a potentially-controversial title. But "Did I Shave My Legs For This?" is such a sharp (again no pun intended) commentary on the ongoing war between the sexes that Deana insisted on titling the CD after it. There was also some confusion as to what should be the initial release.
"We had originally planned to release "I've Loved Enough to Know" as the first single. And we were playing these showcases around the country with the radio people and they kept coming back with "Man, we love the "Strawberry Wine" song; when are you coming out with that? We got such a response that we decided to go ahead and change our plans. And it was two weeks before the release, so we had a video in the can and all of the artwork and packaging done with the other song, so we had to do a complete turnaround.
Deana took advantage of the time before the CD was released to lay the groundwork for a long-term career. She's toured all over the country - and the world.
"When Jimmy Bowen was head of the label I sat down and asked him what were the possibilities of my having a worldwide career, and he said very good if you do well here because Garth was doing so well overseas. And I said I want to go now while I'm unknown because that way we can go for six months as opposed to being successful here and not being able to get there. We were making a name for ourselves so we can hopefully go back with a hit record. People in Europe and other countries are interested in "Strawberry Wine" and I think it's because we did lay that groundwork. I think if we were just coming out cold nobody would really care."
People care now. In an age of cookie-cutter artists, Deana stands out as a distinctively talented young woman. We need more of her kind. In fact, you might say that Deana and "Did I Shave My Legs For This?" has arrived just in the "nick" of time. (Okay, that time pun intended.)

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