Welcome to an exclusive interview with the incredibly talented non-binary artist, Candi Carpenter, as we dive deep into their latest musical endeavor, the project ‘Demonology – Part 1.’ In this conversation, Candi shares their creative journey, the inspiration behind this unique project, and the powerful message it carries. Candi’s journey has been an incredible one, both personally and musically, and we cannot wait to see what’s next for Candi. Join us as we explore the depths of their artistry and the evolution of their music with Guitar Girl Magazine.
Listen to ‘Demonology – Part 1’ here:
GC: Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the EP! Demonology is defined as the study of demons, so one would assume that this is a study of your personal demons. What drew you to this kind of analogy as a way to describe your traumas rather than another type of theming? Or another type of analogy, do you think?
CC: I think it’s because I grew up as the child of a pastor. My dad was a Christian Missionary Alliance minister, and we were in a family gospel band called The Carpenters because we belonged to Jesus. That was, oh, yeah, that was the twist on the Carpenters. So my dad uploaded the cassette tape our family bands made to iTunes a long time ago, and he called me one day and said, we sold 1000s of downloads. I’m so excited. And I went and read the reviews and they were overwhelmingly negative, think “buyer beware.”
GV: Oh, my God, these aren’t the Carpenters!
CC: Apparently, it was enough of a twist to please the audiences…that was small churches. We were playing in rural Ohio.
GV: Ohio! Unite! By the way. Yeah, I am. I’m a native.
CC: I feel like a lot of writers from Ohio and from the Midwest have so many experiences that turn us into storytellers.
GV: Very true! So that religious upbringing: how do you think that continues to build up the analogy of what demonology is?
CC: My dad filled the pulpit at churches all over the Midwest, especially in rural Ohio. I didn’t realize how much I still had to unpack with my religious childhood and the trauma that went along with it until I started writing this album. I thought I was going to focus on writing about my ex husband, personal relationships, my gender identity and finding out that I had autism…but every song ended up going back to the beginning- back to my fear of going to hell and rapture, the anxiety and confusion of worshiping a deity who was supposed to represent both my father and my husband as well as my brother. How uncomfortable that made me feel and how I felt sitting in the church pews that I was the only person who wasn’t feeling the Holy Spirit move inside of them. How strange it is. That my, the people I love the most, truly believed there was the ghost of a man living inside of their body. I remember laying in my bed and staring at the ceiling, probably in the ninth grade or middle school, and begging God to send one of the parachute men that I had over my bed to show me that he was real, and then I would remember the scriptures that said you shouldn’t test God. I was faced with this quiet, completely silent, existential crisis that so many religious kids go through alone, because they can’t talk to the people they love about what they’re feeling! And it wasn’t the only thing I was experiencing alone. I was experiencing the fact that I never felt like a girl, or a woman. I didn’t have the language for what I felt because I didn’t have any representation in my hometown, or on television or in the media, which is why representation is so important. I realized my biggest demon to work through was the very institution that was supposed to represent the opposite of evil. I kept coming back to that theme over and over again. The album was going to be called Demonology before I made this discovery, and they say the body keeps score, and I think part of me knew before the rest of me.
GV: That was a fantastic answer. Thank you!
CC: Thank you. It’s so hard to put the stuff into words because it’s, ya know, I was afraid to tell anyone I was questioning. I didn’t want to lose my entire community. So instead, I came up with a very public album.
GV: That’s one way to do it, and I think you’ve done it successfully so far! My next question is about pivoting sonically and leaving the more country side of things for what seems entirely more authentic for you. Why do you think that this music has come to you so naturally?
CC: The music I’m making now is who I really am. When I was a kid I wanted to be the next man, right? I learned how to yodel, which made me even more unpopular. In school, I was already hopeless as a child with undiagnosed neurodiversity. But then I decided to learn how to yodel.
GV: You know? I would have been impressed personally. So…
CC: Thank you. Well, my mom and dad wanted me to go into Gospel music, but they were also okay with Country because my family thought of Country music as the most wholesome secular music genre. It’s funny how many people implicitly agree with that. I moved to Nashville to start working with my first producer when I was a kid…I was living here on my own full time at 15. I’ve just been making music as a country performer for so long. It hadn’t occurred to me to change or to evolve until I felt like I made it in the genre I started in, and I did get to make my Grand Ole Opry debut. But when the pandemic hit, I just found that I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t sure how to tell the stories I wanted to tell while still pursuing a career at country radio, but I couldn’t stop writing. I found my influences from childhood, my secret influences like punk bands and pop singers, whose CDs I had kept hidden in my bedroom creeping in. And I had a lot of time to think about what I really wanted to do and learned to unmask for the first time. I am a late bloomer. I figured out who I was. I was diagnosed with autism officially in December of last year. Writing the album was part of the journey to coming out as non-binary, figuring out my diagnosis, and living authentically for the first time. Every time I’ve released a body of work I’ve said, “This is the real me!” I think I was trying to convince myself that was true, because I really felt like everybody picked an avatar and showed up as this character every day, then no one was being the person they were at home. I was just terrible at creating a persona. And this revelation that I’d been masking since elementary school changed my life and empowered me to show up as me every time. Even when I’m too much, or I’m over the top or weird. I love that about myself. And I’ve learned to love all of my demons.
GC: Yes! As a queer person myself, I understand it can be hard to pave our way in this industry. But rather than focusing on the negative side of that, I want to spin it the other way: what is the biggest plus to being a non-binary identifying person in the music industry right now?
CC: I think my favorite part of being a non-binary person in the music industry is the community I’m building with fans and listeners, and other queer people. I love the conversation that we’ve started on social media, and the openness and connectedness we have with each other. There’s this real sense of paving a new path, and it’s exciting to be part of that. It means a lot to me to have the opportunity to be the representation for someone else that I didn’t have growing up.
GC: Yeah, it’s a beautiful thing. Tell us about your performance at Bonnaroo. What was that experience like?
CC: Bonnaroo was a lot of fun. I have this black and white striped umbrella that I love- looks like Wednesday Addams owns it. My best friend Jenny, who also works with me sometimes came along, and she was carrying the umbrella and got off the golf cart. I guess the golf cart behind us stopped and picked up the umbrella, then zoomed ahead. We went on a five mile chase to retrieve this umbrella! I kept telling our wonderful driver, “You don’t have to do this! It’s okay! We can let the umbrella go live with its new family!” but they were determined to help me, and it was so ridiculous and wonderful.
GC: I love that! You were a co-producer on this album, correct? What was it like having that input on the record? Like, especially with these personal themes?
CC: I fell in love with producing, I’m actually co-producing an album for my friend, Danny Rose…very excited about this project! I’ve been making records since I was in middle school, but I’ve never been able to sit in the driver’s seat and call the shots until this album. I realized it was because I didn’t trust myself fully. I felt like I didn’t have any of the answers, and someone else would always know better than I did. Taking that break over the pandemic showed me the answer was me all along. I want to share a piece of myself with the listener, and I feel like I need to be involved in every aspect of the production and the writing to be able to give that to them.
GC: Absolutely! Thank you. So my next question, since we are Guitar Girl magazine, what are the guitars you’re playing right now, what are your favorites, or anything that you would have played on the record that you would like to share?
CC: I play my grandfather’s custom employee model 1969 Gibson. We took it for an appraisal to Gibson, and they said “We don’t know what this is….” My grandpa bought it at a garage sale in rural Ohio for $80. I thought it was a Gibson B-25. I was convinced it was…it looks like it, but the expert said it isn’t. So I have this little family mystery. What’s special about it is not only that I learned to play guitar on this instrument, but so did my mom.
Keep up with Candi here.