Carsie Blanton: Buck Up

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 7

With her new album Buck Up released in February, Carsie Blanton is grooving to whatever makes her feel right at the moment…with her focus being more on “songs” vs. “genre,” she is her own musician.

Guitar Girl Magazine chatted with her to talk about the new album, her musical influences, and her diverse musical taste which has led to the music she creates.

You have a new album coming out in February called Buck Up. Tell me a little about it.
Buck Up is my sixth full-length album, and gosh what do I say about it? It’s all original songs, and the theme of this one is sort of about dealing with dark emotions and dark times and figuring out how to “buck up” and still go out there in the world and shine your light even when you’re feeling bad. It has a lot of political songs, so it’s partly a reaction to the political climate in the US.

I had a chance to listen to it, and it’s got quite a different range of music, and I read that you don’t like to be stuck into one genre. That comes through in this album.
I’m into a lot of different kinds of music. And I think, for me, I’m a songwriter first, so I’m always trying to write a song in whatever genre I think serves the song. So, I’m not as concerned with trying to write something that’s easily understandable to people. I think being good at crafting a song is really about having a good breadth of musical knowledge, so you have a lot of tools to draw on. And, so, I think since that’s the case for me as a songwriter, I end up writing in all different styles.

Who were some of the musicians that have inspired you?
I grew up in Virginia, and my family is kind of folk and singer-songwriter lovers, so I grew up with the music of John Prine, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell. Those were all the big names in my household growing up. And, also, more contemporary Americana from when I was a kid. We listened to a lot of Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. And then, as I became a teenager, I got really into jazz. Then my next set of influences was Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong – classic kind of vocal jazz and swing. I think those are my two main areas. Now, I would add into that Motown and R&B as pretty big influences as an adult. So, yeah, there’s some breadth to the stuff that I listen to. I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music. I mostly listen to old stuff.

You recorded the album at Jersey Studio.
Yes, we recorded at our producer’s home studio, Jersey Studio. It’s a little tiny basement studio in Haddonfield, New Jersey. We’ve made three records there. I guess this is the second record, full record, we’ve made in that place. It’s very cozy. It feels like a family home.

Share with us some of the people that are on the album with you and the recording process?
Pete Donnelly is the producer, and he produced two of my other records as well. And, basically, the core people are Pete and then my band, my touring band. Joe Plowman on bass, he’s been my bassist for about nine years now. Patrick Firth plays keys, he’s been with me for a few years, as well. Nicholas Falk on drums. So that’s my regular touring band. We basically just took the band into the studio, everybody knows the songs already, and we just kind of goofed off for a couple of weeks. Some special guests that came in for a day or two at a time. We had a cellist on there and horns and all the extra stuff, as well.

Is there any one song on the album that speaks to you the most?
I don’t know if I could pick one that speaks to me the most, but I could probably pick one that embodies the theme of the album. I think the song “American Kid” sort of sums up the whole album. I’m pretty fond of that one. It’s just the story of growing up in America and having a changing concept of what it means to be an American and also having some worries about the future and thinking about kids growing up now and how their lives will be different from mine and kids growing up all over the world.

Did you play guitar on the album?
I did. Pete played a little bit, as well. I used two guitars, but mostly I used my main guitar, my touring guitar, which is a Gibson ES-320. It’s a lot like the 335 – sort of an iconic rock ‘n’ roll guitar, but it has a different pickup. It’s an acoustic-electric that’s a semi-hollow body. One of the songs, “Harbor,” is kind of a sweet, intimate sounding song, so it just felt like it needed a more intimate guitar. On that track, I used my 100-year-old Washburn Parlor guitar. It doesn’t have a pickup in it, and it’s such an old instrument that I haven’t wanted to crack it open and put a pickup in it. So, it’s only really good for recording because it doesn’t work that well on stage without a pickup. So that’s a great old really warm sounding acoustic guitar from, I think, 1907.

I bought that from a guy who used to live in New Orleans who produced a jazz record I made a few years ago back in 2014. While we were working on that album, he had a house party, and that guitar was sitting out in his living room. I ended up playing it all night. He saw that I was having a little love affair with it, and when he moved away a few years later, he called me and said, “Do you remember that guitar you were playing at my house? Do you want to buy that?” I think he had to offload some instruments so he could move back to Europe. It’s in great shape. I think it was in somebody’s attic for 90 years or something. It’s been mostly untouched.

Any other guitars in your arsenal?
I have the Gibson electric, the Washburn from 1907, and then I also have a Washburn that’s a lot like the 100-year-old one. It’s the 125th-anniversary edition of that guitar, so it’s the same size and shape, but it’s from 2010 or something. And that one has a pickup in it so when I tour and need an acoustic guitar, that’s the one I bring. For my electric, I use a Fender Princeton amp.

What does your practice consist of?
As I said, I’m a songwriter first. So, I sit down every day, and I work on songs. And that might mean playing guitar, it might mean playing songs I’ve already written. And it often just means sitting quietly and thinking about different ideas and different melodies and chord progressions and trying things out. But for me, my practice is mainly about writing, and I don’t have a disciplined practice about playing guitar or singing. But I do end up playing and singing every day, but it’s because I’m working on creating new stuff. But for me, the creative element is what drives my practice, I would say.

Do you have a designated space or studio in your home where you write or practice?
I do, I have a studio in my backyard that’s called the Watermelon. It’s a little 8’ by 8’ shed. It’s green on the outside and pink on the inside, and it has a big window. That’s where I go every morning if I’m at home. I’ll wake up in the morning and make my tea and go sit out there for a few hours. That’s my practice.

When you sit down to write in the Watermelon, what’s your inspiration? Buck Up has some political songs on it; is it just current events, or love, or …
Love is pretty common for me. That’s the one that has inspired most of my work over my life, just love and attraction. And then more recently, I think, I’ve been having big emotional responses to political changes going on. So, I think it starts with an emotion, and for me, the next thing that happens is I’ll get a little melodic lyric. It’s always lyrics and melody come at the same time. And they usually come first. And then I’ll sit down with a guitar and flesh out the idea. I have a notebook where I keep notes with lyrics, and I have my iPhone, and I record my ideas on the iPhone, on the little voice recorder.

I do think the very first step, though, is having idle time and getting a little bit bored. I think that’s a really important part of the creative process that we’re losing a little bit because of all the technology. If you have your phone with you all the time, it’s hard to get to the part of boredom where you start having new ideas. I think that’s really important that we make time to let our minds wander and not be distracted in order to come up with songs or any other kind of creative work.

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