The Mill — Sunday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
Asking a musician if she’s especially fond of a single song on her new album may be a faux pas, but it feels like a forgivable one. It’s like asking which child a parent of six loves best. You know they’ve got a favorite, even if it’s impolite to say so.
“I just love how ‘Nothing [Where Something Used to Be]’ came out,” said Carlton, whose new album dropped last Friday, Oct. 23 and is available on iTunes. “I also really like ‘Matter of Time,’ though,” she said. “I like its simplicity.”
Simplicity is something of a calling card and misnomer for the 35-year-old singer-songwriter’s work. Her music is deceptively simple, in other words — prone to sweet, subtle lyrics and piano riffs whose delicacy both belies and distracts from their technical prowess. Perhaps best known for her 2002 megahit, “A Thousand Miles,” Vanessa Carlton is a musician’s pop musician. At their best, her songs call on her listeners’ will to move — no small coincidence, since she started performing music after graduating New York’s School of American Ballet.
Certain tracks on Liberman fit the bill — most of them, in fact — but the album’s sound is a far cry from her earliest music. It’s eerie, dreamy, trance-like stuff.
“I’m not going to, I mean, I can’t sound the same as I did when I was twenty-one,” Carlton said, laughing. Liberman’s production process was something new for the artist, too. “It really is such a special place to work,” Carlton says of Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England, where she cut most of the album with producer Steve Osborne. After recording seven songs at Real World, she finished the album in Nashville with Adam Landry, who’d converted his garage into a recording studio.
“There are a lot of studios like that here,” said Carlton, who lives in Nashville with her husband and their young daughter. “Places like that don’t exist anymore in New York,” she says, charmed by the small studios’ intimacy.
In preparation for her upcoming tour — which will bring her to The Mill on Sun, Nov. 1 — Carlton has been practicing tracks from earlier albums in addition to honing her new songs. “We’re trying to do a couple that people will know from each record,” she said, describing her preferred setlists in a way that sounds like gentle philosophy. “People like to hear their old favorites, so I like to play those first. Once you earn your audience’s trust, then you get to play the new stuff.”
“Is that the important part?” I asked. “Knowing the audience trusts you?”
She paused before answering. After experiencing an ectopic pregnancy and suffering a miscarriage, Carlton married Deer Tick’s John McCauley in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks in December 2013. In June 2014, Carlton posted an announcement to Facebook: Liberman’s release would be delayed until the following summer. She and McCauley were expecting a child, a girl born this past January.
“My work has ebbed and flowed, and the direction of my career has changed a lot,” she said, speaking of her music’s evolution and the changes in her personal life. “That’s why it’s so good to connect with fans,” Carlton continued, sighing warmly. “They’re real. They’re the real deal. They’re the one’s that matter. They’ll be with me forever.”