Deana Carter Takes Control

There’s no two ways about it. Deana Carter got played by Nashville. Her first album, Did I Shave My Legs For This?, took her from nowhere to the top of the country music charts in record time, but in the process she learned some ugly lessons about the corporate music world.

“My name wasn’t even on my first record’s production credits. Not only did that cost me a lot of money, it cost me a lot of credibility. It still pisses me off to hear that that record was produced by Chris Farren when it was co-produced by the both of us.”

After spending eight years making three more major-label releases and fighting the marketing gurus all the way, Carter decided to head out to L.A. to make a fresh start on a smaller, independent label that would give her full control over her songwriting. The resulting album, The Story of My Life [Vanguard], is a testament to Carter’s California revitalization. The album eschews the traditional Nashville formats of layered steel guitars and big-time production and allowed Carter to explore areas unthinkable to the big label, radiocentric machine.

“In ‘Sunny Day,’ there is a musical part at the end where it goes into a Pink Floyd-style vibe for a while and then into a long outro,” she explains. “In a major-label mindset, they’re gonna look at it like, ‘Okay, here’s what radio wants: It has to be three minutes and 30 seconds on the dot. You can’t go over that. We don’t need to expose anything that will keep us off the radio.’”

Instead, Vanguard gave Carter complete creative control, confident that her talent would shine through. “Vanguard was just great,” Carter exclaims. “They allowed me to make this record without hearing any of the songs. They said, ‘We believe in you and we love you. Now go make a great record.’ It was awesome.”

Carter is the daughter of veteran Nashville session man Fred Carter, Jr., and she is an accomplished guitarist in her own right. On The Story of My Life, she’s finally able to show off that talent.

“Just playing on my own record was a big deal,” she says. “I was able to put down the framework of the songs with a guitar before my band even came in. That was a big step from my last album. It was really important to remind myself that I am a good musician and I don’t need to lean on session musicians so much to try to get my point across.”

Carter says that, many times, her songs stem from the instrument she’s playing. “I have a lot of different guitars, and I’ll go through phases,” she says. “If I’m not feeling the vibe on one, I’ll go pick up another one; they all have their own mojo. I have a Fender Malibu that I love, and I have a Larrivéée that I’ve gotten a lot of great songs out of it. Most of the songs on this album were written on the Larrivée.

“It sounds silly, but it’s a very spiritual thing,” she continues. “The type of wood, the finish—all of it affects the mood of the guitar. My Larrivée is flat finished, and I prefer that. To me, those guitars sound more somber. That may sound crazy to somebody else, but to me, the look and feel of it is more subdued than something that’s shiny and bright.”

She cautions young songwriters to respect the time they dedicate to the craft. “I like to sit down, and if I’m in writing mode, I don’t like to leave something hanging, because it’s inevitably going to go away. When you’re hanging out with the muse, you need to respect that time and focus. Take it seriously—you’re being blessed by a gift at that moment. Don’t feel like you can just call it up at any time.”