Vanessa Carlton Talks "Rabbits on the Run", Muppets, and More
Tue, 26 Jul 2011 10:32:28
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Vanessa Carlton wasn't afraid to get a little psychedelic on her new album, Rabbits on the Run.
Carlton nods to a '60s aesthetic via the most vibrant and vital vocal performance of her career thus far. That's exactly why it's so intriguing, invigorating, and infectious. The music flutters through a myriad of emotions, and Carlton paints a sonic portrait that's as evolved as it is entrancing. There are strands of literary influence lying just underneath the surface, and Carlton does something few artists do anymore—she makes the audience think.
Vanessa Carlton sat down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about Rabbits on the Run, her visual influences, and bringing everything back to The Muppets.
Did you have one vision for Rabbits on the Run as a whole or did it come together track by track in the studio?
Let's put it this way. The skeleton of the record was so strong and healthy, and that led to all of us feeling we could really stretch down rabbit holes. I hope that's apparent when people hear it. We also limited ourselves when it came to our tools because of the analog approach. We didn't have infinite takes, options, etc. That led to a more cohesive body of work which is extremely important to all of us involved.
What went into building that skeleton?
Complete obsession and existential crisis [Laughs]. It was almost like the focus on building this record pulled me out of a very difficult time. Once I really saw this project clearly coming together, I took a lot of time demoing these songs, putting them together, and sending them through the ether to Steve Osborne at Real World Studios via Internet for a good eight months before I even went into the studio. I just sent demos back and forth trying to figure this puzzle out. It was like a remedy to many things in my life.
Is it important for the music to be as visual as it is auditory?
Good question! Certain songs are my favorites because of the visuals that pop into my brain when I listened to them. We all have our own versions and takes on other people's lyrics. There's thematic feeling to it. Visuals are extremely important to good storytelling and songwriting. I spent a lot of time trying to improve my storytelling skills. I think it's all in the details. Details are everything. They're like little on and off switches. The big sweeping overarching ideas are important, and then it's all about the nuances of a moment. To me, that's when a song cuts through. I tried to share that kind of stuff in my writing, which I don't think I used to do. I did it sometimes. I really just wanted to get better and evolve the process. Just because you know how to write a song, it doesn't mean you write the same song over and over again. I didn't want to do that.
What fosters that visual sensibility for you? Do you read a lot or watch many movies?
Absolutely! I owe a lot of my evolution to basically sitting, listening, watching, and reading for about three years straight. On my end, I wasn't really coming up with anything. I was just observing. I really connected to authors, musicians, and other artists that I admire and study their process asking, "Why do I connect to this?"
Which authors did you connect to?
I go a bit old school, like the '40s to '60s. I went back to a lot of Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I listened to a lot of Bob Marley. I was also going back to Aldous Huxley as well. Then, in terms of a new author and philosopher, I was reading Rebecca Solnit. The overarching story that completely penetrated me and the process of writing on this record was Richard Adams's book, Watership Down. I reconnected to that. The book that was the catalyst for me in terms of calming me down and bring a lot of peace was Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which my brother had to re-read at school. I got a copy so I could participate in his ping pong debates about it.
What's the story behind "In the End"?
That's such a cyclical song. It's hypnotic, and it's a bit of a never-ending rabbit hole. There's really no end to it; it just disintegrates. The sonic message reflects the philosophical message as well. It's a little prayer that I wrote for my brother who lost someone extremely close to him. She was a mother figure in his life. I just imagine her in this field turning into diamonds. I thought it was so beautiful that I thought the idea would comfort him. It's not just for my brother though; it's for everyone.
If Rabbits on the Run were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
I wish that it would be some sort of combination between Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Dark Crystal. Maybe in the past, the records were part Muppet and part CGI. This record is 100 percent to the bone Muppet land [Laughs]. People will have different interpretations of what that means. It's old school. It's a real puppet rather than a digital one.
There's an organic element to the sound so that fits.
Have you heard Rabbits on the Run yet?