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Interview


Carey was interviewed in December 2002 by the very cool (and fun!) Michael Zampi for the January/February edition of the Baltimore Songwriters' Association Newsletter.  The interview was shortened in the Newsletter due to space limitations, but the whole patooty is posted here just for you.

Baltimore Songwriter's Association Interview - January 2003
Interview by Michael Zampi

www.zampi-productions.com

MZ:  You've opened for David Crosby, Styx, Pat Benatar and numerous others.  Tell me about those exciting experiences.

CC:  I met Croz in person in 1998 when he played the Birchmere for the first time with CPR (Crosby, Jeff Pevar, James Raymond, Andrew Ford, and Steve DiStanislao).  We'd corresponded for about a year before that.  Croz is a very genuine human being, and I think he really has his priorities in the right places.  The members of CPR are a fun bunch of people in addition to being incredible musicians.  Their flair for music is exquisite - you should hear some of the things they come up with; it just makes my little musician's heart well up with joy.  One of my favorite things about doing that show was working with Rance Caldwell, Croz's longtime monitor tech.   He treated me like a princess and made sure I was taken care of sound-wise - he's one of the best there is, and it was such a pleasure to work with him.  (Actually, I wanted to steal him away!) 

That show was sold out, and a lot of mutual friends came in from all over the country to see us play together.  They were rooting for us 110%, and just feeling that energy made the evening an incredibly special one.  There's nothing like looking out at the audience and seeing so many familiar and friendly faces cheering you on, knowing they're really into the music you're playing, listening to every word and catching every nuance.  That's what making music is all about, in my book.  I have a boot of that show that a friend sent me, so every once in a while I can put it in the CD player and relive the whole experience.  Doing the show was like having old home week, since I'd done a concert out in Santa Barbara, CA the previous fall with Anastasia and John; John being Croz's long-time guitar tech.  Peev (Jeff Pevar) played with me at that show.  He sat in with us (my husband, Granger Helvey, was playing bass with me) at The Birchmere gig, too.  Since Anastasia & John tour with CPR, they were there as well.  So, we all got to catch up with each other again.  (A&J are both wonderful musicians, and I highly recommend listening to their music as well as CPR's.)  Anyway, as you can imagine the energy of that show was amazing. 

The Pat Benatar/Styx show was a blast, too.  I didn't get formally introduced to any of them, but I ran into members of Styx backstage doing what all major rock stars do on the road - their laundry!  (Yes, it's true, folks - the most coveted items backstage aren't the exotic food and drink, they're the washer, dryer, and showers!)  We did get to hear Pat Benatar's sound check and as always, she blew me away. What a set of pipes.

MZ:  You are getting tons of national and international radio airplay.  What is your advise on how to obtain radio play for our readers?

CC:  The key words are research and perseverance.  The first thing to do is to find all the stations you can that play your particular format of music.  Now, there's the key - "that play your format of music".  I've seen some musicians arbitrarily send out their CDs to all stations, but if you play alternative country the rock station generally isn't going to play your songs.  It's also extremely difficult (if not impossible) for an independent artist to get airplay on any of the major stations because the powers that be have very strictly formatted play lists.  In other words, if you don't have a name label behind you and you're not as famous as Britney Spears or Creed, it's probably not going to happen.  Some of the major stations do have shows dedicated to the local music scene, and you should definitely look for those.  I've found that the best bet for airplay is through college radio, local radio, the Internet, and public radio.  You can find a ton of stations on the Internet, but again, pay attention to the format of each.  It's also very important to support these radio stations.  So many have disappeared or are on the verge of disappearing due to lack of support and recent changes in law. 

MZ:  In May of 2000, you released your debut CD "The Distance Wall".  You have some great guest artists such as John Jennings (of Mary Chapin Carpenter) and one of my favorites Tom Prasada-Rao.  After listening to your CD, I feel every song has hit potential. Have you been pitching your songs to publishing houses on Music Row, Austin, L.A., or NY? Or are you going more in the vein of a recording / performing artist?

CC:  Thank you!  That's a very cool compliment.  That was such a fun project, and I'm very pleased with how well everything came together on the CD.  It's very gratifying when songs develop exactly how you wanted them to.  There's also a deep feeling of satisfaction when songs take on a life of their own during the recording process and you end up with something unique.  I feel very fortunate to have had so many talented friends who wanted to be a part of that recording.  Regarding pitching songs, I really haven't pitched anything at this point.  (I keep meaning to get around to it!)  So, I'd guess for now you could put me under the hat of recording/performing artist.  But, you never know what the future will bring!

MZ:  I'm amazed with all of your successes.  You've won numerous Wammies and Mid-Atlantic song contests.  Tell me about the award Bill Clinton presented to you.

CC:  The awards I've received are very cool, and something I appreciate a great deal.  I think it's quite an honor to have received them.  My band received recognition from President Clinton for playing in President's Park adjacent to the White House in 1995 and 1996.  Those shows were a lot of fun.  We didn't get to meet Clinton in person, though - too bad, because we were going to tell him to grab his sax and join us!


MZ:   Dirty Linen Magazine is quoted as saying "buyers of The Distance Wall CD will be able to say they knew her before she knocked Faith Hill off the charts."  That is a quote you can be proud of.  Have you made A&R or collaboration connections with the tightly knit Nashville talent?

CC:   I really haven't.  I do know people in Nashville, but have never really considered myself as a country artist (whatever that is these days).  Actually, I just consider myself a performing songwriter, and I don't try to limit myself to any particular genre.  So, I haven't really pursued the Nashville music path.  However, I do seem to be put under the contemporary folk umbrella quite a bit, which is a pretty broad category.  When you view artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, who isn't really a traditional country artist and see how much of an impact and an inroad her music has made in Nashville (as well as everywhere else), you realize that the whole country music scene isn't what it used to be.  It's evolved so much from when I was growing up, when country music meant Loretta Lynn and Porter Wagoner.  It's changed so much that I think if the Eagles came out now, they'd probably be classified as country musicians.

MZ:  You have many of the same musical influences as me.  How big of a role do they have in your rock, pop, folk and country styles?

CC:   I've been influenced by so many different kinds of music that snippets of that diversity can't help but pop up in my own.  I'd have to say that my biggest influence of all was Joni Mitchell.  I used to spend hours in the headphones listening to her and I still know all the words to most of her songs.  I did a Joni Mitchell tribute show recently, and I played Carey (which for obvious reasons I've been doing for years) and another tune, All I Want, that I hadn't really played but a few times since I was about 17.  I found that I still knew all the chords, all the words, and all the phrasing, even though I hadn't touched it in ages.  That just goes to show you that what you learn young stays with you!  At one point I stopped listening to her for about two years because I realized I was unconsciously trying to be a Joni clone.  I really didn't want that to happen; there's only one Joni.  Listening to her music and her lyrics was, and still is, an invaluable experience, though - it taught me a lot about playing outside the box musically and raised the bar for me on writing lyrics.  She cuts to the chase emotionally and the way she always finds new musical paths to express herself continues to inspire me. 

I have a wild rock and roll side to me that makes me want to dance until dawn.  I think I was born with a primal beat woven into my soul and so I've always been drawn to that kind of rhythm.  As such, I was highly influenced by rock music, especially that of Led Zepplin.  I love their music; the beautiful acoustic guitar mixing with that primal beat of the drums and segueing into the plaintive wail of electric guitar.  On occasion you can still hear me perform Zepplin's Going to California - which, interestingly enough, is about Joni Mitchell.  Some of my other major influences include Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, The Doobie Brothers, CSN&Y, and the Andrews Sisters.  Other artists that I listened to quite a lot were Jimmie Spheeris and Carole King. 

At home, I was brought up on big band, bluegrass, and country music.  When I was growing up, my Dad would bring out his guitar and we (my parents and my two sisters and I) would spend hours singing old tunes like Keep On The Sunny Side and Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  My grandmother was a Carter, so we sang a lot of the Carter Family stuff.  My mother is an incredible piano player, and she would break out this sheet music that looked like it had ink spilled on it, the notes were so clustered together.  I wanted to unlock the secrets of those inkblot notes and play them myself.  Eventually I did learn to do that and to this day I only play the piano by sight-reading music.  I remember one of the first songs I learned on piano was the bass part to Cow Cow Boogie by The Andrews Sisters - I must have been about five or so.  I drove my parents nuts by constantly banging around on the piano and Dad's guitar. 

I started listening to Bonnie Raitt in about 1970 or 71, and one of the things I noticed and liked about her music was that she had different kinds of songs on one album.  It made me realize that I could do the same - play a ballad, some blues, a little rock, a countryish folk tune.  She refused to be boxed in by anyone, and thanks to her I think I've had that same attitude throughout my career and in my writing.  I think she made a statement, whether it was a conscious one or not, in her choice of material.  I think Eva Cassidy had the same philosophy - she did songs that touched her on some level.  I love seeing musicians who remain true to their hearts and who refuse to be boxed in, because so many people do try to pigeonhole you in one form or another.  The powers that be in the music business always seem to want to put you in some specific category so that you're all wrapped up in a nice and tidy bow when it comes to marketing, and they've overlooked so many wonderful songs and musicians by sticking to that philosophy that it's truly a shame.

MZ:   How long have you been playing guitar, writing, performing and singing?

CC:   I've been singing since I was born, according to my mother.  She said I used to sing for hours in my crib.  I've wanted to be involved in music ever since I can remember.  I've always had that hunger to create and to perform.  When I was four, I used to sneak and open up my Dad's guitar case when he wasn't looking - I'd strum the strings back and forth, loving the sounds they made.  He had an old 1942 Gibson, and that was what I ultimately learned to play on.  I begged him for years to teach me how to play, but he said my hands were too small and had to grow.  At 15, I went to him and said, "Dad, they're NOT going to get any bigger!"  He relented and taught me two songs, Wildwood Flower and Malaguena.  I had two 'real' lessons after that, and that was it for my formal training on guitar.  I did take a year of piano lessons and still consider that my main instrument, even though I haven't had a working piano in a very long time.  I also took lessons on the flute at the DYA (the Dependent Youth Association) at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, where my dad was stationed as an Air Force fighter pilot.  I ended up playing flute in the Mays Junior High School marching band, where I marched in the Junior Orange Bowl parade (which was my first television appearance, although I have to say that it wasn't very flattering since I had to step over the cameraman lying in the middle of the street).  The band also did a couple of command performances for President Nixon on the base's flight line.  I went on to play flute in marching band throughout high school.  One person I cannot thank enough for his musical influence on me is my Junior High School bandleader, Arthur Berman.  He was the one who had given me flute lessons at the DYA.   When I started school, he convinced me to join the band and that was it for me - I was totally addicted to music.   His dedication really made a huge impression on me, and I've never forgotten him or his influence.  I don't know whatever happened to him, but on the off chance he ever reads this, thank you, Mr. Berman!  The fact that music and arts is in such a precarious position in schools is appalling; I know what my opportunities were and it sickens me to not see them readily available to children now.  My own kids are steeped in music so I'm not worried about their artistic upbringing; but think of all the kids out there who crave the arts and are denied that opportunity.  I always volunteer to play at my kids' schools because of that.  One fact about being a performing musician is that somewhere along the way, you will inevitably touch some young kid out there who realizes that one day they can do what you're doing.  That's a very, very cool thing, and a big responsibility.

As to how long I've been writing, I started off by writing mock newspapers as a child.  I wrote them in longhand and (of course) drew the accompanying pictures.  I started formally playing around with words by writing poetry when I was about 12 years old.  I wrote my first song at 15, after those two guitar lessons.  For quite a while there I would write like a maniac, filling page after page of my wire-bound notebooks.  Some evolved into songs, and some just simply stayed woven onto the page.  I still have this big thick book of my writings from that period of time.  One particularly fruitful year for me musically was 1984, when Viqui Dill (www.thedillpickers.com) and I were housemates and performed as a duo called Endless Legs (we're both tall women).  She's a very gifted songwriter with a great ear for harmonies, and we spent much of that year writing songs, both alone and together.  The muse just moved into the house with us and we took full advantage of it!

I think the point where I realized that I had something to offer musically was when I won a prize for playing the piano at summer camp.  That was very exciting for me.  I was also in the church choir in Homestead, which was incredible fun.  We were all young hippie teenagers, and put on shows like Jesus Christ Superstar.  The girls got to wear these vivid purple long dresses with bright paisley bands around the waist.  We were a rockin' choir, that's for sure!   My first "official" public performance was at a bar called The Beer Gardens in Fort Walton Beach, Florida in 1976 or '77.  It was a biker bar and I worked there as a bartender and a waitress, and would get up on stage to sing on my breaks.  The regular performer there was a guy named Mike Donaldson, who always encouraged me to get up there and go for it.  I ended up playing my first gigs there.  Of course, I had to get used to ducking onstage with my guitar - what with the bar being full of inebriated bikers, it was inevitable that fights would break out from time to time.  It was definitely a trial-by-fire, starting my performing career there.  I can honestly say that not much fazes me now when I'm on stage, though!

MZ:   Your lyrics are fresh and catch my attention.  What inspires you to write?

CC:   Thank you!  I'm not sure what actually inspires me to write songs - I think just my own life experience or the experiences of those around me.  There's always a lot of my own life or my perceptions of someone else's life, floating around in the theme.  Some of them are true stories, start to finish. Some are based on my own life mixed with someone else's life.  You never know!  I remember one song I wrote after I'd broken up with a boyfriend.  I played it for him, and he visibly winced throughout the song.  Afterwards, he told me that I sure didn't pull any punches when it came to songwriting, and he's right.  I'm a very passionate person, and my songs tend to be deeply emotional.  If I've written a song about a particular person, the odds are they'll know it's about them.

MZ:   Do you start with lyrics and melody first and then structure, chord changes and groove? Or is the creative process different each time?

CC:   I've found that I actually don't write like most people.  Some friends and I put together a songwriting group, and it was there that I discovered this.  A couple of them were saying, "Well, I wrote this verse, and then rewrote that one, and then went back a week later and revised this one, and after a month or so I wrote another one to go with the first one."  My initial reaction was, "Oh, no, I'm not a REAL writer!"  So, I learned that the way I write is apparently rather unorthodox.  For instance, I don't pick themes to write about, they just form as I'm writing.  When I write a song, it all comes out at once - I hear all the music in my head as I'm writing the lyrics, which generally come to me in anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or so.  I can hear the backing vocals, the guitar progression; I can hear the backup vocalists and Tower of Power doing horn parts - it's all there.  My toughest task as a songwriter is to translate everything I'm hearing in my head to the real world to come up with the final product.  Sometimes I'll get stuck in the translation, and I'll call in Granger to help me finish the process.  He's got an amazing ear, and he has some great musical ideas.  It may be something as simple as reversing the chord structure in one passage to give a song a new spin, or it may be changing the entire rhythm pattern of the song - you never know what delicious little touch he's going to come up with.  His arrangements add so much to the finished product.  For instance, before we started working together, I had no idea that the bass line could make such a difference to a song.  We're also both total harmony piggies, but he's the harmony master in the family.  He has the true knack for it - he'll look off into space and come up with the coolest harmonies for the vocals. 

Pretty much it's the same process every time I write a song.  I'll be doing something, and a song will hit me out of the blue.  For instance, my tune Thin Line was written in about 15 minutes, complete with the high backing oohs in the chorus.  I'd been dusting my living room, and mid-dust the song hit me and I raced for the computer to write it down.  The same thing happened with Blacktop - I was driving home at about 1:00 a.m., listening to John Jennings' CD, Buddy.  Somewhere in one of his songs, he sang the word 'blacktop', and I pulled off the side of the road and wrote my song down on a napkin and added the guitar part the next day.  Just that one little word opened the gates for me and the song came spilling out.  I called him and told him he'd inspired me to write the song, and would he please come play on it?  So he did, and having him on it really makes the song come full circle for me. 

One of my favorite tunes came to me in an incredible fashion.  The father of my daughter's best friend had died suddenly, and I was over at their house helping to get things ready for the funeral.  I had to get home since my kids were coming in from school, and between the time I got home and they got home (about 10-15 minutes) I wrote a song for the best friend and her two sisters to try to comfort them.  To this day I'm convinced the song came through me from a higher power just for them.  After I wrote it I cried like a baby, it was such a touching song.  I later played it for the family, and they asked Granger and me to perform it at the funeral, which we did.  I'll be recording it for the next CD.

MZ:   Do you currently have a business manager?  If yes, when did you know you needed one?  If not, at what stage do you think you would hire one?

CC:   I don't have a business manager at this point.  I handle everything - the bookings, the publicity, the website - you name it and I've got a hat for it.  Unfortunately, my creative side suffers from it and I find that I don't have as much time to write any more.  So that's when you know you need one!  I'm currently seeking help with the business side of things to allow me to concentrate on what I love to do the most, which is to write and perform.

MZ:   What exciting projects and tours are coming up in 2003 that you'd like to share?

CC:   I've got another CD in the works, and I'm really looking forward to that.  I'll be doing some covers this time around, by people like Jennifer Stills and CPR.  I've been asked by many people to record my version of Angel From Montgomery by John Prine, so that's also on the agenda.  The rest of the CD will probably be my own songs, although I'm also entertaining the idea of one more cover.  I'm in the process of setting up a summer tour to promote the new CD that includes dates in Texas and West Virginia, with shows in other states to be announced. 

MZ:   A question most readers are probably wondering - any relation to Shawn Colvin?

CC:   You wouldn't believe how many times I get asked that question!  I've never met her, but I've corresponded with her father regarding the Colvin family tree, and we believe there may be a connection somewhere.  (He calls me his Honorary Daughter.)  Shawn and I have mutual friends who think we resemble each other physically in many ways; however, I can honestly say that I never saw her at the family reunions!  (Interesting factoid:  Our mothers have the same name.) 

MZ:   What do you want to accomplish in your life in the next five years?

CC:   Lots of creativity.  I miss immersing myself in the creative side of music, and I intend to pay more attention to that.  I'll continue to perform in the area, but will definitely pursue more opportunities outside the Baltimore/Washington corridor.  There are songs I have in mind to write, and I want to recommit myself to the piano.  I may even pick up the dulcimer again.  One of my goals is to learn to write in a more orthodox fashion, just so that I know I can.  Besides, it's easier to break the rules when you know what they are!  I may not employ that method of writing as the norm, but it's a challenge for me and it's one that I look forward to taking on.

MZ:   I think you've had many wonderful successes in your career and you've inspired me to continue to write and produce on a daily basis.  Thank you for sharing your insights and ideas with us.  We look very forward to hearing more about your advancing career.

CC:   Thank you for allowing me to share some of my life with you.  I think we all continue in so many ways to inspire each other - there are so many talented people out there, and sharing with each other can only encourage growth in our own writing and in our lives.  And that, my friends, is a very cool place to be.

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