It was back in 2018 that Vanessa Marie Carter‘s debut single “Bless My Heart” began climbing Canadian country music charts. After years spent as half of country duo Autumn Hill, the song was Carter’s first foray into solo country rock. The track, a bonafide troublemaker’s anthem with lyrics like “Daddy had money saved for my bail/and Momma prayed ‘keep my baby out of hell’/I’ve got a bad habit of misbehaving/don’t wanna sleep in the county jail,” gained Carter quite the following in both her home country of Canada and the United States.
But now, taking a page out of the playbooks of powerhouses like Taylor Swift and Maren Morris, Carter is trading in the country rock twang for a new country pop sound on her latest single, “Broke Your Own.”
Subtle banjo riffs and synth build behind Carter’s clean vocals in a song about a boy who, according to Carter, broke his own heart. The song has, both lyrically and sonically, come a long way from the music Carter sang at Toronto’s Boots and Hearts Festival in 2016 where she ended up scoring a record deal with Universal Canada — but that’s kind of the point.
We got to chat with Carter about the journey behind her new sound, her plans post-COVID, and life in Nashville. And here’s what she had to say.
Celeb Secrets: Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration and songwriting process for your new song “Broke Your Own?”
Vanessa Marie Carter: “This one is a little different for me. It’s definitely a little poppier than anything I’ve released before. I think for a long time I tried to fight that. I wrote it with two of my really good friends, one of my best girlfriends who’s an artist as well. I just came from a really honest place. We were sort of complaining about this guy coming back around, and we just started to write about it. And I think with the pop thing, I grew up in country music. I’ve got a lot of country players in my family. But I grew up a dancer, and pop was always a huge part of my life as well. So this is going to be the first release where I’m really melding the two together, which is pretty exciting.
But the process for writing this was a really quick shot. It was literally like a two-and-half hour write. We built the track as we went. It was fun and it was light and it was honest, and again, I was writing it with one of my best girlfriends who already knew the whole story, and knew my frustrations, and the guy, and so it just kind of organically came out in a fun way.”
CS: Is your music headed for more of a pop sound in general?
VMC: “Yeah, I think so. I never want to get so far away from the country roots that I’ve planted, where I’m so far over the line that I can’t go back. But I think that one of the cool things that we’ve seen in country in the last couple of years with people like Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, Thomas Rhett and Morgan Wallen, people are doing a lot of crossover stuff with DJs and with some real pop sounds and real hip hop sounds, which is so great because I think it’s really opening the door for us to not be afraid to try to bring in other genres and bring in other elements to make our stuff feel more us. My thing all along is, I didn’t grow up in the dirty south, and I’ve never wanted to pretend that I did with my sound. And finally I’m at a place now where I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna sing exactly what I want to sing.’ And I hope that people like it.”
CS: You got your start as part of the country duo Autumn Hill. How has writing and performing as a solo artist compared to that? Is it like a whole new world or is it a familiar place to you?
VMC: “That was really the first dive into the country scene that I had, and it was a total learning experience for me. I think the biggest takeaway from that experience was the writing aspect, because that was my first delve into cowriting, which is now my favorite way to create music. I learned a lot from that, but the solo world is always where I wanted to be, so getting into doing my own stuff is a place where I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. Not to say that I wouldn’t want to do a duet with somebody down the line, but I think [being a] solo artist is always where I wanted to be. So I’m gonna continue with that.”
CS: Speaking of duets, who is your dream duet partner?
VMC: “Oh gosh, there’s so many! I mean, I’m Canadian, and Shania Twain is Canadian, and she was sort of like God to us up there growing up. That would be definitely somebody that would be a dream duet partner. In terms of guys in country music, I love Eric Church. He’s always been up there for me.”
CS: You live in Nashville now. How do you feel like that move has shaped your sound as opposed to living in Canada?
VMC: “I’ve been here now on and off for about six years, and it’s such an amazing space in terms of there’s so many people doing the same thing. And that can either be a really intimidating thing, or it can be a really inspiring thing depending on the day you’re having. The best way I’ve explained it to family over the years is that the market in Canada is so much smaller, so I just found that when I was having down time and I didn’t have anything scheduled, I was feeling unproductive. In Nashville, there’s just this energy because a lot of people are in music and everybody’s a creative. So when you’re out, even if you’re just like, ‘I’m gonna go grab a coffee with a friend,’ you might run into somebody you end up working with down the road. It’s a constant networking vibe in Nashville. And I think because Nashville is such a transplant city, people are just super eager to make friends and work together and collaborate, and that’s a really, really cool thing about it too.”
CS: Are you working on new music right now while there’s not much else to do?
VMC: “Yeah, I’ve been writing a lot, I’ve been creating a lot, and I’m super excited. I think every artist feels a little different about it, but at the beginning, we were all really trying to do the Zoom thing, just because I think a lot of us were feeling unproductive with all of the live [music] being wiped out. So I did that at the beginning, and then I went through a lull where I was like, ‘I kind of hate staring at people through a screen all the time trying to make these connections.’
But I remember my producer saying to me, ‘There’s gonna be people who, during this pandemic, don’t do much, and then there’s gonna be people who do so much. And when the gates open again, there’s gonna be a real difference in like, who worked and who didn’t.’ And I was like, that’s pretty true. So I think this is one of the times that I’ve been the most excited to be creating and releasing music. This makes me so excited for us to be able to play live again, whenever that happens!”
CS: What do you have planned for when COVID is over? A tour? An EP?
VMC: “I don’t know about a tour right off the bat, but definitely an EP, maybe four or five songs to follow up ‘Broke Your Own.’ And then depending on when this all happens, summer season in country music is the biggest — you know, festivals and all that. I still love going back to Canada and playing festivals there. So my focus would be as much live play as humanly possible because I miss it so much. I played a socially distanced round just a couple weeks ago in Nashville. I felt like I was just brushing the dust off, but it felt so amazing. There were like ten people in the room. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m singing in front of a real person. This is so great!’ I think just as much live play as possible. I don’t have anything tour-wise worked out yet, but definitely as soon as we’re able to start thinking that way, that’s where my brain’s going.”
CS: What has been the most amazing, unbelievable, “pinch-me” moment of your career so far?
VMC: “There’s a festival up in Canada called Boots and Hearts, and it’s one of our biggest festivals. It’s kind of like a smaller Stagecoach vibe. Boots and Hearts does this thing called the Emerging Artists Showcase every year, and it’s this country-wide contest, and there’s a winner and a potential record deal and it’s this whole thing. I entered it, and I ended up winning that year. It’s just one of those total pinch-me moments where you kind of black out almost. You get off stage and you’re like, ‘Did I seriously just see that many heads and faces in a crowd?’ And that’s a super cool feeling. Those are the moments that definitely keep you going through the times that aren’t as great.
And my dad managed my career in Canada for years, and every disappointment I felt, my family felt and my friends felt. And every good moment my friends and my family felt. So winning that and getting to tell my parents that I was signing with Universal, I think was probably one of the highlights of my career because it was just such a celebration for them too. It’s like, something finally worked! Something really great happened!”
CS: Any last thoughts?
VMC: “I’m just super excited! I’m excited for people to hear a new sound. There’s always a little bit of nerves, but it’s more like excitement nerves.”
With reporting by Hillary Maglin