I sat down with Andrew Carter in the wake of the release of his self titled full length album (out now) to talk about inspiration, his journey into music and the evolution of his sound.
Love Local Nashville: How long have you been writing songs and playing music? What was your first instrument?
Andrew Carter: First instrument? Drums. My brother, Mike, was a drummer. He was probably, like six years older than I was and he had a drum set set up and I would sit down at that and just sort of bang on them. Then he taught me— took my hands and taught me— how to play the hi-hat and the snare. So, I played the hi-hat and the snare for like, two years and then one day, my foot hit the kick pedal in perfect time and I understood what a beat was and how to do it and I just fell in love with drums. So, I’ve played drums forever. I wrote my first song, I think I was eight years old. First official song.
LLN: Do you remember what it was called?
AC: No, I’m positive I have a recording, but not so positive where that recording is.
LLN: Your personal musical tastes span many genres. What brought you to your current sound?
AC: Wow, that actually goes back to—well, I’ll say this— the sound itself goes back to being a kid around eight years old and younger. I had this step-dad, Charlie and that was all he listened to, but he had a record player and he listened to it all on vinyl, so that was the first vinyl collection I saw was all country music. And I remember going through them and it was the pictures and information on them and everything that intrigued me, as well. Honestly, it was probably Conway Twitty that sunk in the most as far as a voice and somebody who was writing stories that were a little more than just the typical sadness of country music. It goes back to that, as far as what these songs sound like, but as far as really diving into country music or Americana or whatever it is, that was sort of a Nashville decision. I came up here with this pop band, Masseyvibe, which you know about, and that sort of fell apart and I met that girl Amanda Canada on the internet. She was going around on the internet from Canada asking people in Nashville to help her write country songs. I sort of thought about it, she asked me. I hadn’t written a country song, but I tried to and that’s when I wrote “Tear This Mother Down.” I was like, this is kind of cool. I can do this and I can make it kind of familiar to what I grew up with, you know, what I was listening to back then.
LLN: Who would you consider your biggest musical inspirations? Obviously, Conway Twitty is one.
AC: Yeah, that’s just vocally, you know. It’s really just his voice. His songs are pop and I appreciate that because I like pop. Influences are really like, Tom Petty, Paul Simon, even Peter Gabriel is a huge influence, The Rolling Stones. Minus Peter Gabriel, a little bit of all of those people show up in this new album, in these songs. And also, these songs are inspired actually by life and situations that were going on, which is pretty rare for me. That’s not something I’ve always written about.
LLN: Was there a moment when you decided you wanted to pursue music for a living, or did it just kind of happen to you?
AC: No, I was doing hair in Atlanta. I was actually a hairstylist in Atlanta for a long time and I pulled my old keyboard out and started just messing around. I pulled up Garage Band and recorded a little, crappy keyboard song and felt the hook of it again. I kept working in hair, because, you know, rent and things like that. Then eventually I started writing some songs, not just messing around anymore. I really started writing some songs and I just couldn’t break away from it. That’s when I decided to walk away from a pretty awesome and lucrative career doing hair in a city that loves hairstylists. I decided at that point, probably seven years ago, I think. Yeah, seven years ago.
LLN: What is your favorite record of all time and do you remember the first time you heard it?
AC: Favorite record of all time? Paul Simon- Graceland.
AC: Every single song, in my mind is a hit, for me. It’s my only album on the list of if you’re stranded on the deserted island, what album would you have. That’s it. The day it came out was the day we got it at my house. We listened to it every day and I learned every single word to that album in like two weeks. LLN: That’s awesome. That’s a great record. Okay, so your background as a musician is that you’ve done quite a few different things. What has been your favorite project, so far?
AC: This one, with The Bumbs. The album for sure, but the whole process of working with The Bumbs and bringing these people in that I didn’t necessarily have to ask to come in. This is the first time that people actually came to me and were like, “I want to be a part of this. I don’t know how, but I want to be a part of what you’re doing right now.” That and this band I used to have called The Warriors of Gunga Din. We had a lot of fun. I will say that, for sure.
LLN: Compared to previous projects, how do you think of this album in the context of other things you’ve worked on? Do you consider it different in terms of the way you were inspired and the process of making it?
AC: Yeah, for sure. Both of those things and a lot of other things. Focusing on that, this album is just 100 times, full 180 from what I’ve been doing for the last— even when I was still doing hair and not really thinking I should focus on music, but I was doing my little things. But even before that, I’ve been in a bunch of bands and I’ve been on a lot of albums and released a lot of demos and things like that. Just genre-wise alone, this is a full 180. I think that the biggest difference is that this is the first time that I’ve actually really put my real heart into writing. That’s why there are songs on this album that aren’t about me. That’s a first for me, to not write a song about me. There are couple of tracks on this album that are entirely not about me, at all. Then there’s one song on the album that is totally about me in a way that I’ve never written before, as well, so that’s a huge difference. “Ghost of Me” is a song that is actually about me and not how I’m feeling about a certain situation, but it’s just about me and where I am in life at this point in time, I guess. The other huge factor in making it all different than what I did before is how much time I put into this album. I’ve never put this much time, which I think full record on date now is a year and a half spent developing songs and writing and developing the band for this album. Definitely time spent is way different than what I did before when I was tracking on Garage Band or Pro Tools or something like that. With Masseyvibe, I was just putting stuff out. I was putting out like three songs a day (laughter). They’d be done in my head, so I was just like, “Yeah, that’s done.” But yeah, time taken is definitely different.
LLN: That’s a great segue to my next question, actually. This album, in a lot of ways, feels like a journey inward. In time time you spent making it, is there anything you learned about yourself that surprised you? AC: Yeah. There are a few things, but I’ll focus on one in particular. I definitely came to the harsh realization that I cannot do everything on my own. I’ve done that so much before. I’ve relied on myself to play every instrument and do every vocal and all of that and as far as producing music, being the final say so in everything because I’m the only one sitting in the fucking room. So, of course I have the final say in the production. But I allowed people in and I allowed their input to really influence this album— not even just this album, but how I want the live show to be and again, it comes down to people like Alex (Miller, guitar), The Bumbs and Eddie (studio engineer). That was a big deal for me, to open up and say “What do you guys think? What’s missing here. I think it should go this way, but what do you think?” Whereas before, it was just I think it should go this way and that’s the way it went. I think a lot of my stuff suffered in the past because of that. Not all of it. Sometimes, I was dead-on with my decisions, but a lot of times I wasn’t and I think that was a huge thing for me to do and probably the best decision I made for the album.
LLN: So what inspires you when you’re working on a new song? Where do your ideas come from?
AC: Weed. (laughter) Honestly, especially with this album and who knows any new songs to come after this—who knows where they’ll come from? I certainly don’t. They come from different places and I think if you sit down with any songwriter, they’ll tell you, if they really think about it and they don’t just try to ham it up, that it comes from me and I’m this super-complex person—that’s not always the case. Songs can just come from the ether. In fact, they come to me, sometimes so hard from fucking nowhere that I have to think and I have to search to make sure I’m not stealing it from someone else. I have to make sure it’s not just some song I heard when I was a kid on the radio once and it didn’t do well, but my brain held on to it. So I have to do that. I have to search sometimes, because they literally do come from nowhere sometimes. But then, there’s the ones where I’ll sit down and start playing something on guitar and I’ll hear a melody in my head and then, from that, I’ll just sort of start la-la-laing out the melody, then something in my life will hit me— something that’s been going on, or has happened or I’m thinking about that I’m wanting to happen or I don’t want to happen and that will start influencing words. I don’t always have control over that. I think the main thing I have control over with that is that in the end, editing those words to tell an actual story that makes some sense.
LLN: When you write, do you typically start with lyrics or music, or does it depend on the song? Do you find one way easier than the other?
AC: Great segue. Again, I write the music first and then I’ll hear a melody. Especially with these songs, I wrote the guitar first. My typical two-finger power chord. I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing on guitar, so I’m sort of working it out. Then, I start do-wopping out a melody and then I start thinking about stuff and the words come out and I try to put them in some sort of clever situation to spread out into a song.
LLN: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten about pursuing music for a living? What’s the best advice?
AC: Hmm… worst advice I ever got about pursuing music was from my aunt and she told me to not do it. I think if I’d done exactly that, if I had listened to her, I would have been even more depressed than I was already born to be. So, I’m happy that I keep doing it. I’m not young anymore and the fact that I’m still doing it blows the minds of a lot of people that I talk to— especially family members who definitely agree among one another that I should be not doing the right now at my age. I’ve never listened to that. I’ve never, ever listened to anyone tell me what I can and can’t do with my life and I don’t plan on starting to do that any time soon. Best advice I’ve ever gotten? That was from Billy Powell of Lynyrd Skynyrd. We were in his hot tub, at his house, smoking a joint and he handed me this joint— he called me Andy— and he said “Andy, I like you a lot. I don’t really care much for your music, but don’t ever let anybody, especially my dumb ass tell you not to do it.” So, the best advice correlates with the worst advice because they both pretty much told me the same thing. Keep going. LLN: Who are some of your favorite lyricists?
AC: Favorite lyricists? Well, see, that’s the funny thing with me because I do pay attention to words. I have this thing, I’m not a fan of highly specific lyrics, so I don’t actually listen to a lot of singer/songwriter type stuff. I really like pop style lyrics that tell you what’s going on, what the emotion is, and what the resolution is. So, lyricists, you know, I know every single word to every Led Zeppelin song. Is he (Robert Plant) a good lyricist? No, he wrote poetry and poetry isn’t song, it’s poetry, but I know it, because I listen to Led Zeppelin and I like Led Zeppelin and I like the way he wraps his words around the music. I would say, in general, songs that I truly relate to, favorite lyricist is probably Gerry Rafferty. LLN: Did you find it difficult to compile songs for the album or did you have a lot of material to choose from?
AC: Yeah, I actually trashed a couple of songs that were meant to go on this album. In the end, you make those decisions and save them for the next one or just shitcan them entirely. So, I had, I think, fourteen songs to work with, and once I got the Bumbs behind me, as a band, to do them live, that’s when I really zeroed in and decided which songs I really wanted to focus on and work on, We came down to twelve songs doing that and once we got in the studio, we dropped it down to eleven. So I have the other songs and at this point, now I have those songs that didn’t go on the album and the group of other songs I have, I have another whole album. Will they all make it? I don’t know. I’ll probably write some new stuff in between now and then, but i’m excited for the second album.
LLN: Do you feel like the stakes are higher releasing a country/Americana album in Nashville because this is Nashville? AC: Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it. As you know—well, you know this, people don’t know, but now they’ll know— I don’t really— I’m not a social butterfly. I’m quite introverted and I definitely wish that everyone could just come to my living room instead of me going out. I don’t really pay attention to the genre-norms and names around Nashville or anywhere else, for that matter. I still don’t know if I am country music or if I am Americana, or if I’m Rock and Roll or Honky Tonk. I don’t know what I am. I’ll leave that up to everyone else to decide. iTunes made me say that I was country, so on the internet, I’m country.
LLN: There’s a kind of power to that, though, because there’s freedom where you’re not trying to pigeonhole yourself into some specific sound.
AC: Absolutely, and even on the accidental, which is really is accidental, that I’m not trying to pigeonhole myself, I just don’t pay attention to that. I just wanted to put out a record of songs that I give a shit about.
LLN: You sort of mentioned this already. How long did it take you to complete this album from the inception of the idea to the release?
AC: A year and a half, for sure.
LLN: How do you know when a track is done? Do you find that less is more or do you ever find yourself having to scale back your vision for a song?
AC: I always have to scale back. In my head, I want everything to be an orchestra. I want a horn section. I want full choral background of singers. A huge church choir would be ideal in my mind. I have to scale back a lot and that comes from my days of recording pop and just putting all this stuff in. With the new album, I had to dumb it down, as it were and break it down to a more simplistic situation. And even then there are songs like “Long Road Home,” if John Williams listened to it, he’d say, “Wow, that’s a cloudy mess.” But, to me, it’s not cloudy enough. I brought that song down a lot. I only put two violin tracks on it. I wanted a dozen of them, so I definitely dial it back sometimes and I definitely dialed it back for this album and tried to just get to the root of what the songs are. That comes into recording it analog and not digital and recording to tape. We didn’t give ourselves the option to re-track and re-track-and re-take and re-take and that helps to really simplify things.
LLN: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
AC: Yeah. “Same Old Song”
LLN: When did you decide that Nashville was the place to settle down and work on music?
AC: August 9th, I will have been in Nashville for four years. I came up from Jacksonville, Florida where I had a pop band, Masseyvibe. It was me, a computer and a drummer. We came and we booked shows and played shows and he decided that he wanted to be a UFC fighter, so we parted ways to do that. I was doing Masseyvibe by myself and I was getting pretty discouraged. I wasn’t getting as much support as I would have hoped for. I was getting support, especially from this group of guys called Rap Club. They, oddly enough, a group of white rappers from Nashville, took in my pop act and really gave me a home for Masseyvibe for the rest of the time I was doing it. Then one day, it just became too depressing. It wasn’t the dream I had for it, it wasn’t the vision I had for it and I wasn’t really getting anywhere close to it. I was actually sitting Nashville, feeling like shit, sort of depressed—really depressed— probably a lot more than sort of— and it wasn’t until I moved here, to Strouse and hooked up with OJR and The Bumbs and started really deciding what the hell I was going to do here. Then the girl, Amanda Canada— she doesn’t know this— she sort of inspired me to really figure out what to do here and I really have her to thank for that unknowing push in the right direction. I just started doing it and found that I really liked doing it and I started getting more shows doing these songs. So I probably only really figured it out a year and a half ago.
LLN: What’s the most difficult part of self-promotion and what are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far getting your record out there? AC: Okay, biggest part of self promotion, for me, again, I am an introvert. I also don’t drink, so bars and me don’t mix too well. I go them and it’s okay for the time I have to be there, but I don’t really like bars. Self promotion is difficult. What I’ve found is that you can spend money. I’ve definitely spent money and it cost me a lot of money to get this album everywhere it is on the internet. I’m actually sort of figuring all of that out now. I actually don’t really know what to do with self promotion. I don’t know where to start. What I’m doing, what I think any smart person in a city with connections would do. I’m utilizing my connections. I’m talking to my friends and getting my friends to help me.
LLN: For this album, you collaborated heavily with The Bumbs. What’s it like to make music with people you consider close friends? Does it ever complicate the process of completing a song?
AC: The only time song completion is complicated is when The Bumbs and I are together, especially Merc is because we both want it to be the best song it can be. I love working with him. That’s why I had him co-produce this album. Yeah, the complications pretty much are only that we both want it to be the best song it can be and I don’t consider that a complication, I consider that a good thing. So, probably the most complicated things really, is when we’re out of weed.
LLN: What was going through your mind when you finally released this album?
AC: Whoa. A lot. Everything was going through my mind. This is my first full-length release ever in my life. I’ve been on a lot of albums and I’ve done EPs and all that, but I’ve never released a full-length. I’ve definitely never released a full-length on my own on a scale such as this. So, my thoughts were, for the first time since meeting her (gestures to his girlfriend) true elation, accomplishment. Then scared as hell, because now I have all this work to do. The hard part just started. Recording it was easy, writing it was easy. I’m just now stepping into the really hard part, so those thoughts came flooding in. What the hell do I do now, you know? Mostly, I was just really excited and really happy that it all came out the way I wanted it to. That was a first for me in any situation, on any album I’ve ever had anything to do with. This is the first time it’s come out exactly the way I wanted it to.
LLN: What advice would you give to a young musician just starting out?
AC: Be prepared. Always. Be prepared for anything. Also, ask the opinion of people who aren’t your friends. Your friends and family, even though they shouldn’t and probably don’t want to, they’re going to tell you that it’s good. They might not elaborate on it, but they’ll at least say “It’s good,” then try to walk away and skirt away from the issue. So, my advice is to ask people you don’t know to listen to your songs and don’t tell them it’s you. Honestly, there’s a lot of people out there working really hard and spending a lot of time and money on this band or their solo singing career or producing career and they’re not listening to the radio, they’re not paying attention to what people are actually buying. They’re setting themselves up to be upset and wonder why these things aren’t happening. Like, I don’t understand, ‘I put all of this time and money into this and all my friends and family think it’s great, but nobody’s buying it. I’m not getting any hits YouTube. I’m not getting any of this crap that people give a shit about these days that unfortunately you have to care about.’ If I don’t have at least 2,000 likes on my Facebook page, no label or management or promotion company is even going to talk to me about signing a deal. If I’m not putting out something people actually want to listen to, that’s definitely not going to happen. All of that going into one little scoop of a thing, think about whether or not you would actually listen to the music you’re making. If you wouldn’t and you don’t listen to your own music on your own time, just to clean the house, you’re doing something wrong with your music.
LLN: Do you have any hopes for the future of the Nashville music scene? AC: My hopes for the future of the Nashville music scene is that it doesn’t turn into this—you know we already have the issue that’s in the paper right now with Soulshine Pizza. They can’t play live shows because people are moving into the neighborhood and they don’t want music on Music Row, in Music City. So, my hope for the future is that we nip that in the bud right from the start and that music doesn’t become this secondary, even tertiary thought for the city.
LLN: What other local artists are you really into right now?
AC: Oh man, obviously The Bumbs. I still love OJR—definitely one of the few people from my circle that still love OJR—that guy is making great fucking music. He’s a great songwriter. Merc of The Bumbs and Brandon of The Bumbs, they’re amazing songwriters. Them and that’s a given. Milk People is one of my favorite local Nashville bands right now. I really dig Milk People. I love their show and their recordings. Definitely Milk People. I really, really dig the fuck out of that band. I think they’re really great at what they’re doing. Okay Dokey is pretty cool.
LLN: What’s the last show you’ve gone to where you didn’t also play? Who did you see?
AC: Molly Rocket, I think.
LLN: You mentioned the Paul Simon album, but what are three albums you couldn’t live without? AC: Minus Graceland? Pink Floyd- Obscured By Clouds, that album is an important piece of my life. Metallica- Ride the Lightning and probably Bad Brains: Banned in DC
LLN: Is there anything else you want the readers to know about the tour, the album, what you’re doing next?
AC: Yeah, we’ve got the tour coming up. We’re playing Memphis, which is going to be really cool. This will be the first time I will actually remember being in Memphis when I leave, so that’s cool. We’re playing Birmingham at this place called The Knick, which I used to go to. I think 2009 was the last time I was down there, with a band called Starfish and Coffee, which was with the former lead guitar player and writer for Collective Soul. So I’m excited to get back there again. Then, Jacksonville and Atlanta, that’s the big deal, because I’m from both Jacksonville and Atlanta, so I call myself a Jackslantian. I’m excited about those. I’ll get to see family and that’s cool, in Jacksonville, but I’m really excited to play Rain Dogs down there. It’s my friend Ian’s place and it’s a really cool little standard bar venue. In Atlanta, Smith’s Olde Bar. I haven’t been there in a really long time, probably again, 2009. Atlanta’s just where I cut my teeth in music and performing and putting on a show, so I’m excited to bring these new songs to those people and those cities.
LLN: Anything else you want the people to know?
AC: Yeah, they can buy the album on cdbaby.com, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, YouTube Music— pretty much anywhere that music is sold online. They can get it at Grimey’s and The Groove here in Nashville and they should come out to some shows. We get back to Nashville on February 14th and i’ll be booking shows in and around Nashville shortly after that, so they should come and check it out. And check out my Facebook. Apparently, they’re supposed to check out my Facebook and let me know they were there by hitting the little “like” button. That lets me know and lets other people know that they should know me.