Over fifteen years ago, singer/songwriter Deana Carter burst onto the country scene with her debut album Did I Shave My Legs for This, headed by the successful No. 1 hit “Strawberry Wine.” Carter now writes and produces in both Nashville and Los Angeles; recently, her song “You & Tequila” (recorded by Kenny Chesney) was nominated for CMA’s “Song of the Year.” Back with a new album, Southern Way of Life, Carter chats with American Songwriter about her songwriting heroes, meeting Bob Dylan and Levon Helm, and continuing her fathers’ legacy with her new record label, Little Nugget.
What lead to starting your own label?
When I was little, my parents had Nugget Records, an amazing studio outside of Nashville, just north of town. My dad, Fred Carter had this marble vocal room that he would baffle and put water on the floor. He would manipulate sound tangibly with stuff. I grew up watching him do it, and learning how what he was doing would come across on tape. His passion for it as a producer and a player – he was just so good in the studio. He loved it. He lived and breathed it. It was totally ’70s. There was a bar and lounge area with shag carpet and a slanted window that overlooked the cutting room, old-school style. It was a big deal as a kid to be influenced by that. They put their lives into it, they loved Nugget. So I just wanted to revive it. I just thought, “Let’s do Little Nugget.” My dad passed away three years ago and I think he would be proud. It felt like it was time as a producer and an artist to do this. The changing of the guard. I took his trademark label head – the exact same imprint, and I just put Little Nugget Records on it. Same thing.
How would you describe Southern Way of Life?
It’s special. It’s funny because it feels a lot like the first record as far as the process of it, in a way. The songs are about real stuff I’ve been through — the human condition, experience, us experiencing the same things and putting that to music. Being frank about relationships and life and stuff. It’s just coming from a way more seasoned perspective. There’s less loss in the feeling of it to me, and more about the processing of loss and still being okay through it. Just life, whether it’s marriage, divorce, kids, death, health, things that you really start dealing with as an adult, versus post-college angst.
It’s way different. It’s still a bunch of you-know-what that you have to deal with, but living through it just deepens you, and gives you more and more to write about on a deeper and deeper level. It’s an ability to kind of finesse that more gracefully, with a sense of humor. I still love to do that. A sense of humor in music is so important to me. We shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously, you know? But also really respecting the process of songwriting and understanding what a gift it is to be able to do it. To be given the right to write. That’s amazing to me.
When you say “to be given the right,” how do you mean that?
I think that God gives everyone gifts in His own timing and for His own purposes and for me to be standing in the position of being handed a bucket that contains songwriting in it – music. I got a music bucket and somebody else got an accounting bucket and somebody else got a PR bucket or a doctor bucket or a medical bucket, whatever. My bucket is music. And man, I could kick my heels up every day with gratitude for that, I’m not kidding. I’m really grateful for it.
You mentioned before that you always make room for guitar solos on your records. Now you have your own label you can do what you want, but in the past, have you had to argue for guitar solos?
It has been an issue, I have to say. My first record, I fought for “Strawberry Wine” to be on there. Because that record had been recorded before, then we came and re-recorded it and then when Jimmy Bowen left – it was a lot of record label mayhem around that, just changing stuff. The final version of Did I Shave My Legs for This? has “Strawberry Wine” on it and they wanted to take the bridge out of it. It was too “Beatles,” it was too this, it was too that. Take a safer route. I wouldn’t have it because it’s a piece of work in my opinion. So I really fought for that. Live, we play a 2.5 minute guitar solo. My live shows always are extensions of the songs with longer solos than are in them. So yes, I’ve always fought to have a significant guitar sound that is some type of a throwback to retro classic rock – I call it “makeout rock” because it’s so mellow compared to what we’ve had since the Seventies. Gotta have a guitar solo because I’m the kid of a guitar player, so I have to have a guitar solo on my songs. Have to.