CAREY OTT: Just Getting Started

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Singer/songwriter Carey Ott grew up listening to the usual suspects: the Beatles, Nick Drake . . . TV theme songs. “Basically anything melodic,” he laughs.Singer/songwriter Carey Ott grew up listening to the usual suspects: the Beatles, Nick Drake . . . TV theme songs. “Basically anything melodic,” he laughs.

Little surprise that the 30-year-old Chicagoan’s debut album, Lucid Dream, is filled with a mix of shimmering pop, introspective musings on grown-up subjects like love. And some winding wordplay cribbed from another influence, Joni Mitchell. “I like the way she approaches songs — like they’re empty canvases, and she just puts the color with the lyrics and melody,” he says. “They don’t necessarily have to follow any particular form or structure. Whatever color she needs, she adds in there, and it takes on this fresh life of its own.  I’ve always been inspired by that process — not bogging yourself down with conventions.”

For the most part, Lucid Dream keeps its distance from the conventional. While it adheres to familiar singer/songwriter staples: verse-chorus-verse structures, sing-along melodies, and lyrics about things that matter most to people…it’s also a throwback to Beatlesque pop, made in an era when overly earnest emo kids pining for girlfriends they had two years ago qualifies as thoughtful songwriting. Lucid Dream is a relationship album, but Ott isn’t the sort to get all gooey or lament good love gone bad. Most of the songs were written two years ago, after “one of my friends told me that age 28 is a key year,” he says. “There are all kinds of different conversations [on the album]: with God, with your girlfriend, with your parents.”

“I’ve always been an active dreamer. It’s kind of cool to bring that out. It fits in with the way I write songs. A lot of lyrics and ideas come from my subconscious. I’m fascinated with the subconscious and what happens when you dream.  It’s fascinating how dreams play out in everyday life. When I sit down to write lyrics, I just let it flow. Sometimes that happens fast and clean; sometimes it’s very clumsy.”

Ott credits co-producer Ray Kennedy with keeping Lucid Dream focused. He claims to be a lousy judge of his own work. “That’s why I like to surround myself with intelligent people who can tell me when I’m being too anal or when I’m being too forgiving,” he laughs. The album took a couple of years to make. Recording started in Chicago and was completed in Nashville. Some songs were run through a hundred times; some were done once. “It just depends on the song,” he says.

The song also affects how Ott writes. Sometimes he’ll compose the music first, if that’s “the predominate factor that I’m trying to get across,” he says. Other times he’ll let the music do the talking, if it can say “as much or more than the lyrics.” “It’s kind of cool to approach every song like it’s a child or something — let it grow up and mature on its own,” he says. “If it doesn’t need your help, or poking and prodding, let it be. But if it does, you’ve really got to spend a lot of time on it.”

This sort of explains why Lucid Dream was two years in the making. “It’s been through so many stages of cleaning up and analysis,” says Ott. “It really got the treatment it deserved.” In the meantime–between the shuttling from Chicago to Nashville, the in-studio beefing up of the sound, and the nitpicking over certain verses and melodies–Ott composed a bunch of new songs. “I write a ton of them,” he laughs. “The hardest thing is to put them all together in a cohesive package.”

“I have at least another album or two,” he says. “I don’t want to sell [Lucid Dream] short, but I look at it as kind of an introduction to Carey Ott. But there’s definitely another side to me–actually, many sides to me–that need to be further explored.”

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