Carsie Blanton is fighting fascism—and white supremacy, and the patriarchy—with big hooks and an even bigger heart.
The Philadelphia-via-New Orleans indie rocker is currently gearing up to release a new album called Love & Rage, which was jointly inspired by multiple strands of revolutionary activism and multiple eras of pop anthems. On March 4 she shared the record’s rousing second single, “Shit List,” and it’s a fired-up, anti-fascist rallying cry.
You want a medal just for being a white boy / that ain’t the way we do it no more, Blanton cries in track, which is featured below with an accompanying video. You got away with this shit before / that ain’t the way we gonna do it no more.
Blanton started writing the opening verse in 2017 in response to the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, then finished the song in 2019. So you want a white nation?, she growls in the bridge, Mass deportation? / Keep the white men rich and / keep the women in the kitchen?
HA! / That ain’t the way we do it no more.
In addition to Blanton’s longtime bandmates Joe Plowman on bass and Patrick Firth on keys, the track also features The Attractions’ Pete Thomas on drums. He’s one of several high profile guests that appear on Love & Rage, which follows 2019’s Buck Up and 2016’s So Ferocious.
“Once we had [gotten Thomas to contribute to ‘Shit List’], we kept taking wild shots,” Blanton recently told American Songwriter over the phone. “There’s another great drummer, Jay Bellerose, who plays on the song ‘So Long New Orleans.’ And Smokey Hormel, who’s played with Tom Waits and Beck and stuff, he played on the song ‘Be Good,’ so there’s a lot of real heavy hitters. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to try and hire them before—it was sort of a pandemic special.”
Blanton spoke to American Songwriter about collaborating with producer Tyler Chester, drawing inspiration from Che Guevara, and writing her most anthemic songs to date. She also discussed her pandemic livestream series and an epic, COVID-safe road trip from Philly to Los Angeles. Check out the full interview and watch the “Shit List” video below.
AS: So you’re not in New Orleans anymore?
CB: No, I moved in the pandemic, as I guess a lot of people have. It was just a different set of forces working on my life all the sudden. My band is up here and my family is up here. Since we weren’t touring I was just like, “We can’t just be this far apart for this whole pandemic.”
AS: I’m glad to be speaking to you around “Shit List,” since this is one of my favorite tracks on your new album. Do you remember when you first conceived of it or how it first started to come together?
CB: I started writing it around the time of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally [in 2017]. I grew up in a town in Virginia that’s like an hour from Charlottesville, so I remember hearing that there was a right-wing, neo-Nazi rally happening Charlottesville and it felt really close to home. So I started writing the opening line, “You come in at the top of my shit list / even though you look a little punk rock,” and I had that jotted down in my lyric book for a long time, and then I finished it in summer 2019. I am someone who is very concerned about the rise of fascism in the U.S. and I feel like it’s part of the job of artists to give people a rallying cry against it.
AS: You’re sort of a master of giving this fed-up, fired-up message a playful charge.
CB: Thank you, that’s so nice.
AS: Is that charge something you’re aware of when you’re putting these songs together, or does it come through when you start to perform them?
CB: I would say what I’m aware of in songwriting is that if you’re trying to fit a message into a song, it had better be a really catchy, exciting, fun song, because otherwise the message will not be heard. So I think I’m a songwriter first, and most of the songwriting I admire is what I would call American popular songs. So most of my favorite songwriters will just try to write a hit. That’s true in the ‘30s and ‘40s and in the Motown era. So that’s the writing I really admire. And I think in trying to get political messages into songs, I try to make the hook the thing that drives everything else. So it has to have the right energy, it has to have a catchy melody, or nobody cares to listen to the message.
AS: When did the other songs on Love & Rage start to take shape?
CB: I had a writing retreat in summer 2019 and I wrote half the album on that, and then I wrote the other half during the pandemic. So the song “Party at the End of the World,” I wrote before the pandemic hit, and then it just felt more and more relevant as the world continued to fall apart in all kinds of interesting, chaotic ways.
I feel like the theme I had started out with before the pandemic hit—and then it felt like the pandemic really intensified the theme—would be being up against a feeling of impending doom and hopelessness, and having to carry this sense of hope and a willingness to fight into that feeling. It’s this seeming paradox of, like, we feel like things are impossible and the world is ending, and we have to summon the energy to try and save the world anyway.
AS: That probably explains the title, Love & Rage, as well?
CB: Yeah. There’s a line in the song “Down in the Streets,” which is about protesting. That one I wrote during the summer protests of 2020. There’s an idea that’s in that song that I sort of wanted to borrow to title the album, which is that I think we tend to stigmatize anger and rage. We think, “We have to learn to get over this.” But in a political moment like this I think we actually need to use the power of that rage. We need the rage, and we also need love. And I think when they’re combined, they’re a lot more powerful than either of them is on their own.
AS: I think for so many people the rage is the more accessible of the two. What are some of the ways that you seek to summon the love?
CB: Well, there’s a quote from Che Guevara, who’s one of my heroes, where he says, “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love,” and I really relate to that and I love that he said it. I think we tend to want to think of love as either romantic love—sort of Disney Princess love—or as this hippy, harmless, sit-around-and-meditate thing. Che Guevara was not either of those. He was not non-violent, and he spent his life trying to create political revolutions in various countries. I love that he said that that was driven by a love for the people, as he would have described it. So in other words, I’m really interested in the kind of love that is about loving humanity and wanting people to have good lives.
AS: From a more technical standpoint, did working with the other players on the record somehow look or feel different because of the pandemic?
CB: I have two bandmates—Joe Plowman who plays bass, and Patrick Firth who plays keys—who have been with me a long time. Joe’s been with me for 11 years, and Pat for six years. So we stuck together at the start of the pandemic and worked on the album [in] our makeshift studio in Philly. Like a lot of people, I got ProTools right at the start of the pandemic so we could get some recording done.
Our producer Tyler Chester is in LA, so for four or five months we were working on the record remotely. We would record something, send it to Tyler, [and] he would send it off to somebody else. We tried to make the whole thing remotely and then after a few months of that—we didn’t give up, ‘cause we ended up using a lot of that—but we realized that we weren’t gonna be able to pull off the kind of project we wanted to do without getting together in real life. So the band and I drove across the country and stopped at campsites, so we were totally COVID-safe. We drove all the way to LA from Philly to finish the record.
AS: That’s amazing. With gear in tow?
CB: Some gear, but not a lot because Tyler has a really sweet studio with pretty much everything that we needed. Tyler had already had Covid, so it was sort of lucky because we could join our pods together. So we went to Tyler’s studio and worked with him, and he brought in a drummer—the drummer from the band Dawes. His name is Griffin Goldsmith. We were able to track live for about a week.
AS: When was that mid-pandemic road trip?
CB: That was in September. It was pretty epic. And it was great, too, because we’ve all been traveling for our entire adult lives. I’ve been traveling and touring since I was 16, and we couldn’t stand taking that much time off the road, so it was kind of nice to fit a road trip in there.
AS: When you listen to the final product, how does it compare to your previous records?
CB: I’ll tell you a couple things I’m really proud of with this record. I’ve always worked with great musicians, but I had the opportunity to work with some living legends with this record, and that was basically due to the fact that nobody’s touring. So we took some wild shots with trying to get certain players to play on it, and pretty much everybody we asked said yes because they’re all at home.
So for “Shit List,” the drummer is Pete Thomas from the band The Attractions. I had said to Tyler, “I kind of want this to be like an early Elvis Costello song, like a pop-punk kind of thing,” and then he was like, “Maybe we should try and get that drummer?” So we did! I found his number and called him and he was like, “Oh sure, I’m not doing anything.”
Then, once we had done that, we kept taking wild shots. There’s another great drummer, Jay Bellerose, who plays on the song “So Long New Orleans.” And Smokey Hormel, who’s played with Tom Waits and Beck and stuff, he played on the song “Be Good,” so there’s a lot of real heavy hitters. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to try and hire them before—it was sort of a pandemic special.
The other thing is, I mentioned before that I’m really inspired by pop songwriting. Joe and I had done a project earlier in 2019 where we listened exclusively to what we were calling “pop anthems.” So we were really focused on “How can we write and record anthemic music?” And I feel like I got closer to that with this album than with my previous albums, so I’m happy about that.
AS: What were some of the pop anthems that you turned to most?
CB: Oh man, we have like a four-hour-long playlist, but “Free Fallin’” is a really good pop anthem. “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5. Basically any song that when the opening chord comes on, everybody in the room is like, “Yeah!” So that was really my goal, to write songs like that. I think every songwriter is trying to get there, but I feel like with this record I was a lot more focused with, like, “Is it anthemic? If it’s not anthemic, it’s not going on the record.”
AS: When was the last time you were able to do an in-person performance?
CB: March 1, 2020! We had been on the road a lot the last couple years. I started touring when I was 16, so it’s been really interesting to have this much time off the road. But we have been doing livestreams. We’re actually doing a monthly stream that we call the Rent Party, so since March we’ve been able to pay the band’s rent every month with our online rent party. We’re just gonna keep that rolling until there are gigs again.
AS: Is there anything else you’re looking forward to right now?
CB: I feel like everyone’s gonna say the same thing, but I’m just really looking forward to playing shows again. I think I was worn out because I have toured a lot and have done so many years of playing whatever gig I could get. So I think I was exhausted. And when the pandemic first hit, I was like, “Oh this will be cool, I’ll get a break from the road.” But the break has been long enough that I’ve realized that I really like my job!
AS: What makes a good live set for you?
CB: The thing I miss the most is being in a room full of strangers and feeling like there’s a lot of love in the room and everybody’s being sweet to each other. And, like, being in a weird place but then you play a show so people come up to you like, “Oh, would you like to have dinner at my house?” or “Come down the bakery and we’ll give you a loaf of bread.” It’s just really lovely. It’s a lovely way to see the world.
Love & Rage is out April 30. You can follow Carsie Blanton here.