Carsie Blanton is a paradoxical artist.
The brash, brilliant and hilarious singer-songwriter from New Orleans is reserved when she’s not onstage. She has a voice like Billie Holiday’s and a wit like John Prine’s, and her sound has been described as jazz, folk and pop. No artist wants to be pigeonholed, so score one for Carsie Blanton.
“I like your shirt, I like your jacket. I like to think about you when I whack it.”
“The refrain of that song was a little joke that I thought of and I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I ended up writing it into a song,” Blanton said, referring to the first single from her sixth album, “Buck Up,” released Feb. 15.
“I love being onstage and I’m a very open person in terms of I don’t mind people knowing my business, obviously. But I don’t go to parties unless I’ve been hired to play at them. I don’t get a lot of energy out of being social. When I’m home and I’m not on tour, I tend to spend all day, every day, in my writing studio. When I’m on tour, I like to play the show and then go back to the hotel and watch a movie.”
Blanton, 33, is a serious songwriter, who was just 22 when The Wood Brothers noticed her talent and took her on tour. Later, she went on the road opening for Paul Simon.
She keeps a notebook and voice recorder with her during introspective, solo songwriting journeys.
“I am a fairly introverted person and my process tends to be to walk around a city or sit quietly and think for a long period of time. Eventually, I’ll get a little snippet of melody. Usually lyrics and melody come together for me. And then I’ll write a song. Often there’s a lot of humor in my work because often what inspires me to write a song, if I think of something, it will make me laugh. That’s a good motivator to work on a song.”
“My parents were big fans of classic songwriting, people like Paul Simon, John Prine, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell — they were all being played in my house. Everyone in my family could play guitar and they could pick out a tune and share songs but I didn’t think of it as an option to be a professional musician.”
A native of Luray, Virginia (Population 4,895), Blanton attended a summer camp on the West Coast when she was 16 and never came home to the Shenandoah Valley.
“It was for teenagers who didn’t go to school. I met all these weirdos and musicians there who had a group-house, Oregon-hippie thing, and they invited me to come live with them. I was 16 and it seemed like a much better offer than to live with my parents. I saved up some money doing odd jobs and moved out there.”
[pullquote]Blanton doesn’t charge money for her music. She offers it on her website, which give people the option of paying whatever amount they desire.[/pullquote]Four years later, Blanton had a steady job as a grant writer and was content. “I had a revelation: I’m 20 now the only job I could imagine that would be more fun is to be a musician. Maybe I’ll just try it for a year and if it doesn’t work, I’ll come back and do this job. I was raising money for a nonprofit. If it does work, wouldn’t it be a dream?
“I moved to Philly. I had family and there and thought it would be a good place to tour (from). I just played every show I could get for about a year. At end of the year I had a manager and was making barely enough money to live on. (I thought), all right, I guess it’s working so I kind of cashed it in and became a lifer at that point.”
Around 2008, Blanton met Oliver and Chris Wood backstage after a show. Her friend had opened for the brothers.
“Oliver is one of the sweetest, most golden-hearted people in the world,” Blanton said. “I gave him my CD, the first one recorded at 19. And this is very unusual in the music business, he listened to it. And he liked it. They ended up taking me on tour a couple of months after that. It was my first big tour. Before that, 100 people was a big deal.”
Oliver Wood produced Blanton’s 2012 album “Idiot Heart,” and he performs on the title track of her new one, “Buck Up.”
Blanton doesn’t charge money for her music. She offers it on her website, which give people the option of paying whatever amount they desire.
She is opening for The Wood Brothers on the West Coast from Feb. 25-March 9, with a Wednesday night stop at Crystal Bay Casino on March 6. Afterward, Blanton will tour the Midwest, then the East Coast. She will play in her hometown May 5 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Blanton loves oysters, but it was more that lured her to NOLA.
“New Orleans had that spiritual tug on me for a while. I was going there every few months just to goof off and experience the city. Basically, the city won and I just had to relocate. I’ve been there six years. I just love it. It feels like the right fit for me.
“That city has a lot of depth and complexity. What attracts me to New Orleans is just the beauty of the city and just the sound environment. I love the parades. I love that there’s people on the street playing music and you can hear the steamboat and the calliope (steam pipe organ) on the boats and the trains. When I’m home, I like to walk around the city and soak it up and get inspired and then go home and write.
“At the same time, I’m glad there’s a big social scene, but I’m not a big scenester there or anywhere else.”
–– Tim Parsons