Talking Tequila with Deana Carter
The daughter of Fred Carter Jr., a guitarist who spent nearly two decades as the Nashville session player, Deana had an insider’s view to the country music industry like few others. But after securing and signing her first record deal with Capitol Records, there was no other artist bigger. Did I Shave My Legs for This? sold 5 million copies and “Strawberry Wine,” her first single, was a Number One smash and won the CMA Single of the Year in 1997. Two more singles from the album topped the charts.
None of her next five studio albums would capture that same lightning in a bottle, but she’s nevertheless remained one of country music’s favorite darlings. At a multi-artist concert event this May in Sacramento, nearly the entire line-up of performers came out and stood stage-side to watch her perform. Nearly 15 years after its release, the crowd sang back every single word of “Strawberry Wine” in unison.
But now, nearly five years after her last album release, Carter has fallen in love with her new roles. The first one is mother. She’s thankful that she’s at a place where she can focus the majority of her time and attention on her pride and joy. She’s also found herself on the other side of the studio glass. She’s having a blast producing a brand new album from a promising new Oklahoman artist named Audra Mae. And lastly, she’s relishing the role of songwriter. Her song “You and Tequila,” penned with pal Matraca Berg, is up for several awards at this week’s CMA Awards.
That’s where we catch up with the lovely Deana Carter. We talked to her just a little while back as she was preparing to attend the awards show—as well as getting ready to go back into the studio for a brand new album.
Ken Morton, Jr.: Congratulations are in order for “You and Tequila” that Kenny Chesney has scored big with. It’s up soon for a CMA Award.
Deana Carter: Yeah, he’s up for three with that song. I’m super excited.
KMJ: What does being up on that big stage mean at this point in your career?
DC: You know what? It is so full circle because it’s a song I wrote with Matraca (Berg) and I had my first two number ones with her for “Strawberry Wine” and “We Danced Anyway.” It’s so awesome to have another go-around with her. It’s such a cool thing. It’s really special for us in that way. And to have Kenny sing it is a thrill. He’s so kind. I met Kenny in Nashville. He was like a valet guy and I was a waitress and we were both trying to make it. It was probably 1991 or 1992. It was a long time ago. That was twenty years ago. So it’s really cool. It’s really a blessing. I prayed to God for it and it just came out of the blue like it has. It’s all perfect timing.
KMJ: Are you planning on attending the show? Have you gone dress shopping yet?
DC: I haven’t gone dress shopping because I have to go elliptical training shopping first. (laughter) I need to go treadmill shopping before I go dress shopping…I think I just need to go with the flow. I want to look fab. I just need to chill out and go get my hair done and get a cute dress and not worry about it.
KMJ: You mentioned Matraca. Have relationships like that one changed either in scope or importance as you’ve gotten further along in your career?
DC: They definitely deepen with time and experience and age. You have a greater appreciation of life in general—both with successes and failures. There’s a lot of growth and a lot of life has been lived, so, yes. Relationships are naturally going to metamorphasize around those changes. They mean more to you. I think as people get older, people mean more to us no matter how they’re connected. It doesn’t matter if it’s career or whatever. I have a real vested interest in the people I write with and the people that participate in such a positive way in my life and career. People like that are always going to have a special place in my heart.
KMJ: You’ve taken the last five or so years off to spend time as the role of mother at home with your son. That had to be a big change after the relentless touring schedule that you had for so many years beforehand.
DC: It has been a trip. I have to tell you. I thought it was never going to go away. It was so busy and so rocking. We were all over the map. Literally. I never thought my first marriage would go away. I went through a divorce. You don’t realize that you’re in the moment. That’s why I try to mentor these young artists and say “Oh my gosh, this is such a gift and special blessing. Just soak it up. Know that it too shall pass, but it will come back in another way.” It’s been a great thing for me. It’s been a great thing to shift the focus outside of myself. I’ve learned so much about how to change and what needs to go and what needs to stay in my life. Things like that. It’s been great. It really has. It’s funny, he asked me the other day, “Mom, I haven’t seen you on TV very much lately. Did you get fired?” (laughter) How do you explain it? I was like, “Uh… no.” That’s part of what is so amazing. It’s that attitude and that perspective and that innocence. You just have to stop trying to control everything and let God do his thing. You know?
KMJ: In a way, the success of the early part of your career has afforded you the opportunity for this part of your career as mom.
DC: Absolutely. I wouldn’t trade it. I love being out there singing. It’s part of who I am. But the thought of missing a violin recital or another big moment kills me. It makes me feel so selfish if I was to put myself in front of that. I know sometimes you have to and there are sacrifices you have to make for that. His dad and I, while we aren’t together, make a great tag-team and we make a great team for him. It really is a perspective change. He’s going to win out.
KMJ: You mentioned the violin. Is he musically inclined yet?
DC: It’s funny. He’s getting there. He hates to practice. But who doesn’t? I hate to practice too. I just love to run out there and “whoa” without any practice. He doesn’t like to practice and the commitment to that is a little bit frustrating for him. But, he’s got a natural knack for imitating people’s voices and sounds. He’s able to get in tune with people and he’s really got a great ear. So that’s encouraging because he’s able to get in tune really easy.
KMJ: Is he in tune with the musical legacy that stretches back to your father as well?
DC: He is. I don’t know. He’s just turning seven. He’s got a great ear and that’s the first step. He’s super great at math and can put logic together easily. And that will be great for music. My dad was older and would joke around with the kids on the guitar and stuff, but he didn’t ever get to sit and listen to that for 24/7. And his dad is a director so he’s got an eye for things and an ear for things. So we’ll just have to see where he lands.
KMJ: Any new music projects on the boards?
DC: I’m running around lately like my hair is on fire because there’s so much going on right now. I just produced a record on a girl named Audra Mae. She is FAN-tastic. She’s from Oklahoma and has a deal out here in L.A. on a punk label. I think she’s like Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday. She’s got this great voice and she’s an amazing performer and songwriter and artist and all that. We just finished her record a few weeks ago and that’ll be coming out in November I believe. So that was fun. I wrote with her a little and then she called me and she said, “I want you to produce my record.” I said, “Are you insane? What?” I’ve done all of my records and I’ve helped here or there on certain other projects. It was amazing. So we just wrapped that. And I’m going in shortly to do a record for myself as well. I’ve been writing a lot. And I’ve been getting a bunch of holds. I’ve had three Rascal Flatts holds and then they’ll drop them. And I’ll be “Dangit.” And now that I’m going into the studio, all my friends are asking what I’ve got in my catalog. I know they’re recording and I love them so much and respect them. It’s all really good all the way around.
KMJ: It’s exciting to hear that you’ll have some new music and a new project coming soon.
DC: I’m glad too. We don’t have a label for it yet. We have a couple labels interested in hearing what we do. Obviously. And I have no clue how it’s going to turn out. I know that I’m going in with my road guys. We’re just going to do the same approach that we did with Audra. She and I have the same kind of focus on how to do a record. And it worked so we’re going to do that again.
KMJ: Any common songwriting themes or melodic themes coming through on those songs you know you’re going to be cutting?
DC: You know, it’s interesting. I’m the mid-tempo ballad queen. (laughter) I love to get all introspective and deep and eclectic and all that. There are a couple of mid-tempo songs that I’ve written that are kind of the same attitude as “Did I Shave My Legs for This?” but they’re not so sarcastic. Katy Perry has this song, “California Girls” and there’s Pink and all these girls have these geographic songs. So I did a song that is completely filled with southernisms. People just howl laughing when I do it live at shows. The whole thing is southernisms. There’s not a line in it that isn’t a grandma quote. And that’s fun. And then another song called “Apartment Number Two” about a girl who won’t fix a single thing around her place so her fix-it guy will come around more often. It’s stuff like that which is tongue in cheek and a lot of fun.
KMJ: At this point of your career, what other musical goals do you have ahead of you?
DC: Beside an Oscar? No, I’m kidding. I say that kiddingly, but I did move my butt all the way to California. It would be nice to be at the Oscars one of these years. (laughter) I’d definitely like to keep making music for myself, but I’d like to produce more. Now that I’m not totally concentrating on music for myself, it’s really important for me to mentor other artists and participate in their lives. I want to be involved in their records and help guide them and talk with them. I want to help creatively and emotionally and spiritually. I feel like that I can leave that and help them in any way. I really want to be of service. It may sound corny, but I just really want to mentor artists and help. I want to make the music world a better place. That’s really it.
KMJ: That’s really honorable. My last question probably ties into that a little bit, but I’ll throw it out there anyways. What is country music to Deana Carter?
DC: What is country music to me? Country music to me is gratitude first and foremost. It’s also very broad. I think it can really reach a lot of people because it touches real life stuff. I don’t consider country music to be a small niche or a super specific genre. I really see it as a wide open field for honest lyrics and stuff like that. It’s amazing how I can have a different perspective now. I used to think it was really small. In the bin at the music store, it always has the fewest CDs. It’s changed a lot. And it’s grown a lot. It’s so universal.
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