The East Midlands singer-songwriter takes on societal structures, the challenges of her own music career, and finding the right balance
Charlotte Carpenter is a singer-songwriter from the East Midlands. Over the last decade, a series of EP and singles releases have seen the development of a raw sound that has rightly drawn comparisons with the likes of Cat Power and PJ Harvey. That experience, along with the convulsion of life both macro and intimate, has been poured into Carpenter’s upcoming debut album A Modern Rage.
Inspired by a toxic relationship with a previous producer, the record broadens its scope in order to tackle patriarchal power structures in society and their psychological toll on women. Carpenter’s sound also widens, weaving elements of soul, country, rock, pop and blues through its songs. The album’s debut single Spinning Plates sets the tone. With crunchy guitars followed by passages of contemplative piano, the conflicting demands of life as a musician are spun into orbit before being laid to rest…
Spinning Plates came from this deep voice inside myself, telling me something had to change. I guess it was my intuition making sense of my surroundings and how that was affecting my creative and mental health. I was in a place where I didn’t know what was next – musically – which scared me a little bit because I’d always had a clear direction of where I wanted to go, but I was feeling really stuck.
I had all of these other voices in my head, telling me what to do, how to be, that I didn’t really know who I was anymore. I was frustrated that I hadn’t achieved more in life by this point and feeling really uneasy about the people I was working with. I had all of this in my mind, alongside this ticking clock, telling me I was running out of time. I felt like I was no longer in control, and I hated that.
It wasn’t until the first lockdown, that I allowed myself to just stop thinking so much about the bigger picture. I had time to reflect on what was bringing me joy and what wasn’t but most importantly why. I realised I’d been stuck on this treadmill of expectation, creating a career for myself that wasn’t only mine, and one that I wasn’t happy with either. I’d never felt so disjointed and removed from my own music.
The lyrics for this song came like word vomit. “I need to find a way out, a way out, a way out,” was the first to come to me, and I played around that chorus for the first hour, before my partner, Carolina, told me, ‘For this chorus to really work, you’re going to have to shout it.’ So, that’s what we did; we shouted it over and over again, then the adrenaline kicked in and the rest of the song came with it.
My favourite part is, “I’m just trying to be a better sister, daughter, lover,” because that is what’s important to me. I think it’s hard if you’re a woman with ambition because sometimes what you really care about can be so affected by what you do. In my case, it’s music. Both of these big parts of my life, which are in essence the two parts of my identity, can affect each other in negative ways and when that happens, you’re just out there feeling like you’re not good enough.
This song dances around the same five chords and predominantly a weird F7add11, where most of the strings are played open. I love the mood it creates, it’s a bit disjointed and garish which you don’t hear fully until the chorus hits, but when it does, it just lifts in energy. I love finding different ways of playing chords, on different guitars and tunings and seeing how the tone changes.
I’ve always experimented with dynamics, and the different scenes inside the song to make it feel like it’s still on a musical journey of its own, even if it is just a few chords. My favourite part is the pretty drastic tempo change in the second verse, all of a sudden it goes half time and you’ve got this Everly Brothers moment. I wrote this part in the shower!
IN THE STUDIO
Before we started recording Spinning Plates, we (my producer for the record Matt de Burgh Daly) took it to a rehearsal room and fleshed it out with just guitar, drums, vocals… I remember feeling so excited and the closest to rock and roll I’d ever been. Just between the two of us, we already had this massive alt-blues rock sound and we could have just stopped there, but when we started tracking we knew the chorus would need a bit more of a lift, which is where the Hammond organ came in.
We worked with an incredible keys player for a day, Bennett Holland, and the energy in this playing was so big – perfect for my shout-a-long chorus. There really isn’t much else on this track, apart from Everly Brothers-esque harmonies, some octaves on the piano and electric bass. It just turned out to be one of those songs that didn’t need much at all.
I hope whoever hears this song, uses it as their own mantra and shouts the chorus in the car, in the shower, in the garden, anywhere really. I want people to shout it, and not feel like they have to be quiet all of the time. We are all entitled to feel anger, frustration, confusion and sometimes shouting is the only way, so let it rip.
Spinning Plates is out now and Charlotte Carpenter’s debut album, A Modern Rage is due on 6 October and will be touring the UK in November-December. Music and tickets can be found at charlottecarpentermusic.com