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An interview with singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton

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Singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton's new album, “Not Old, Not New”, out on June 24, is her first jazz album and her first cover album. She has been inspired by jazz singers like Billie Holiday and later Nina Simone since she was a kid. Does she consider herself a jazz singer, though? “This is an expression of my love of song. It's not about jazz or pop or rap, it's about a good song. And there are good songs in every genre. I'm gonna go where the songs go.” Blanton is first a lover of song; not just music, but words. Her inspirations extend beyond musicians. The heart-on-the-sleeve, restless soul of her lyrics is inspired by, among others, novelist Carson McCullers and her favorite poem “DaCapo” by Jane Hirshfield.

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Blanton grew up immersed in music. Growing up in rural Virginia, she was allowed by her unschooling parents to explore what interested her. By 13, Blanton was writing and performing her own music and exploring albums by Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday, her first inspiration. By 16, she left home, ending up in Philadelphia at 21, where she decided to get serious about her music career. She eventually hooked up with the manager of singer-songwriter Amos Lee who got her on tour with Paul Simon. “It was a great honor and really cool playing in those big theaters and getting to meet Paul. It was a really formative experience” says Blanton. “I think that's what I stumbled into when I started playing professionally. I met a lot of really great, talented people”

Blanton is definitely a musician of her own time. She self-produced all of her albums, but not because she hasn't been approached by labels. “I've been approached by a couple of small labels, but they haven't been able to convince me they can do more than I do". She's used to the way the music industry is now; used to hustling, getting her music out there. “When I make something, I really want to share it” she says of the time she spends promoting herself. She is an example of what a successful modern musician is doing in such an open, technology-heavy environment. She knows how to get her music out, but she has also been successful in not letting the marketing of her art take away from creating the art itself.

In addition to self-producing, Blanton has the chutzpah to run a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Her campaign to raise money for “Not Old, Not New” made twice what she had originally set out to make. “It was like a full-time job. I got twice as much as I asked for. I ran a really active campaign. The night before I launched it, I couldn't sleep. I was having panic attacks. I hit my goal in the first week” said Blanton. Despite the nerves, though, she ran a very successful campaign. “Honestly, I was really thrilled that I got to pay these musicians what I think they're actually worth, as opposed to trying to haggle with everybody because I can't afford them," she said on her website.

Blanton's unorthodox views don't end with marketing her work, but also with giving. She sells all her albums via Pay What You Please on Bandcamp. She started out at live shows. Some people would pay eight dollars, some $25-$30. “I don't think not having money should be a barrier to listening to music...Now I sell all my music like that. I make about what I made before, a little less. But it's totally worth it. It's almost like because I trust people, they want to support me.” Blanton frames it around the idea that people can distribute her music freely, that she is building trust and mutual appreciation with her audience. A fan once came up to her at a show and gave her money, saying they had burned a copy for a friend.

The summer will be a busy time for Carsie Blanton. “Not Old, Not New” is out on June 24, and she's in the middle of a 6-week tour of the United States. After 38 shows in 45 days in the states, she'll be touring in Australia. “The advantage of doing a cover album is I have a lot of time to write.” She'll probably start working on her next album this coming fall.

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