Carsie Blanton — Interview
The soul swaying and soothing social justice number “Be Good” introduces Carsie Blanton’s nineteen song set, followed by the defiant “Down in the Streets” written as an explanation to her mother about the 2020 protests.
With “Harbor” from Buck Up (2019), Blanton draws a comparison between how people have felt during the pandemic and the subject of love in the song, “We’re longing to be close but fearing of getting too close.”
Carsie Blanton says Love & Rage encapsulates the two kinds of song she writes.
In the next couple songs, Blanton starts naming names. “Dealing With the Devil”was inspired by an unnamed scoundrel. “He only got one verse. The rest is about [Senator] Mitch McConnell.”
She tells the story of recently performing at Mountain Stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Senator Joe Manchin is in the audience on October 24. He just announced his opposition to a child tax credit in the currently stalled “social infrastructure” spending bill before the US Congress. In the current version, which she performed in Manchin’s presence, Blanton changes the scoundrel from Senator McConnell to a politician from West Virginia, “So the second verse is now about Joe Manchin.”
In “American Kid” an indictment is made about America’s political process leaving children behind. She views this through her Blue Ridge Mountain upbringing and leaving home at age sixteen. Blanton reflects on the life-changing impact of reading Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and said, “My disillusionment has continued since then.”
The long tradition of protest in folk music runs through “Sh*t List” on Love & Rage. Her remarks rail against the white supremacist march of August 2017 in Charlottesville, roughly an hour from where she was raised, encouraging audience participation during the song.
Two songs reflecting on Blanton’s former life in New Orleans follow. The timing of visiting her band members and family in the Philadelphia area, where she previously lived, with an ensuing lockdown, led her to stay. Monthly online “rent party” shows were started to pay the living expense.
“Smoke Alarm” from Idiot Heart (2012) was written about her first visit to New Orleans based on the come on from a pickup artist in a smoke-filled bar. “It’s a very sexy and creepy city,” she said. The pickup line he used was, “Hey, we’re all gonna die one day, so you might as well enjoy yourself.”
“So Long New Orleans” is a reflection on her seven years there, a sort of love letter.
Lively organ introduces the anthem “Party at the End of the World”. The song was written in 2019, but easily fits in as a feel good song during a pandemic. “It’s good to have something to sing about when the world is ending,” Blanton surmised.
Lust figures as the subject of the next couple, with “That Boy” being about wanting to “make one last mistake” with a bad boy. “Vim & Vigor” outlines a woman’s unashamed and undeterred desire.
On “Fat & Happy” Blanton tacks to the rage side, a song from Ferocious (2016) – a response to a hater on Facebook.
Further revealing the folk influence in her music, the day John Prine died, Blanton wrote “Fishin’ With You.” “Initially the lockdown felt like playing hooky. The pandemic felt real when John Prine died.”
Continuing with the theme of loss, Blanton reflects on the collective trauma people have endured during the Covid-19 pandemic in th lead up to “When Someone’s Gone”. She lost her grandparents. “We have a lot of grieving to do. Processing grief in our homes only goes so far. It helps to do it in public.”
Back to love-themed songs, “Hot Night” from Ferocious precedes a shouted audience request
when Carsie Blanton anoounced she reached her last song. She obliged to add “Jacket” which a dirty-minded song about “self-love” and she clearly explained what the euphemism means.
The regular set closed with “Buck Up.” If there is any song in her song roster which announces her influence by John Prine, look no further than this one.
Encores follow with “So Ferocious” and another, “All Your Love” about a “spectacular one night stand.” Blanton drew an analogy between love and living in apocalyptic times, about how important it is to throw our whole heart into something.
American Highways got to chat with Carsie Blanton after the show at Swallow Hill Music in Denver.
Americana Highways: What have been some of the personal highlights in your musical career?
Carsie Blanton: We got to open for Paul Simon awhile back. We’ve been able to work with a lot of amazing musicians on this last record Love & Rage (April 2021). So I guess I’ll name one, Pete Thomas who plays drums with Elvis Costello & the Attractions. I was excited about that because we wanted him to play that way. We called him and he said, “Okay” so it was exciting.
AH: You spent a couple days in Boulder and performed at eTown. How was that experience?
CB: Amazing, eTown is a beautiful venue. We got to do their radio/video [broadcast] as well as the stage performance. It was great.
AH: How have you adjusted your creativity with no touring during the lockdown?
CB: We did the [fourteen] “rent parties” and made a record. So I wrote a lot of that album and then we recorded it and released it all in the pandemic. So that was good to have a project. Honestly, it was too much alone time. Too much quiet time for me. I do better with a little less quiet time.
AH: How have you adjusted moving back to the Philadelphia area?
CB: Good. I live in the middle of some cornfields in New Jersey and it’s very quiet. And that’s good, especially now that we’re touring again.
AH: What is the story behind the song “Can’t Wait to Break Your Heart”?
CB: I was trying to write a Nick Lowe song.
AH: Not autobiographical?
CB: Not that one. (laughter)
AH: Going through some of the lyrics in your songs, Jesus as a hero in “Be Good” and there’s a social justice connection where comparisons are drawn to Dr. King, talking about Heaven in “Ain’t No Sin” with the Gospel feel to the organ and the “hallelujahs”, and another song titled “Mercy” – how much does faith play in your life?
CB: Not at all. I have no faith. I’m a Jew and an Atheist. But I think the story of Jesus is very inspiring from a social justice perspective.