MEET CARRIE ELKIN - Carrie Elkin Talks About The Penny Collector and Her Music
After a six-year hiatus from solo recording, Carrie Elkin released The Penny Collector, her seventh solo album. Musically, the album is a bridge between Americana/Roots music and a Folk heritage. The Indie sensibilities give the album its own sound, blending the styles without making a new hybrid. Rather than The Penny Collector branding its music, the recording releases Carrie Elkin from formal structure, letting her ideas, influences and muse all come together with the songs. Carrie Elkin took time from touring in support of The Penny Collector to talk about the album, its background, and its future.
The Alternate Root (TAR): Americana gives artists the ability to engage in sound. While there is no name for it, it is basically a lack of structure, removing everything from musical traditions. Is it easy or hard to let go of that structure?
Carrie Elkin (CE): It to me was like the most natural record I’ve ever written for myself, so I think for me it was easier. I think it’s harder for my publicist! Americana, Folk, Roots, like this long list of influences and what it may or may not sound like because people want to grasp on to something, so that part is harder, but for me, the writing was the most natural writing I’ve ever done. I’ve always written from a personal place. That’s just what I gravitate toward and what resonates with me. Someone could say, “Oh, write a ghost story!” and I can’t just write a ghost story -- like, what? How do I do that?!?! So, I feel like, for me, it was easier in the sense that -- the record is just so raw to me, and so personal, and I think a lot of it is, it’s just life recycled stuff.
TAR: It’s very vivid. Does having a child give you more responsibility to be clearer in your songwriting?
CE: Yes. Yes, it does.
TAR: “Live Wire,” is a how-to-guide from a parent to a child about taking chances, counsel about facing fear. I was just wondering whether it really strips away your ability to be more obtuse, and to leave answers unanswered. It is very specific.
CE: I think going through the experience with losing my dad, and thinking back on the way he raised me, and then when I went to New Mexico, which is where I went to write the record. I was driving to New Mexico to go grieve my dad and write this record. I found out we were pregnant on the drive there. All of these songs are influenced by that life cycle and by thinking about the way my dad raised me, which I never actually put that much thought into, mostly because it was a good upbringing. I think we put a lot of thought into our upbringing, and how we are a little bit messed up. It’s our way to sort of blame our parents for all the things that are wrong with us, but he actually did a really amazing job, which I never really thought about it. And once I lost him, I realized that, first of all, he continued to parent even into my -- I don’t want to say old age -- but older age. He was always parenting me, which I never really realized. I was calling him for advice all the time, and didn’t realize until he wasn’t here. I think that the album was just sort of writing about those things that he gave to me when I finally took the time to pay attention to it, and realizing that I also want to give those things to my daughter. I hope that I can be half the parent that he was.
TAR: You have extreme examples. Grieving is extremely isolating but we expect everybody to understand what we have experienced whereas the birth of a child is so universally inclusive yet you want to keep that ownership to yourself.
CE: Right. That is so true. Yeah, that’s funny. It is SO isolating. I’ve tried to be really open about everything with my dad, wrote part of the blog about it, just really did a lot of writing, I was writing letters to him when I was just really missing him. And that ended up becoming a blog that I kept about him, but it is -- I felt like I needed to isolate to grieve him, and then I was just in this weird space. Like the intersection of joy and grief. And tried to figure out how to get those two emotions together, and that’s where the record comes from.
TAR: There is such a worldly voice behind the characters, behind the songs, and it shows more depth in your songwriting.
CE: Caring for my dad in the last month of his life, and also knowing that I was going to become a mother, I think that it actually made me a much gentler person, and it put life into perspective in a way that was much more connected for me, and not worrying as much about -- not sweating the small stuff, not to be cliché, but seeing life as so much more of a whole. Seeing the interconnectedness of us all and learning a lot about life cycle and what that means and how we care for each other. The record just came from that place of being in a gentler space. And just getting older and having more experience, but that experience with my dad, well, I’m forever changed. Being with someone at that phase of their life, and being there when someone dies, energetically, what that does to the universe. You start to think about life in such a different way when you experience someone dying. You know, I would do anything to have my dad back, but that experience was one that I feel so fortunate and blessed to have had it. I think that he gave that experience to me. He was beautiful through the whole thing. I’m very fortunate to have been able to be there with him through that. It changed me.
DM: It shows that the cycle doesn’t end. It continues. With the memories or whatever level the relationship is on now, it doesn’t just stop. The hands-on experience, with you being there, helps with that.
CE: It definitely does. Yeah. Being able to have the opportunity to say good-bye to someone like that, what a gift that is. It was a really beautiful -- it was an absolutely beautiful time in my life. After that happened, after I went through that with him, I was actually ready to stop playing music because I was feeling like music was so insignificant in my life, you know, and I went through this sort of crisis, like, “I want to go and work for hospice, become a physician’s assistant, and go back to school and do something that’s really making a difference in the world.” That’s what I felt like, right after.
TAR: How long did that last?
CE: It lasted a long time, something like six months. I finally made this decision a year ago this December, I said, first of all, having a kid is not going to work if I am stressed out and not figuring it out. Stress is the worst thing. So I made this decision to not play music in 2016, like I’m not gonna play shows in 2016. I’m going to take time off the road and figure it out. I made this conscious decision to do this. But I was like, I need to go and grieve my dad, and I need to write. I haven’t been writing. I went to New Mexico and then found out I was pregnant on the way. It just like turned into writing an album. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure it was going to turn into writing an album, but it did, and it made me realize how powerful music is in my life and how it’s something I can’t NOT do. It’s what’s most healing to me. I should say, too, that I also, in that moment when I found out I was pregnant, I was like, ‘Oh shit, I better book a lot of shows!’
I think a lot of us go through this thing of wanting to quit playing music. I think we all do. I think it takes a really intense experience to do it, it’s very personal, and you’re very vulnerable and all of those things. My husband Danny was living in Charlottesville and was moving back home to Austin to quit playing music. He was just feeling like he didn’t want to do it anymore, and when he got back to Austin, he quickly found out he had testicular cancer and had to go back to music to make money to pay his medical bills. That’s what threw him back into music.
TAR: The mash-up you do with “Lamp of the Body” and “This Little Light of Mine” in song worked out well.
CE: Aw, thank you. I actually had my CD release party here in Austin on Friday, and we played through the record for the release party, and we got to that, and I started singing “This Little Light of Mine” and I was bawling my eyes out! Through the whole thing! I was like omigod I am so overwhelmed right now, I think we were all kinda bawling our eyes out. It was like that moment on the record, I’m not a very religious person, but I am a very spiritual person, but the Book of Matthew blows my mind in the bible. I like the more mystical parts of the bible. That whole “The eyes are the lamp of the body” -- that whole verse is really beautiful to me, it resonates with me, and I just wanted to use this in song. I was sitting with Telisha Williams (Wild Ponies) in Nashville. I had just gotten to her house, and I was like, “I have this idea” to mash up “This Little Light of Mine” with “The Eyes Are the Lamp of the Body” and we just sat and wrote. We were trying to do it in the round, and finally it came together. I didn’t actually write that until I was beginning to record the album. I just knew I wanted to wrap up the record with ‘This Little Light of Mine’.
Carrie Elkin will be touring in support of The Penny Collector. For more about her dates in both the United State and Europe, check out the tour page on her website.