It’s been 14 years since “A Thousand Miles” took the music world by storm, yet the mention of singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton still evokes the specific space in time occupied by the catchy, piano-tinged track.
For me, it was heading to Myrtle Beach in the summer of 2002 with my sister and best friend, windows down, singing at the top of our lungs.
Now, more than a decade later, Carlton is sound-tracking a new stage in listeners’ lives with an EP that is ethereal and thick with nuance. “I really wanted the record to feel like an escape — not at all like a live-sounding album,” she said. “I always use the word dreamy, because when you’re dreaming, you’re not in reality. You’re feeling like you’re in-between, and I love the idea of music set to that.”
Out now, Carlton’s four-track EP, Blue Pool, lives in that in-between space.
A study in the evolution of an artist, it features two tracks from the album she’s dropping in October, and two tracks recorded in one-take piano vocal form — all brand new. The resulting effect speaks to the surprising poignancy that can be found in discord.
This seems especially fitting for the beautiful chaos in Carlton’s own life: Since leaving New York City, she has gotten married to Deer Tick front man John McCauley (in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks, no less). And she has become a mother to the couple’s adorable daughter.
The family makes their home in rural Nashville, where they do decidedly adult things like make almond milk and… stave off bats?
“Um, yes. We had a bat problem a couple of weeks ago. I found three bats and my husband found one, so we thought we had a colony of bats in our house. Because they are protected wildlife, you literally can’t do anything about it until after maternity season,” she explained.
“It was pretty gross, I gotta say, because I’ve never seen a bat crawl across the floor before. But that’s what living in the country is. I’m down with it,” Carlton insisted, laughing. “But I don’t want to find any more bats!”
Miraculously, the colony of bats living in Carlton’s home hasn’t distracted the singer from her upcoming album. Still, the shift in perspective that comes with growing up does surface in her new music — even if, as Carlton jokes, “I would really be in another zone if I started writing lyrics about nut milk!”
As for the specific inspiration for the upcoming full-length album, Liberman, Carlton drew from a very meaningful muse: her grandfather, who shares his last name with the album title.
“I’ve always known my grandma and grandpa as Grandma and Grandpa Lee, and not until my 20s did my mom tell me that’s not their real name,” Carlton said. “Then she told me the story of ‘Liberman,’ and why he changed it.”
Carlton’s grandfather, it turns out, was a popular painter, church designer and shopkeeper in New York during his prime. “He felt like he would do better if he didn’t have such an ethnic or Jewish last name, so he changed it to Lee,” she explained.
“Kind of like — funny coincidence — Ralph Lifshitz, who was a tie maker back in the day. He wanted to sell his ties at my grandfather’s showroom, and I guess for whatever reason, my grandpa didn’t end up selling the ties. But Ralph went on to become Ralph Lauren.”
Ultimately, branding her album with her grandpa’s name seemed like a natural progression.
“I have this painting of my grandfather’s, and I wrote a lot of songs where I saw myself kind of staring at the painting while I wrote them,” Carlton said. “So it just made sense on a couple of different levels to go back to his original name and kind of sum up my body of work on this record as Liberman.”