high priestess hour with vanessa carlton: part 1

High Priestess Hour segments explore + illuminate women who inspire by living audaciously, authentically, with purpose and conviction… Their magnificence is anchored in discipline, shamelessness, interpersonal vigilance — and the ability to carefully balance all three. Singer/ songwriter Vanessa Carlton is the perfect example of a woman leaving an indelible mark.

Vanessa got her first publishing deal as a writer at 19 years old + was nominated for 3 Grammys by 21.  Over the past decade she has sold over 4 million albums chock full with songs that follow the journey of love, loss, heartbreak, and friendship—inspiring legions of fans + fellow musicians.  Vanessa is a story-teller; deeply inspired by the richness + texture of the mundane and its rituals.  She often tours with the High Priestess of-all-times, Stevie Nicks.

The life of a performer is deeply rewarding/ complex/ singular/ challenging/ — it is something I have always wanted to understand, and she generously obliged.

I was happiest in the woods. I grew up in the forest of northeast Pennsylvania and the upper Delaware area. I went to the Homestead school. It’s a gorgeous Montessori school. My fave times were spent exploring stuff alone. Looking for bones and nooks that the trees made. My favorite things were running as fast as I could, rubbing rocks together to make different colors and AMPLE time winding up and then spinning out on a swing that hung from my parents’ willow tree.

I don’t remember it coming forth because it was always there. My mom teaches piano so there were always at least 4 pianos in our house.  I started banging on em at 2 years old.

I think I was 9 when I started writing music. They were instrumental pieces. No words. But in my head it was about a waterfall. I didn’t actually write songs until I was 15. I think my main inspiration at the time was the idea of woman who was very different than what she appeared to be. It was a female character that I was trying to figure out.

I went to the Professional Children’s School on 60th street + studied at the School of American Ballet while living at Lincoln Center. I was completely devoted to Balanchine and perfecting his technique.  It was a beautiful and painful and life shaping process. High school wasn’t normal. I went to school with a bunch of pre-college Julliard kids, child actors, and dancers. It wasn’t an art school it was an academic school for young artists who had really intense schedules outside of school.

Ahmet Ertegun.  I had made a 4-song cassette demo that made it into his hands and he called me at my dorm room and said… “The songs are strange, you have a very interesting voice. Could you come to my office?”  I had no idea the impact he would have on me, nor did I really know who he was.  I was just a ballet dancer at SAB.  He was so generous with me and I’d come to his office on Fridays after class and he’d tell me insane stories and encourage me to write.

It’s changed a lot over the years in terms of texture of sound.  All the change that has happened to me comes from learning from people around me and not being afraid to explore what I really feel.  I am much more in synch with my authentic reactions to things than I used to be.   Also, I spend much more time meditating on the poetry.  Just because it sings well doesn’t mean it belongs.

I feel just as comfortable exploring the periphery of pop as I do creating something super straight-forward.  My approach to the piano is always the same.  I like huge builds and slow rolls.  I love dynamics.  Moments that dip and then soar are cool.  It makes my chest feel funny and that’s the best sign.

Books, ideas, philosophies and how it ties to the private human experience. Right now, I’m in Joseph Campbell’s mind. But what’s weird about being an artist is how unaware you are of the things that are imprinting on you all the time. Walking down the city street and seeing a girl’s face, or seeing an exchange between two friends…that moment could make it into a song that I write 6 months down the road and I wouldn’t even remember if that moment was real or not. I feel like I gather up other people’s energy. Not on purpose but my eyes are open to everything.  We are all part of the same phantom fabric anyway.

Maybe my listeners find that my songs reaffirm their individuality and I validate something they are feeling. I don’t know. That’s what other artists do for me. As with all people, my work helps me to define my mind which makes me feel like a solid being. Also it is a way for me to connect with the outside. I’m pretty shy and lay low most of the time. Sometimes I don’t venture out for many days.

Oye, that’s so broad. I’m not at the level to teach a master class, but I definitely have experienced many interesting and extraordinary situations. Two things that have helped me move my life and work forward is: 1. Developing a better sense of self awareness  2. Feeling strong enough to explore the unknown. The unknown could be in the form of a person and idea or a place. I know it’s hard to remember (I forget too) but succeeding and failing are both beside the point and both are illusions. I’ve had many failures that I call fail-ups. As long as you take away new knowledge from a situation that you deem a failed thing –then you are golden.

Stevie Nicks. She is a very beautifully evolved person.  She also doesn’t judge others.  I watch her navigate situations and her own life and she is so graceful and cool. She is sitting on a mountain of beautiful work and she is filled with love and that is inspiring.

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9 Responses to high priestess hour with vanessa carlton: part 1

  1. Lonna says:

    Bella Donna

  2. alexis says:

    i am going to have to name a wine after YOU….

  3. kdelongpre says:

    My two favorite women of the world.

  4. JP says:

    Beautiful! I love this interview. Great answers.

  5. Saba says:


  6. alexis says:

    thanks so much. VC’s answers were so generous/ thoughtful/ and consistent to who she is. I am super touched by them + hoped that they would deligh.

  7. Yves says:

    I totally love VC… These answers keep making me feel proud of that beautiful lady whose music’s helped me get through the highs and lows of this crazy ride called life… I hope she never stops creating masterpieces that have inspired me to learn to play piano.

  8. gabriela says:

    Vanessa is a wonderfully sculpted person. she’s so inspiring. every thing she says make me feel whole again. that its okay to be an individual. her artsy vision of things is truly amazing. i love that she writes off of philosophies. Im quite jealous that she is such an expressed person through her music and thoughts. I completely look up to her, and one day hope to be a women masterpiece and to think so creatively as she does.

  9. Pingback: Wonderful Vanessa Carlton Interview « Fashion Storyteller

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