In an era of country music where love songs and party songs dominate the airwaves, it is refreshing to discover an artist who is keeping cheating songs alive.
Boston native Chelsey Carter made that her specialty on her debut EP “Nothin’ Better to Do,” which was released in late 2017. And though full of songs that deal with cheating, each is done in its own unique way, both lyrically and sonically, which keeps the EP fresh and delivers great flow.
Get Carter’s take on her traditional country influences, the stories behind all of the songs on “Nothin’ Better to Do,” her songwriting process, opening for Garth Brooks and Zac Brown Band, and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Chelsey Carter: Man, this is such a tough question, because so many artists influence me in different ways. Vince Gill’s guitar playing is some of the best in the game, and it’s definitely helped shape who I am as a guitarist. Artistically, I also really love the classic stuff and the authenticity of artists like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. As a writer, I look up to artist/writers such as Kacey Musgraves, Pistol Annies and Brandy Clark. But at the end of the day, Shania Twain is my all-time favorite, and if I ever retire, you can expect to find me working on a cruise ship as a Shania impersonator.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted pursue a career in music?
CC: You know for me, there wasn’t an epiphany moment of “OMG, I want to be a musician,” it’s just always been who I am. I definitely struggled with it growing up though, and tried out a handful of other career paths along the way (everything from barista to personal trainer) because people love to tell you that music is just a hobby and isn’t a real job. The people that don’t know you love to tell you how to live your life, but fortunately, the people that mattered believed in me, and I chose to listen to them.
PC: Were you feeling any type of pressure, internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time with “The Captain” single or the “Nothin’ Better to Do” EP?
CC: I mean generally, I am the queen of pressure, and if there isn’t any organically, I’ll create some (laughs). But in this instance, there was a good amount of stress with this EP, because it was my first jump into the world of original music, and I wanted to make a good impression. Before this, I had been playing in cover bands in Boston, and had just been writing for my own entertainment, and then I woke up one morning and was like, “Man, I’m tired of playing “Wagon Wheel” every damn day, I’m gonna play my own songs now.”
PC: “Bit the Hand” both sonically and lyrically sounds like it could be a Dolly Parton or Kacey Musgraves song. Was it important for you to connect both older and newer traditional country sounds not just on “Bit the Hand,” but throughout the whole EP?
CC: 100% Yes! I know a lot of people will disagree, but in my mind, traditional country is true country. The stuff that is on the radio now is great, but it’s not country. For me, country is authentic, heartfelt, honest, and is gonna make you feel some sort of way. Country is also an amazing genre for storytelling. Country is who I am, and it was really important to me to try and keep this tradition alive in a world that is trying to suffocate it.
PC: “The Captain” has become one of your signature songs that you’ve released so far. Why did you decide to release that song first from your EP?
CC: Being my first plunge into original music, I knew that the single off of my EP had to be perfect. It had to be catchy, and it had to summarize who I am as an artist, and I felt that “The Captain” was all of that and a bag of chips. It tells a story, it’s got that catchy instrumental hook, and it’s just fun (even though it’s a song about your man having another woman).
PC: “Nothin’ Better to Do” is one of the standout tracks on its EP. Why did you decide to name the EP after that song?
CC: I fell in love with this song as soon as I finished writing it. I love a good heartbreak and cheating song, and this one for me was a really fun way to talk about a really crappy thing. I can’t really say why I chose it for the name of my EP, it was just one of those things that as soon as it was done, I knew it was my title track.
PC: “Good Time on the Side” is the only song on your EP that doesn’t necessarily deal with cheating in a conventional way. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
CC: A lot of my songs stem from the truth, but they have a bit of embellishment. “Good Time on the Side” is the first song I wrote that was 100% a true story, and it was a tough one for me, because I was currently in the thick of it when I was recording this album. To be honest, I didn’t even want to record this one, because it felt like I was exposing too much of my feelings, but thankfully, my producer, Sean McLaughlin of 37’ Productions, smacked some sense into me and convinced me to do it because I couldn’t love the song more now. When I wrote this song, I was dating this guy who was great when I got to see him, but I NEVER got to see him because he worked all the damn time. Like for real, I was lucky to get one day a week with him, and when I did, it was usually a Sunday, and we usually ended up having to watch football (which I fucking hate btw, hockey or bust). I’m not asking to be someone’s whole life, but I want to be a part of it, and for him, I felt like I was not the priority, and that I was the #2 in his life, while the #1 was his job.
PC: “Send You There” features a bit more of a country-rocking sound than the rest of the EP. Was it at all important for you to showcases that level of artistic versatility on your debut release?
CC: Absolutely! There’s nothing worse than listening to an artist, loving the first song you hear, and then having every song after that sound just like the one before it.
PC: As a whole, the “Nothin’ Better to Do” EP deals mostly with cheating and love lost. Was this intentional, or was that something that you were dealing with at the time?
CC: Buckle up, because I’m about to lay some sad history on you. Most of the guys that I’ve dated have cheated on me. The music industry makes dating tough for a handful of reasons, time spent apart on the road is one thing, but another is male fans, which a lot of boyfriends just can’t seem to handle. So in short, yeah, it was something that I was dealing with at the time, and I figure I’ll be dealing with for that my entire dating life. But I mean, ya gotta kiss a lot of frogs, and I’ve gotten some great songs from them.
PC: Though the EP is comprised mostly of cheating songs, they are each done in their own unique way, and are very lyrically clever. How important is it for you to be known as a great writer along with being a great artist? Can you talk about your writing process?
CC: It’s SO important to me, because a music artist is a writer. People who perform but don’t create are not artists; they are entertainers (which is just as awesome, it’s just different). I write in a lot of different ways, co-writing is a big thing here in Nashville, so I write with others every so often, but I find my best material comes from when I write alone. To be perfectly honest, most of the time, I’ll come up with a hook line and/or a melody when I’m driving, taking a shower; basically doing any mindless activity that doesn’t involve music. Lots of times, my songs come from personal experience, but I also like to tell stories about others as well. Songwriters are always listening and always absorbing what others say, and a lot of times, it’s just putting yourself in their shoes to write a song.
PC: You’ve had the opportunity to warm up fans prior for shows by Garth Brooks and Zac Brown Band. How did those opportunities come to you, and what can you take away from those experiences that can help you in your career?
CC: I’ve been very fortunate to have met some amazing people along the way in my career, and those shows came out of the relationships I have built. Like a lot of professions, music is very much about networking, and you can’t really get too far without it. Those shows were huge for me, because it put me in front of a ton of fans that I may never have had been able to reach on my own.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
CC: 2019 is a year of touring for me. I’m working on bringing my music to some new states and countries that I’ve never played before, and I’m also in the process of picking out a single to record and release.
*All images courtesy of Chelsey Carter*