The Broken Road :: An Interview with Chelsea Carlson
By Patricia Rogers
After her passionate performance I was able to meet the sweet and talented singer/songwriter and have a talk about her new project, The Broken Road and her musical journey.
P.R.: Talk about the new album, The Broken Road.
Chelsea Carlson: The Broken Road is my debut album, and a culmination of pretty much my entire music career up until this point. Over the years, I had released a bunch of singles, but never that full on album -- and it’s always been a dream of mine! After successfully funding my Kickstarter campaign, I finally got to make that dream a reality. I was so lucky to work with Dave Pirrocco of JackedCat Productions on the album, as well as the many amazing musicians who collaborated and brought my acoustic songs to life in a full band setting. Even though I’ve primarily been playing as an acoustic soloist for the past few years, I really wanted to go back to my rock band roots and have the album feature a band! The name of the album, The Broken Road, is referring to the crazy road my musical journey has taken me on so far -- there have been lots of bumps, bends, ups, and downs, but it’s all been totally worth it and made me the musician I am today. The album is really a reflection of everything I’ve accomplished so far, and a celebration of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had as a musician.
Describe your musical journey.
My musical journey has been going on for basically my whole life. I began singing and writing songs when I was just eight or nine-years-old. I formed a “band” with my cousins when we were still in elementary school -- and actually, this all took place right down the street from Hat City Kitchen at my old house on Riggs Place in West Orange. I really started taking music more seriously when I was in high school, and ultimately decided to pursue it as a career when I was a teenager. I started off my college experience at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I studied bass, and after returning home for the summer after my freshman year, I began doing the singer-songwriter thing and gigging across the New Jersey area after having primarily played in bands before that. I ended up having such a great time and finding so much success that summer that I decided not to go back to Berklee, and to continue working to build my music career right here at home. By 2013, I had played nearly 200 shows at places such as the Bitter End and Black Potatoe Music Festival, and had released a few original singles, and I was awarded Top New Female Act at the Jersey Acoustic Music Awards that year. Afterwards, I started working towards creating my album and entering this new phase of my career.
How do you feel about the Taylor Swift comparisons? What makes you different?
Haha! A lot of people say I remind them of Taylor Swift, probably because we’re both blonde and play acoustic guitar. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it’s kind of funny because people expect me to sound like Taylor Swift, and I am about as far from that genre as possible, and usually people are pleasantly surprised when I turn around with a Led Zeppelin cover instead of “Shake It Off.” I might play the same instrument, but that’s about where the similarities end -- simply put, I play rock, she does not. But it can get to be overkill sometimes -- as a musician, you want to be recognized for your own music, and not for the music of someone you happen to look like.
Tell us something about yourself your fans may not know or expect about you.
Hmm… When I first got into music, I actually didn’t listen to much rock or pop music at all. Like, I “liked” certain bands, but when I would sit down and blast music just for the fun of it, it was actually movie scores. Not the soundtracks featuring pop songs -- the orchestral compositions you heard in the background of movies! John Williams was basically my hero. It wasn’t until high school that I started getting into the bands my friends were into.
Who are your biggest inspirations? Musically or in your life?
Musically, I’m influenced be a wide range of artists. I’m definitely a classic rock person -- Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles are what got me into playing rock and have definitely been a big influence. But I like a lot of modern rock music too; I love the Foo Fighters and Grace Potter. I don’t want to box myself into one genre though and I really like a lot of different types of music. I love Adele’s vocal style and Christina Perri’s songwriting, and definitely think they are some really big influences of mine as well. In terms of people in my life inspiring me, I’m always been really inspired by other local artists. New Jersey has a really amazing music scene, and I’ve gotten to meet and hear so many awesome musicians and songwriters who really inspire me to try new things musically and to collaborate.
How would you describe your sound?
I would say I’m “modern singer-songwriter meets classic rock.” I try to blend a bunch of different genres of music together to create something new and unique. I don’t listen to just one type of music, so I would find it really difficult to just make one kind of music (haha)!
Describe your personal style.
I’m guessing you mean my style of dress? Girls who play rock are always expected to dress a certain way -- either you’re expected to look like an 80’s hair metal band groupie or you’re expected to look like Hayley Williams circa 2008. I don’t really want to fit the rocker-girl cliché. I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum when it comes to style. Kind of like my music, I float between styles -- I’m sort of 1970’s rocker meets Woodstock hippie meets modern-day Brooklyn hipster. Obviously, I’m just really indecisive (haha)! Just kidding, I just like to wear things I like, and I like a lot of different styles. So I kind of mix them together and make something a bit different from the norm.
How do you like performing at Hat City Kitchen? How does it compare to other venues? What has it done for your music career?
I love playing at Hat City Kitchen! Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up so close to the venue that it’s always like a homecoming when I get to play there. That’s something that I can’t get anywhere else! It’s a fantastic place to play -- the stage is amazing, the staff is great. Honestly, it’s always been one of my favorite venues. The first time I played there was at an open mic back in 2012. I’m so happy that I’ve had multiple opportunities to perform at Hat City Kitchen over the years, and I’m really glad that my CD release was there. It was an incredible night and Hat City Kitchen has my thanks!
Who has been instrumental in your career and how?
So many people have been incredibly helpful and supportive in my career. I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing musicians, venue owners, booking agents, producers, teachers -- and they’ve all lent their help throughout the years and given me so many fantastic opportunities. My parents have always been such huge supporters of my music. I was so young when I started doing this, and they have always been there to help me get all over the tri-state area for shows, help with the business end of things, and of course just believe in me. Since starting the recording process for The Broken Road, my producer Dave Pirrocco has also been a huge help not only with the actual recording, but with promotion and so many creative ideas.
What advice would you give aspiring musicians?
Get out there and play! Seriously, if you only know three songs, go out and play those three songs! I knew about six songs on guitar at the first solo gig that I performed. The best way to do something is, well, to do it! The more you play, the more people you’ll meet, the more experiences you’ll have, and the more you’ll be able to develop your sound. I think shows like American Idol wrongly project the idea that you can just be elevated to fame overnight -- and that just doesn’t happen. It takes a lot of work and dedication, and if you’re going out there and trying to make it happen, it will happen!
What can we look forward to now that your album is out?
I’m going to be booking a ton of new shows, and hopefully will be performing with a band more often! I’ve played acoustically and solo for a really long time now, and want to get back to my roots of playing with a band, especially since it was such an incredible experience playing with a band at my release show! I’ve still got about a month before The Broken Road hits the Internet market, so I’ve still got some plans brewing before the album is totally released. I definitely am going to keep playing and spreading my music, and see where it takes me!
What is your favorite song to perform and why?
That’s tough -- I play so many songs, it’s hard to choose a favorite! If I had to pick one, it would be “Nothin’ but the Water” by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. It’s an a cappella, gospel type song. It has been part of my set at just about every single show I’ve ever done since the very beginning of my musical journey, and it always feels weird if I don’t get a chance to sing it! In fact, it became such a staple part of my set list that I decided to record a cover of the song for The Broken Road. I’ve always loved the feel of the song and it is such a great way to end a performance, it’s always so much fun to sing.
What else would you like to add to the interview?
You can find me at www.chelseacarlsonmusic.com as well as on Facebook (facebook.com/cecmusic), YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, and just about everywhere else! My album is currently available as a physical CD in my web store (www.chelseacarlsonmusic.bandcamp.com) and will hit iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc. for streaming and downloads next month!
Photographs by Jean Fordyce
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012 she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blogwww.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on her social media @zine_editor (Twitter / Instagram / Snapchat).