“If I’m not making music the way I want it to be made, then what the f**k am I doing?”: The re-birth of singer-songwriter Charlotte Carpenter
After generating significant buzz at the tail end of the last decade, Charlotte Carpenter pretty much disappeared for half a decade. Now she’s back, reborn, and with a story to tell about the way the music industry treats young artists…
Image: Esme Buxton
Charlotte Carpenter began climbing in the music industry by releasing a series of EPs in the 2010s. After cutting ties with her old producer and finding who she is on her own terms, she’s returned with a debut album and a baritone guitar that holds quite the story….
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“She was such a beacon when I was 14, you know?” Charlotte Carpenter says with the sun streaming behind her as she video calls us from Portugal, a far cry from her currently drizzly home of the East Midlands, UK.
Some may assume the early influences of a singer-songwriter such as Carpenter would be classics like The Beatles or Bob Dylan, but the artist she’s gushing over is none other than 2000s pop rock superstar, Avril Lavigne.
“I’ve got young parents so I didn’t really grow up with the kind of music around me that people would assume got me into guitar,” she explains. “I remember Avril Lavigne coming along and I thought, ‘you are so cool, you are everything I want to be’.”
Growing up, all of Carpenter’s attention turned to guitar. She dropped other hobbies such as theatre because all she wanted to do was play. It consumed her, wholly. It wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she started “working backwards” to learn about greats such as Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell, “I don’t regret any of that,” she says. “I found that kind of music at the time that I should have.”
Carpenter, now in her early 30s, is set to release her debut album this October – A Modern Rage. A symbolic treasure chest filled with tales of womanhood, the beauty of being a work in progress, and the lessons we learn in our early careers, the album ties in influences of blues, soul, folk and indie-pop.
“Womanhood is such a broad term, isn’t it? It embodies so much,” she says. “But this album is just as much about the other women in my family and their journey into womanhood as well as mine.”
Getting to this point, though, was by no means a walk in the park. Some may recognise Carpenter from her collection of successful EPs which glittered the mid to late 2010s, but as her career grew, she started to feel uncomfortable in a working relationship she had with a producer. She felt like her music wasn’t her own, and started to notice that she was in what she describes as a “toxic” situation.
A particular track which hones in on this experience is Not Good Enough. “All my friends are telling me I might’ve made mistakes / but the best thing that I ever did / was walk away,” she deftly confesses on the track.
“It’s really difficult when you’re in a toxic relationship and there’s an abuse of power because it doesn’t happen every single day with that person,” she stresses. Carpenter tells us that in one breath she’d feel as though they were ready to conquer the world with their best work yet, and in another, her dedication to the craft would be questioned.
She felt her life and commitments outside the studio weren’t being understood, and on single Spinning Plates, she addresses this exact balancing act. “He was never going to understand that because he was a man living on his own in his glorious recording studio,” she argues. “He was never going to understand the pressures actually that come with being a woman.”
She suppressed a lot of the memories from this time for a long time, but eventually they came back in flashbacks: “I remember there was this country artist that I was really excited about called Nicky Lane. I was like, ‘I picked up this CD from HMV, I really want to show you it’.
“I put it on in the car and he stopped it [playing] and threw it. He said to me, ‘Why on earth are you listening to this?’ I remember feeling so small and so stupid. I think that’s so damaging.”
Curious to know how she found her way back to knowing what music she liked, and what music she wanted to put out herself, we asked what she did to re-discover her identity, “I thought, ‘why am I making music?’, If I’m not making music the way I want it to be made, then what the fuck am I doing?” She responds.
As it just so happens, the CDs she played during her teen years – including those Avril Lavigne tracks she loved so much at 14 – are exactly what rescued her, “I started making my way through them and being like, ‘this is what gave me that uncontrollable urge to pick up the guitar’, and it was Avril Lavigne, early Radiohead, Death Cab For Cutie, and Paramore.
“I was annoyed at myself because I’d forgotten this, you know? I’d been so busy trying to make somebody else happy that I’d completely lost all sense of myself. Those CDs, man,” she says with relief. “They saved my life.”
And what marks a new era for a guitarist better than a custom axe? “I really love playing baritone guitar, which is something that he introduced into my life. I’m 5’ ft 2” with very small hands, so playing this guitar was quite uncomfortable for me at times,” she explains. “There was this guy [Rueben Kemp] on Instagram, [he owns] Ruby Guitars. It was the first time that I had allowed myself to dream up a guitar rather than one being handed to me.”
To make her compact baritone, Kemp used her Fender Telecaster as a reference for scale and cut five frets from the neck of the new model. No issue for Carpenter, who assures she’s not a shredder. The results were stunning, and the guitar means so much more to her than your average custom model: “That guitar is such a symbol to me. I had this idea and I saw it through and actually, I’m starting to build this incredible network of musicians and creatives off my own doing.”
Interestingly, the gear used by Carpenter on A Modern Rage is a mixture of analogue and digital. This, she explains, was a conscious decision made by herself and new producer Matt de Burgh Daly.
“We wanted to find a way of taking low-fi and hi-fi and bringing them together, celebrating new digital developments, but also bringing in some analogue stuff that we really love and care about,” she says. Digital wise, Carpenter used Two Notes ReVolt: “Not at one point on the record are those guitars actually amped,” she reveals. “Which is wild.”
But one thing she kept physical was her effects – most of the content she consumes online is either cat videos, or pedal videos – and her favourites for this new era include the Nobles ODR-1, the Boss Space Echo, the JHS Superbolt, and the Wampler Faux Spring Reverb.
Though she’s taking new developments in her stride on this album, Carpenter is hoping to continue her music career the good, old-fashioned way: “People have been saying for a long time that we shouldn’t be releasing albums anymore, but I think that’s bullshit. I’ve actually never been taken more seriously as a musician until I decided to make an album.
“I’m not playing the game to go viral on TikTok, I’m playing the game to still be here when I’m 50, 60 years old, and that means making records,” she firmly declares.
After the release, she’s set to embark on a UK tour with a full band, and hopes that she’ll be able to tour further in the future, but right now her priorities are to “keep writing, keep buying pedals, and keep playing guitar” whilst life feels calm.
“I feel like it’s taken me 10 years to properly make this album and I know that it cannot take me 10 for the next one,” she states. A Modern Rage marks the first of hopefully many more albums to come where she has been able to exercise full creative freedom and control.
“When I started working with Matt on the record, I said to him, ‘I’m not a musical genius. I cannot play every single instrument in the world, but I can tell you how I want it to feel and how I want it to sound’. Even if it’s not me playing a part, I want to be in the room making that decision. I’d never had that before.”
A Modern Rage is set to be the most sonically authentic offering from Charlotte Carpenter so far, “I do feel like this album is mine,” she says, with an aura of pride and gratitude. “I never considered how powerful that would be.”
A Modern Rage by Charlotte Carpenter is out 6 October