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The Sound

Carpenter’s writing remains vital

10/14/2015

Mary Chapin Carpenter started her career in country music, taking home five Grammy Awards and a pair of Female Vocalist of the Year CMA awards for her efforts. But as the 1990s gave way to the early 2000s, Carpenter’s music moved further and further away from those roots and gradually became less radio-friendly. Not coincidentally, her music also became more politically and socially grounded and has garnered even stronger political acclaim.

Mary Chapin Carpenter plays Hoyt Sherman Place on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

Mary Chapin Carpenter plays Hoyt Sherman Place on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

The years have gone by, and digital media has changed how people view and consume music. But as she continues work on her next album, Carpenter’s approach remains the same.

“It certainly hasn’t changed how I make records,” she said in a phone interview, talking about digital distribution. “I’m fully aware that the way people get their music now is by streaming — cherry-picking songs off the album. But knowing that doesn’t really change how I make the record, because I still think of it as a whole. It exists within a time and reflects a number of years of writing. They have a narrative, no matter what the delivery system.”

If you do not include 2014’s “Songs from the Movie,” which was more of a long-term passion project than anything else, it has been three years since Carpenter’s last album of original music. The new album she is working on is in its very early stages, but a 2016 release date for the untitled project seems likely.

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“It’s so new as a piece, we haven’t even mastered it yet,” Carpenter said. “I haven’t even sequenced it yet. That’s very important to me. Once I’ve sequenced an album, I feel like I have a handle on the various themes that run through it. I haven’t had that luxury yet; it is still a lot of things that are really swirling. But it’s about the passage of time, about being older and accepting the changes that come with getting older and letting go of things that probably aren’t going to happen. I realize as I’m saying these things that it might seem kind of depressing to people. But it’s really not.”

Listening to Carpenter talk about the new work, the passage of time feels like the right theme. None of Carpenter’s work has ever been stuff she has churned out off the cuff, but some of this music has been on her mind for longer than anything else she has done.

“I feel like I have been trying to write this same song for 15 years,” she said. “I’ve wanted to try to write a song about it, and I finally finished it this year, after so many false starts. The satisfaction I felt, finally getting that song out of me, I was high for a month.”

For Carpenter, the writing process has its own natural ebb and flow. It is not something she ever has to turn on or off, but at this point in her life, she understands her process and knows when inspiration will be the strongest.

“I tend not to write when I’m on the road because it’s impossible for me to find that quiet to be able to really do it,” she explained. “I tend to wait until I’m home. I know some people who can be on an airplane and grab a napkin and do great work. That was never me.” CV

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