URBANA- Grammy Award-winning artists Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin are performing at the Foellinger Great Hall in Urbana on Saturday, October 14. Morning Edition host Kimberly Schofield spoke with Carpenter about discovering her path to finding her truest sound.
With hits like Passionate Kisses and He Thinks He’ll Keep Her, five Grammy awards, and most recently, the Poet’s Award from the Academy of Country Music, Mary Chapin Carpenter has been gracing the folk and country music scene for decades. But she says it’s only recently that she feels like she’s been able to create music that is as authentic as it’s ever been. I spoke with Carpenter about how she reached that point.
Kimberly Schofield: You have had an incredible career -five-time Grammy winner- was there a specific moment or anything that made you realize that music was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
Mary Chapin Carpenter: Both my parents were very much into music of all different kinds. I just always loved playing guitar, banging on the family piano, I just always loved to sing as loud as I could. And so do my sisters. I honestly don’t have an anecdote to give you that says, “Oh, this is what made me know this was the right path.” If anything, I didn’t know that. And there are days that I wake up still, and I have to pinch myself or I just can’t believe that I get to do this as a job, as a vocation, as a calling.
KS: So kind of along the same lines of waking up and having to pinch yourself, are there any songs or albums that might not be as commercially popular, but that are really significant to you or speak to you more than maybe the masses.
MCC: My most recent album of originals that I’ve recorded is called The Dirt and the Stars. It’s my favorite record because I feel so complete and honest about the songs. That’s where it starts for me and it always has. I feel like they’re the best songs I’ve ever written. And I don’t want to say that in a ego way. But rather just from the standpoint of feeling like I’ve learned how to do what I do. This collection of songs has given me the most satisfaction that I can ever say that I’ve had in the pursuit of this craft.
KS: I was going to ask you about The Dirt and the Stars. That was released in 2020, as well as One Night Lonely. That was also at the height of the pandemic. What was it like to create in a time that was so isolated?
MCC: It was surreal. We were in England at the end of January 2020 and the beginning of February finishing up the recording of The Dirt and the Stars and it was just before the great lockdown. So we got home in time. We had finished making that record just at the very beginning of, if you will, the change in our circumstances. Then, One Night Lonely was a live album that I did record during the pandemic in an empty venue. You know, it was important to me that there not be any kind of talking to empty seats because I wanted it to be a document of the time that we were in. I wanted it to be as authentic as possible in that regard. And so to release those two records during the pandemic, was both mournful and yet hopefully a desire to show resilience in the face of all these changes.
KS: Is there anything that you would give to people who might be a lover of music or a lover of the performing arts who might feel discouraged…as it’s an unconventional sort of career?
MCC: The first thing I would say is, “Well, what is conventional?” There are so many ways of forging a life and making a living. I just remember for myself, I graduated from college, I worked a bunch of temp jobs all the time, I would go home to my crappy little apartment or my group house where I was living, and I’d sit on my bed and I’d write songs and I would go play shows on days when I wasn’t temping. And I’m just speaking from my own experience that you just somehow put the blocks together and try to figure out a way for yourself to do it. I would just encourage anyone not to give up if they feel that something is burning inside of them.
KS: Carpenter is working on a new album that she hopes to have completed by the end of the year. You can catch Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin this Saturday, October 14th at 730 at Foellinger Great Hall in Urbana. Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is an underwriter of Illinois Public Media. I’m Kimberly Schofield.