When Vanessa Carlton first played the opening piano notes of “A Thousand Miles,” she couldn’t fathom the overwhelming success the song would see.
“I’m an artist that you wouldn’t think would have a big song like that,” she says.
Musicians and lyricists who prioritize staying honest in their craft are more inclined to fit the role of “starving artists,” and the commercial acclaim of “A Thousand Miles,” which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the charts for a total of 41 weeks, was “both amazing and a challenge, and I think I navigated it, by this point, really well,” Carlton says.
Carlton has been able to parlay her early success into creating a career and musical repertoire that includes four albums with a fifth, titled Liberman, set to be released next year. “The beauty of [‘A Thousand Miles’] is it allows me the freedom to make these albums that are art projects that I can, in a lot of areas, fund myself.”
Initially, “A Thousand Miles” also cast a shadow that the self-described shy singer wanted to step out of in order to create a career that fit her artistic vision. “I wasn’t ready to figure out what my next step was after,” Carlton says. It took her five years to slow down and thoughtfully piece together new material.
The culmination of struggles and writer’s block was Carlton’s fourth studio album, Rabbits on the Run, released in 2011. “Rabbits on the Run was a big transition for me,” Carlton says. “It came at a time when I had left the major label system, and it was really liberating for me. I felt like I could explore weird stuff and make the album I wanted to make. That was invigorating.”
Liberman, her upcoming album, draws its title from her grandfather’s real last name, which he changed due to social pressures. The name change always bugged Carlton, and “the whole album is going to go back to…that pure truth.
“The new album is much more philosophical,” Carlton continues. “It’s the story of one person, and also the story of every person.”
When the singer/songwriter comes to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday, June 15, she’ll play songs that span her body of work. “[I’ll play] fan favorites from each record, a lot of my favorites and a big chunk of my new stuff that’s going to be coming out next year,” Carlton says.
The New York-based artist has never been to the East End, and the opportunity could have passed her by, as she and her husband John J. McCauley III are moving to Nashville soon. McCauley was living in Music City when they first met. Carlton notes that the appeal of Nashville is not just its affinity for country music, but its warmth and accessibility to all artists. The city’s many affordable home-recording studios “keep up-and-coming artists afloat,” she says. “People can really explore.”
The ubiquitous live music venues in Nashville will also challenge Carlton. “It takes courage to just jump onto that stage, and I’d like to be more courageous.”
Catch Carlton on Sunday, June 15, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach. Ticket prices are $30, $40 or $50. Visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500 for more information.