Vanessa Lee Carlton (born August 16, 1980) is an American singer-songwriter and pianist. Upon completion of her education at the School of American Ballet, Carlton chose to pursue singing instead, performing in New York City bars and clubs while attending college. Three months after recording a demo with producer Peter Zizzo, she signed with A&M Records. She began recording her album, which was initially unsuccessful until Ron Fair took over.
Her debut single, "A Thousand Miles", reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2002. Her debut album, Be Not Nobody, followed and received a platinum certification in the United States. Her subsequent albums, Harmonium (2004) and Heroes & Thieves (2007), failed to match the commercial success of the first. She produced a fourth album, Rabbits on the Run (2011), independently before seeking a record label to release it. Carlton released a holiday EP titled Hear the Bells in November 2012, and released her fifth studio album, Liberman, on October 23, 2015.
Life and career
Childhood and youth
Carlton was born in Milford, Pennsylvania, the first of three children of Edmund "Ed" Carlton, a pilot, and Heidi Lee, a pianist and school music teacher. Her two younger siblings are a sister, Gwen, and a brother, Edmund. Carlton is Jewish on her mother's side, who is of Russian-Jewish descent.
Her interest in music began at an early age. At the age of 2, she visited Disneyland and played "It's a Small World" on the piano when she came home. Her mother then began to tutor her. She was introduced to classical music from a young age. By the age of 9, she had become passionate about ballet. In 1994, when Carlton was 14 years old, she enrolled at the School of American Ballet. Upon graduation, she put on vocal performances at nightclubs in the community, beginning to feel more comfortable and dynamic on the stage. She later moved to New York City, attending Columbia University for one year before dropping out.
2002–03: Be Not Nobody
Carlton first met songwriter/producer Peter Zizzo at a singer-songwriter circle. A few months later, Zizzo invited Carlton to his studio to record a demo. Three months after recording the demo, Carlton was signed by Jimmy Iovine to A&M Records and began to record an album, titled Rinse. It was never released, but a few tracks were reworked for Be Not Nobody. One song, "Carnival", was re-recorded as "Dark Carnival" for the video game SpyHunter 2. Other tracks included in Rinse are "Interlude" (later known as "A Thousand Miles"), "Rinse", "Ordinary Days" (later known as "Ordinary Day"), "Twilight", "Pretty Baby", "All I Ask" and "Superhero". Of these, only the first five are included in her first album, Be Not Nobody. Other unreleased tracks from her early demo tapes include "Faces", "Meggie Sue", "Little Mary", "Burden", "Wonder", "Devil Dance" and "Last Fall".
With her previous unsuccessful recording efforts, Carlton felt there was a lack of direction at her label. However, A&M president Ron Fair upon hearing her demo to "A Thousand Miles", began organizing recording sessions for the song, producing and arranging the song himself. It became a hit, peaking inside the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to become the sixth-most-played song of the year, as well as garnering Grammy Award nominations for "Record of the Year", "Song of the Year", and "Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)". Fair would produce the rest of the album. Be Not Nobody was subsequently released in April 2002 and debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 albums chart with 102,000 units sold. It went on to sell more than two million copies worldwide. Two more singles, "Ordinary Day" and "Pretty Baby" were released. Carlton began touring in support of her debut album, opening for the Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind, before headlining her own tour at the end of 2002. She later toured Europe in 2003.
Carlton had collaborated with other artists before the release of her second album. She provided the descant vocals for the Counting Crows song "Big Yellow Taxi", played piano for Italian singer Zucchero, along with Haylie Ecker on violin, for the song "Indaco Dagli Occhi Del Cielo" and provided backing vocals for "Moving On" by Kimya Dawson for her album Hidden Vagenda.
Carlton's second album, Harmonium was released in November 2004. Harmonium debuted at number 33 on the Billboard 200 and descended quickly after, selling fewer than 150,000 copies as of February 2006, which was considered a disappointment after her successful debut. It was produced by Stephan Jenkins from rock band Third Eye Blind, and included darker themes than those on her debut album. Carlton and Jenkins met and began a relationship in mid-2002, when she and Third Eye Blind, of which Jenkins is lead singer, were on tour together. After seeing Carlton perform live, Jenkins entered her dressing room and expressed interest in producing her music, and according to Carlton they "decided very quickly, that we had the same vision for the album". Carlton credited Jenkins with helping her to withstand and protect herself from pressures the record label executives, who wanted to influence the recording process, placed on her. According to Carlton, her label "wasn't very happy" about the decisions she made during the making of the album.
Carlton stated that the album contained more of her own aesthetic as opposed to Be Not Nobody which was more influenced by Ron Fair. A single, "White Houses", released to radio in late August 2004, peaking at number 86 on the Billboard Hot 100. MTV censored and later banned the single's music video because of a controversial lyric in the song that refers to sexual intercourse. Carlton attributed the censoring of the song to the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy involving Janet Jackson which had occurred earlier that year.
To support the album, Carlton embarked on a North American concert tour, which began on October 21, and concluded on November 21; her opening act was Low Millions. A second tour, with Cary Brothers and Ari Hest as supporting acts, ran from March 9 to April 30. Carlton left A&M Records in mid-2005 as she felt that her nonconformist attitude would have created problems for her at the label in the future. A&M Records had sent Carlton into the recording studio because they wanted to re-release Harmonium, whereas Carlton felt the album should be promoted as it was. During her studio time, in which she wrote songs with Linda Perry and The Matrix, she had what she called a "revelation" about leaving the label to find another record deal once promotion for Harmonium had ended. In the same period she collaborated with the Italian singer Zucchero Fornaciari featuring his song Indaco Dagli Occhi Del Cielo (cover of the well known Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime), together with the violinist Haylie Ecker, in the album Zu & Co.
2006–2008: Heroes and Thieves
In August 2005, Carlton said she was to enter the recording studio the following month with producer Linda Perry,[unreliable source?] with whom she had previously collaborated after executives at A&M Records sent her into the studio to record a re-release single for Harmonium. The album was influenced by Carlton's breakup with its co-producer, Stephan Jenkins, and Carlton said that one of the reasons they remained friends was that "nothing took precedence over the music ... No matter what was going on in the emotional realm, all we cared about was the album. It created this kinetic environment that was kind of like Fleetwood Mac. It made for better music."
Heroes & Thieves was released and greeted with generally positive reviews. It debuted at number 44 on the U.S. Billboard 200, "Nolita Fairytale" was the first single and peaked at number 26 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 Tracks chart. To promote the album, Carlton embarked on the Haunted Club Tour, from November 2 to 24, 2007. Second single "Hands on Me" was sent out to radio in February 2008 and reached number 30 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 Tracks chart. One song on the album was "Spring Street," based on Spring Street in SoHo in Manhattan. Carlton parted amicably with The Inc. once her promotional commitments to Heroes & Thieves had passed.
She contributed a stripped-down version of the song "More than This" to Songs for Tibet, an album compiled in support of Tibet to underline its human rights situation. On September 25, 2008, Carlton and several other musicians and scientists departed on a nine-day trip to the Arctic Circle. On behalf of the charity Cape Farewell, they worked alongside researchers for the purpose of studying climate change. Carlton had been a part for PETA's Animal Birth Control Campaign; she owns a long haired dachshund named Lord Victor.
2009–2012: Rabbits on the Run and Hear the Bells
Carlton's fourth studio album Rabbits on the Run was released on July 26, 2011 under Razor & Tie, the third record label she signed with. Before recording the album, Carlton was unsure whether she wanted to make another record or pursue film scoring instead. After deciding to try again, she decided that she needed to record in the ideal environment, choosing to record at Real World Studios Box, England.[failed verification] She chose the title for the symbolism often depicted by rabbits—'time slipping, mind floating'—which is something she has been relating to for the past few years. The album was further inspired by Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Richard Adams's Watership Down. The dreamy, fantastical sound of the album was achieved by recording direct to tape and features production by Steve Osborne. First single, "Carousel" was released on May 3. On September 19, a tweet in Carlton's account made by her management stated that "I Don't Want to Be a Bride" would be the next single off the record. Via Twitter, Carlton announced that her label wouldn't produce a video for "I Don't Want to Be a Bride," instead producing one for "Hear the Bells". The music video, which Carlton describes as her most revealing to date, was released on June 7, 2012.
On November 10, a tweet made by Carlton's management announced the upcoming release of her holiday EP titled Hear the Bells on November 21. The EP consists of four tracks, two of which are acoustic versions of Carlton's songs Hear the Bells and A Thousand Miles.
2012–2017: Liberman, Blue Pool, Liberman Live and Earlier Things Live
Carlton announced that she had returned to Real World Studios in late 2012 to commence work on a new album related to euphoria. She has since clarified on Twitter that "Euphoria" is not the actual name of the new album, nor is it straightforward electronically fabricated.
In late 2013 on a small tour, Carlton teased new songs "Willows", "House Of Seven Swords", "A Matter Of Time", "Take It Easy" and "Unlock The Lock".
On February 28, 2014, Carlton announced that she has finished recording the new album, which is ten tracks in length and will be titled Liberman. On April 11, 2014, Carlton stated that Liberman was being mastered. Carlton's 2014 summer tour supported the Barefoot Wine Beach Project, which encourages people to clean the beach and keep it safe for wildlife. She performed a track to promote the events for Fox New York TV titled "Willows", which she said is about the trees she loved when growing up. She also revealed that her album Liberman would be released in 2015. In an interview with CBS News published on June 11, 2014, Carlton called the album "kind of lush, trippy and beautiful...You really feel like you're falling into a rabbit hole of sounds." About the album, she said: "It's pretty short. It's 10 songs. It's meant to be listened through your headphones."
On April 20, 2015, it was announced that Carlton has signed with Dine Alone Records for the release of Liberman, which would be released in October 2015. Esquire premiered "Young Heart", a song not expected to be included on the album but released as a "pre-release single." On June 15, 2015, Carlton released the song "Blue Pool" through Nylon magazine's website. The song is included on the Blue Pool EP, released digitally on July 24, 2015. The songs included on the EP will be part of a deluxe version of her full-length album, Liberman. On August 3, 2015, Southern Living premiered the official music video for "Blue Pool." On August 27, 2015, USA Today premiered the official lyric video for "Willows." The album artwork for Liberman was also revealed along with its release date of October 23, 2015.
Vanessa released Liberman Live on October 21, 2016. The album consists of 8 live tracks recorded while on tour in Nashville, Tennessee.
On February 17, 2017, Carlton released another live album titled Earlier Things Live via her own Victor Music label. The set includes 6 songs from albums that were released pre-Liberman and played live during her Liberman Tour throughout 2015–2016.
2017–present: Cover songs, Love Is an Art and Broadway debut
Carlton performed a song titled "Love Is An Art" throughout 2017, and stated that it may be the title of her next album. She began writing songs for it in June 2017. On December 25, 2018 she posted on Instagram saying that she would be entering the studio to record her new album on January 23, 2019.
In March 2018, Carlton began to release one cover song a month while she worked on her sixth album. The first of six songs, a cover of "Call Your Girlfriend" by Robyn, was released digitally March 23, 2018. The second, a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" was released April 20, 2018. The third, a cover of Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" was released May 18, 2018. The fourth cover, Fred Neil's "Little Bit of Rain" was released on June 15, 2018. The fifth cover, "Needle in the Hay" by Elliott Smith was released on July 20, 2018. The sixth and final cover song, "Lonely Girls" by Lucinda Williams was released on August 10, 2018. She released the covers EP as a triple vinyl collection along with the Liberman Live and Earlier Things Live EPs on November 23, 2018.[self-published source?]
In May 2019, Carlton's Instagram page revealed that she would be taking over the lead role in the Carole King musical Beautiful for a limited season from June 27. This marks Carlton's Broadway debut. On May 27, 2019, Carlton announced via her Instagram that her sixth album is titled Love Is an Art and that it was produced by Dave Fridmann. The album was mastered the same day of the announcement.
Vanessa's sixth album Love Is an Art was released March 27, 2020. Vanessa revealed via Twitter in January 2021 that she plans on re-releasing the album in March 2021 with new songs and demo recordings from the albums studio sessions.
As a teenager, Vanessa Carlton suffered from depression and developed anorexia after completing high school. She sought therapy, managed her depression with medication, and overcame her eating disorder before her first single debuted.
On October 9, 2013, at a live performance in Bay Shore, New York, Carlton announced that she was expecting her first child with her fiancé John McCauley (of the band Deer Tick) and was very early on in her pregnancy. In November, she announced she had experienced an ectopic pregnancy, in which she later suffered a ruptured tube and internal bleeding. After surgery, her entire right fallopian tube was removed. On December 27, 2013, Carlton and McCauley married in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks.
On June 26, 2014, Carlton announced via Facebook that the release of Liberman would be delayed until the summer of 2015 because she was expecting another child with McCauley. On January 13, 2015, Carlton gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Sidney.
In 2005, Carlton completed the New York City Marathon and donated the pledge money she collected to Musicians on Call, a nonprofit organization that brings live and recorded music to patients' bedsides.
- Be Not Nobody (2002)
- Harmonium (2004)
- Heroes & Thieves (2007)
- Rabbits on the Run (2011)
- Liberman (2015)
- Love Is an Art (2020)