Interviews / Music

Colette Carr on Songwriting and Her New Album

An undeniable force of energy surges through anyone who listens to  Colette Carr’s music. Signed to Interscope for 5 years before making the executive decision to do it on her own, Carr took the immense amount of freedom blown her way to delve into a brighter and more vibrant sound that she showcases in her second studio album, Believe in Us. Starting out with the dream of playing tennis competitively, Carr’s journey teaches us all that nothing in life is guaranteed. However, Carr shows us that rather than lying in blankets of defeat, if we choose to look around us, we may just find greater opportunities that we didn’t quite see before. 
Cliché: You were first discovered by Nick Cannon after your self-produced video for “Back it Up” went to #1 at mtvU. What inspired you to create that video?
Colette Carr: I made that video as a hobby project and I sort of just threw myself into it. It was a time in my life where I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I had recorded some songs with The Cataracs and I thought that it would be a great idea to make a tribute video to my uncle, who had just passed away. He was schizophrenic and the psych ward was a reflection of the stories he would tell me from his imagination. It was really inspired by my Uncle Robin, so I made that video as a personal project.
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Though you were heading towards playing tennis competitively, you were in a car accident that left you with a back injury, making you unable to play. After working so hard on that dream, it’s inspiring that you got back up and created such a successful new one. What was the transition process like?
It was like closing one door and opening another one with it. I think it is pretty inspiring for people that are feeling down when the doors around them are closing. You know, you can just rewire your energy and something amazing can happen.  When my doctor said I couldn’t play tennis anymore because I could become paralyzed if I wore down the cartilage in between vertebrae, I started taking improv classes, freestyling at parties, and socializing more—things I never had time for before in my pursuit to become a professional tennis player. That led me to the Game concert where I jumped on stage and freestyled, and from there, I met The Cataracs and recorded songs with them. Then I finished up my video and Nick [Cannon] really liked it, and so did Jimmy Iovine. Before I knew it, I was signed to Interscope.
You spent 5 years signed to Interscope Records until deciding that you wanted to continue on your own. How do you manage the massive workload that needs to get done?
I surround myself with a lot of really amazing people that help me a lot—people that I trust and are very good at what they do—so I definitely can’t take credit for being able to handle all of this because I have a lot of people helping me. But, I use my iPhone to the best of its ability, and honestly, I don’t know if I could be doing any of this without a smartphone!  
How has doing it on your own affected the type of music you create? Do you find that you have a lot more freedom now to experiment with your style?
It’s funny, I was watching Project Runway the other day, and for the first time all season, they had a challenge where they didn’t have any restrictions. They didn’t have to make the dress out of junkyard material or straws, and one of the girls on the show said that she was actually more overwhelmed than ever because there were no boundaries. She was more confused than ever, and that’s exactly how I felt. I was like, “I don’t have other restrictions or other people’s opinions. I can do anything I want. Where do I start?” It was intense. I was so confused, so Frankmusik and I really experimented and played around with different sounds until we found one that felt right. Then we just kept building from there and I kind of turned off that voice inside of me that would prejudge the work before it even happened. That’s when the songs just started rolling out of me.  
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You recently shot a video for your latest single “Play House” with music video director Shane Drake, who has worked with artists such as Taylor Swift, Timbaland, and Paramore, among many others. How has this video differed from what you have done before?
Shane’s energy is so exact. It’s like red-hot, burning passion. It’s so much fun to work with him. He has you at the edge of your seat and everything happens according to plan. He’s so organized and his team is so seasoned and so incredible. It was such an amazing experience for me. We got things done on time, it was harmonious, and I think the biggest difference between this video and videos I’ve done in the past is the connection Shane and I had while I was in front of the camera. It was almost like I could read his mind and what he wanted me to do and the looks he wanted and the movement he wanted. We clicked instantly and it stayed that way the entire video. It was really cool to see him so emotional about this project because he’s worked with such incredible artists and worked on a lot of really amazing songs, but he really felt passionate about my song and my project, and that meant a lot to me.
Like your previous albums, Believe in Us is being split into EPs, with the full album being released as a whole last. What does this process allow you to do that releasing the full album, without the EPs, doesn’t?
EPs are like moments. So it’s like you keep getting episodes, and when you release an album, it’s like your whole movie. That’s how I look at it. So Static.Start to me was a moment; it was a thought. It has an energy about it completely different from “Play House” in the sense that it’s more negative. I mean, I was going through a breakup when I wrote that one, and then I found love when I wrote “Play House.” So it’s different in that sense, but it’s consistent in sound and in my new voice, and then when you hear all of them on the album together, I think you’ll be able to see what I was going through in the time that I recorded the entire album.
So would you say that the songs in each EP carry a similar theme?
I think that I was writing them all around the same time, so I had similar thoughts and similar problems that excited me going into each and every song. I don’t think that people should record a song, wait a year, and then record another song because it’s never going to sound like one cohesive work of art.
How long does it take for you to get the whole album done in comparison to each EP?
We locked ourselves in the studio for six months and got it done. I went on one tour for iHeartRadio in-between the process and I performed the brand new songs live, and that really helped me understand what was working and what wasn’t. When I got back in the studio, that’s when we really kicked it into high gear.
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Do you ever have the problem of wanting a song on an EP that doesn’t exactly fit it sonically?
There’s a lot that goes into picking the songs for EPs. It’s a very strange process and wouldn’t make sense if I tried to explain it. It’s like the songs have to be friends. They have to get along with each other and fit each other in a certain way; I can’t put conflicting songs on an EP. I don’t know, but it’s a weird, weird, weird process, and ultimately I decide it because no one else can make sense of what I’m thinking. I just have to really figure out what I’m going to put on this next EP, and it’s probably going to be a very strange process of me listening to them all, over and over again, and deciding which ones are sisters and which ones are best friends and which ones are enemies.  
Do you have a specific goal or dream that you would like to achieve next?
I want to blow “Play House” up.
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Colette Carr on Songwriting and Her New Album: Photographed by MJ Kim

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