Vanessa Carlton will probably always be best known for her infectious piano ditty debut “A Thousand Miles,” but she’s released three albums since then, and while most were thematically tied together by Carlton’s descriptions of the tension of growing up, her sound has evolved. She’s gotten married, to Deer Tick frontman John McCauley, in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks. She had a child. Effectively, she grew up.
On Friday, when she drops her Blue Pool EP, listeners will get to hear just how far the 34-year-old has come. Lyrically, the four songs meditate on the past, rather than strain against the future. “I know I’m not that old, but there are times where I feel so ancient, in such a relieving way,” she tells EW. “It wasn’t a planned or strategic change of topic, I’ve just finally gone through a long enough chunk of time to begin reflection.”
That conversation, however, will be the least noticeable shift in the new material. Sonically, its an entirely new swirl to get lost in. Two songs from the EP, “Take It Easy” and “Blue Pool,” will be featured later this year on an album. They’re gooey, layered, synthy and a far cry from the sing-songy piano melodies she was once slinging. (The other two tracks are acoustic, recorded in Carlton’s home.)
“There’s this painting—my grandfather was a painter—that my grandmother gave me of his when he passed,” Carlton says, explaining the roots of her new sound. “It has all these amazing bright pastels colors and it occurred to me that every time I wrote for the upcoming record, I was looking at this painting. That’s where those lush feelings of melodies wrapping around you come from, that’s what that painting feels like to me.”
And while hearing her soaked in reverb may be startling for listeners, its all come gradually for her. “I’ve been kind of living in this world for a few years now, but perhaps I’ve been doing it so under the radar that it sounds out of the blue,” she says. “It’s something that I’ve been loving and working towards—I feel like I just hit my stride with this particular sound. It feels like a break from reality, for however-many minutes.”
And it does. Because it is. The two dreamscape tunes are representative of her fall-anticipated full-length Liberman. Out on Dine Alone records, Carlton recorded the collection between Box, England with Steve Osborne at Peter Gabriel’s famed Real World Studios and her adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee with Adam Landry at Playground Studios. As for the title, it’s her mother’s maiden name. Well, it’s a little more interesting than that.
“So my grandparents changed their name [from Liberman] to Lee,” she says. “My mom didn’t tell me that they’d done so until I was in my twenties. They changed it because my grandfather was a shop owner and he thought they wouldn’t have as successful business with a Jewish name. Also something funny is that Ralph Lifshitz was a tie-maker who really liked my grandfather’s store tried to sell his ties at his store and he went on to name himself Ralph Lauren. So, anyway, I just thought, let’s bring this back to what it originally was.”
And while Carlton is aware that she’ll always have “A Thousand Miles” next to her name, when Liberman comes out, she won’t feel the need to match numbers. “It was just such an oddity that that happened,” she says of the track’s enormous success. “[And] It throws you off when something like that happens so young—you start wondering, is that supposed to happen all the time? Am I that person? There’s been years of recalibrating my life, figuring out what I’m aiming towards and what my works means. I had to ask whether it matters to me if my work matters to pop culture or just matters to me. It took awhile. I had to step away and just return to the essentials.”