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Q&A: Carrie Underwood says she’s at the top of her game with fifth album Storyteller

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Randee St Nicholas

The countdown to Carrie Underwood’s first album in over three years is on. The American Idol winner announced the name of the record, Storyteller, in a Facebook chat Aug. 20 before dropping the lead single, “Smoke Break,” which turned up on the radio the same day. Ahead of Storyteller‘s Oct. 23 release, Underwood spoke with EW about the 13-song set’s laidback tone, how being a new parent influenced the album, and whether fans can expect any surprise guests on her fifth effort.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you believe your sound has changed since winning Idol 10 years ago?

CARRIE UNDERWOOD: Over the past 10 years, any job that anybody does, the more you do things the more you get better at them. That’s kind of where I’m at. I feel like I’m at the top of my game as a performer and as a signer and as a songwriter just because I’ve been doing a lot of it over the past 10 years, and having a lot of fun with it. I feel like my sound has evolved.

What else can you tell us about Storyteller?

This is the longest time I’ve taken between studio albums. I had the greatest hits album kind of in between and of course that has a couple new songs on it but this is, I’m more nervous now that I’ve taken time. I just wanted everything to be exactly how I wanted it. I started finding songs and writing songs that I really fell in love with. I’ve been living with them for a long time. Just adding the right song to complete the puzzle. I feel like this album is, it’s a little more twangy — if there’s a word I can use to describe it. Twangy, yeah. It’s got lots of different instrumentation for me and just kind of different feel but it’s going to be great live.

I’m really excited to be able to get out on the road next year with it and play the new stuff. I really feel like people are going to be able to relate to this album. We’ve explored different avenues, we’ve worked with different producers. I just wanted it to have a different feel and different sound altogether.

Was it a conscious decision to take more time between albums?

My baby was a great time in my life and a time for me to step back from my music a little bit, pay more attention from my personal life. It also allowed me time to really think through the making of the album. Because you can get so caught up in dates and deadlines and things like that, you might not end up with everything to be perfect like you want it to be. It really allowed me time to kind of step back and kind of have extra time to listen to things and extra time to write because when I was giant and pregnant, I couldn’t really do much else. But I could definitely sit in a room and write. It was a good excuse to take a little extra time on the album.

Does being a mom change what you’ve been writing about?

I feel like people expect me almost to lose my edge in a way, kind of write “mommy songs” a little bit. It’s impossible as a songwriter, that’s what you do, you pull on personal experiences to tell stories and to be relatable, and people that you know, their stories work their way into your songs. It’s inevitable that Isaiah will eventually some way or another make his way into what I write about but he definitely didn’t really change my approach. My sound is different, but not because of him. I definitely pay homage to him with a song on the new album.

Do any of your new songs take a big departure from your older stuff?

As a whole the album is a little more laid-back as opposed to the last one. Blown Away was very dramatic. It was very fierce, was always the word I wanted to use when talking about it — everything from the cover art to a lot of the songs — it was just very in your face. It was a little more aggressive. This ones a little more laid-back, and I feel like it’s just really relatable. I think there’s gong to be a lot of songs on the album that people can listen to and be like, “That’s my story.” I feel like they’re really going to enjoy going through the journey.

You tweeted that “Smoke Break” was the first time you heard a single on the radio the same day it was released. Do you still enjoy hearing your songs on the air?

It means almost more to me now because I understand what the whole music process. In the beginning it’s like, I recorded a song and hey, it’s on the radio! I’m like, well that’s what’s supposed to happen. I feel like it was such a whirlwind time for me 10 years ago, now I can appreciate a lot more of the hard work that goes into making that song.

Did you revisit any old material for Storyteller?

There’s always a little bit of that, but generally, if something didn’t make an album, there was a reason for it. Things can get reworked and stuff like that or might fit better somewhere down the road but I really enjoy getting in there. I like new stuff. It’s kind of hard for me to go back and listen to something I wrote years ago because it probably doesn’t fit were I’m at right now. You never know, maybe some day something will make its way in. For this album, it was all new stuff.

You’ve had such success working with artists like Randy Travis, Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert. Can fans expect any collaborations on the upcoming record?

There are no duets on the album. I try not to force anything ever and that’s kind of where you can get into some tricky territory. I’ve been lucky enough to get to sing with a lot of cool people but it’s always been for some sort of event or something. It’s never really quite worked out on my album except for Randy Travis. But I mean, nothing really lends itself to that this time.

Do you have anyone in mind to work with down the line?

I’m open. It has to be the right song, the right time, the right event. Just the right circumstances. We’re kind of in an age where there’s so many incredible artists of all genres. I’m open to suggestions.

Related Stories

Carrie Underwood announces new single, ‘Smoke Break’

Carrie Underwood debuts cover for new album, Storyteller — exclusive

Carrie Underwood salutes hardworking women in ‘Smoke Break’ video

Get exclusive details about fall’s buzziest albums in Entertainment Weekly Issue #1379, on stands Aug. 27.

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