Watch out! Vanessa Carlton may have literally passed you by. While shooting the video for her well-traveled first single, ”A Thousand Miles,” the 21-year-old singer-songwriter, an owl named Gizmo, and a baby grand were lashed to the flatbed of a truck and zipped through the streets of L.A. With Be Not Nobody, her top-10-bound debut album, motoring along nicely too, the Mitford, Pa., native slowed down long enough to sound off on record execs, pop doppelganger Michelle Branch, and the pitfalls of…the metric system.
LISTEN2THIS Since you’re calling from the set of your next video, ”Ordinary Day,” maybe you can tell us what an ordinary day is like for you.
VANESSA CARLTON These days, an ordinary day is a day, [a nonstop] 24 hours. There’s no nighttime — anywhere. It’s nonstop. Now, I’m not complaining. When I started out four years ago, we were in a different cycle of music and it wasn’t based around organic playing, so I know what it’s like to be working hard, with no one noticing.
L2T Alicia Keys told me a similar thing. For years there’s all this work that nobody sees, but because you’re young, there’s this illusion that you’ve just exploded onto the scene.
VC It’s funny you mention Alicia Keys, because I had the same situation as she did, where people don’t quite understand you [at first]. That was a huge problem getting a recording contract. There was no consideration or appreciation for what I was trying to do. It was like, they see a body, they see a face, I’m a girl, so it’s like, Well, it’s cookie-cutter time. And it’s usually a bunch of middle-aged men who don’t even know necessarily what they’re doing.
L2T Which is weird, because up to that point you were assuming, These guys know what they’re talking about. They’re pros. Right?
VC Exactly. It takes a lot for me to listen to someone. I mean, you have to be pretty qualified. I’m not just going to sit there and take it from some bulls — – executive.
L2T Your sound has been compared to Fiona Apple’s and Tori Amos’. How do you feel about those comparisons?
VC Well, I think it’s the Piano Girl Group Syndrome. It’s like, Well, she plays the keys and she’s intense and a little too dramatic, so of course she’s the same. I really look up to [Apple and Amos], but we’re all different. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be put into one happy identical group either, because we’re not.
L2T What about the comparison to the new wave of young female performers, like you and, say, Michelle Branch?
VC Yeah, well, now you can even get into the long-brown-hair thing. Guess what? We both have long brown hair! I mean, she’s young too, and I respect her because she plays an instrument. But I have to have a bit of faith that the American public isn’t going to assume we are the same because we both have brown hair. I just have to have that faith.
L2T You were a waitress at an Upper West Side joint in New York City for a while. Can you remember any of the specials?