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Turn Me On: Carsie Blanton and Her Culturally Subversive and Captivating Musical Presence
Buck Up, the new album from Carsie Blanton, serves as a Trojan horse for her endlessly fun and captivating brand of cultural subversion.
Through blending her two main influences of the singer-songwriter movement and vocal jazz, Blanton created an “All Killer, No Filler” listening experience that’s as radiantly jubilant as it is deeply thought-provoking.
GUYS I'm about to be touring this whole entire nation, so I made this video about me/my music/my card game so people will know to come to the shows! If you're coming to a show, give this a RT and let your friends know where/when? Dates here: https://t.co/2EFmtcSTDS pic.twitter.com/OdWkXhxlvV
— Carsie Blanton (@carsieblanton) March 19, 2019
And while the humor, irony, satire, and sarcasm inherent in Blanton’s writing are incredible joys to experience, what makes her work culturally essential and emotionally transcendent is her willingness to provide the feminist, counter-culture, sex-positive, gender-bending, socialist manifesto that we didn’t know we needed until “That Boy”, “Jacket”, “Mustache” and the other songs on Buck Up proved by example how much fun there is to be had in devoting ourselves to toppling regressively Puritanical social norms.
The New Orleans-based Blanton has been enjoying a busy 2019. After releasing Buck Up in February, she played twelve shows opening for The Wood Brothers (recently profiled in a Turn Me On column of their own), and is now driving across the country, playing twenty-six dates with her outstanding live band.
Blanton recently spoke with Rock Cellar by phone while riding in a tour van outside Dallas, Texas. When asked about crafting Buck Up, Blanton reflected, “I think that my lens as a songwriter has a lot to do with humor and playfulness and sexiness. The point is to make something that’s fun to listen to and makes you smile and makes you feel good. And that should be true regardless of what content you’re writing about. This album has a lot of darker content on it than some of my previous albums. It deals with politics, which has been dark, at least for me, over the past few years. And also with heartbreak and upheaval in my personal life. It feels natural to me to write about that stuff in a way that’s still playful. Because otherwise I get bored. There’s no reason for me to make a record that’s boring to me.”
While almost all of the songs on Buck Up would qualify as highlights, the honor of most deliciously entertaining song goes to “Mustache”, the chorus of which finds Blanton ruefully opining “But when the fever finally broke, it all seemed like a terrible joke, honey. Why’d you have to grow that mustache?” When asked about what motivated her to devote a big band number to the misguided cultivation of awkward facial hair, Blanton first pointed out the indispensable contributions of Joe Plowman, her bassist and musical aide-de-camp, whose co-writing of “Mustache” is among his seemingly innumerable contributions to Buck Up.
Blanton said of the song, “The idea came from my genuine dislike for mustaches, which have become very rampant in the culture of people in their twenties and thirties. So it was an honest motivation. There’s a thread in my work of objectifying men. It’s not meant to be a political statement. But it does feel like it’s funny, because the standard is to objectify women. There’s a lot in my work where I treat men as sex objects. And it just tickles me. So talking about a man’s visual appearance as a big problem in a relationship, to me is a good little joke about objectification and patriarchy. More than that, it’s just a funny song.”
To date, Carsie Blanton has released four music videos for some of the most memorable songs on Buck Up. Her regular director is Andrew Rozario, with whom she made the video for “Jacket”, the album’s paean to female masturbation. Of making the video, she recalled, “The original concept was that it was just going to be a skate video. It was going to be just a bunch of hot, young, hard-bodied roller skaters. Then I discovered the work of the artist Stephanie Sarley, on Instagram, who does fruit petting. This very sexual touching of fruit. I called Andrew. I said, ‘Okay, we have to add this to the video. Because it’s the perfect visual innuendo for female masturbation.’ I did some Facebook casting, ‘We’re looking for women that want to touch fruit suggestively in a music video.’ We set up a little studio in my house. We got $150 worth of fresh fruit. We just had women come in and pick the fruit they wanted to touch. We set up this very intense lighting for each of them. So it has kind of a neon look all the way throughout the video. We weren’t sure if it would work to combine the skating and the fruit. But it actually ended up totally fitting. I love the way it flows between those two ideas.”
Another stunning achievement on Buck Up is “Harbor”, which genuinely deserves to be the next song you get tired of hearing at weddings. On how she crafted such an effective ballad, Blanton recounted, “I heard the phrase, ‘Ships are safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for’ on an Australian TV show. I remember pausing it and looking up the phrase, thinking, ‘Did the writer of this show just make that up?’ It turned out that a novelist from the early 1800s wrote that phrase down. So it’s a phrase that has existed for a while. But I had never heard it until sometime last year. So the whole song was born out of that idea, which I thought was such a beautiful metaphor. One of the themes I work with a lot is the idea of not being afraid of heartbreak and disaster. Being able to face heartbreak and mortality and these scary things with a sense of chutzpah.”
In addition to making albums, music videos and touring, Blanton uses Patreon as a way to regularly provide fans with content using the now culturally ubiquitous subscription model. Of using Patreon, Blanton shared, “The idea of Patreon has been something I’ve been attracted to for a long time. I’ve tried different iterations of trying to give fans an opportunity to pay me what they want. Including how I sell my CDs and digital tracks. I think being an artist is one of the positions in society where it’s really clear that capitalism is not a good fit for everything that people do. Because art has never been a very good product. It’s a wonderful thing to do and people need it. But it’s really not the same as manufacturing toothbrushes. Patreon is one of the models that allows for the idea that artists are doing a thing that is valuable, and the people who value it should be able to support them if they want. To me, that’s a much more natural fit.” Blanton produced a delightful video, currently on her Patreon page and YouTube channel, with more information about the platform and why she finds it invaluable.
Carsie Blanton is also currently promoting “The F’ing Truth”, a card game she conceived that’s currently being sold at gigs, on thefingtruth.com and at select Urban Outfitters. Of how “The F’ing Truth” came to life, Blanton explained, “It’s a card game where you get these questions about sex on cards. ‘Have you ever had sex with someone you thought was stupid?’ There are 106 questions that I made up over many phases of development. As you answer the questions, you get to cross off these number on your bingo board. So it’s sort of like sex bingo. I had the idea for the format a few years ago. Once I thought of it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Which is the same way I write songs. If I get a creative idea, I become obsessive until it’s finished.”
At age thirty-three and six full-length albums in, is it too early to consider Carsie Blanton one of the most significant, developed and worthy voices of her generation, if not in modern American songwriting? This journalist would offer that similar praise has historically been too-often heaped on men of a younger age and thinner discographies, to say nothing of the fact that most of them have chronically failed to be as resoundingly compelling and as insightful as Blanton has proven to be with Buck Up. Blanton’s current West Coast tour continues through June 1st, including upcoming stops in San Francisco (May 12th), San Diego (May 14th), Los Angeles (May 16th) and Santa Cruz (May 17th).
To turn yourself on to Carsie Blanton go to https://www.carsieblanton.com to listen to Buck Up, read Carsie’s blog, find upcoming tour dates and ticket links and visit Carsie’s Bandcamp store filled with CDs, vinyl, downloads and merch.
The most extensive collection of Carsie Blanton’s official videos can be found on her YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/CarsieBlanton/videos.
Carsie is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carsieblantonfans/ and be found @carsieblanton on Twitter and Instagram.