While country diva Deana Carter may still be asking herself “Did I Shave My Legs For This?” over an old romantic flame, she’s quick to admit the effort was well worth it when referring to her current career explosion.
Before the sultry singer/songwriter stamped 1997 with her phenomenal “Strawberry Wine” debut, Deana had begun to wonder if a lot of her trying and often rewardless efforts to make it in the music world were worth it. After years of holding sometimes three jobs at once — usually waiting tables — and often “starving to death,” a daily chore such as shaving her legs was the least of her worries. Even after getting her record deal, the striking Nashville native was literally put on hold for almost five years before she ever released her first song.
“It’s all really paid off, I think,” says Deana. “And the whole feel-good factor just really feels good! It’s just great to lay in bed at night and go ‘Thanks!’ I’m just cruisin’ now. It’s like my nose is to the grindstone, and I’m not quitting until I just fall out one of these days. And you really can’t look up. You have to have those blinders on and just keep going. That’s what we’ve done this whole year.”
Her patience and determination to “just keep going” earned her a lot of rewards this past year. In addition to the Shave disc going multi-platinum, featuring such hits as “Strawberry Wine,” “We Danced Anyway,” “Count Me In” and now the charbroiled title cut; Deana garnered a bouquet of CMA nominations, including such coveted nods as those for Horizon and Female Vocalist. She went on to take home the trophy for Song of the Year for her tasty “Strawberry Wine.” Popular talk-show appearances, magazine covers and critical acclaim from all over the world also weaved their way through all the awards and honors.
“Definitely, you get scared that maybe it all won’t work,” she explains, “but I didn’t know all this would be so monumental. I mean how can you know that? I knew in my gut that we had a great record. We sweated and worked on this record for five years, three years prior to the two years that it finally seemed like something was going to happen,” she laughs. “I know that’s all boring history to a lot of people, but the outcome was so great and something that we could be proud of. I knew a year ago that we had a shot at a gold album. I had no doubt in my mind about that. So I just tried to live by that gut feeling and kept going on that.”
What’s also kept Deana going is her promise to always be true to herself. The young songstress vowed early on that she would never be a cookie-cutter artist or put out cookie-cutter music. So if the lyrics of her songs often seem like those of a thought provoking poet and she looks a little too comfortable running around in her bare feet, so be it. That’s what makes this eclectic country artist undeniably cool.
“People out there know crap when they see it and hear it,” proclaims Deana, who has two video versions for “Did I Shave My Legs for This” airing on CMT. “No matter what it is, even if it’s not music, you know when somebody is jiving you. If I try to fake it and be something else that I’m really not, then I come across as jiving everybody. That’s why I just strive to be myself. I don’t want to lie. This time last year, I knew what I felt (about my music), but it hadn’t been solidified by the public yet. So I could have been wrong. You definitely move with that little void of possibility that I’m going to fail, but you just can’t listen to that. You have to keep going. To me, being different, and I don’t mean to be weird, rebellious and buck the system or anything; it’s just that having a vision and being an artist is the most important part next to your songs — having the best songs that you can possibly find. That’s cool, because that keeps you from being cookie-cutter.”
There was a time, however, when Deana felt that failing, or at least not coming out a winner, was her destiny.
“I’ve always lived my life having never finished first at anything,” she admits. “I’ve never crossed a finished line with a ribbon on my belly. It was always second or third. Like in the swimming pool competitions, there were all these swimmers next to me, but I thought I was just really kicking butt. But I was never first. So I was always looking at everyone else around me doing well. That’s how I’ve always felt. Now, for once, I feel like I’ve won a race, as silly as that sounds.”
Another incredible feeling for Deana is knowing that her family and friends have always been there for her on both sides of the finish line. Sharing her success with them across the line, however, has been extra sweet.
“The most wonderful part of it as far as the family aspect, is just seeing my parents finally chill out about me,” she explains with a chuckle. “I was always the child that just worried the hell out of them. I was always struggling and waiting tables; had three jobs at once; never sleeping; and losing weight. I was skinny as a rail because I was starving to death at times — just eating Ramen Noodles everyday. They were five for a dollar. But my dad told me not too long ago, he said ‘Well Dean, I think I can finally start sleeping better at night. I think you’re going to be all right.’ Just knowing that they feel better about everything feels great to me.”
What still feels a bit strange to the country star is the impact she’s also made outside the friend and family circle.
“I guess it’s just weird because I never, ever realized before now, me planting flowers in front of my house could be so interesting to anybody. But now, there are people who drive by and go ‘Can we have your autograph?’ And here I am with my butt in the air, dirt all over my face, my hair in a pony-tail and I’ve got my gardening clothes on,” she laughs. “That kind of stuff is weird now. But I’m getting used to that. The sanity comes with just trying to get rest and keeping in touch. I talk to my husband every day and twice if I’m lucky. I also talk to my parents a lot. It’s all about staying grounded. Of course, when I come home, I do my own laundry, wash the dishes and work in the garden myself.
“Another important thing that I’ve learned is how to delegate authority and let it be okay for people to sometimes carry my luggage. I’ve got these two really big bags that I lug around and break my back over, and for months and months I was always going ‘No, I got it!’ Now, I’m like ‘Forget it, where’s the cart and the bellman?’ But I don’t want to seem like I’m weak or any kind of prima donna.”
It’s difficult to picture this hometown gal, who’s struggled for years to make her dreams come true, as any kind of prima donna. After all, she continues to perform barefoot on stage, despite criticism.
“That all started last year at rehearsal,” she remembers. “It was always a real chilled situation because we were just laid back, and we did our own thing. Then when I would go out to perform in these stacks and was trying to finagle those around on the stage, plus deal with the guitar and everything else; I would end up having almost panic attacks. I’d just get freaked out. So I finally decided ‘I’m just leaving my shoes off!’ It just became a comfort thing. There were a couple of times that I would take them off during the show and that just slowed things down too much. Then I decided I would go out there without them. If that’s hillbilly and hay bales to some people, then that’s just their mentality. Any other genre of music wouldn’t catch a lot of flack for that. Look at Alanis Morissette, Amy Grant and Loretta Lynn. They did that, so I’m not really the first to do it. I just don’t really worry about it.”
Being simply comfortable on stage these days is an understatement. For Deana, it’s a feeling that’s well worth a leg shave.
“When you are on stage, and you see and hear a crowd of people singing your stuff back to you; it’s like gas on fire,” she explains. “It just fuels the flame for the next show. It’s such an energy rush, and it’s as emotional as hell. It’s really hard for me to sing ‘Strawberry Wine’ anymore. It gets harder and harder. There’s a standing ovation as soon as they hear the first down-beat. The lighters go up and it’s just like this roar of vocals throughout the place. It’s so Beatles-esk. I’m not comparing myself to the Beatles, but it just makes you realize how you really can move mountains with music.”