Being at the top can be an uneasy place to be, especially in the entertainment industry. Initial successes catapult an artist instantly into the limelight, where the trappings of fortune and fame can be blinding. Deana Carter, CMT’s December Showcase Artist and one of today’s hottest country stars, is facing these truths head-on. Earthy and grounded, Deana has a clear focus on where she’s been and where she’s headed. In a fickle entertainment industry that likes to maintain that art is the priority but profits remain king, Carter is adamant about maintaining personal and professional integrity, choosing to make music that reflects her own life and, she hopes, those of her listeners as well.
“I never try to do music to please somebody else,” she muses. “I just don’t. I do it for the honesty and the way it comes out of me. I follow my heart, and that’s just the way I live my life. If I’m just trying to do the right thing, it seems that essentially will be pleasing to other people, too.”
It’s been a successful formula so far. Her 1996 debut, Did I Shave My Legs For This?, is quadruple platinum, and after a mere five weeks on the street, Everything’s Gonna Be Alright has already been certified gold. It’s a good sign; the first album took six weeks to reach those sales figures.
Still, making Everything’s Gonna Be Alright was not without its problems. With high expectations to follow the success of “Legs,” for the first time Deana encountered the conflicting interests of art and commerce. Changes in leadership and philosophy at her record label also added some stresses to the project, and Deana found herself flooded with input from all sides. As is her style, however, Deana persevered throughout and clung to the artistic integrity of her music. In the end, she triumphed.
“It’s a good thing for people to have input because it is a team effort,” Carter emphasizes. “But if there’s not a focus from the artist of what she or he feels represents them properly, then none of us are going to get anywhere. If you have to be something you’re not, then why do it at all?”
“We recreated the same priorities we had on the first album and stayed very song-driven. That’s the most important thing. I’m excited because the stories come from the same place; they’re about the life experiences we share.”
Deana and her co-producer, Chris Farren, decided to build on her previous success of simple music and repeat that focus on Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. She wanted to stay away from technological gizmos and special effects, focusing instead on real musicians who played real music with real soul. She also co-wrote much of the album, and chose songs from other writers who shared her vision of creating music from life experiences. The song that perhaps most captures the essence (“the whole enchilada,” as she says) of Deana’s music is the title cut, written by her father, noted Nashville session player Fred Carter, Jr., about his sister’s battle with cancer.
Realizing that art comes from life may be the reason Deana has found a unique way to connect to people through her music. Her earthiness and sincere demeanor have made her a fan favorite, and being “real” remains her priority. She discourages those who would have unrealistic expectations of her being a “star,” and she admits that sometimes the stresses of fame can be overwhelming.
“People don’t realize how hard it is to maintain some sense of realness, of a normal life, and just being the person you’ve always been,” she maintains. “Through all the success and everything, it’s been tough, man, just trying to stay grounded, and not believe everything you hear. You just learn to take baby steps to get through it, to try to maintain a sense of balance. I’m no different than anybody else. I don’t feel like artists have to stand up here and be so pristine like we don’t go through what everybody else does. I’m just me, the me that was me before I was the me that everybody else sees.”
1999 looks to be a bit different from the whirlwind she’s lived for the last three years. After winding down this year’s obligations, she plans to postpone touring until the second half of 1999. She plans to stay home and concentrate on songwriting, on re-energizing, on spending time with her husband. She’d also like to start a family. After the summer, she’ll return to the road, possibly headlining her own tour for the first time. Regardless of where she finds herself, it seems a certainty that Deana will always count on honesty and being herself to carry her through. Or, as she says it, “Let’s just be real.”