It seems like only yesterday that Carrie Underwood was fresh off the American Idol stage, a picture of down-home sweetness and unexplored talent. With Tuesday’s (May 1) release of her fourth album, Blown Away, the “All-American Girl” has officially become a Music City mogul.
Blown Away is Underwood’s first album since 2009’s Play On, and it’s coming from a much more seasoned performer and businesswoman. Realizing she needed a break but not wanting to distance herself from her fans, Underwood managed to do both by hosting award shows, appearing on other stars’ projects and picking up high-profile endorsements. Now she’s back in full force, and if you thought she’d lose any of her commanding vocal presence, let the title of her new project be a warning.
Through 14 tracks, Blown Away runs an emotional gamut filled with sweetness and revenge, nostalgia and in-the-moment excitement. It takes a contented look at faded relationships and life lessons, gets sassy when Cupid feels more like an annoying mosquito than an angel and wraps everything in Underwood’s vibrant voice.
In the first portion of a two-part interview during a visit to CMT’s offices in Nashville, the serene star sat down to talk about why she took so long to put out another album, letting her attitude show in the music and where her musical tastes currently lie.
CMT: “Good Girl,” the first single, is a little brash. What were you thinking about when you worked on it?
Underwood: It’s such a fun, rocking song. I was lucky enough to be in the room and be a co-writer on the song. It was just all about having fun and showing some attitude. We, as ladies, have a lot of layers to us. We definitely have our good sides and our bad sides. (laughs) So it was fun to kind of play off of that.
Did it remind you of “Before He Cheats” at all?
A little bit. It’d be impossible not to. But because I have songs like “Before He Cheats,” “Undo It,” “Flat on the Floor” — songs that are fun, attitude songs — I feel lucky enough to do a song like that and then turn around and do “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” I’m really blessed to be able to have a wide variety of songs to choose from.
Why did it take so long to come out with a new album?
I felt a little bit like I was on a hamster wheel. So many artists get caught up living their life between a tour bus and a recording studio. I had three albums come out in October or November every other year, and I just didn’t want to do things the same way. It wasn’t so much that I thought [doing that again] would be a bad thing, but I’m the kind of person who needs to switch things up and try new things and shake it up. Things end up better when they’re on the fly and a little unexpected. Everybody is on the edge of their seat, and they’re ready for anything. So I changed the way I wrote. I changed the way I recorded, and I took a little time to miss it and, hopefully, for people to miss me a little, as well.
Do you think that time paid off?
I think it paid off a lot. I was talking to some friends of mine who are also in the music business — I don’t want to name names or anything — but they were like, “What are you doing?!” They were worried for me. They were worried that radio wouldn’t accept me again and people will have forgotten about me. I was lucky I had projects going on in between. I got to sing with Steven Tyler, I got to sing with Tony Bennett. I did a duet with Randy Travis, I did a duet with Brad Paisley. I’m still hosting the CMAs. I was lucky to have these things that were outside of my career to keep me visible but not shoving me in people’s faces.
Since you worked with Tyler, Bennett and Paisley, who are all very different artists, what does that say about your musical taste?
I feel like I represent a lot of people’s music now. I mean, what’s on your iPod? It’s probably pretty random. You don’t probably listen to just one little pocket of music or one genre of music. I listen to everything, I grew up listening to everything, and I download the most random things. If you were to put shuffle on my iPod, Lord knows, I would probably be embarrassed by what could pop up. But being able to work with just those three very diverse artists, I feel lucky that I can do that, and I feel like they all fit.
What’s the strangest thing on your iPod?
Oh, my gosh. Well, I grew up listening to Wham! I’ve got some Avenged Sevenfold. It’s all just random. People like T.I. Obviously, people I grew up listening to, like George Strait, Alan Jackson, all of that stuff is all mixed together.
Can you give us a hint about what your next single will be?
We’ve been in little talks. I feel like we all try to put our efforts into what’s happening now instead of always looking ahead to the next thing. But I know we have a handful of songs that we’re thinking might be singles, the order I’m not sure about yet. But it will reveal itself in due time. I feel like “Good Girl” still has a ways to go before it peaks, so I look forward to that first.