The Nashville industry was blown away when Carrie Underwood made it a point to catch her breath last year. Rather than rush out an album, she took her time writing and recording. And she says the decision resulted in “much, much better songs.”
In an interview with CMT Insider host Katie Cook, Underwood said, “I wanted to switch things up, shake it up, do some different things, write some different ways. … We took more time to produce them and really get in there. I feel like I’ve only gotten better as a singer, as a songwriter, and I know what I want to hear.”
Unquestionably, her fans know what they want to hear, too, as Blown Away opened with 267,000 copies sold. In the first of a two-part interview, the former American Idol champion chats about the album artwork, the connection she feels to her Oklahoma hometown and the sweet (not naughty!) sentiment behind one of her light-hearted new tracks.
Katie: Let’s talk about the cover of Blown Away. It’s so cool and really different.
Underwood: I felt like with the songs that we had going on Blown Away, everything was really strong and really fierce. I wanted it to look different, feel different, sound different than any of my albums before. I felt like with this wonderful collection of songs, I wanted to step it up with fashion and make it look very different than anything else I’ve ever done before.
And on the song “Blown Away,” there’s this storm brewing, and there’s a storm brewing in the background on the cover.
Yeah, it definitely has a lot to do with that song in particular. I think of that song as a dark, modern-day Wizard of Oz kind of song. If you notice, there are little bitty references in there, like the yellow bricks. We made it, very, very modern. I love the dress. It was beautiful, and it was a fun, fun shoot.
Being from Oklahoma, you are no stranger to tornadoes. Growing up, did you ever have any firsthand experience with one?
The only reason I felt like I could sing a song like “Blown Away” is because I have definitely lived through my fair share of trips to the cellar in the spring. We were no stranger to that. I still ask my mom, “Is the cellar cleaned out now? Is everything OK?” Even in my new house, I had something built in it that’s like a storm shelter. I’m paranoid. (laughs)
You said halfway through recording Blown Away, “I’m trying to fill in the gaps and figure out what fits into the puzzle.” Explain what you mean by that.
Well, you start out this album puzzle with a few solid main pieces, and you want it all to feel special. You want certain songs to set up other songs. If you’re like, “Oh, I have a song like ’Blown Away.’ I need something else that counters that and fits in there.” Otherwise “Blown Away” is going to come out of nowhere. So we were writing “Two Black Cadillacs” like, “OK, this is my pair for Blown Away.” A lot of the songs are like that. They have sister songs that work together. It is a puzzle piece. You try to figure out what needs to go where.
“Thank God for Hometowns” is such a sweet song about going home. Can you really go home and just be Carrie, like you were back in the day? Or is it different now?
I can at home. When I’m with my parents, that’s the place I can unplug. That’s the place I can shut down and not worry about work or what’s going on. I go home and hang out with them. I sleep more there than any place else ever. Sometimes I think my mom gets a little worried about me, and my dad’s like, “Just let her sleep. It’s OK.” There’s a line in there, “Thank God for the county lines that welcome you back in when you were dying to get out.” That was so me growing up. I was like, “I wanna get out of this town so bad!” And now I thank God that I came from there and that my parents still live there so I can go back and visit. Every place you grow up seems horrible while you’re there growing up, right?
There’s definitely comfort in going home. Now on the album, “One Way Ticket” has almost a reggae feel to it. And “Nobody Ever Told You” almost has a Paul Simon, kind of African vibe. Was it intentional to have these world flavors on the album, or did it evolve that way?
The album kind of writes itself. It just happens. When we went in to write “One Way Ticket,” we had actually written another song that day. Luke Laird, who I write with quite a bit and has written for me quite a bit, does like beats on the side. He goes home and has fun with the Pro Tools, and he can beat-box, too. So he was doing that, I started whistling and before you knew it, that’s where we were headed. We never try to say on a writing day, “I need a song like this to fit into this box.” Whatever happens, happens. Even if it’s something I would never sing, I never stop it and be like, “I’m not going to sing this.” It has to happen because that’s your synergy for the day. If you let it go, you’re going to get the best stuff, no matter what that stuff is.
I want to know who came up with the idea to rhyme “ticket” and “lick it!” (laughs)
We had so much fun with that! We’re like, “’One way ticket,’ oh, my gosh, what rhymes with ’ticket’? Flick it, stick it, kick it, lick it… I mean there are so many things that rhyme with ’ticket’ that the possibilities were endless. I loved ’lick it.’ You think of that old saying from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, ours is, “Life is like a lollipop. Lick it.”
You make it sound so innocent! (laughs) I think it’s totally naughty.
It’s not supposed to be naughty! It’s like, life is wonderful. It’s sweet!
The second part of CMT Insider’s interview with Carrie Underwood will run Monday (May 28).