A Pop Star’s “Murda” – Vanessa Carlton Talks Murder Inc., Irv Gotti and Being a Rap Label Pop Star

Vanessa Carlton makes little eye-contact and keeps her focus on a mid-March sun soaked window with a view of a few rooftops of downtown New York City. Dressed in a white blouse, a middle-eastern patterned scarf, and brown boots that resemble the color of her long-haired dachshund, Victor, who has his head on her lap. Serenely laying back on a couch she looks like she secretly wished it reclined.This picture of peace broke into the pop field in 2002, with “A Thousand Miles,” during a time new female artists were fitting into their anti-Britney labels. This label came with a musical credibility equipped with three Grammy Nominations. Even Kanye West dubbed “A Thousand Miles” the “white song that all Black people like,” albeit, after it was used on the Wayans brothers film White Chicks as the “whitest song ever.”A year after Carlton and her original label parted ways, she signed with Irv Gotti on “The Inc.” Allegedly Gotti bugged out after hearing Carlton play live at a music label president’s office. Predictably, the pairing had many scratching heads and raising eyebrows. Those expecting an urban transformation of sorts were greatly disappointed as no drastic change was made to Vanessa’s musical styling.Pay no mind that she was born in Pennsylvania. Her single last summer, “Nolita Fairytale,” for her new album Heroes & Thieves focused on her contentment with living in New York (more specifically the neighborhood of Nolita). Its video featured her parading around Nolita with Victor, particularly satisfied. Meeting Carlton through a Hip-Hop publication might enlist you in a fruitless mission to uncover something “Hip-Hop” about her, besides her association with The Inc. The mission might have you overlook the truest Hip-Hop quality any artist can have – she just doesn’t care for pop stardom.AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Did it ever cross your mind that it might be detrimental to your career to sign with a label that had been accused of being funded by drug money?Vanessa Carlton: Oh. Actually…obviously I knew that situation of what Irv [Gotti] had gone through before I met him. When it came down to signing with him it absolutely didn’t cross my mind because obviously [it] was resolved and it happened. In the end, [Irv is] an innocent guy.AHHA: I remember reading that it was his reaction to your music that really got you to sign with him.Vanessa Carlton: Initially it prompted us to continue talking and us to exchange Blackberry information and start a dialogue. I was definitely surprised by his connection to the music. Obviously I didn’t predict that was going to happen. That’s really what led to dialogue and then it was getting to know the way he worked, to kind of measure and observe how tenacious he was and dedicated.AHHA: What is it that you call him? I read that you have a name for him.Vanessa Carlton: Ganesh. Yeah. It’s [from] Buddhist mythology. Ganesh is the warrior. He basically achieves victory through kindness [and] positivism. There’s this whole story. He’s actually an elephant; you know when you see a Buddhist temple where there’s an elephant with a long trunk.AHHA: Have you been approached to collaborate with other artists on The Inc.?Vanessa Carlton: It’s sort of interesting. The music industry now – labels are not as defined as they once were. It’s not like there’s a place “The Inc.” where I go to. It’s like Universal Motown. There’s a whole team of people that are working the record. I don’t feel like I’m in some little crowd with only a couple of artists.AHHA: So, you haven’t been approached for any sort of collaboration?Vanessa Carlton: No.AHHA: It’s always cool to ask artists this: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done while drunk?Vanessa Carlton: Drunk? Oh, Jesus. I tend to be very self-aware. I mean, if anything, the filters come off verbally. I do have quite a tolerance level – vodka in particular.AHHA: What music do you like put on while…I’m sure while on tour you would light up and blaze.Vanessa Carlton: Oh, yeah, all the time. [laughs]AHHA: What music do you listen to?Vanessa Carlton: This is going to sound cliché. I really love reggae. Really, I just listen to Bob Marley and lately I’ve been listening to The National. The National is an alternative band. If I go Hip-Hop I go pretty old-school. I’ll listen to A Tribe Called Quest.AHHA: Has there been a Hip-Hop artist that’s influenced your music or how you approach song-making?Vanessa Carlton: I have to say, one of my all-time favorite bands is A Tribe Called Quest. I think the candor in a lot of their lyrics, rhyme, whatever you like to call them, stuck with me. That particular band – for fifteen years. Aesthetically it’s different. I don’t record to beats. Not right now. Perhaps at some point.AHHA: On the note of A Tribe Called Quest and their lyrical candor – your lyrics for Heroes & Thieves are definitely very frank.Vanessa Carlton: Yeah. It’s not heavily disguised in metaphor. Sometimes when you’re 17, 19…you don’t really know yourself quite so well. I think just this past year in a half really got my feet underneath me artistically and personally. Up until then, you’re still trying to find away to carve out your style and your poetry. And really what is it that you want to project.AHHA: In “Nolita Fairytale” you sing “I used to hover outside my truth/Always worried of what I’d lose/they take away my record deal/Go on, I don’t need it.” What is your truth?Vanessa Carlton: I like your question. Many things. But what inspired that particular lyric was going and being this…I was a ballerina. So, [I had] this very people pleasing-type attitude. Also, in addition to that, my mother…obviously, I’ve been in therapy for years trying to work it out. But there was a lot of pressure from the people around me.Particularly, always adults when I was a younger person. I was mostly concerned with making people happy around me, and that they were okay with me – at the sacrifice of my…truth.How many situations have people been in when in hindsight they wished they had behaved differently or you had something or that you were more pure and honest with yourself and that person? I can’t even tell you how many of those had stacked up for me where I just wished I had done things differently or said things differently. My truth has become [clearer] to me over the years.AHHA: Is it eliminating all the things that you’re not?Vanessa Carlton: It’s also with identifying with what makes me happy. You would think record deals, selling albums, and getting your hair and make-up [would make you happy]. All of these outside interpretations of what you might think might make you happy…they’re not necessarily true. Another lyric in that song -“’Cause I lose my way searching for stage lights…” I really was losing my way. What makes me happy? The art of writing. My friends. Being honest in the moment. My family.AHHA: Another song, “Spring Street,” really delves into the complex relationship between mother and daughter. A mother lets her daughter go, and years later that daughter letting her own daughter into the world. What was on Spring Street?Vanessa Carlton: [My friend] calls it a premonition song. A lot of things in that song haven’t happened to me yet, but it’s really about growing [and] relationships and history that you think are lost that are never lost and forever shape who you are. I was definitely channeling the pain of a mother letting her daughter go.AHHA: A lot of Heroes & Thieves was co-written and co-produced by your then boyfriend Stephen Jenkins from Third Eye Blind. Did you guys end the relationship while you were recording the album?Vanessa Carlton: Um, yeah, we…we worked on the album. It’s an interesting topic. Let’s just say what was most important to us was Heroes & Thieves. So, uh…that was…nothing was going to threaten the life of this record because of any kind of personal situation. The only analogy that I can think of is staying together for the kid.AHHA: Is that where “Best Of Me” came from – the working relationship and the relationship after the break-up?Vanessa Carlton: Yeah, it did stem from that. I wrote it during that time. [I remember] playing it for [Stephan]. That was hard. Also, I realize that it’s not necessarily possible. The verdict is still out on that one.AHHA: Possible for what?Vanessa Carlton: I kind of thought it was possible to be the best version of yourself with each other no matter what. But the idea of that song is saying no matter what relationship has ended, and they were to run into [each other] after sometime. Someone who is so important to you, it doesn’t have to be just a [romantic] relationship and you haven’t seen them in a very long time. [The song depicts it as] you serendipitously cross paths on the sidewalk. No matter what happens between you there’s always an underlying love between you. That’s why you shared a friendship. That’s why you stayed or you were in a relationship of some sort. Wouldn’t it be great if in the end you boil it all down, and all the bullshit and all the drama and any kind of cries – they evaporate over time? And all you are left with is that love for each other. What a beautiful thing to make some kind of promise, like, an unspoken promise that you will forever be the best version of yourself to that person…forever.However, I think that’s a little idealistic. I don’t know if that’s possible. So far, [for me] it’s not.AHHA: You’re close to approaching 30? Are you feeling any pressures in approaching the milestone age?Vanessa Carlton: Actually I have to tell you…I cannot wait to turn 30. Women age richest, and if you are someone who is working on evolving and personally it just gets better. In American culture there’s fear of getting older…perhaps it’s because of the rat race vibe, capitalism – you’re supposed to achieve a certain amount. I don’t know why ageing is such a point of distress to women when you’re trying to figure out all the complexities that go along with being in your freaking ’20s. Oh, my God! Or how painful it is to be 18!I was visiting my friend in Florida, and her mother and aunt. I’m not the biggest Florida fan in the world. [We were staying] by a beautiful beach and in this ‘20s Great Gatsby feeling [place]. I was doing early bird specials, laying on the beach, gabbing for hours…I turn to my friend, “I’m 85-years-old.” I just came back. I cannot wait to be 85-years-old. I know it’s like skipping through a lot of stages. I can’t wait to be a crazy old lady.The video for Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” aka the song Kanye West dubbed as the white song all Black people like. Do you agree?

Related Stories