Vanessa Carlton travels ‘A Thousand Miles’ to perform in Annapolis and Alexandria

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Vanessa Carlton in Annapolis & Alexandria (Part 1)

Her piano-driven pop single “A Thousand Miles” instantly made her a household name.

Next week, Vanessa Carlton performs twice in our area — at the Rams Head in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 1 and The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 2.

“I like that idea that when I go to a show, it feels like a very safe space to feel all of the spectrum of things that are going on in my life — the good, the bad, the pain, the joy,” Carlton told WTOP. “Even if you’re singing about stuff that is hard, if you have a set list that goes through all of the realms, it feels joyful when you leave the show.”

She’ll perform her new album “Love is an Art,” including “Future Pain” about cycles of self-destruction with the lyric, “I’ve got nothing to lose and nothing to gain but future pain.”

“So uplifting, right?” Carlton said. “I love that song and I never got the opportunity to tour that album, so I thought that it was a cheeky and somewhat appropriate name for the tour. … You know the decision that you’re going to make is not good for you, but you’re going to do it anyway. I think everyone has had that moment, so we wanted to write that song.”

If “Future Pain” is cynical, the flip side is “The Only Way to Love” with the lyric, “I want to run but I won’t get very far, ’cause I can’t fight the force of my young beating heart.”

“That’s for all of the romantics out there that really are so honest with their feelings,” Carlton said. “That song in particular is about going all in. … Being overly protective of myself has always held me back from connection. It’s more about trusting yourself. That’s what allows someone to jump off of the cliff and say, ‘OK, I’m gonna try this with you!'”

The album also includes “Back to Life” about the human body rebounding from addiction.

“‘Back to Life,’ that particular song, that was really about coming out of a lot of drug and alcohol abuse and really coming back into breaking patterns,” Carlton said. “It takes practice to really break some patterns and really just come back into the world again in the way that I wanted to — and I hope that other people can relate to that moment, too.”

The album’s most political or socially-conscious song is “Die, Dinosaur” about a young generation waiting for older, out-of-touch dinosaurs in power to die off so youth can lead.

“Just the old guard guarding progress,” Carlton said. “It’s not about age, I’m not an ageist, I’m old, I feel like a dinosaur myself sometimes — it’s about the way that you think. I think we are on the precipice of a whole new era of communication.”

Indeed, Carlton is a forward-thinking Gen-X artist, born in Milford, Pennsylvania, in 1980. Growing up, her father was a classic-rock fan and her mother was a piano teacher.

“A lot of the pieces that I started becoming interested in were classical pieces,” Carlton said. “She was really smart and would bring in songbooks of records like Neil Young, you could learn how to play ‘Harvest Moon,’ but you were also learning a Debussy piece, or ‘Top of the Pops,’ so you could learn the ‘Cheers’ (theme), that’s what a kid wants to play!”

She attended the School of American Ballet in New York, then dropped out of Columbia University to perform gigs around town while paying the bills as a “hit-or-miss waitress.”

“I wrote my own songs in my dorm room when I was 15 or 16 and that was the beginning of my first record,” Carlton said. “My dad’s a pilot and was flying someone who was friends with (Atlantic Records President) Ahmet Ertegun. I made a cassette tape, he gave the tape to Ahmet’s friend, who gave it to Ahmet, and Ahmet left a message for me at my dorm.”

Her debut album “Be That Nobody” (2002) included the hit single “A Thousand Miles,” earning three Grammy nominations including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

“It changed my life forever,” Carlton said. “It’s allowed me to have such freedom to step outside of the mainstream, take big risks and engage in collaborations. It’s given me a level of artistic freedom and room to explore. It is amazing. … I don’t know how that happened, but I think it’s a piano thing that I’m just very lucky that people just love it.”

Since then, she’s recorded a handful of other albums: “Harmonium” (2004), “Heroes & Thieves” (2007), “Rabbits on the Run” (2011) and “Liberman” (2015) named after her late grandfather. If you want to do a deeper dive into her music, where is the best entry point?

“‘Rabbits on the Run’ is probably a good place to start,” Carlton said. “It’s a short record, all recorded to tape. … That was recorded in the English countryside. Then ‘Liberman’ is the brain-bath meditation, put it on in the morning when you have coffee or in the evening with tea, wine, just a vibey background that affects your mood, makes you calm and chill.”

In 2019, she also made her Broadway debut in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

“It was so scary,” Carlton said. “I reached out to Sara (Bareilles of ‘Waitress’) because I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ She is a musical-theater master and very experienced and she was like, ‘Listen, once you do that first show and just jump off the cliff, you’re just gonna go.’ … It was one of the greatest, most challenging experiences of my life.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Vanessa Carlton in Annapolis & Alexandria (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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