Pianist, singer, songwriter
Vanessa Carlton was born and raised in Mitford, Pennsylvania, along with her younger sister, Gwen. Her father, Ed, was a pilot and played the fiddle. Her mother, Heidi, was a teacher and taught piano lessons from her home. When Carlton was two years old, she taught herself to play "It's A Small World" on the piano, after a family trip to Disneyland. Her mother then began giving the youngster piano lessons, and she also took dance lessons.
As Carlton grew up, there was always a large selection of music to listen to. Her mother preferred the sound of classical music, including Mozart and Debussy. Her father enjoyed classic rock music, including Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
In her early teens she was recognized for her skill at ballet dancing, and was accepted at the prestigious School of American Ballet in Manhattan. At 14 years of age, she found herself moving to New York City to study professional dance. "I was pretty fearless when I was 14. I loved it. ... It was like camp," she told What Magazine. Carlton felt that she knew the path that her life would take. "I'd be a ballet dancer until I was done with my career, which would be about 39, and [then] I'd be out of a job," she told the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
She enjoyed studying ballet, but often felt that something was missing. As the years went by, she found herself skipping classes to play the piano in the kitchen of the dormitory. "When you're dancing you're sort of silent," she told Interview magazine. "But when I was upstairs in the dorm's kitchen, playing on a shifty old piano and singing at the top of my lungs, it was like I could finally speak," she recalled. By age 17, she knew that she needed to focus more on music than on dance.
She moved to the section of New York City known as Hell's Kitchen, and took a job waiting tables while writing and performing whenever she could. She caught the attention of Ahmet Ertegun, the longtime head of Atlantic Records. Carlton told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Ertegun told her, "'You just have a very unique voice,'" and she added, "I sent him a demo of four songs, and they were the only four songs I had ever written." While her meeting with Ertegun did not result in a recording deal, it did provide her with valuable business experience.
Eventually, she signed with A&M Records, but didn't feel as though she was making any progress. "At this point I was kind of lost at my label," she told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "I was in dire need of someone at the label to kind of be my champion and take over." Then A&M president Ron Fair heard her material. Fair produced Carlton's first album, Be Not Nobody. "A Thousand Miles" and "Ordinary Day" were both hit singles from the album. "It's a very clean record," she told the Dispatch. "It's a very simple record in many ways, too. ...There is an elegance to the record that I think is pretty rare for debut albums." Be Not Nobody went platinum and received three Grammy nominations for the song "A Thousand Miles." For the video of "A Thousand Miles," she rode through the streets of Los Angeles on the back of a flatbed truck, with a baby grand piano and an owl.
Carlton understands that the title Be Not Nobody is a double negative. She told Interview that the phrase came to her in a dream and she wanted to use it. "Sometimes when things are not correct," she said, "they make so much more sense."
Carlton has been compared to Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, and Britney Spears. She takes it in stride. "If you compare and contrast the music, we're more different than we are alike," Carlton told the Newark Star-Ledger. "We are in the same age range (late teens, early twenties), and representing something that is new, so it's natural to kind of bind us together, but in terms of my music and what I would like to achieve personally, I do feel like I'm really on my own path."
In the summer of 2002 Carlton began her first official tour, opening for Third Eye Blind and the Goo Goo Dolls. That fall she headlined her own tour. Carlton attended a semester at Columbia University in the fall of 2003, with hopes of squeezing in more semesters whenever she could. In the fall of 2004 she released Harmonium, which was produced by her boyfriend, Stephan Jenkins, who was also the frontman for the band Third Eye Blind.
The training and support provided by her family has helped Carlton to continue to push forward in her career, including her father convincing her to go to open-mic performances even when she felt too shy. In a Washington Times article, Carlton also expressed her appreciation for her mother. "She has always been the hand on my back, saying, 'OK you're good.' She is always rooting for me, also at the same time giving me freedom and letting me make my own mistakes."
Carlton advises others who are trying to break into the business to "Keep doing what you're doing," as she told What Magazine. "Stay as normal as you can by balancing yourself out by going to school or studying, and do not really get involved in the industry until you're a bit older."
For the Record . . .
Born on August 16, 1980, in Mitford, PA. Education: Attended School of American Ballet, New York City; attended Columbia University.
Signed with A&M Records; released platinum-selling Be Not Nobody, 2002; released Harmonium, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—A&M Records, c/o Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website—Vanessa Carlton Official Website: http://www.vanessacarlton.com.
Be Not Nobody, A&M, 2002.
Harmonium, A&M, 2004.
Albuquerque Journal, November 15, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, May 17, 2002.
Interview, April 2002.
People, November 15, 2004.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 2002; October 30, 2002.
San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 2002.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), August 28, 2002.
Washington Times, August 17, 2002.
What Magazine, September 2002.
Vanessa Carlton Official Website, http://www.vanessacarlton.com (April 5, 2005).
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