INTERVIEW: CMA Award Winner and Grammy Nominee Deana Carter

She is likely best known for her debut single, “Strawberry Wine,” but singer/songwriter Deana Carter has a plethora of albums, songwriting credits, award nominations, and a CMA Award on her shelf. Admittedly, I bought Deana’s first album in 1996 (with the hologram cover, thank you very much!) and I couldn’t resist kicking off our interview with a play on the CMA Awards Album of the Year Nominee Did I Shave My Legs For This? So, to answer the burning question you all have, no, Deana did not, in fact, shave her legs for our interview. She also did not imbibe any strawberry wine because “it’s not Friday yet!” After I got these (likely) very much anticipated references to Deana’s breakout project out of the way, I was able to hone in on what this talented, poised, hardworking, and unbelievably sweet musician has been doing as of late.

While you might not have heard the name Deana Carter for a bit, Deana did not completely leave the music scene for any extended period of time. Quite contrarily, the daughter of renowned musician, Fred Carter, Jr., was caring for her young son while feverishly writing for herself and other musicians. Specifically, Deana is one of the brilliant writers behind the song that was made famous by Kenny Chesney, “You and Tequila” (a song previously recorded by Deana herself). The success of “Tequila” allowed Deana to branch out and create her own record label, Little Nugget Records (in memory of her father and his former record label, Nugget Records), in order to start putting her own music out again.

It seems as though there is a growing trend for returning established artists to take their careers into their own hands and become their own bosses by virtue of creating their own labels. While certain aspects of this route may seem daunting for some artists, Deana has embraced the roles she has undertaken vigorously and gracefully. Though the ins and outs of owning a label are stressful, Deana is thankful for the team she has surrounded herself with that has helped her make this transition and do so successfully. Deana explained that she loves the businessperson facet of her career, as the territory is somewhat familiar to her. “I love it! I worked so much temp service coming up and paying my college loans and stuff like that. I mean, I worked at every job. I really did. I’ve worked at law firms and recording studios and insurance companies and hospitals and even auto parts stores. I did every job, so I feel fortunate that I can kind of … I don’t know. I’ve always liked to work. I like working, so the tactile business side of it is exciting to me … And when you’re out there on the stage, it’s like the wedding reception!”

With Little Nugget Records coming to fruition and the platform developed to start sharing her music with the public again, Deana was ready to re-introduce her name to fans. Once “You and Tequila” experienced its success, Deana was brought to Nashville and immediately recognized the departure her beloved genre had taken from its former state. Deana described her return to Nashville as “rewarding” because, as she looked around, she was able to identify her own influences on today’s country music. Between the glimpses into her past, the present artists, and the qualities these artists were bringing to the table, Deana was able to envision where she wanted to go with her future. Deana channeled her reality (including her son, her divorce, and her father’s death) and began to write for her next record, teaming up with “a lot of cool new people.”

The result of Deana’s work is Southern Way of Life, an album Deana describes as “an 80’s rock record, but the songs are country songs … It’s not like traditional country … It’s a fresh sound, it’s real honest, but it does have some of The Eagles. It’s just a nod to the 70’s and 80’s production-wise.” Deana stripped down the production, in the sense that she chose to avoid a lot of background vocals and instrumentation, and the formula she chose created an album of simplicity that is impacting fans.

On the subject of fans, Deana entrusted hers with the task of helping her choose her first single off Southern Way of Life. Four songs were introduced to Deana’s friends and fans on Facebook and a vote was conducted. Ultimately, a song entitled “Do Or Die” took top honors in the contest, declaring it Deana’s new single. “I was so excited, and really surprised, that they picked sort of like a reality check, like a real song, that I’d written by myself, really at the pinnacle point of turning things around in my life, and talking to God about it, and being real honest, not knowing what was going to happen to us. Just being real. And knowing that the fans resonated with that, it really blew my mind.”

Deana’s new music isn’t all that has resonated with her fans. Classic songs like her 1996 breakout hit, “Strawberry Wine,” can still be heard on radio stations and at live gigs today. Deana loves that her song has taken on a life of its own and has solidified its place in the heart of country music. “That’s what’s so beautiful about if you stick to what you love, and, believe me, I’ve gotten discouraged and before ‘Do Or Die’ was like ‘should I keep doing this or am I done?’ … I never dreamed in a million years when I was in high school or college or waiting tables or a struggling artist, any of it; even when we were singing it for the first time on TV and stuff, I never dreamed I’d be a part of something that would be considered a classic or staple song everybody wants to hear … I’m just surprised it’s taken on this fire again. It’s crazy! I’m so grateful with every year that goes by. It’s amazing because not everybody gets that.”

Deana’s voice on Southern Way of Life will take you back to the time you first heard the infamous “Strawberry Wine,” and when I told Deana her vocals are as exquisite as ever, she was thankful for reasons that surprised me. Deana underwent spinal surgery, which required doctors to enter her body through her throat. She was unsure what her singing future would hold. Fortunately, while her surgery did change her sound a bit, it certainly didn’t ruin her voice. “I even think it sounds a little better!” Deana laughed. “It took off some of the low end, which was scary for me, but it changed in a way that I had to adapt and adjust, and to me, it feels like it made it richer.” Because of the fear Deana experienced relative to her surgery, she sees this album as representative of the belief that if you follow your dreams and keep your faith, things will always work out.

Throughout her career, Deana also maintained the dream that one day she would play on the coveted Grand Ole Opry stage. In the end of 2013, that dream came true. At this time, Deana is sharing her new music with fans during shows in Los Angeles, on Sirius XM The Highway, and is heading back to Nashville in the near future. Between juggling her young son and her music, Deana has a full plate, but she is grateful for the blessings which have been bestowed upon her. Deana is also incredibly thankful that country music fans have welcomed her back with open arms.

Deana’s album, Southern Way of Life, is available now online at iTunes and Amazon, and in-store at Walmart and Best Buy. To stay updated on Deana’s latest projects, check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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