Waterford singer-songwriter Carrie Baxter told David Hennessy all about her breakout year of 2020, why she doesn’t know what it’s like to be ‘a real artist’ out in the world and why she never thought she would still be in London 12 years after first moving to study musical theatre.
London-based Waterford singer-songwriter Carrie Baxter was busy in 2020. Although she had only released one single before the year began, 2020 saw Carrie independently release her debut EP, Placebo.
The EP earned Carrie support from industry magazines such as Hot Press and Goldec Plec as well as radio support on both sides of the Irish Sea.
With a sound that blends genres such as neo-soul, jazz, 90’s hip hop and indie, Carrie’s influences include Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra, Norah Jones and A Tribe Called Quest.
Carrie is now being hotly- tipped, with indie music bible Earmilk branding her ‘an artist on the precipice of greatness’ and Hot Press Magazine calling her ‘one of the most thrilling new forces in Irish music’.
Hot Press named her in their Hot for 2021 lists of acts to follow and nominated her song Love Me Better for Track of the Year 2020.
She has also been compared to some of her idols like Erykah Badu and the late Amy Winehouse.
Resident of London for 12 years now, Carrie originally came to study musical theatre. She has acted in TV programmes like Casualty and well known adverts. She works as a fitness instructor in addition to her music.
Carrie told The Irish World: “I hadn’t really thought of it until people started saying, ‘It’s quite bizarre for you because you started releasing at the end of 2019 and then you got locked down’.
“Really my entire career has been based on statistics of online numbers and streaming numbers and algorithms.
“I actually have no clue what it’s like to be ‘a real artist’ out in the world seeing how people react to my songs face-to-face. It didn’t bother me at first but I want to see how these things go live. I want to get out and talk to people face-to-face.
“My strength does not lie in social media so I have found that part quite difficult. I need to live to write.
“I don’t really write stuff that I haven’t experienced.
“I write autobiographically. I do songwrite for other people and I enjoy it. I do enjoy the craft of songwriting but there’s just a certain magic when you’ve experienced something and it takes form and it helps you to make sense of it as well. That’s why I write. There’s stuff that you can’t figure out through feelings or talking or anything else but once I put it on the page and put music to it, it makes sense and you can just let it go and move on.”
Carrie has entered the Irish Radio Breakers Chart top 10 and her single Pray was named 2FM’s Track of the Week, added to the RTÉ Radio 1 Recommends playlist, tipped by Ed Smith on Today FM as one of his ‘Ceol for the Soul’ tracks.
However, Carrie seems to stay unaffected by the buzz that she seems to be generating.
“It’s very bizarre having to experience every single bit of my career thus far online so you just have to get out of your comfort zone very quickly when that happens.
“We were kind of new into lockdown and I was releasing some of the work that was causing the buzz and then I was getting approached to do online gigs. I was like, ‘What? I can’t play my catalogue online. I don’t even know how to set these things up’.
“That was kind of awkward. I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m really not into this talking to the camera sh*t, you know what I mean?’ But you have to get good at it very quickly because you will get left behind. The internet waits for nobody. It’s been exciting to take on new challenges and do those things, get out of my comfort zone and connect with a community online and then try and foster that community until I can get back out and play live.
“That’s part of the reason I’m in the business, people. Talking to people, connecting with people, sharing our love of music. It’s been crazy. It’s just me and my boyfriend stuck in my flat and he’s there trying his best to celebrate my wins and he’s not in the industry at all.”
Carrie would never have believed she would still be in London 12 years later when she made the move in 2009 to pursue her interests by studying in the London School of Musical Theatre.
“I planned on doing maybe a five year stint and then you just get hooked, isn’t it? It feels like yesterday.
“My best friend Louise was like, ‘You’re not moving over there by yourself. I’m moving over there with ya’. So we packed all my stuff and I think we got that god awful 12 hour overnight ferry. Drinking Guinness on the boat no less.
“We arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Now I know London like the back of my hand but then, when they were like, ‘You need to make your way to Elephant and Castle’, I was like, ‘Wha? Where the hell is that?’
“You’re certainly not in Waterford, Dorothy.
“At the time there was no lifts at Elephant and Castle so we had to get these two suitcases, one of the wheels broke on the way as well, up the stairs. I don’t think either of us will ever forget that. And we arrived and I had not met any of my flatmates, three people from my musical theatre course and we arrived dripping. My accent was the strongest it has ever been. I was like, ‘Well, how’s it going? I’m Carrie’.”
Unbelievably Carrie’s best friend Louise is also still here in London.
“She lives down the road from me.”
Carrie soon came to realise that musical theatre may not be her while one teacher saw potential for her as an actress.
“I thought I knew what I wanted to do. I thought I was set. I just wanted to play Elphaba in Wicked and that was it. That was the life goal.
“When you get to understand the world and the industry, you understand how characters are cast and how imperative your look is to your entire career. Of course you have to be talented but the majority of the time it’s whether you fit the brief of what they’re looking for. I slowly but surely learned that I wasn’t going to get the roles I wanted to play.
“Halfway through my course my acting teacher was like, ‘Would you not ever consider screen acting?’ And I was like, ‘I guess…’
“So I went into screen acting for a few years which I really loved.”
You would probably have seen Carrie feature in a well known Coca-Cola advert that makes her laugh when she remembers it now.
“When I started acting I got a Coca-Cola advert that I was on and honestly, I could not go out in Waterford without someone going, ‘Well Carrie, do you want a can of coke?’ It was awful. Even when I would go to the bar they would go, ‘What are ya drinking? Rum and coke?’ I’m like, ‘No lads, I’ll have a gin and tonic actually. Thanks for the laugh’.
“That went on for ages, that coke ad. It was a laugh though. I actually really enjoyed it.
“I think I started getting typecast then. I kept playing the same characters Again, I came to a point where I wasn’t getting roles, the opportunities weren’t coming which was how I decided to study music and then start releasing.
“With hindsight it’s very easy to say that I think I was crafting and creating my sound all along but in the moment I felt like I was making really rash decisions. The only way I can describe it is if you have a muddy windscreen and you’re a bit like, ‘I can kind of see the road but it’s still a bit dirty’. It just won’t clear. You’re like, ‘I know the route. It’s fine. I know this road. I’ll just keep going anyway’.
“Then it just gets less muddy as you go along. I started with musical theatre because I just loved it. I wanted to sing, act and dance all at the same time and then I did the course and I was like, ‘Wow, this is not for me’.
“But I had the most amazing piano teacher and he used to say to me, ‘What are you doing singing all of this stuff? You don’t need Stephen Schwartz. What you need is a jazz standard, woman’.
“At the time I was having a nervous breakdown thinking, ‘Oh my God, I spent all this money on this course. They’re telling me I’m studying the wrong thing’.
“And that’s how I found jazz.”
Also a fan of electronic music, Carrie would feature on some dance tracks as a vocalist.
“The dance music thing I just kind of fell into. I really love house music and the scene that goes with it. I would write music to the DJs I had seen that night and just email them on the off chance that they might want to work with me.
“That’s actually how my songwriting started. I thought, ‘Well, I’m not really trained. I haven’t studied music and these people want to work with me and they think I can sing so I’ll just keep going’. It sort of went from there.
“I guess my own music was just one of those things where I didn’t really believe in anything I was saying and I didn’t really know what I wanted to say. I didn’t know the stories I wanted to tell. I didn’t know the sound I wanted it to be. It kind of all just amalgamated in 2017/2018 and I was like, ‘Wow, this is the music that I need to release’. It was like a penny drop moment. I wrote one song and was like, Yep, that’s it, let’s go and then we never looked back.”
From there, she went back to university to study for an MA in Commercial Songwriting.
Her theatrical inclinations came back to the fore in her EP Placebo with Carrie wanting it to tell a story with an emotional journey much like a West End show.
“I love musical theatre. I’ll always love musical theatre. For me there’s nothing like the curtain drawing and seeing the conductor’s hands. It’s electric. I just wanted to shape my EP like that.”
Is London home for Carrie after so long here? “I’ve spent nearly 50% of my life here. Honestly it does feel like home. There’s parts of it I’m really attached to. As well as turning my world upside down, it’s been the making of me here and the opportunities that I’ve been given are second to none. It is home but not home home.
“I try to get home as often as I can. I miss home. A lot. I try to get back every three months or if there’s a big occasion, I’ll go back for it.
“I have been to the London Irish Centre a few times for different events. I was a big, big Gaelic football girl when I was back in Ireland and played a lot actually. I did consider playing over here for a while but I just never got around to it.”
While previous tracks like Pray, Lady, Love Me Better and Air are inspired by heartbreak and tragic relationships, Carrie’s forthcoming I Wasn’t Looking for You single is more positive.
“It’s a bit different to my other work so I’m a bit nervous about this one although I put it on my instagram the other day and got some really cracking responses back so we’ll just have to wait and see. You never know how these things are going to go.
“It’s a proper love song, proper mushy. I think that’s probably why I’m a bit nervous. It’s very happy.
“I had an interview with someone who told me before to be careful. I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Just be careful you don’t fall into that Amy Winehouse category of never allowing yourself to be happy’.
“And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a huge statement’. I’ve only released a couple of songs. I had to get those heartbroken songs out. Then I can move on to writing about other stuff. We’ll see how this happy one goes down.”
Carrie’s vocals have a haunting quality that is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. Is she compared to her often? “Yes, I get that a lot. I’m truly flattered by to be honest to be in the same sentence as her.”
Without You is out now.
I Wasn’t Looking For You is out in the coming weeks.
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