Nathan Carter has caught a wave with his catchy, genre-busting, tunes and his fame is going to continue growing this summer, writes Ed Power
Nathan Carter keeps a straight face when I inquire about his love life. Ever since the Liverpool-Donegal singer broke into the charts with his chart-topping 2012 single ‘Wagon Wheel’, his romantic adventures have become something of a spectator sport. Fans adore his upbeat country-pop, but for many (in the media especially) he is eligible bachelor first, musician second.
Carter is understandably a little nonplussed by all this. But he doesn’t lie awake at night thinking about it. That way lies madness. “I don’t find it annoying — just a bit weird,” says the 25-year-old (for the record: he’s single). “I left school at 16 to play music. Before that I was in a céilí band. My whole life has been about music. Then you get to where I am today and there’s a whole different side to it. It isn’t something you ever expected to find yourself talking about, is it?”
He pauses for a moment.”People want a story to tell. I might do an interview and they would ‘ask are you single?’ So you say, ‘yes but I’m looking up ahead for a relationship’. And that’s what the entire interview ends up being about. The whole article. I’ve never experienced that before. It was always about the music.”
Second on his list of peeves, one is tempted to conclude, is the idea that he is a pop lightweight. True, many of Carter’s early hits were jaunty covers. ‘Wagon Wheel’ was originally by the Old Crowe Medicine Show (based on an outline by Bob Dylan), though Carter’s version has an upbeat strut that is entirely its own thing. However, he wrote the bulk of new record, Stayin’ Up All Night — an ebullient affair that sees him moving beyond glossy country music and embracing Mumford and Sons-esque folk, most notably on lead single ‘Temple Bar’.
“Some of the stuff on the record is slightly more modern sounding,” says Carter, his Liverpool accent still strong after a decade in Ireland. “Several tunes have a folkie element. At the moment the country thing is cool — a lot of the kids are getting into it.
“But folk is big as well. Loads of exciting things are happening. I listen to all the different genres. If I get up to sing at karaoke, it won’t be a country song. I love singing every kind of thing. Also, sometimes it is better when you go outside your comfort zone. You learn a lot that way.”
He is at peace with the fact that country music — often dismissively referred to as “country and Irish” — continues to be held in disdain in certain quarters in Ireland. Those who look down their nose are increasingly behind the times. Record sales and ratings speak for themselves. .
“You consider the fact that the Late Late Show country special last year was a tremendous success — it got massive audiences. And don’t forget the Country To Country concerts in Dublin and London. They were huge. Country has gone glossy — there’s that Taylor Swift aspect. It is quite glamorous.”
Stayin’ Up All Night will not covert anyone inclined to dismiss Carter as a 21st century Daniel O’Donnell. And yet it is in places a deeply personal project, with the singer wearing his heart on his sleeve as never before.
The centrepiece is the song ‘Liverpool’, about his home town and the many travails it has endured across the decades. He was fearful of coming across as glib, so he devoted considerable time to the lyrics. It was one of the hardest, most satisfying, things he has ever done.
“It’s my favourite number on the record. I grew up there so obviously it was tough getting the lyrics right. There are a few Beatles references and a mention of the Hillsborough disaster. I’ve tried to write a subtle song that gets across just what it is to come from Liverpool. Since ‘Wagon Wheel’ kicked off, it’s always been my ambition to get into the studio and write more. I don’t what to be known as a covers artist.”
Carter was born in Liverpool to an Irish family. Music was part of his life at home and he has played for as long as he can remember. His first stage appearance was as a four-year old. When he was 10 he won an All-Ireland singing competition. Feeling the call of the old country, at 17 he moved to Donegal and started his solo career in earnest. He wanted to be a country artist and, short of relocating to Nashville, had a sense that Ireland was the perfect springboard.
Eight years on, this has been revealed as a canny strategy. Carter’s last album, Beautiful Life, debuted at number one here and his forthcoming tour is on course to be a sell-out. He is also building a following in the UK and the Continent.
“We are very close to selling out Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. For me that is incredible. I’ve seen so many great bands in that venue. I never dreamt I’d be playing there myself. Obviously some of the people coming along will be Irish living in the UK. But not all of them - lots of Scottish and English people are getting into it now.”
Success brings its own pressures of course, though Carter tries not to get too distracted by such considerations.
“The last record went to number one in Ireland and was top 40 in the UK. I was blown away by that. It’s so hard to get a record into the British charts. To have that level of success again would be a dream come true. But you can’t really put pressure on yourself. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. A lot of it is down to who else has a record out that week. If you’re up against Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift you are in trouble. It really just depends. You can’t over think it.”
Stayin’ Up All Night is released Friday. Nathan Carter plays INEC Killarney, May 13, 14, 15 and Live at the Marquee, Cork, on July 1.
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