Carrie Underwood Interview: ‘Blown Away’ Album Puts Drama, Emotions Center Stage
Country music has long been considered the premier musical vehicle for storytelling and rarely has an album contained more cinematic moments in song than Carrie Underwood's Blown Away, which is out this week on 19 Recordings/Arista Nashville. The Oklahoma native co-wrote eight of the album's 14 tracks with subject matter ranging from dementia to revenge and exploring topics from hometown pride to boosting self-esteem.
"That's the great thing about being an entertainer," Carrie tells The Boot. "You're just a big actor. I'm not the person in person that I am on stage. It just gives you a license to just lie to people I guess. That's a horrible way to put it. [laughs] You can just make up all this stuff. When we start sitting down and writing songs, you just never know what's going to come out."
Sitting in her manager's office on Music Row, Carrie manages to look glamorous even in purple sweatpants, sneakers and a Nashville Predators sweatshirt. Her husband, Mike Fisher, plays for the Preds and Carrie proudly wears her team spirit. On this particularly Friday, it was raining when she left their Nashville home, but the sun is now shining and she's second-guessing her attire. "It was gross outside today. I just couldn't bring myself to put on real clothes," she explains. "Of course, now it's gorgeous and I have to go buy groceries [looking] like this."
It's hard to picture the five-time Grammy winner casually trolling the produce aisle, but it's that girl-next-door charm combined with a tour de force vocal gift that has made her one of the most successful artists in any musical genre. Carrie has sold more than 14 million albums, scored 14 No. 1 singles and earned a treasure trove of industry awards. Since winning the fourth season of "American Idol" in 2005, she has proven herself an extremely versatile performer. Just in the past year, she's performed with legendary rocker Steven Tyler for "CMT Crossroads," scored a No. 1 country hit with good friend Brad Paisley with "Remind Me" and sang with iconic crooner Tony Bennett on his Duets II album, which led to a memorable Grammy performance of the classic "It Had to Be You."
It's been nearly two-and-a-half years since Carrie's last album, Play On, released in November 2009. "I obviously took longer to make it," she says of her fourth album. "We discovered that when I was writing the best stuff always came at the beginning. I have no attention span. I get bored so fast. If it's a beautiful day outside and I'm stuck in some room thinking, it's not that I don't want to be there. I love the people that I get to write with, but it's like my brain is in a million different places. So we took a whole different approach this time. I would write for a week and then go do something else and then I'd come back and write with some other people. It wasn't just all this big block of writing time."
Carrie has grown more comfortable as a songwriter since her early days on Music Row. "I definitely feel more confident being able to share my own ideas," she says of collaborating. "I'm not afraid to sound stupid anymore, which is always the biggest hump to overcome in the beginning ... I also don't put that much pressure on myself to write everything. I don't think it's necessary. There are the best songwriters in the world right here in Nashville and I feel like I'd be doing myself a disservice, my album a disservice, and my fans a disservice to ignore that. It would be easy to sit down and write the whole album by myself, but it wouldn't be the best album that it could be."
Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins co-wrote the title track and Carrie says it set the bar for the new album. She remembers exactly how she felt the first time she heard the demo. "I listened to it on my crappy computer speakers and then I had to go find my headphones because as soon as I listened to a few bars, I had to listen more closely and I got chills," she says. "I remember where I was when I heard it and called my manager, Ann, and I was like, 'Do not let anyone else have this song! It's my song.' In talking to Chris and Josh about it, they [told me], 'We said we're either writing a song for Carrie Underwood or this song is never going to see the light of day.' It made me feel so good that they were thinking of me when they wrote it."
Carrie was drawn to "Blown Away" because it tells such a compelling story. "It's so visual and it's such a country story," she says of the lyric, which tells of a daughter locking herself in a storm cellar while her alcoholic father is passed out on the couch in the path of a tornado. "It's such a visual song. You listen to it and you can see everything that is happening. It's so dramatic. I'm not a drama person, but when you can make a movie in song form in three-and-a-half minutes, it's surreal."
The title track isn't the only song on the album where a bad man meets a tragic end. "Two Black Cadillacs," written by Carrie, Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey, has a plotline worthy of a Lifetime cable network movie. When the wife discovers her husband has been cheating, she contacts his mistress and the two wronged women get revenge. "It's just more drama. It was so fun writing that song," says Carrie. "Obviously people know it's not my life. I try not to overthink it. If I had a whole album full of songs like that, it would be like, 'What is she trying to say here?'"
The first single, "Good Girl," is currently in the Top 10 and Carrie says she enjoyed shooting the video for the new tune. "We just had fun with it, rocked out and had a fun day. We had some great shoes. I don't even know who designed them. I was changing my clothes every 20 minutes. We definitely had some good clothing options."
Another of Carrie's favorite songs on the new album is the poignant ballad "Forever Changed," written by Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey and James T. Slater. "That is the most wonderfully well-written song I've ever heard in my life. Just thinking about it just gets me emotional," Carrie says, tearing up as she describes the tune. "There's this young girl meeting the love of her life, getting married and having a baby. It takes you back in time and there is something old fashioned about it ... I had a hard time recording it. I still have a hard time listening to it. I've listened to it quite a bit and it still gets to me."
On the other end of the musical spectrum, Carrie serves up "Cupid's Got a Shotgun," a fiery uptempo number with a different perspective on love. Carrie enlisted Brad Paisley to add his signature guitar sound to the tune. "He did his thing and sounded awesome," she enthuses. "He added that last piece of the puzzle and it's just so country."
"Thank God for Hometowns" celebrates the joys of small-town life, but Carrie admits she wasn't interested in the song at first glance. "I saw the title, "Thank God For Hometowns" and I thought [here is] another 'I love my truck. I love my hometown. I love my mama,' another one of those. There are so many great ones about small towns, but there's just a lot out there. I was thinking, 'That's just going to be another static song' and then I listened to it and just the way it starts, talking to your mom, I was like 'these are all things my mom would say.'"
Carrie notes that she heard the demo at an opportune time last summer. "I heard that one when I was going back to my 10-year high school reunion, so it was like, 'This is just perfect in my life right now. It fits.' I listened to the demo when I was driving in to go stay with my parents."
Carrie is looking forward to performing her new music for fans on her upcoming Blown Away tour. "The great thing about this album is there are so many songs that are so visual," she says. "We can do so much with them. We aren't having to try to make up something cool to try to shove in there. We're going to be able to do some really cool things with them."
Sponsored by Olay and vitaminwater, the trek will include international dates, including her first-ever concert in the United Kingdom. Set for June 21 at London's Royal Albert Hall, the show sold out in just 90 minutes. Carrie's North American shows will feature talented newcomer Hunter Hayes and plans call for $1 from each ticket to support Red Cross disaster relief.
Grateful for the chance to slow down a bit after tying the knot with Mike Fisher in July 2010, Carrie settled into married life and took her time completing the new album, but the rest of this year is going to be pretty hectic. She doesn't mind at all.
"Everything we are at this very moment is a culmination of everything that we've done in our entire lives," she says. "You never know what curve balls life is going to throw you and there's no way I can predict anything or make any assumptions about what the rest of my life is going to be like. My husband and I both live pretty unpredictable careers, so I don't know. I'll take it one step at a time and after this album comes out, we'll go on tour and figure out what's next."
Of course, she's constantly being asked about starting a family. Though she'd like to be mom one day, it's not on the agenda in the near future. "I need to, I guess, sit down and honestly talk to Faith Hill and Martina McBride and [say] 'What do you do? How do you do it? What do your kids do? Where are they in all of this?' I don't know how kids would fit into my life right now ... right now they wouldn't. I'm not on that bandwagon just yet, but I guess you figure out how to make room.
"It's kind of like my second dog, Penny. I'm going to compare having children to my dog right now, which may upset some people," she says with an uneasy smile. "I was like, 'Oh, how am I going to do this with two dogs?' And I found a way."
Looking at the confident young woman gazing wistfully out the window at the sunshine, it's hard to imagine there's anything Carrie Underwood can't find a way to accomplish. After all, she's achieved more in seven years than most artists do in a lifetime, and one can't help but feel she's just getting started.
Watch Carrie's 'Good Girl' Video