On her full-length debut last year, the aptly titled While You Weren’t Looking, Caitlin Cary was able to sneak up on people. Granted, some listeners knew her from Whiskeytown, but her triple-threat contributions–vocal, instrumental and lyrical–tended to be overshadowed by Ryan Adams’ histrionics. While You Weren’t Looking, which followed the Waltzie EP, was Cary’s opportunity to fully showcase her exceptional talents. Reactions ranged from pleasant surprise to the kind of excitement that led to the album ending up on a number of year-end lists.
Cary’s new I’m Staying Out makes it clear that While You Weren’t Looking‘s excellence was not beginner’s luck. Working with the same producer (Chris Stamey) and label (Graham-based Yep Roc) and again backed by a stellar collection of North Carolina musicians (including true legend Don Dixon) and guests (Mary Chapin Carpenter among them), Cary continues to surround her vivid songwriting with an arresting, wide-ranging sound that allows folk, rock, pop, country and soul to each take a turn or two in the spotlight.
Here are some things that Caitlin Cary had to say about I’m Staying Out, or, as she jokingly refers to it, “el sophmoro.”
The Independent: I recall that the recording session for While You Weren’t Looking was rather whirlwind-like and draining, ending with you battling laryngitis. How did the recording of I’m Staying Out compare?
Caitlin Cary: While I’d never say that making a record is easy work, this one was decidedly less painful than the first. I had no idea going in to make my first record, even though I’d made several records with bands in the past, how hard it was to twist and shape your own material into something you could love. This time I was armed with the truth about what it meant to make a solo record, and also with a year of touring under my belt. I was truly lucky to be able to bring the same talented musicians who’d been slogging it out on the road into the studio, and they provided the backbone of the project.
While You Weren’t Looking earned scads of rave reviews. Because of that critical acknowledgment and success, did you feel additional pressure when making this follow-up album? Did you approach the preparation and recording any differently?
I did, indeed, feel a lot of pressure, and what I tried to do was ignore it. I reckon every artist lives in fear of the “sophomore curse,” and great reviews on the first record naturally multiply one’s fears about the second. But by the same token, the praise I received made me feel at least a little bit more “entitled.” I guess it can be summed up like this: I took the praise to heart, steeled myself for the (perhaps inevitable) negative comparisons to the first record, and just went ahead and did my work. Of course I dearly hope that people will love this record, too, but I’m ready for anything, and I’m personally proud of this new thing.
What’s your favorite moment on I’m Staying Out?
Wow, that’s a hard question. When I put on the record, I always look forward to hearing the drum fill that begins the song “Sleepin’ in on Sunday.” And it’s funny, because every time we’ve played the song since we recorded it, (drummer) Jon Wurster says, “How does this song start again?”
I’ve always loved the Continental Drifters’ song “I Want to Learn to Waltz with You,” which you cover on I’m Staying Out. What made you decide to record it and make it the album’s closing track, kind of a place of honor?
“I Want to Learn to Waltz with You” is very simply a song I wish I had written. I shouldn’t cover waltzes because I write way too many of them myself–I’m always joking that I ought to buy a drum machine, set it on 4/4 time, and put it under my pillow at night. But Chris Stamey calls me the “Queen of the Waltz,” and I guess it’s a justified moniker. It only made sense to make this song last, as I think it perfectly sums up the sort of grown-up romanticism of the record. Also, I was adamant about wanting clarinet on this record, and Frank Gratkowski obliged with the most beautiful solo imaginable–it could only be the closer.
You’ve referred to “Pony” as your Carole King song and “Too Many Keys” as your Dusty in Memphis song. So, is “You Don’t Have to Hide” your Jackie DeShannon song?
Well, I have been listening to my Brenda Lee box set a lot lately.