Q&A: Lu Carter
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
By August Edwards
New York-based singer-songwriter Lu Carter makes music for people who need to be soothed. In this Q&A, we discuss her forthcoming EP Girl of Little Words, as well as her EP The Baby Tapes which came out in December 2020. This indie/alternative folk artist has wrestled with the financial, political, and environmental ruin around us and turned that stress into songs that show how beautiful uncertainty can still be.
Twenty-two-year-old Carter sets an important example for creators at all stages of life. In the face of what might seem menacing to her - time, aging, the perceived banality of adulthood - she writes songs to come out stronger and be true to herself. I hope you'll read on to learn about her process and count how many times we can say the word "baby."
ABQGR: You were going to [Santa Fe University of Art and Design] to study music, and then the university shut down due to a few financial reasons. Were you then discouraged from making music?
Carter: I was very discouraged. When I got back, I was like I’m never making music again. I had written this song called “Santa Fe” and I was like, that’s my last song. I’m not writing a song after that. But then I saw this ad for BandLab, which is an app on your phone where you can produce music. I was like, fuck it. I don’t care about making music anymore, so I can just have fun and record this song. I uploaded the song on there and it got a surprisingly good reaction from people I didn’t know. I think I got 30 likes, and I didn’t have any followers. And then I was like, wait…I like this! I decided to keep on making songs to see if anyone resonates with them.
And now, you’ve moved around quite a bit – how has that moving around impacted your artistic identity?
Going to college was new; New Mexico felt like another planet. It was strange to me. It felt like I was on Mars or something. And then moving back home [to Oregon] after that was weird, because I felt like an adult baby. I felt like a child, but I was an adult. Moving to New York [City] was even more so feeling like a grown ass baby. ‘Cause I don’t know anything. I don’t know where I am. I have to pay my bills now while working my ass off and making nothing. I think that reflects in my songs, too, because a lot of it is about being a grown up, supposedly. Like in theory, but not being a grown up at all.
Tell me a little bit about The Baby Tapes. As three tracks that didn’t make the cut for Girl of Little Words, they still definitely fit the themes you mentioned here.
I wrote those a few years ago, when I first met my boyfriend. And it reflected me kind of falling in love for the first time. That’s why it’s called The Baby Tapes, cause it’s very sweet and lovey-dovey.
“Tiny Giant,” I wrote right when I moved to New York, and it was about feeling so small but so big at the same time. I used to work in Time Square, so it was about the feeling of navigating all of these people going to their jobs, and I was a little barista walking to my coffee job. “I See My Mother” was about an experience I had when I looked in the mirror and I was like, I look exactly like my mom. I feel fifty years old, but I’m only 20. Just about the confusions of growing up and being a baby. The Baby Tapes.
How did you decide to move to New York? To take that giant step?
I didn’t really have any calling towards New York. I didn’t wanna live at home, and Heather, my best friend, lived [in Manhattan], and she needed a roommate really bad. So, I was like, okay, I’ll save up and go to New York. I think it was a good decision, because you have no choice but to learn how to survive here. Everyone is just trying to survive. It really has taught me a lot about what I’m capable of.
What have you learned about yourself, then? Especially within the last year.
Oh man. I think how resilient I am. There’ve been months, obviously, like most people, where I didn’t know if I was gonna make my rent. Just working overtime, and still finding time to create. I’ve learned that I’m truly an artist at heart, and I’ll always find time for that, and I’ll always find time for the people I love, and money will come and go.
What’s telling you you’re an artist at heart?
I lived in this apartment when I first moved to Manhattan and it was very dark and gloomy. It was kind of a creative block. Quarantine hit and I moved to Brooklyn, and it was like an epiphany. Everything hit me all at once. I was like a maniac creating all this shit that I was just building up. It was like a water pipe that had mud stuck in it, and then finally something just burst it all out. It was a huge wakeup call. I’m here not to be a barista making minimum wage in a city that’s fucking expensive, but I’m here to make music. That’s what I was put on this Earth to do, ‘cause I have all these songs living inside of me that I didn’t really know were in there, and they all came out.
What went into the making of Girl of Little Words?
Girl of Little Words was kind of surprising. It wasn’t supposed to happen. It was during quarantine and I just started writing all these songs, and somewhere just felt like it was done. I wrote the last song, the title track, and it felt like a body of work that needs a home somewhere, something people would resonate with. It doesn’t really have any love songs on there, it’s all about self-reflection and aging. A lot of my songs are about aging for some reason. How we’re all gonna die. I don’t know, just things that are on my brain all the time! You know!
For sure. I’m trying to figure out how to ask this, but—how did you learn how to navigate through the uncertainty, and feeling like a baby?
I think I’ve just accepted that I’m always going to be a baby at heart. I think how I deal with trauma and stressful situations is that I revert to being a child. And I create and I’m okay with that. I think that we’re all just babies in business suits. We’re all just pretending to be grownups. No one knows what the fuck they’re doing. And it’s hard for everyone. Even Barack Obama. He feels like a little baby a lot of the time.
I hope so. So, what does your creative process look like?
I think I always start off with the guitar. A lot of the time I’ll have a lyric in mind, something I know I wanna write about, and I’ll just start noodlin’ around on chords. Mostly just a flow of consciousness, and sometimes I’ll record it all, and take what I like. Then I’ll go to the recording process. I feel like I scrapbook when I make music. It’s cutting, pasting—‘cause I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing when it comes to production. It’s just me fuckin’ around, seeing what sounds good, and it’s very homemade. I like to add a lot of field recordings, like birds or like kids playing. I’ll just go outside and record for three minutes and put that on my song. I just want it to feel organic, and people can relate to it just by listening to how raw and homemade it is. Kind of like a craft.
You do produce all of your work yourself. Is that a strenuous process, do you wish you had a partner?
Definitely. It’s super hard. I would love to meet someone I trust enough to work with. It’s also really fun doing it by myself, though. There’s no pressure, it’s not like I’m signed to a label. Nobody’s expecting anything of me. There are times where I have to take month-long breaks, because it can drive you insane listening to the same thing over and over again.
Do you value being a DIY artist?
Completely. Making something on my own, I take a lot of pride in that. It’s really cool, I think. I like that it sounds really grainy and fuzzy. It feels homey to me. I can just layer all of these noises together and make a cool-sounding song.
Regarding an audience resonating with your songs, what do you hope people get out of Girl of Little Words?
I hope that it brings people comfort. I want them to feel like it’s just a big ol’ hug. Like, it’s okay. It’s okay that you feel this way, it’s okay that things are crazy. ‘Cause it’ll work out.