A Conversation With Carter Brady

New York-based singer/songwriter Carter Brady draws on an eclectic and disparate range of artists for inspiration on latest single “Lover’s Nostalgia,” with hints of classic rock rubbing up against post-grunge and the newer sounds of Snail Mail and Tame Impala. If you’re an indie act, the effort of recording music pales in comparison to getting it “out there” and heard by an audience. Still, Brady has been having good success with a series of well-attended Manhattan shows and building excitement on social media. 

Brady spoke with MAGNET about his influences, getting onto playlists and trying not to sing on airplanes.

Talk about some of your favorite bands growing up. What did you listen to, and how has that influenced your music? “Lover’s Nostalgia” reminds of the work of some post-grunge acts like the Verve Pipe. 
Well that discussion definitely has to start with the Beatles first and foremost. I grew up going to The Fest For Beatles Fans as a kid, and I’d be so obsessed with everything: the marketplace with all the rare vinyl and memorabilia, the guests who would come to do meet-and-greets and sign records, and just everything about their revolutionary music. These days, I can appreciate their recording and production innovations much more now that I’m more familiar with that whole world. 

In school, I went through a big ‘60s/‘70s classic-rock phase, listening to Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Zeppelin, the Beach Boys, the Police, the Allman Brothers, Aerosmith and the Stones. But my true favorites lie more in the ‘80s and ‘90s indie, alternative and grunge era. Foo Fighters has always been a close second to the Beatles, given my admiration and appreciation of Dave Grohl and his overall musicianship. I also grew up loving Nirvana, the Replacements, Green Day, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Goo Goo Dolls, Cage The Elephant, Tame Impala and many others. 

Being predominantly a guitar player, I will always listen to guitar heroes like Django Reinhardt, Chuck Berry, Eric Johnson, Wes Montgomery, Joe Bonamassa and many others. More recently, I have been influenced by more modern acts like Momma, Royal Blood, Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, Mac DeMarco, Beabadoobee, EVNTYD and artists of that sound. While ‘90s-influenced alternative rock is my favorite genre to play, I studied jazz guitar in college, so I have also experienced the world of theory, improvising over more freeform progressions and playing in small combo settings. 

I can totally see where you might make that comparison on “Lover’s Nostalgia.” That so-called post-grunge sound is basically in my DNA at this point from the number of bands and songs I’ve listened to and appreciated from that era of music. While I enjoy lots of other styles and genres, I’ve decided to really lean into that sound at this point in my trek as an artist.

Talk about your songwriting habits when it comes to composing. Do you write lyrics and music at the same time or start with a melody?
When I write songs, I almost always start with a melody and a chord progression on an acoustic or electric guitar. Sometimes I’ll record a quick voice memo of a vocal lyric or guitar riff that I know I can incorporate into a song later once an idea is more fleshed out, but for some reason, I find that it comes most naturally and ideas start flowing better when I do it first on guitar, which often makes it more likely that I’ll finish the song in one sitting, although that doesn’t always happen. 

More recently, lyric writing has gotten easier for me, and I’ve become better at connecting themes and experiences with the music I write. If I’m on an airplane, I’ll sometimes think of a melody and start writing lyrics down that flow with that idea, but I try not to do that because I can’t really save the idea without looking silly humming out a melody and lyric in front of everyone!

What are some of the lyrical themes you explore on “Lover’s Nostalgia” and also on your 2021 album, Blue Reverb?
Much of the lyrical themes from “Lover’s Nostalgia” are rooted around a dysfunctional relationship and the psychological aftermath of someone’s hypothetical anxieties and overthinking about ending something with someone. I’m not sure where the lyrics came from, but it felt right and fit well with the instrumental, so I just rolled with it. 

For Blue Reverb, I wrote those songs at a point in my life where I felt lost and unsure of what my future would be. It wasn’t exactly a happy time either given that we were in the heart of a pandemic. To summarize, the lyrical themes mostly consist of self-reflection, mental health, made-up love songs, nostalgia, uncertainties about life and what the future might hold.

You’re primarily a guitar player, but you also play most of the instruments on your records. You play live with a full band but do you miss that collaboration when it comes to recording?
Yes, that’s right, I started playing guitar in elementary school, so for a while it was the only thing I really could do well. I’ve been singing for a while, too, but that never came as naturally to me, and I really had to work at it. Even being born with perfect pitch, it doesn’t translate to a good-sounding voice, so around fall 2021, I decided to start taking vocal lessons while at graduate school in Nashville. I’ve also gotten better at writing songs that fit my range. Now I feel much more confident when playing live and sometimes being the only vocalist onstage, so I’m definitely happy with the trajectory of my voice and how I’m improving each and every day. 

As far as the collaboration aspect of recording, part of me definitely misses that experience of being in a room with other people and having ideas bounce off of one another. But, to be completely honest, other than jam sessions and a handful of collab sessions, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever really been in live bands where true collaboration has happened. 

When COVID first happened in 2020, it sort of forced me to do things on my own, and while it is sometimes healthy to get additional ideas and perspectives while you’re in the middle of writing a song, I have decided that since I know how I want things to sound, I like to keep it a “tight ship” and do most everything myself—like Tame Impala, Mac DeMarco or Dave Grohl on the first Foo Fighters record. I am not a fundamentally strong drummer given I’m completely self-taught, but being in full control of what you’re making, in many instances, also allows for more definitive decision-making and less hesitation to do something. No idea is a bad one, and you can always go back and change it later if you’re not happy with it.

Have you found the live scene in your hometown of NYC receptive to new artists like yourself? How hard is it to find places to play?
Yes, I would definitely say so. One thing that really stood out to me that I felt was different from the Nashville scene was the ability for an indie artist like myself to play full original sets at well-known venues and still get asked back, generate a crowd and create a fun-filled atmosphere for people’s night out. I have really enjoyed that aspect, and while I sometimes throw in a cover or two to my sets, as long as you are getting enough turnout for the venue you are playing at then it really doesn’t matter.

I also think that, overall, there is a bit more of an underground rock scene here in NYC that is less apparent in Nashville’s cover-dominated Broadway scene. It might be surprising to hear that given Nashville’s reputation as Music City, but I have for sure noticed a community of New York indie-rock bands playing with one another.

As an indie musician, what are some of the challenges you’ve run into when it comes to getting your music on the major streaming services and promoted. What tips might you give other artists about getting onto crucial playlists?
This is certainly a tough climate these days for indie artists given the saturation of great music. The playlisting world takes a lot of work, and sometimes people have success with it and either get on mid-sized playlists or get a song of theirs picked to be featured on one of Spotify’s editorial playlists. 

But, overall, it’s very difficult to break through, and there really is no explanation as to why certain artists or songs get discovered over others who have the same platform and tools for success, but it’s just the way it is and you have to come to terms with it as best you can. You can’t take it personally, and you have to be thankful for what you currently have and celebrate the small wins along the way. 

If I were to give advice to other artists about how to get on major streaming services, promote their music and best set themselves up to get their music onto crucial playlists, it would just be to make sure you are always making music for yourself and not other people. That might seem obvious and unrelated, but it’s all interconnected in the end. Do it because you truly love it and want to make music you are proud of.

—Bruce Fagerstrom