Texas is home, hard work is the driver and country music runs deep in his soul. That, perhaps, is one way to describe rising country singer Carlton Anderson.
Anderson signed his record deal with Sony Music Nashville in 2018. In June that year, he released his debut single “Drop Everything” to country radio, embarked on the customary radio tour (a rite of passage for newly signed record label country artists, if you will), and did the necessary promo to be a buzzing new artist. Unfortunately, the trek culminated in his song barely cracking Top 50 on the Billboard country airplay chart, even though it was uptempo, fun, and perfect in every sense for commercial radio.
In 2020, the now-independent artist is committed to forging his path as a country artist with sheer hard work and authenticity. After all, his life has been a country song. Having spent his teenage years working at oil fields, being frugal and saving up for a guitar and eventually college (where he earned a Music Business degree from Belmont University), the industrious 27-year-old is determined to continue building his fan base and being a country mainstay.
Recently, the Cypress, Texas native returned to his artistic roots and released his debut EP, Yours. The four-track project, produced by Anderson and songwriter/producer Phil O’Donnell (George Strait, Blake Shelton, Craig Morgan), is an acoustic collection of some of the most down-home, organic country songs that pay an ode to his Lonestar State upbringing.
Anderson spoke to Sounds Like Nashville last week about his new EP, quarantine, life as an independent artist, and how fellow Texan/country artist Cody Johnson inspired him to be proud of his Christian faith.
Sounds Like Nashville: Firstly, how have you been coping with quarantine and everything going on these last few months? How did you spend your time?
Carlton Anderson: This is definitely the longest I’ve gone without playing a show. I came home to Texas right as everything started and I’ve been here since. Honestly, this is the longest I’ve been able to hang around my family in about 8 years so that’s a huge blessing in all of this. I’ve been writing a lot and I’ve gotten back to writing songs by myself again too, which is something I haven’t had time to do in a few years. Fishing a little, roping a little, just trying to make the most of the time we have right now while road life is on hold.
What was the idea behind an acoustic EP, as opposed to a studio one?
I’ve always wanted to put out an acoustic EP because that’s where I started. Me and a guitar in a bar. We had a nice plan set up to put out some full band singles throughout the summer but then that plan was derailed of course. I had initially planned on putting the acoustic EP out after the singles but it felt right for right now to put out the acoustic EP.
It feels like you’re really back to your roots just with the instrumentation on this acoustic project. Also, a beautiful musical hat-tip to your Texas roots?
With this EP I wanted to show off a little more than the honky-tonkin’ side we tend to show on the road. “Yours” is broken down to the foundation of my music; vocals, guitars, fiddle, faith, love and Texas. This will be my first body of work I’ve been able to put out since becoming an independent artist and I’m excited to continue to write my story with the country music I’m making.
How did you decide on the track list and story you wanted to tell with this mini project? Was there a track you knew instantly you had to include?
These have been some of my favorite songs since the minute we wrote them. With the help of my engineer Mike Proctor, producer Phil O’Donnell and the talented Jenee Fleenor, we were able to bring these songs to a point where I thought they told a bit of a story that could take you away from everything going on for a little while. Starting with the title track “Yours”, and ending with “Jesus Wins” was important because it hits on two of the most important affiliations for me, Love and Faith.
“Pocket full of money, ain’t it funny how he’s looking for more?” What a great lyric that is in “Yours.” Can you share the story behind writing that song?
That was my first write with one of my songwriting heroes Tony Lane and he took me to school that day. Thankful for that, though. He came in with this simple title “Yours” and the idea “I just wanna be the guy who’s gonna be yours,” and I knew immediately this was the song I needed. It had that perfect simple yet effective way of saying something profound, which is one of the things I love about country music the most.
Faith-based songs have been at the heart of country music over the decades, and you chose an important song like “Jesus Wins” to wrap the EP. What does that track mean to you?
It means more and more everyday. I’ve been through a lot of struggles in my life and a song like this was very healing to write. I can only hope as that helps and heals whoever hears it. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t been very vocal about my faith until the last year and a half or so but after running the roads with Cody Johnson and seeing how open he is about his faith, unabashedly, it inspired me to do the same. He told a story about how he always used to say after the show “I want to thank the man upstairs” until a buddy of his called him out and said “Are you afraid to say his name?” And from then on he says “I want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ” towards the end of his shows and that’s just inspiring to me as an up and coming artist. The song “Jesus Wins” was written before all of that and honestly without those experiences It may not have been released when we did.
How’s making music as an independent artist been different since leaving a major label?
I’m very thankful for the experiences and lessons learned while being signed to a major label, and it honestly helps now that I am independent having that experience under my belt. It’s completely different, though, and with the creative control and ability to put out music as an independent artist, it’s easier to tell your story exactly how you want it told to anyone listening. The downside is breaking through, but I’ve never been afraid to be the hardest worker in the room. So we’ll keep building and playing country music whether there’s another label on the horizon or not.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
We’ll definitely be putting out some more singles soon before another body of work. An album would be great, eventually, but we’ll get there. The goal is to start booking shows again whenever it is safe to do so and continue to build the hard ticket fan base.