Carrie Underwood's heart still with country music
Sure, Carrie Underwood might have lost out to brassy spitfire Miranda Lambert at the 46th Country Music Association Awards in Nashville earlier this month. But the host — who pulled off the duty for a fifth time with fellow country star Brad Paisley — is reveling in all the attention the genre is getting.
With country-pop sweetheart Taylor Swift sitting at the top of the Billboard charts, a soapy ABC drama anchored in Nashville and Underwood's tour itinerary expanding — this year included her first dates in Europe and Australia and she extended the regularly sold-out trek well into 2013 — Underwood boasts, “It's a fun time for country.”
When we caught up with Underwood on her recent “Blown Away” tour, which stops Tuesday at Consol Energy Center, she weighed in on all the attention Nashville has been getting.
Question: This tour was your first to go internationally. Country is so closely associated with America, were you at all nervous about how you would be received in Europe and Australia?
Answer:Australia was definitely open to it; they have Keith Urban and they were really open to us. I wasn't too worried about Australia, but I was about going to the U.K. I pictured just a lot of British people in the audience singing my song back to me — and it was hard for me to envision. But it was really great. Everywhere we went, there were fans waiting outside. I was pleasantly surprised at the reception.
Q: A common criticism in your genre is when artists gravitate toward pop sounds. How do you balance between tradition and achieving crossover success?
A: I grew up listening to everything. I have such a love for music, but I don't want to make the same album over and over again. I love that I can sing a song like “Blown Away,” and then, turn around and sing a song like “Cupid's Got a Shotgun.” One has this amazing country story line with the music that fits the song. I'm not gonna try to make it something that it's not. I'm not gonna think, ‘I need to “countrify” this by adding more fiddles and steel guitar.' We do creatively what the song wants. And, “Cupid's Got a Shotgun” — you couldn't get more country than that.
I love being able to explore like that. When a song like “Before He Cheats,” “Blown Away” or “Cowboy Casanova” manages to have some crossover success, it does it “as is.” I've never been one for doing remixes. Then, I've gotta decide which version am I gonna be tonight: Country Carrie or Pop Carrie? I'd rather just make country music that anybody can get into no matter what they listen to.
Q: You think that's what keeps you so accessible?
A: I've had so many people come up to me and say, “I didn't listen to country music and now I do.” If they've found those things that have elements that they are used to like an R&B flair or pop flair, or even rock, that can introduce them to so many other artists and they can form an appreciation for the genre as a whole. And, I love the fact that you have your standard country artists on the radio and you have people like Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts or Keith Urban or me, where we all occupy the same space and you're not turning on the radio and listening to the same song.
Q: It feels like this was a massive year for country, and it's allowed this surge of Americana to be embraced.
A: I think it's great. Obviously, anything that brings more people to our format is a great thing. I respect country music because I feel like it's more about the talent and the songwriting, and I put on a big show and we have a lot of stuff, but I feel confident in myself enough as an artist and a singer that I can have all of those fun toys, and know that we don't need all the bells and whistles either.
Q: “Nashville” is my new guilty pleasure. Have you gotten a chance to watch it ?
A: I did. We got a copy beforehand. I know a lot of people that work on the show and they wanted to know what we thought. I think Nashville is such a great town, and I think there is so much that they can get into about the music industry. I'm excited for us as a community that we can shine some more light. It seems like “Nashville” is getting more spotlight on the town as a whole. I heard, I don't know if this is true, that they are going to do like a “Real Housewifes of Nashville” and I've heard rumors about things on Food Network. It seems that people want to get into Nashville more, and that's fun for us.
Q: If Bravo called, would you do it?
A:No. I feel like my time on “(American) Idol,” there were so many cameras on us all the time I could never get used to it. I don't know how people get used to having cameras on them in their daily lives. I'm a private person, too, and we don't ever film anything in our home because it's off-limits. It's like letting people see your messy house.
Gerrick D. Kennedy is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.