Elle Carpenter Interview from the Purple Fiddle, WV on June 24, 2017
Interview by Dan Locke
Dan Locke – Originally you are from Vermont. What was the music like there as a child for you? What types of music did you listen to?
Elle Carpenter- I grew up amid many very talented folk musicians. There is a huge acoustic community in Central Vermont where I grew up. Live, I listened to folk, hymnals, gospel, a Capella music of all types, shape note music, traditional Irish music, old time music, and lots of styles in between. I personally loved musical theatre and pop as a kid, but that differed greatly from what I was exposed to in person.
Unrated Dan- How were you discover by The Fiddleheads? Do you know that name is still used by bands? The latest one was on the America Got Talent season six.
Elle Carpenter-I was pretty young when me and my three sisters starting singing with The
Fiddleheads. I can’t remember exactly how it happened but I believe the founder, Grant Ornstein knew my mother and had heard all of us sing as a family – a Capella folk music, mostly. He put the band together with us included. Grant played banjo and sang, he had an upright bass player and maybe one more set of strings (hard to remember as an eight or nine year old!) and four Carpenter girls singing. We recorded an album and started performing.
Unrated Dan- You were in the Village Harmony. Is this the same one as today which Based in Vermont, Village Harmony is dedicated to the study & performance of traditional polyphonic singing and sponsors an extensive program of traveling sing camps for teenagers and adults across the globe? Each group meets for a week-long rehearsal retreat before going on the road for a concert tour. The CD compilations here represent some of the most exciting performances from these tours.
Elle Carpenter- Yes this is the same group. However, back when I was a part of it the group was WAY smaller. Back in my day (I sang with them from age 11-16) almost everyone involved knew each other. It was also targeted mostly towards teens with the adults being the leaders. I believe that now the pool of participants is enormous and it has really grown as a business, although I’m sure they’ve maintained the strong sense of community that always existed- something that made that group special. What the description above doesn’t include in specifics is classical music from around the world, traditional folk music from around the world (specifically Balkan, Georgian, Russian and probably more countries that I’m forgetting- these styles often included traditional dances which we got to perform during the concert), gospel music, and traditional New England shape note songs.
Unrated Dan- What instruments do you play and how did you learn to play them?
Elle Carpenter- I currently play acoustic guitar, piano, and harmonica. I am mostly self-taught although I did take a few piano lessons when I was a young child, classical guitar lessons in college and I have had fellow musicians, producers and friends who mentor me on my instruments. Although I’ve been sight-reading music my whole life, I find that when it comes to my music I prefer to use my ears – in other words, when writing music, I base chord progressions on how they sound instead of the technical musicianship.
Unrated Dan- I know you play guitar. What year and make of guitar(s) do you own? And what is your favorite one and why?
Elle Carpenter- In general with life, and with my instruments, I’m a minimalist. I played a Parkwood guitar (made by Cort) for nine years as my first performance guitar. In 2016 when the Parkwood wasn’t quite suiting me anymore I obtained two more guitars. Now I play a guitar made by Teton Guitars (Idaho Falls, ID) and one made by Cole Clark (Australia). They are both great guitars and I’m hoping I’ll be playing them for a long time to come.
Unrated Dan- In 2009 you went to Vietnam to perform at the White Palace Convention Center for a month. How
did this happen and tell me some stories of your time there?
Elle Carpenter- In 2009 while living in Los Angeles, CA, and after releasing my first solo album, I was street performing on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica when two men walked by, offering me a job in Saigon. I told them “yes, I’m interested” and handed them a business card, thinking almost nothing of it. Many people offer you jobs in LA and very few of them come through. The men also bought an album. That evening I received a phone call from one of the men. They wanted me to come to Ho Chi Minh City and perform for a year-long-contract. I told them I would come for a month. I had my acting manager review the contract for me, making sure it looked okay, and then he also came with me to the airport to meet the gentlemen before they left Los Angeles. One week later, I was on a plane to Vietnam.
Unrated Dan- You have been touring for a while now. Who have you toured with and any stories good or bad you like to tell us about?
Elle Carpenter- I get this question a lot: “What bands have you toured with?” The answer is, none. Yes, I’ve shared the stage with many musicians, too many to count. I love playing at music venues for this reason. Just to clarify, when I say “music venues” I mean the music is the main attraction. It means there are various artists who play from 30 minutes – 2 hours all within the same day or night. I also play at restaurants, bars, farmer’s markets, wineries, breweries… You get the idea. These other venues don’t usually line up various musicians and one artist is asked to play for 2-4 hours on their own, for a set fee. I think the reason I have been able to earn a living doing this is because I’m willing to play any type of venue. Although it’s a lot of work, playing for hours on end, I’m willing to do it and I have enough all-original material. They’re not all glamorous, but I have found music appreciators and fans in every type of place, which makes it worth my time and efforts.
Unrated Dan- What is your favorite club to play and why?
Elle Carpenter- I can’t say that I have a favorite. I’m excited to play The Purple Fiddle again! When you’ve traveled around as much as I have, it’s true that certain venues are more desirable but I would say there are MANY desirable venues! I prefer to play at venues where the audience is full of music appreciators; where they clap after every song just because that is the proper etiquette (heads up that there are many establishments where patrons don’t clap – that’s something I’m used to and as long as I’m getting a paycheck, I’m okay with it). When I lived in Los Angeles, I enjoyed certain venues more because of how good the sound is, how great the audience is, how many people came to hear you play, etc. Now it also has to do with how much did I make that night? Unfortunately, since music is my job, I can’t afford to go back to venues that aren’t profitable for me. No matter how many compliments you get, they won’t pay your bills unless they’re attached to a tip, a CD sale, a cover charge, etc. That’s just the reality of being a professional musician.
Unrated Dan- What is the biggest crowd you have played for?
Elle Carpenter- Biggest crowd would be when I sang “God Bless America” at the BOK Center in Tulsa Oklahoma at a hockey game. That was in front of 6,000 people.
Unrated Dan- Who is your biggest fan?
Elle Carpenter- This is a difficult question to answer. I am happy to say that I have many great fans, some of whom I’ve never met. They interact with me on Twitter and YouTube. My biggest fans also end up being my friends because in my mind, anyone who supports a musician through the beginning stages of their career (i.e. the stage I’m still in!) is going to be remembered by that musician for the entire duration. I have numerous folks to thank for this. Yes, they like my music, or my voice, or my songwriting, but they also understand that if they want more of that they can’t be an innocent bystander. Interaction is key at this stage in my career.
Unrated Dan- How do you describe your type of music?
Elle Carpenter- Acoustic, Americana, Pop with a folk twist
Unrated Dan- If you could open or performed with anyone in the world alive or dead who would it be and why?
Elle Carpenter- I think it’d be really fun to open for Grace Potter, because we are both from Vermont and I really love her music. I’ve also been compared to her (as well as a great many other female artists) and I think it’s cool that she was able to make the band thing work. I had a band for a while but I didn’t start making money until I started playing solo. I’ve never met her but I think we have a lot in common.
Unrated Dan- You are now with Travianna Records. And your record came out last year. How is it doing? How did you pick Aaron Ramsey of Mountain Heart as your producer?
Elle Carpenter- The record has gotten great feedback. I’m still not sure how many we sold because
most of them were online and it takes a while to find out the exact numbers – that’s just how distribution works right now. I don’t think I charted on the billboards, but I also don’t think that was a realistic expectation this time around. Both the label and I are working on improving our connections and expanding our network. I think the goal is for sales to go up every time you have a new release. In terms of choosing Aaron Ramsey to produce my album, I had nothing to do with that – that was entirely up to the label, although I did enjoy working with him and the other musicians they brought on board.
Unrated Dan- You used to do Song on the month. What happen to that?
Elle Carpenter- That was something fun I did one year, before I had much experience in YouTubing. Releasing a video per month is no longer enough. I release one video per week now and they vary in topic, mostly having to do with my music or my life.
Unrated Dan- How many songs are on yourtube channel?
Elle Carpenter- How many songs? I don’t actually know. I have 128 released YouTube videos on my channel and I will be continuing to release one per week indefinitely.
Unrated Dan- What is your favorite song you have written and what is your favorite cover you like to perform?
Elle Carpenter- These are hard questions to answer because the answer changes so often. Lately, I’ve been loving “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac and “Afraid of Love” from my fourth album “Life Just Happens to You”. I’m sure if you asked me that question again in a month, I would have a different answer.
Unrated Dan- You also act. I see you have been in three movies. How did you start acting? And I also see that you are into acrobat in you movies. This is a secret talent we should know about?
Elle Carpenter- I’ve actually been in eight movies, although one of them was not listed on IMDB for some reason, and some TV shows as well. The latest film that I was in was a big deal for me because I was the lead and it’s a feature length film. This is very exciting for me. I am absolutely an acrobat, aerialist, juggler and stunt performer, and yes, these skills did help me land roles in theatre, film and TV. When I was living in Los Angeles, I made extra money performing as an acrobat & aerialist which was nice because for a little while I didn’t require an extra “day” job. Now, I consider these things mostly a hobby, although I will accept work in that line when it comes along.
Unrated Dan- If someone did not know who you are what three songs should they listen to get to know you?
Elle Carpenter- I just don’t think it’s possible to get to know me in three songs… Maybe it’s possible with some artists but my music has been through so many changes and in order to really know an artist you have to have been there through all those changes. The most amusing thing for me is when someone watches one of my YouTube videos – only one, no others – and isn’t familiar with my music and then they want to give me advice on my entire career. Of course, I love feedback and advice when it’s useful, and I’m always polite to people, but I can tell the difference in feedback when somebody has actually done their research on me and my music. There’s a lot out there! I’m not sure which three songs I would pick.
Unrated Dan- How do you see yourself in the next five years?
Elle Carpenter- I see myself having a kid, taking a little time off while they’re an infant, then hitting the road with my husband and child and traveling the country a bit more as a family. I’m going to prioritize some time in Los Angeles so I can continue to pursue my acting career, prioritize some time in Durango, CO which we’ve grown fond of as our home, and see where else the wind takes us. I know world traveling is on our list of priorities as well so perhaps that will happen in the next five years also. I’m looking forward to finding out 🙂