Mary Chapin Carpenter Gives Old Songs a New Setting on 'Movie' Album

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Russ Harrington

The music business has changed a lot since Mary Chapin Carpenter released her debut album, "Hometown Girl," back in 1987. She tells Billboard that some of the changes have definitely been for the better.

"I was just speaking with someone, and we were talking about what I would say if a young person came up to me and said 'I write songs, and I want to do this. What do I need to know?' I'm not that great at dispensing advice, but the one thing that occurred to me is that it is such A DIY world now," she says. "Nowadays, the power is all in your hands if you are just starting out. You can post something to SoundCloud, put your record on iTunes, the world can come to you. There's something arrogant in the way that sounds, and I don't mean it that way. You have to work your butt off, be out there and be as proactive as possible, but in so many ways you can create your music like you never could before. It's quite thrilling to me that it is like that now."

Carpenter is also quite thrilled to be releasing her new album, "Songs From The Movie," tomorrow. After a career that has been marked by CMA Awards, Grammys, and many top ten records, the disc marks a career first for the singer -- it's her very first orchestral album. The disc was recorded at the legendary AIR Studios in London with a 63-piece group backing her up. Though she had been to the studio before, recording 2001's "Time*Sex*Love" there, this marked a new and exciting chapter in the singer's career. 

"Singing with an orchestra is definitely something I've never done before. Vince Mendoza, the wonderful composer and arranger, did the arrangements, and they are very different. It was a wonderful experience."

The ten-song set is comprised of songs that Carpenter has recorded in her career before, but none of the songs were singles for her. She admits that choosing songs for such a collection posed a different kind of challenge.

"It was a particular kind of song that I wanted to draw from my discography," she says of the song selection process. "I was wanting the ones that were fairly lyrically demanding on the part of the listener, and ones that told stories, but most importantly that lent themselves musically to these new treatments with an orchestra. Vince, my co-producer Matt Rollings and myself all kind of squirreled ourselves away and worked with different lists of songs. Then we collectively came up with the final track listing. They all seemed to fit together. I think the orchestra was the central component, but even though they are drawn from several different records over the years, there seemed to be this connection that makes it a wonderful new thing as a whole."

When asked about the differences between a regular studio album and "Songs From The Movie," she says "Obviously, the orchestra is the first difference. It's a very different kind of band. After that, these weren't new songs to me. It's a very different experience when you've never recorded a song before, and you're invested into it. There's the choices you make, the instruments, the options – all of those things go into recording a new song.  With these songs, they already had sort of an existence. It was about the new setting that they were in, and how to have enough power to keep up with the orchestra without sacrificing nuance and emotion – that was the greatest challenge for me."

One of the highlights of the album is "I Am A Town," which was originally recorded for her 1992 collection "Come On Come On." Of the tune, she recalled "I was stuck in traffic in Washington DC, looking up at the skies and daydreaming. The light in the sky reminded me of the quality of blue, and the sensation that you have when you're standing off of the ocean of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It used to be that the drive down there from Washington was a lot different than it is now. Back then, it was little tiny hamlets and crossroads, family farms, and little gas stations all the way down from Norfolk across the bridge. It's so built up now, but this was my version of a movie song. I was trying to detail what I would see on both sides of the road. It's bittersweet, melancholy, and nostalgic about the end of things, but also how everything is all in the details. There's so much there if you care to look."