jewish celebrities

Vanessa Carlton on Being a Jewish Mom & Surviving the Music Biz

I'm not some perfect piano pop-song girl.

Vanessa Carlton was one of those pop princess darlings in the 2000s. We loved her for her strong voice and piano abilities (“A Thousand Miles,” anyone?). That polished image, however, isn’t her, as she told Lenny in an interview recently. Her latest album of original songs, “Liberman,” which was released in 2015, is more accurate to what she’s doing right now.

During the interview, Carlton talked about what it was like growing up with a mom who was also her piano teacher, what it’s like to tour as a mom and wife, and how she makes it all work and feel authentic.

Here are some of the highlights from the interview:

On her Jewish mom–and what it was like learning to be a musician from your parent (hint: it’s not easy!):

“I think it’s really a touchy [subject when] your mother [is] teaching you a craft. I think she was a great piano teacher because she never cared about the little things. It was always about the overall performance of the piece. You play, you make a mistake, you keep going. I would improvise on some Mozart sonatas, or a Greek piece, taking it to another place entirely, and she would never correct me. That was super-important to me, supporting my desire to explore different sounds that weren’t on the page. So, in that way, I think she had a profound impact on my creative life.

But outside of that, she’s incredibly intense and very stubborn. We’ve had major growing pains — as mothers and daughters have — and we’ve arrived at a really good place. Once I had my baby, I was able to channel a lot of empathy for my mother and start to imagine what she was like when she was in her twenties and got married to my father, who was a pilot, and they didn’t have much money. She set up this amazing life for herself and her kids as a working mother. She’s very progressive. I agree with a lot of [the decisions she made throughout the years] now that I’m a mother. But it took me some time to get here.”

On how she’s raising her 2-year-old daughter Sid:

“I think the most important thing is awareness of how other people live and the awareness that we don’t live in a bubble. All human beings crave the same things and need the same things, and we all do better when we connect. I hope for her to be a really ethical woman and know where she stands in this world. I hope she has that inner confidence that will lead her to feel like she can really explore and push herself. As my mother says, in her thick Jewish-mom-from-Queens-accent, “Vanessa, you’re here to make the world a better place.” And that’s the whole point, really. Because that’s what makes us all feel better. When you give, you feel better. And that’s just the way it is.”

On her past career–and being commodified as a pop star:

“Clearly I did not make for a very good pop star. I’m not some perfect piano pop-song girl. It’s so one-dimensional, and it drove me crazy. It took me a couple records to get out of that machine, and I eventually did.”

On her current career–and being told she couldn’t have children:

“Liberman is so much about me healing. I had terrible polycystic ovary syndrome, and I was told by a doctor I couldn’t have children. For the year after I left my major label, I just destroyed my body with drugs and alcohol and broke down my system from the inside out. Then I met this amazing Chinese doctor and got into Chinese medicine. I would boil this rank tea every single day and drink it religiously, and it literally brought me back to life.”

How she makes touring work as a mom:

“I used to be so miserable on the road, tortured from living in my ego. At some point I woke up and thought, Well, if I’m away from my baby and my husband, I better make this worth it. So I think that really keeps me in line. I’m a total granny now, too. I know my limits, and I know what I need to feel good on the road, but that takes a lot of experience.”

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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