Here is another great insight into Carnival Ride & how it was put together. And the writers she was working are very complimentary.
Carrie Underwood captures the world of country - USATODAY.com
Carrie Underwood captures the world of country
Story by Brian Mansfield, Special for USA TODAY
NASHVILLE — Carrie Underwood is used to seeing crowds at the Ryman Auditorium. For three days in February, though, she had the former home of the Grand Ole Opry pretty much to herself, as she and a dozen Nashville songwriters worked on new tunes
We just ruled the Ryman for a little bit," the 24-year-old singer says. "We kind of hung out there. We ate on the stage. We thought it would be a nice place to get inspiration from."
After the release of her 2005 debut, Some Hearts, which has sold nearly 6 million copies, Underwood committed to developing her songwriting skills for her new album, Carnival Ride, out Tuesday.
"I'm the kind of person that, if I got in there and wrote and it was bad, I'd be, like, 'I'm not a writer; I'll let the professionals handle this,' " she says. "But it was something I definitely wanted to see if I could do."
It's not as if she didn't have plenty of other things to do. Just three years ago, Underwood was a mass-communications major at a midsize Oklahoma university. Her American Idol performances established an image for the fresh-faced singer somewhere between Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz and a Barbie princess.
Some Hearts reached double-platinum status (2 million sold) faster than any country album in history. Three of the album's songs —Jesus, Take the Wheel; Before He Cheats; and Wasted— topped Billboard's country singles chart. Underwood won best new artist at the Grammys, the first Idol to do so, and she's the reigning female vocalist for both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
She has pulled back on the concert dates this year, after having played about 150 last year — which gave her more time to write for and record Carnival Ride, to drink the milk in her refrigerator before it went bad, and to go to the occasional cookout or bowling night with friends.
Underwood went into Some Hearts an American Idol — an assurance of name recognition, but hardly a guarantee of future success. She goes into Carnival Ride a country superstar, the kind of celebrity who gets linked romantically with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and, more recently, Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford. She has two nominations for the American Music Awards, three for the CMAs and a song sung over the credits of the animated film Enchanted, opening Nov. 21. She gives single So Small its TV premiere Saturday night at the Grand Ole Opry. On Tuesday, she plays Times Square for Good Morning America.
Fortunately, she has people who keep her on schedule, because she still has a hard time adjusting to the whirlwind of activity. "Time has no relevance for me," she says.
Riding the whirlwind
"You get used to life at a much slower pace, then, all of a sudden, everything's flipped upside down. You have no idea where you're at or what you're doing. You're just trying to keep your sanity. Your mom asks where you're at, and you say, 'I'm not sure. I think I'm in Idaho.' "
Underwood returns to the themes of uncontrollable outside forces and the sense of being overwhelmed time and again on Carnival Ride, from the twister imagery on Flat on the Floor that opens the album to the seemingly insurmountable problems of So Small. When she sings "God put us here on the carnival ride/We close our eyes never knowing where it'll take us next" on the disc's final track, Wheel of the World, she leaves the inescapable impression that she's holding on for dear life.
"I can pause the ride occasionally," she says, "but it never stops. It's always going, waiting for me to get back on."
The three-day retreat at the Ryman offered Underwood such a pause. In a place where Hank Williams and Patsy Cline once sang, where Johnny Cash taped his ABC variety show, Underwood got to write with such top tunesmiths as Craig Wiseman, whose credits include Tim McGraw's Live Like You Were Dying.
"The goals were twofold," says retreat organizer Chris Oglesby, who runs OWM/19 Entertainment, the Nashville office of the company that manages Underwood's career. "One was to continue to get Carrie more comfortable writing and writing with different writers. The other was to create an environment where we could build some camaraderie, as well as find some great songs to put on a record."
Overcoming her shyness
For a person as naturally bashful as Underwood, getting familiar with new people takes some time. She acknowledges she can come across as standoffish. "Some people think I don't like them, because I don't really talk to people I don't know," she says. "I'm perfectly fine with not talking, unless I have something to say."
Each morning at the Ryman, the songwriters broke up into groups of two or three to write in the venue's dressing rooms. Underwood would team up with writing partners, but she would also roam from room to room throughout the day, acting as a sort of quality-control expert for works in progress.
"If you can catch somebody in the beginning stages of a song and say, 'I don't think I'd sing it that way,' or 'This isn't a subject matter I really want to talk about,' nobody wastes time," she says.
In the evenings, the writers recorded demos of the day's songs on the Ryman stage with Underwood's producer, Mark Bright.
"That was a little nerve-wracking," says songwriter Luke Laird. "You've just finished this song, and you're going to try to put it down in front of the producer of the record and whoever else is hanging around. But it was cool — there's something about that pressure. There were some great songs written there."
A similar retreat after Underwood's 2005 American Idol win yielded three songs for Some Hearts. Although Underwood says she left February's retreat with enough material to fill multiple CDs, only Twisted— written the first day by Laird and Jesus, Take the Wheel co-writers Hillary Lindsey and Brett James — made the final cut for Carnival Ride.
Still, the event served its larger purpose of better acquainting Underwood and the writers. The ones at the retreat account for 11 of the 13 songs on Carnival Ride.
Underwood had a hand in writing dozens of songs.
"Once I got comfortable with people, I had no problems chiming in," she says. "I realized that whatever I said wasn't going to be stupid. Because everybody says 50 things before they decide on a word — you go through 50 before you pick out one."
Though an artist's presence in a songwriting session can create tension and resentment, Oglesby says, Underwood is earning the respect of her songwriting peers, not just because an Underwood co-write can mean a financial windfall but because she approaches the process with seriousness and humility.
"Almost without exception, every single writer came to me and said, 'She's the real deal,' " he says. "She knows what she wants. She's got a good melodic sense. She's got a good lyric sense.
"She's great at this, and she's going to be amazing at this."