Carsie Blanton is using an old school musical form — jazz — to help change the way women are perceived today.
We all know a man can be a delicate thing
He can be soft and sweet like sugar wrapped in butter
And I don't mind your company
But if you want to make me sing
Keep in mind that I am not your mother
On first listen, Carsie Blanton's jazz tunes and pop music might invoke nostalgia. But listen more carefully and inside her sultry songs, you'll find an agenda for female empowerment that's distinctly of today.
Show me something I can rely on
Or I would rather be alone
You give your heart but I want to see your backbone
Every time you talk me
There's worry in your eyes
Now in her early 30s, she's been in the songwriting game for more half her life and has some firmly held beliefs about her place in the world.
Carsie Blanton: I think the way to be mentally healthy as an artist is to consider it a vocation. So this is my life's work, regardless of what the external reaction is for people.
That said, the external reaction of those who encounter Blanton is usually pretty positive and she's one of an increasing number of independent performers who figured out how to leverage that enthusiasm into a living.
Blanton: The new model that I'm working with is sort of a patronage model, where I make the work and I give it away constantly. That's all I do. Here's a CD, it's free. Here's a new song, it's online. And I invite people to pay me for those things if they want to.
AJC: It's a tip jar.
Blanton: Yeah, it's a tip jar.
AJC: How is that working out?
Blanton: It works fine. I mean, I'm not getting rich off it, but also I haven't had to get a second job and so I'm happy. And I've been surprised by how generous my fans are. And I think it's partly because I'm giving things away all the time that they feel like I trust them and like I'm making my work not for economic reasons. And that makes them feel more generous than they otherwise would.
AJC: You have to get them to believe that first of all.
AJC: And that's kind of a tough sell.
Blanton: Yeah. Well then, I write about it a lot, I talk about it on stage. I'm always kind of trying to present this model of art is not a commodity. Art is a vocation. And I do this because it's my vocation and I'm here to bring you something from the sort of spiritual plane and I want you to enjoy it. That's all I'm about. And the sort of monetary exchange is just this other thing that happens over here on the side when I'm done. It's peripheral. And I'm okay with that. I don't think like fame or riches are really part of the deal, although a lot of people think of it that way, especially if you're making pop music. They think like if you're successful, that means you're famous and you're rich. But actually to be successful means you're making music that you love and that's it. So I consider myself very successful.
AJC: Do you then lose yourself in craft?
Blanton: Oh yeah.
AJC: Because that's the actual joy of art is the loss of self.
Blanton: That is the only thing that makes me feel like the demons are not even there. I don't even remember who they are, they're not talking to me. Is when I'm playing a show and I feel really present or I'm writing a song and I feel really present or I'm getting really playful and creative in the studio. Those are the times that it feels like I'm definitely doing the right thing with my life. And the rest of the time, it's mixed bag.
AJC: Isn't it odd that the times when we most feel like ourselves is when we stop thinking about who we are?
Blanton: No, it's not odd at all. Because I think our true selves are not the ones that think all the time about who we are. The true self is the one who's experiencing it, has pleasure and joy and gets to interact with other people and make things.
And when Blanton is at her creative best, she's in New Orleans in a tiny studio in her backyard she's lovingly named the Watermelon.
Blanton: It's my favorite thing in the world. It's my favorite place to be and it makes me the happiest to go there. It is a sacred creative space and so when I'm home, I go in there every day and I sit for a few hours. And sometimes I write, sometimes I play, and sometimes I don't do anything, but it all feels like part of the creative process.
The latest fruit of the Watermelon is Blanton's 2016 album So Ferocious, a collection of songs each designed to embody her own personal rebellion against sexism.
Blanton: My choice as a woman in the world is to ferociously be myself and to do that in spite of the expectations of other people around me. This record is sort of a document of that so all the songs are saying "Here's another way that I'm being myself and doing it proudly and publicly." And it's sort of an invitation to other people, especially to women, to live that way as well. Because I think one of the ways to combat misogyny is to just sort of not accept it as a fact.
AJC: Is that hard?
Blanton: No it's fun, totally fun.
I know I got a lot of nerve
I ought to get what I deserve
Half a dozen men to serve me
It stands to reason
A couple of them feed me sweets
Couple more to rub my feets
And one or two between my sheets
If I find it pleasing I roll up all vim and vigor
Chomping at the bit with my finger on the trigger
Pitching a fit all lipstick and vinegar
Blanton: My intention in making that video was to make people, especially men, uncomfortable. So I wanted them to watch the video and to think to themselves "Oh, this doesn't feel good. I feel like maybe I should go work out." Like "I don't have the right body type." So I want men to have the experience that women have when they watch any music video or most movies ever, where it's like the women are these sort of physical ideals and that's why they get to have access to the men and the men have all the power. And so in my fantasy sex mansion in the "Vim and Vigor" video, I have all the power, the men are all servants of mine, and they only get to be my servants because they're hot. So I love objectifying men. I do it as much as possible.
Cause I got moxie
And you don't scare me
No, you don't scare me
You don't scare me