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This article was prepared for the October 10, 2001 edition
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Carter & Grammer’s Prophetic Verses
For Dave Carter, songwriting isn’t just the practical
application of putting lyrics down on a piece of paper and coming
up with a catchy tune. It means getting closer to the cosmos. "My
approach to songwriting is essentially shamanic," he says. "I
try to tap into a kind of liquid aquifer that flows beneath the
of everyday life. If I can bring the magic of the deep unconscious
into the all-too-predictable realm of the daily grind, that’s like
bringing water into the desert."
Despite the fact that Carter has been called the "Carlos Castaneda
of music" and "a wandering cowboy sage," and claims that
he gets most of his song ideas while dreaming, Carter is not as
Agey" as he might seem. A look at the quality of some of his
is proof enough.
In the song "Ordinary Town," from Carter and Grammer’s new
album "Drum Hat Buddha," he sings:
ballroom steps you get to believin’ you’re even-steven with the kids
at fast-track prep so you dump your bucks on a velvet tux and you
run to join the dance but your holy shows and the romans know you’re
just a child of circumstance ’cause this is an ordinary town and the
prophet has no face."
Grammer partnership. He also sings and plays guitar and banjo. Grammer
adds her gentle, honey-like vocals, wily violin and mandolin playing,
and a dash or two of sex appeal to the duo.
Despite having only performed together since 1998, "Drum Hat
is Carter and Grammer’s third album, and they have become one of the
hottest acts on the folk music circuit. They return to the area on
Saturday, October 13, for a Concerts at the Crossing show at the
Universalist Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville.
Although they shy away from labeling their music as folk, preferring
to call it "Postmodern Mythic American Music," Carter’s
has been compared to that of Bob Dylan and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Carter
and Grammer share lead vocal duties, and Carter’s Texas-twanged
voice is a nice counterpoint to the lilting countrifications of his
Since the release of their second album "Tanglewood Tree"
in 2000 they have garnered a host of awards, rave reviews, devoted
fans and radio airplay all across the country. Listeners of
WXPN Radio voted "Tanglewood Tree" as the #14 CD on their
year end top 50 list last December.
"A lot of the ideas for my songs come to me in dreams," says
Carter in a phone interview from a hotel room in Ithaca, NY. "Or
if they don’t come in dreams they come in an almost dream-like state.
Tracy and I travel a lot, so a lot of my song ideas come when she’s
on the driving shift and I’m kind of drifting away in the passenger
seat. What happens is it’s kind of like being struck by lightning.
I get a fundamental idea of what the song is about, some of the music,
and at least one of the key lines lyrically. It just hits me like
Still, life on the road is not particularly conducive to creativity
and Carter finds that he is a more prolific songwriter when he and
Grammer are at home in Portland, Oregon. "I’m happiest when we’re
living a somewhat natural life and we’re at home and not on the
he says. "That’s when I really cultivate this shamanistic mindset,
where I’m walking with one foot in the everyday world and one foot
in the dream world all the time. At those times I’m always living,
at least a little bit, in that realm from which the ideas for the
But it is after he is initially struck by the lightning
bolt of creativity that the real work of crafting a song begins for
Carter. "Then I have to work the song out organically from the
fundamental cell that I got in the dream," he says.
is usually a give and take process. Sometimes the music comes ahead
of the lyrics, or the other way around. The way I find most pleasant
is when the music comes first."
For Carter, finding the music for a song is much easier than the
"Words by their nature are more exact. I think in the forest of
lyrics there are more traps and pitfalls that pull the critical mind,
you might say, out of its cave. If I’m playing music I can go into
a kind of trance that makes my mind more pliable and more willing
to come out with things. Then later on I go back and edit it."
Carter writes all the duo’s songs, but it is not for lack of trying
on Grammer’s part. "I’d love to write songs." says Grammer.
"Poetry is really more a forte of mine than songwriting. I just
haven’t been able to meld words and music yet. I try, I get a good
start, but I never get to the finish line."
Although Grammer doesn’t write the songs, she certainly plays a strong
part in developing them. "I try to stay out of Dave’s creative
process when he’s just beginning a song," explains Grammer.
don’t want the critic in you coming out too early, because it kills
the energy in it somehow. But I’m an editor by nature and a person
with an opinion about everything, so I do make suggestions. I fine
tune things, like tempo and when it comes to the producing and
of songs, I have a big voice in that."
"Tracy is the natural performer," says Carter. "She loves
to perform. I write a song, but don’t find it really essential to
perform it. I really see myself as a writer. I enjoy performing too
and I feel very good about it sometimes, but when we’re on stage and
I look over at Tracy, I can tell that she is really, really
Carter met Grammer in 1996 after a performance in Portland. Within
weeks they were working up new material with a band. They recorded
their first album "When I Go" in the summer of 1998 in the
kitchen of her apartment.
Grammer, born in Florida and raised in Southern California, grew up
in a musical family. Although her parents earned their living by
a business, music dominated the household. Her mother played accordion
and her father played steel and electric guitars. At the age of nine
she began studying classical violin, playing in regional and school
orchestras. She went on to study English literature and anthropology
at the University of California, Berkeley.
Carter was raised in rural Texas and Oklahoma. His father was an
and mathematician and his mother was a charismatic Christian prone
to visions and states of ecstasy. He has hitchhiked cross country
toting his guitar, played in piano bars and psychedelic rock bands,
and studied at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in San
During the past six months, Carter and Grammer have been on the road
almost continuously. "I think we’ve been off the road for about
20 days in that time," says Carter. "And it’s going to be
pretty much like that until the beginning of the new year. We’d
that this was going to be the year that we were really going to hit
that road and that’s what we’ve done."
After a brief respite for the holidays, they will tour with Joan Baez
beginning in February. "We were supposed to tour with Joan last
February, but Joan’s sister Mimi Farina was so sick that she didn’t
feel comfortable leaving her. Of course we totally understood,"
says Grammer. (Farina has since died.) "So we put it off for a
Although life on the road may seem endless, Carter and Grammer are
both looking forward to making music together for many years.
tucked away on Carter and Grammer’s last two album covers are the
words, "By this merit may all beings swiftly realize
That’s Dave’s contribution," explains Grammer. "It’s a Tibetan
blessing. It wasn’t on `When I Go,’ but we’ll put it on the reprint.
We’ll have that on every album we do together, I’m sure."
— Jack Florek
Unitarian Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, 609-406-1803.
Opening is Mark Erelli with songs from his CD, "Compass and
$15. Saturday, October 13, 8 p.m.
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