Looking for Will Carter?
You might start in Katy, his hometown, not far from Houston. Or you could check at some of the hottest honky-tonks and clubs in southeast Texas, where if you’re lucky you’ll be near the stage as The Will Carter Band hit their opening song. It won’t take long before their true country music sweeps you and the rest of the crowd onto the floor.
It’s probably easier to talk about where he’ll be after February 2019, when he releases his sophomore full-length album, Good Bad Idea fulfills the promise of his 2016 debut, With You. Odds are he’ll be headlining at major venues and stirring standing ovations at festivals throughout America. With a voice this expressive, with solidly crafted songs that convey both deep emotion and a polished artistry, that’s a solid bet.
What accounts for Carter’s uncommon combination of radio friendliness and Lone Star soul? It shines bright through the irresistible groove and sing-along hook of “Fiesta, Siesta, Tequila, Repeat,” the sly, self-deprecating humor of “Wishful Drinkin’,” the prairie-wide reverence for a father long gone on “Red Sunrise,” the heartache of lost love on “House of Cards” and the gratitude for love won on “As Long As She’s Loving’ Me” … really, in every moment on this extraordinary collection.
Unlike so much else of what we hear today, Carter’s music rides on a silent but unmistakable undercurrent. It nourishes his songs with a sense that he writes from experience. It nurtures an impression that he was taught from Day One to work hard with the hand you’re dealt and pursue your passion only when you know you have the knowledge you need to succeed.
These lessons began at home, through the example of his father, who valued self-sufficiency in life and business. After his passing, Carter would take a job at his stepfather’s construction firm. Once he had earned his BS in construction science with a minor in business administration at Texas A&M, he would work for several of the largest general contracting firms in Houston before branching out on his own.
He’d already gotten a good head start. Inspired by Mark Chesnutt, John Michael Montgomery, Garth Brooks and Diamond Rio among others, he had turned heads as a country prodigy, making his debut at age 3 at the Sealy Fantasy of Lights Festival, taking first prize in a talent contest at age 9 and picking up gigs at fairs, festivals and parties beginning at age 11. He apprenticed with several bands, including dancehall legends The Emotions, before starting his own as a vehicle for showcasing his original material and whipping up enthusiasm at live shows.
When recording his first album, Carter paid careful attention to how things were done. All of which empowered him to fully take the reins for Good Bad Idea. “That’s the main difference between the two albums,” he explains. “It’s about gaining the experience and confidence to be able to step in and say, ’This is the record I want.’ So I learned how to work in the studio hands-on, by seeing how it was done with my own eyes so that I could do it by myself.”
Carter prepared himself well on the creative side too. “I had a very defined idea of what I wanted,” he says. “On the one hand, I wanted the new album to capture the feel of the music I grew up on. At the same time, I wasn’t out to reinvent the wheel, because it’s 2018 and we need a breath of fresh air.”
His first step was to spend time in Nashville, working with the best writers in the business. “I wrote with several who had previously had hits with major artists,” he says. “They all had enormous talent. But the one I really clicked with was Shane Stevens. He and I ended up co-writing every single song on Good Bad Idea. His first Billboard #1 was ‘American Honey’ for Lady Antebellum, but he writes mainly with pop artists like Ariana Grande. I like the results when we work together; it’s like sprinkling some modern flavors into my country stuff without getting carried away with it.”
The next essential task was to find a producer who could make those songs come alive in the way Carter wanted. He found him in Nash Overstreet, who has been writing, producing and playing for artists as diverse as John Oates, Britney Spears and Jesse McCartney. “My writing and arrangement styles are very, very country,” Carter points out. “Nash brought an energy to the mix that helped add a lot of variety and intensity to Good Bad Idea.”
As an example, Carter points to the album’s first single, “Fiesta, Siesta, Tequila, Repeat.” “This song calls for a vibe that’s really fun, with a great groove, while still being true to the song,” Carter says. “So we came up with the idea of making the vocal hook jump by recording all of us screaming it together — and then doing it again maybe 30 times, to get that big gang-vocal sound. What’s funny is that when I play this song for my friends, who all love the stripped-down country feel I get on songs like ‘House Of Cards,’ they’re totally surprised. Maybe some they don’t get it at first — but the younger crowd definitely can’t get enough of songs like ‘Fiesta’ ‘and ‘Good Bad Idea’.”
The connection he shared with Stevens and Overstreet proved so strong that Carter took another creative risk: Although there are some guest musicians on “Forever’s Not Enough” and “Started With A Whiskey,” which were co-produced by Carter, Pamela Mary and Doug DeForest, he asked Overstreet to first lay down the framework of the tracks himself. “Most of the demos were just drum loops, synth and guitar,” Carter says. “We didn’t want to produce too far beyond those basics, with walls of guitar and layers of instruments. I wanted a more personal production that would showcase the vocals and song itself rather than cover it up. Nash got that right from the start.”
Few performers in any genre can match Carter’s blend of native talent, determination and drive. Good Bad Idea doesn’t just make this clear. It also signals the launch of a career that will capture the allegiance of young and old, those who savor old-school and those who can’t wait for school to let out for spring break. And here’s another sure bet: Carter’s ready to ride, right now.
Ticking down his mental list, he notes, “The band and I are solid. We’ve got our songs together. Our show is tight.” He muses for a second and then laughs. “I guess all that’s left is to hop on the bus, hit the road and get out of town.”