Most people know Vanessa Carlton for her chart-topping debut single "A Thousand Miles," but that was more than 14 years ago (if you can even believe it). In the decade-plus since, the 35-year-old singer-songwriter heralded for her piano-driven ditties has, well, grown up: She got married (to Deer Tick frontman John McCauley), had a child (Sidney, 11 months), and released three albums under a new indie music label (Dine Alone Records). Her latest is Liberman, a 10-track compilation that marks a calculated departure from her early pop efforts, with swirling synth-rich melodies and dreamy acoustics. We recently caught up with Carlton at the InStyle offices to talk about her recent release, vacationing with Stevie Nicks, and, of course, her breakout hit. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:
First off, what inspired the name "Liberman"?
It's my grandfather's birth-given surname. He changed it to "Lee"—my middle name—when he got back from the war because there was some anti-Semitism at the time, and he wanted to open up a showroom in New York. He ultimately did and sold women's button-down shirts. The funniest part is that he worked with Ralph Lifshitz, a tie designer, who went on to change his last name to Lauren.
That's quite a story.
It's a big hit in our family. But his real passion was painting, and he made huge, epic murals. I fell in love with one of them as a little girl—it's of a woman in various states of undress, in a very psychedelic color palette—and it hangs right by my piano. I realized I was writing this album subconsciously getting lost in that visual, so the name pays tribute to him and his artwork.
You've said the album is best heard with headphones. Why is that?
The sounds were just as important as the songs themselves. It's one of those get-lost-in-the-sonic-world-of-the-record type things. Headphones are the best way to get into your head and take you to another place.
Do you and your husband play your music for your daughter?
Oh yeah, we play for her all the time. She's into banging on the piano, and she'll slow dance, too.
Is it true that Stevie Nicks officiated your wedding?
Yep, we've been friends ever since we toured together in 2004. When John and I got married, we wanted it to be just the two of us, but we needed another person to actually do it. Thankfully, Stevie was available. I spend Christmas with her family in Phoenix every year, and they're great people.
What do you guys do?
Mostly hang out on the couch and do nothing—it's really nice. Sometimes we'll play music, too.
"A Thousand Miles" got nonstop airplay when it was released in 2001. Why do you think it resonated so well with audiences?
It was released around Sept. 11, when a lot of people were away from their families in the army and the marines, so they requested it a lot. That might have something to do with it.
Do you still play it live?
I still do, but it's nice that I don't have to. I think most people have accepted the fact that I'm now a grown woman, and my work has changed so much since then. I've made peace with the fact that a lot of people know me for that song. I look at it as this animal that I sit next to, and it's not a part of my creative world at all now. You've got to move forward. It was hard to start over, but it feels really good.
Watch the video for "House of Seven Swords" below, and buy Liberman for $10 at the iTunes Store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.