'Sinister' Southern weather helps inform the latest from the Nashville-based singer and songwriter
On Caitlin Canty's third solo album, Motel Bouquet, the Vermont-born, Nashville-based singer and songwriter reveals a knack for penning Americana songs rich in novelistic detail.
Throughout, she sets vivid scenes, describing wooded rivers where “arched trees bend in closer watching,” and capturing the lonely sensation of fumbling with your keys in a darkened doorway where there's nothing to greet you but “the cold air rush from an empty room.”
“To me, it's not the reminders of how I was feeling that are important, but what I was looking at, and how the light was dancing on a puddle. … That's what moves me,” said Canty, who visits Newark for a concert at Thirty One West on Sunday, May 6 (Josh Ritter headlines). “The reason you take a picture is because it's beautiful and it moves you and you want to remember it, or you want to share it. And that's what songs are to me. Those details you're talking about … it's almost like I did the slow-cooking version of raising my phone and taking a picture of that scene, but instead using my words.”
Canty has always gravitated toward songwriting for that creative release rather than other forms like poetry or short stories, since she's long been enthralled with the ineffable power music can wield.
“When you hear a Tom Petty song and you can't get it out of your head and it moves you and there's such an economy of words and it's like, ‘How did he do that?'” she said. “Trying to figure out how to do that yourself, or put a mark on somebody with your song in the way that so many songs have stuck to you, I think that's what I'm obsessed with. It's a never-ending pursuit of trying to write something that lasts.”
Growing up, Canty received much of her musical education via classic rock radio (Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles), one of the few outlets easily accessible to her in rural Vermont. It wasn't until her final year of high school, when her parents surprised her with a guitar as a gift, that she started to more fully explore singer-songwriter types such as Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, artists whose voices felt more aligned with her vocal style. “Growing up I had a folk-y voice, and the songs I liked to sing weren't the Whitney Houston and the Mariah Carey [types],” Canty said.
Around the time Canty released her sophomore album, Reckless Skyline, from 2015, she started to home in on her own voice as an artist, describing the sensation of writing the stark ballad “My Love for You Will Not Fade” as akin to “playing with fire in a way that I hadn't before.”
Around this time, things also started to jell personally for Canty. She purchased her first car, which she described as an “escape pod,” and met her ongoing musical soul mate: a Recording King guitar. Also, after living in New York City for nearly a decade, she discovered Nashville and was in the process of relocating to the city, which she viewed as an ideal middle ground between her small-town upbringing and Big Apple life. “[The move] put me so much closer to nature,” she said. “I don't have to run out of the concrete city to find it.”
Canty has long felt tied to the natural world (her dad was a science teacher and she majored in biology), and this connection is evident throughout Motel Bouquet, which is dense with mentions of swollen rivers, cooling breezes and slow-rolling storms. Album standout “Scattershot” even mirrors a surging storm cloud in the gradual, ominous build of the music — a byproduct of the new weather patterns the musician has been forced to reckon with living in the South.
“I moved from a place where I felt comfortable, the Northeast — a place where I understood weather, where you could smell rain coming,” Canty said. “When you move down South, it's a whole different world where there are tornado sirens and people talk about floods — things I was never exposed to. There's a swampy-ness in the way the weather rolls in and the way it rains here. … Now, on top of the greater awareness of climate change, the natural world feels less safe. Where it had always been solace and a place to go for renewal, now there's something almost more sinister about it.”