If you don’t always see Kim Carson in New Orleans, that’s because she spends part of her year out of the country: She’s in Europe for three months every year, and hits Costa Rica in the winter as well. Like many artists who do honest, traditionally inspired country music, she’s finding that the real fans are in some surprising places.
“This year we’re playing in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and I’ll be doing Spain for the first time,” says Carson, who takes “Don’t Fear the Twang” as her personal motto (it’s also the name of an upcoming compilation CD). “The Europeans don’t care for that Nashville stuff that they play on the radio over here, they love American music and especially the more rootsy things. So I spend a lot of time on the road, and that keeps you young—I feel like a 29-year-old with really bad knees.”
Carson had her own run-in with Nashville years ago. “The problem with them was that I didn’t start playing music until I was 32 years old. They thought I was younger and when I told them the truth, they’d say, ‘I was interested in working with you, and that changes how I feel.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, that’s kind of shallow.’ There have been people who’ve said they could turn me into Shania Twain, and that’s not what I’m all about. There was one guy who asked me what I really wanted to be doing and I realized I’d be completely happy being like Bonnie Raitt or Emmylou Harris, playing venues the size of the House of Blues, if I could do the music I wanted.”
This year will mark her twenty-second Jazz Fest appearance. Of all those years, she says, one that sticks out was a few years back when the Acura Stage had an all-female lineup, with her band, Theresa Andersson, Susan Cowsill and Alison Krauss headlining. More recently, she’s brought a loose-knit supergroup called the Tipsy Chicks. That group’s on hold for now, but the honky-tonk sense of humor remains. “I find that the funny songs are the easiest ones to write. The ones that leave you a little vulnerable, and express what’s really going on in your life—those are the hard ones, like ‘Missing You’ on the last album (Enough Heart Left to Break). I have this sense of privacy that makes it hard to let people look in. But that’s why I’m taking my time with the next album, because I think we set the bar pretty high on the last one.”