It's been a short four years since Nathan Carter was launched to stardom with his cover of 'Wagon Wheel'. Yet in that time he's achieved a lot. He's had three #1 albums and even had his own Christmas Special on RTÉ last year.
He's now a household name, recognisable even to those that wouldn't ordinarily be familiar with the country music genre. Ahead of the release of his new album 'Stayin' Up All Night' and his forthcoming tour, we sat down with him to chat about his musical origins, his rise to stardom and his ambitions for the future.
How have the last four years have been for you? It's really been a phenomenal rise.
Thanks a lot. I suppose a lot of people see it as an overnight thing but I left school at 17 and was gigging in pubs and clubs to five/ten people some nights. Always trying to grow a fan base and get people coming back to the shows. I moved to Ireland seven years ago and started the band then. It was very slow at the start but like you say the last three or four years have been really good. I've been lucky that the last three albums have gone to number one. I've played some amazing gigs up and down the country. The last few years I've been doing 150 gigs a year between Ireland and the UK. Just trying to promote the name and the music. It's been great fun. I love it. I wouldn't change it for anything. I was actually a joiner for a year before I could actually afford to go into music full time. Because I just couldn't afford to do it. So when I was about 18 I did a bit of joinery with my Dad for a year. I was completely useless at it. So I've been lucky enough that I've been able to do music since and it just keeps growing. I'm so lucky.
You took up an instrument from a young age. Is it fair to say you grew up in a musical household?
Yeah, so it was mainly family parties that I noticed from 4 or 5 years old. Everybody would have to get up and sing or dance or play an instrument. I asked for an accordian at the age of 4 and I started to get lessons and then I picked up the piano. I was actually involved in Comhaltas for a long time and traditional Irish music. I competed in the Fleadh Cheoil every year. I was in the Liverpool Ceili Band for five or six years and we got to the All Ireland a good few times. I competed in singing as well and stuff. That was great for any kid and I would encourage so many children if they can to get involved in music. Mine was trad music and I met so many friends and people that I'm still in contact with now. My summers revolved around music. I'd never change it. It's a great way of meeting people.
When was it that you decided you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I remember doing my GCSEs in Liverpool and it was actually down in a pub called The Liffey. A friend of mine, Nicky James, was playing and I was watching him during the show and just thought 'That man is being paid to stand there and sing for a couple of hours and he's having a ball entertaining everyone' and I said I'd love to do that. I was leaving and I thought there's no point in me staying on in school. That's exactly what I want to do and you know I was never one with ambitions of being famous, that actually never entered my head at all. I just wanted to perform and make music as a career and If I could make a bit of money from it and survive that's all I was interested in. I never really got into it for the fame and I never entered any of the X Factors or anything like that because I just wasn't really interested in it. I just wanted to perform and play music.
Despite the fact that it was a musical household, were there any reservations from your family when you told them this is what you wanted to do with your life?
My Mum was very nervous about me leaving school. As you probably know well, you're not guaranteed anything in the music business. You might totally flop and you don't get any gigs, you don't record anything. My Mum was very nervous and she was always one to say you could do with having A Levels and maybe just go to Uni just in case you need another lifeline if the music thing doesn't work out. But I was lucky enough that other people in my family, my Nan in particular, was really good at persuading my Mum. She was like "Let him do it. If it doesn't work out he can come and work with his Dad doing joinery". And it didn't work out for the first six months. I didn't have enough gigs in and I wouldn't be one for sitting at home anyways so I was just like 'listen Dad if that's Ok I'll come and help you out.' After about a year, the gigs had gone from 2 a week to 4 or 5 a week, so I couldn't do both and my Dad was like 'Listen I'm delighted for you. Go away and do what you want to do.'
The last track in the new album, 'Thank You'. Is that a tribute to your family?
I wrote that song with both my family and the fans in mind. I could literally say thank you to the people who have helped get me to where I am now. There's been so many people from family to people in the industry but mainly the fans, the ones who have put me here. I wouldn't be here without them so this is a little song I did it on the album with a big string section but at the live gigs it's just me and a piano and I think it slightly means more as well when it's stripped back. It's a song that I really enjoyed writing and enjoy singing live as well. I know I get a lot of feedback every night asking is that song on an album and it never has been till now so I'm delighted to be able to say when anyone comes up now that it's on my new album.
Is the 'Stayin' Up All Night' comprised from mostly new material?
Yeah I've been writing songs for the past 18 months with different writers. People in Nashville, Dublin, London. There's normally four or five writers that I try and write with every few months. We just come up with a few ideas or a chorus melody. I've co-written eight of the songs on the album which was great fun doing. We recorded the album in a studio in Donegal. It took us five days. It was done live. We brought all of the musicians in apart from the strings section which was done abroad but the album sounds more real to me because it's live. There are little imperfections there that maybe don't sound as good as they should but to me that's live and real. It was great fun making it. It's the album I'm most proud of because I've written a lot of the songs and I really enjoyed the making of it as well with all the musicians. Everybody was coming up with ideas for solos and intros and outros and even ideas for the arrangements. It was just great fun and I'm just delighted it's being released. I can't wait to hear the feedback from the fans. I really want to hear what they think of the new tracks because they won't have heard a lot of them.
Is it fair to say there is more of an American country music influence on this album than there was on your previous work?
Yeah definitely. I've been listening to a lot of American country music the last few years and it's changed so much from what country was, to what country is now. It's kind of soft rock/pop over there at the minute and I didn't want to go that far but I did want to bring a slightly more modern influence to it which I've done in tracks like 'Wanna Dance'. But then there's the real country songs too. Songs like 'Skinny Dipping' and 'Won't You Come Down'. Then there's folk influences there, you know I've been brought up in traditional music. In our house, my Nan and Grandad love The Dubliners, Johnny McEvoy, Paddy Reilly, Mary Black and all those types of singers. I've always loved folk music and I've always sang it and there's tracks on the album like 'Temple Bar' which are kind of more folky. There is definitely a few different influences on that album. I'd like to think there's something for everyone. If you're not a country fan then maybe you'll like the folk stuff or vice versa.
Finally, has there been any moment in the past few years that's made you think about how far you've come?
The one night where I really stood back and said 'This has come a long way' was when I was recording my live DVD in the Marquee in Cork last year. We were in the night after Bob Dylan and Lionel Richie was on the week after and I hadn't seen the posters. I'd only seen our ad in the paper and the ad on our website. I hadn't seen the lineup at the Marquee. So we arrived and I saw it and it just had that week's listings and there was Lionel Richie, Bob Dylan and me. And I just couldn't....like that is mental. To think me singing country and folk songs and to be in the same venue [as those two]. It was sold out as well. There were five thousand at our gig. Same as Lionel and the same as Bob Dylan. It was mental to think I was on the same [billing] and I remember taking a picture and thinking in twenty years I'll be like 'do you remember that night?' That was a big memory. But you know what? I'm never one for sitting back. I'm always looking to improve. I'd love to play the 3 Arena one day. You've always got to have ambitions and the minute you don't you might as well pack it in. Just need to keep pushing and aiming higher all the time.
Stayin’ Up All Night is out now. Nathan Carter plays INEC Killarney, May 13, 14, 15 and Live at the Marquee, Cork, on July 1.