You can take the girl out of the country…
For Kristin Carter, letting her sweet-toned – yet emotionally compelling – voice soar free in a personal interpretation of a country song seems almost as natural as breathing.
“All the while I was growing up, I was listening to the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain and a lot of the other artists from the golden era of ’90s country,” she acknowledged.
“When I started to write my own music, I started to reconnect with the storytelling aspect of it,” she added.
“Country kind of picked me, I guess. It’s the narratives of country music that speak to me.”
And even though the White Rock and South Surrey-raised singer has a degree in economics from Dalhousie University and works by day for a mutual fund, country music seems to be calling to her more and more.
The latest development in Carter’s burgeoning career is being named of nine semifinalists in the Top of the Country music competition – a nationwide search for Canada’s next country star sponsored by SiriusXM and the Canadian Country Music Association that boasts a grand prize of $25,000.
If she makes it to finals, she will have the opportunity to perform at the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alta., and either the Cavendish Beach Music Festival in PEI or a festival in Ontario, as well as participating in a SOCAN songwriting camp in Nashville, and a mentoring session with industry professionals in Toronto.
The contest opens formally next week and crucial to her placing as finalist – and maybe even winning the coveted top spot – is public voting across Canada between May 17 and June 6 (for more details on the contest and how to vote, visit the competition website at http://siriusxm.ca/topcountry).
Carter is hoping for some hometown votes from the Semiahmoo Peninsula – even though she’s now a Vancouverite, her mom still lives in White Rock, plus she’s a frequent visitor and retains strong roots here.
“My very first job was working as a carrier for the Peace Arch News,” she noted, with a chuckle, during a recent phone interview.
“I had a paper route in Ocean Park around 128th Street,” she said. “I think I worked for a year for you guys when I was around nine or 10.”
Carter – now in her mid-20s – attended Ocean Cliff Elementary before moving on to Langley Fine Arts School for her high school years.
“My parents worked in Langley so they would drop me off at school,” she recalled. “It was a bit of a commute, but it was worth it to have a background in fine arts.”
Music was always a presence in her life while growing up, she said.
“It was never something in the forefront, but I always loved to do it,” she said. “I started choir in kindergarten, and I sang in choir in school every single year – even in university.”
Carter broke into the professional country-music scene in a major way last year playing high-profile festivals like Sunfest and the Red Truck: Truck Stop Concert Series, and teaming with producer and manager Jeff Johnson.
But a key element in her finding a voice as a solo artist goes back a year or two earlier – to the writing of what she refers to as her ‘Skytrain’ songs.
“After university I was living with my mom for about a year and commuting back and forth to work at Metrotown,” she said.
“It was an hour and a half commute, but it gave me a lot of time to write and develop my ideas.”
While her choral experience had given her great experience in technique and developing musicality and stamina as a singer – something she’d unhesitatingly recommend to others – the idea of stepping into the spotlight as a solo performer was initially daunting, she acknowledged.
“It was very nerve-wracking after singing with 20 to 30 other people,” she said.
But gradually she began performing – and gaining confidence – in live performances at open mics and coffee houses, and in YouTube videos, with guitar accompaniment from her boyfriend, hockey player Andrew Gladiuk.
A former Canucks prospect, he wound up playing for a team in Boston, where he still lives – and Carter said it’s still up in the air whether she will eventually move there or he will return here.
In the meantime, she’s working hard to further her career – and she credits joining the BC Country Music Association with helping her to develop industry contacts, gather a core group of backup musicians, and find work at such venues as the Cloverdale Rodeo and Vancouver’s Roxy.
Professional partnership with Johnson has also led to several trips to Nashville that have exerted a strong influence on her writing, she said.
“I really love the songwriting part of the business – and Nashville is the epicentre of songwriting,” Carter said.
Asked whether she concentrates more on planning her career or taking opportunities as they crop up, she said “it’s a blend of both.”
“I’ve been lucky to have great opportunities, but I’m also very focused on networking and always trying to improve so that I’m ready to move to the next level,” she said.
“A lot of this business is being in the right place at the right time, but there’s also a lot of hard work involved.”