Mary Chapin Carpenter on Music, Songwriting, and British Magazines

Country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter on what she watches, listens to, and reads


| July-August 1999


Tell Mary Chapin Carpenter that she isn't your stereotypical country singer, and she'll quickly set you straight.

“That's a cliché,” she says with a laugh. “I'm amazed people still think that in order to be a country musician you have to grow up down a dirt road. Kris Kristofferson broke that stereotype years ago, and others continue to do it today.”

One thing's for certain: Carpenter, who grew up in New Jersey, Japan, and Washington, D.C., has had no trouble finding acceptance among country music fans. The Brown University graduate has been honored with numerous Grammy and Country Music Association awards, and several of her recordings have gone gold or platinum. A singer-songwriter in the old-school tradition, Carpenter started her career in the D.C. area folk scene, and her genre-crossing music still reflects that influence.

Carpenter splits her time between her homes in D.C. and rural Virginia, where she lives with her golden retrievers, Cal and Reilly. When she spoke with associate editor Andy Steiner, she was gearing up for this summer's tour promoting the release of her new greatest-hits album, Party Doll and Other Favorites.

You're most often described as a country artist, yet your music doesn't sound like stereotypical country. How would you describe it?
I'm most often categorized as a country artist, though I believe most people—maybe not music-industry executives, but people—understand that music transcends categories. The reality is that I've gotten most of my air play on country stations, and my following is strong among country fans. I'm happy about that.

Who are some of your favorite musicians?
It's pretty eclectic: Neil Finn—both solo and with Crowded House—Andy Partridge from XTC, Patty Griffin, Peter Gabriel, John Gorka, Greg Brown, John Jennings, Shawn Colvin, the Band, Aaron Copland, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, the Beatles, Paul Brady, Tony Rice, and anything bluegrass.