A conversation with singer-songwriter Sarah Carter
By Janice Carter Levitch Humphrey
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Makeup by Becca Schell
We all have our journey to seek out and live our lives to the fullest. Doing so involves the ability to dream about what could be while living in the reality of what is. This takes passion and trust in that passion, along with a lot of tenacity to endure the journey. The hills and valleys, so to say, keep life interesting. I’ve learned that just when you think the possible is impossible, you know the impossible is possible. Allow me to open this conversation with my daughter, Sarah, to learn more about her vision of possibilities. When the idea was presented to me to include a feature on Sarah, I made a considerable effort to avoid any chance of nepotism in this situation. By doing so, I called on our team to decide whether or not we should proceed. After listening to her demo, the vote came back a resounding yes. Being a Leo, Sarah is strong-willed and has an intuitive insight into the world around her. And, of course, I am so very proud and believe in her wholeheartedly. Read on to learn more about her journey.
Was there a moment when you knew being a singer-songwriter was your calling?
Deep down, I have always known that I was meant to be a singer-songwriter. One of my earliest memories is watching the TV show, “Hannah Montana.” I was six years old when it first debuted. I remember watching the show and seeing Miley Cyrus live the double life of a pop star and ordinary girl. There were clips of her performing on stage as Hannah Montana, and I thought, “that’s what I want to do.” I even went looking for auditions to be on the show. Around 11 or 12 years old, I discovered Taylor Swift and wanted to get a guitar so I could write songs like her. I took lessons for a few weeks and then taught myself using Taylor Swift guitar books.
Growing up, I think it’s natural to lose touch with our inner child and our purest dreams. Once I got into high school, I lost touch with this passion of mine as I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t talented or good enough. I became more involved with school plays and musicals, similar to being a musician in the sense that you are performing. When I left home for university, I didn’t bring my guitar with me, and I drifted further away from this part of myself.
I had a profound experience about a year and a half ago when I reconnected with my inner child and my purpose. I was working with the Akashic Records, a metaphysical library of all thoughts, emotions, actions and words to have occurred, past, present and future, in all life forms. While reading my Records, I learned about a past life from which my fear of not being good enough stems. Around the same time, I dreamt about a vicious tiger trying to get into my home. I did some research and learned that killer tigers in your dreams represent your subconscious fears that are, in a way, killing your soul and holding you back from your full potential. When I read this, I immediately thought, “I am a singer-songwriter, but I’m afraid of not being good enough.” I broke down a limiting belief in my mind, and I wrote eight songs that day. This experience was a reminder and a confirmation of who I am and my soul’s purpose.
Tell us about your education and how it pertains to your music.
I recently graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. I majored in performance studies, essentially a philosophy of performance (both artistic performance and sociology), and minored in creative writing. So technically, I didn’t take music or performance classes, but for my senior capstone project, I had a lot of freedom and decided to use the resources at my disposal while I was at NYU. I connected with Madi Richardson and Maggie Bishop, students at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, both of whom helped me record and produce the EP. They were both extremely patient with me as they taught me a lot about recording as we went. I cannot express how grateful I am for their support. Without them, I couldn’t have made the music at this level of quality. Of course, we were working within lots of limitations due to COVID policies and the time frame, but I’m proud of the music we created together.
What instruments do you play?
I sing and play guitar.
What is it like in the recording studio?
The first time I recorded in a studio was at singer-songwriter Stoll Vaughan’s home studio in Lexington, Kentucky. During the lockdown, he built this awesome studio in a barn. I got to record the acoustic demos for “Quiet Power” there. I remember Stoll was shocked at how natural I was in the studio the first day. Honestly, it felt like I was returning home in a way. Everything about the experience felt familiar. It’s the same feeling I had growing up when I would play my guitar or perform on stage. Everything else in the world melts away, and I’m just there, in the music. I feel connected to myself and in touch with the present. I would get so lost in recording that two hours would go by, and it only felt like 30 minutes. That’s how I know this is what I’m meant to do.
Have you had a mentor that helped encourage you along the way?
Yes, Stoll Vaughan. I’m so grateful to have connected with him. He taught me what it means to write a song. Before I worked with Stoll, my lyrics were painting a picture rather than telling a story. There was a lot of fluff. When I worked with Stoll, he pushed me to cut all the unnecessary imagery and get to the bottom of what I was trying to say, the story I was trying to tell. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a good song and what people connect to. The truth. The best songs come from opening your heart and being vulnerable.
Where does your inspiration come from?
In a way, I’m always inspired, but it’s the inspiration I take action on that turns into art. For “Quiet Power,” my biggest influences were Harry Styles, Ram Dass and Akashic Records. When I wrote these songs in late 2020-early 2021, Harry Styles’s “Fine Line” was on repeat, I was listening to old Ram Dass lectures through the “Ram Dass Here and Now” podcast, and I was reading the Records frequently. One day before walking in Cherokee Park, I opened the Records and decided to take a walk while in this frequency. It was a beautiful Kentucky day: blue skies, puffy clouds and warm sunshine to break the crisp February air. I was walking up Baringer Hill, and as I looked up to the sky, the song “Quiet Power” lyrics and melody came through. In a way, the song was channeled through me from the Records, but the park’s scenery was what sparked it to come through. If you listen to my other songs, you will also see that I draw a lot of inspiration from nature.
What music did you listen to growing up?
Taylor Swift and The Beatles were my top two artists growing up. Outside of that, I had a wide range of influences from my family. My Mom would play the Putumayo CDs, which are world music compilations. We would listen to the French, Italian and Bossa Nova ones the most. It was her way of transporting us to another part of the world. She also played artists like Coldplay, Ottmar Liebert, Cher and Pink. Then I would go to my Dad’s, and he would play artists like Weezer, Smash Mouth and ELO. In high school, my brother bought me a bunch of vinyl records one year for my birthday, including Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, U2 and Simon & Garfunkel.
How do you overcome moments of doubt (if you have them)?
I have to credit my ability to overcome doubt to my spiritual practice. By cultivating self-awareness through yoga, meditation and journaling, I can better distinguish my ego from my consciousness. All doubt comes from the ego because the ego lives in fear. It wants to stay the same, to keep you safe. Your consciousness intends to grow and expand. When you can observe and recognize the voice of doubt in your mind, you take back control of your thoughts and realize that the doubt is simply a passing emotion. It is not who you really are.
So far, what is the highlight of your experience as a singer-songwriter? What are your goals for the future?
Both working with Stoll Vaughan and getting to record at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. There’s a saying I would see graffitied everywhere in Greenwich Village, New York: “Dream until it’s your reality.” I think this is so beautiful because we first have to allow ourselves to dream before we can change our reality. I definitely have big goals for the future, all of which stem from my dreams when I was a little girl. I have about 12 songs waiting in the wings that I cannot wait to hear brought to life, so I would love the opportunity to record an album. Because this is my debut EP, another goal of mine is to get a manager and eventually sign to a record label. I would also love to start opening on tour for bigger acts like Shawn Mendes, Harry Styles or even Greta Van Fleet. Of course, the universe has its own plan, so who knows what the future holds. I feel like I’m about to walk off the edge of a cliff. I don’t know what’s at the bottom, but I’ve surrendered to the universe and trust that I will end up exactly where I’m meant to be.