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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host: Vanessa Carlton started her career intending to become a professional ballet dancer. But instead she decided to follow another dream, becoming a musician. She clearly made the right choice. Her 2002 debut album, "Be Not Nobody," earned three Grammy nominations. You may remember this song, "A Thousand Miles."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A THOUSAND MILES")

VANESSA CARLTON: (Singing) 'Cause you know I'd walk a thousand miles if I can just see you tonight...

WERTHEIMER: After the big debut, Vanessa Carlton recorded two more albums, and now she's back with a new one called "Rabbits on the Run."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RABBITS ON THE RUN")

CARLTON: (Singing) For all you brokenhearted lovers lost, go find another one. 'Cause you know time won't wait and you'll be late, why rabbits on the run...

WERTHEIMER: Vanessa Carlton joins me in our Washington studios. Welcome.

CARLTON: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: You went to New York to study ballet. You were just like a kid.

CARLTON: I didn't think so, you know.

WERTHEIMER: You thought you were a grown-up lady.

CARLTON: Big for my britches walking around Lincoln Center at 14. Some of the most transformative, wonderful years of my life and also very pressure-filled, and I kind of stopped going to my classes and started writing these songs.

WERTHEIMER: Let's listen to a little bit of "Hear the Bells."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAR THE BELLS")

CARLTON: (Singing) Stealing letters through the keyhole in a brick wall's wooden door. Chains are keeping quiet secrets, 200-year-old folklore. The graveyard on Elizabeth where no one ever goes. Kneel and pray to a gravestone but the gravestone never tells. Hear the bells...

WERTHEIMER: That's very beautiful and sort of spooky. Praying to a gravestone.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARLTON: It's what I do on my Friday nights. One of my favorite spots in the world actually is the cemetery on Elizabeth Street, a couple of blocks from my house. And I feel like there's something majestic about it. I was very sick and hanging out at that Elizabeth cemetery and it was extremely helpful in getting me better.

WERTHEIMER: When you write something like this do you start with the lyric?

CARLTON: On this song, I started with the music. When I'm thinking of a melody, I'm thinking of how a dancer's moving to it. I also love waltzes so much, so I always try and have one waltz on a record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: Tell me about Stevie Nicks. You opened for Stevie Nicks in concerts. Stevie Nicks sings on one of your albums. Do you sort of see yourself as a latter-day - of course, she is a latter-day Stevie Nicks, I guess - but does she still inspire?

CARLTON: Absolutely. I learn so much from her. Musically, she is extraordinarily talented and she's played a huge part in my creative life. And I'm lucky to know her. In addition to that, I'll just say she is a master sequencer, which is picking the order of the songs on a record. It's so difficult and she's super good at it, and she sequenced "Rabbits on the Run" for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: Another song, "I Don't Want to be a Bride," I read on one of the reviews that you said it reminded you of a Johnny Cash song, that it had to be a very compact, direct way to tell a story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO BE A BRIDE")

CARLTON: (Singing) I like your company. Got a fresh philosophy. I never knew such a gentleman. You could take me on a cheap vacation. I don't want to have expectations 'cause you could be the end of me...

Johnny Cash is a master lyricist and part of that is the way he gets all those searing details that shape the story, that make you never forget it, they connect you with it. They're epic stories in these short, little...

WERTHEIMER: Compressed form, yeah.

CARLTON: ...musical songs, yeah. And it's so difficult. I had like 12 non-spaced typed pages, 12 to 13 of lyrics for "I Don't Want to be a Bride." I know it doesn't sound like a lot but if you look, I mean, considering how much space is in the song to sing it was daunting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO BE A BRIDE")

CARLTON: (Singing) We will live like kings under lavender blue skies, blue skies. We will live like kings under lavender...

WERTHEIMER: You have a choir in there.

CARLTON: I do. They're so lovely and spooky. The Capital Children's Choir, we recorded them at Abbey Road - my first time at Abbey Road - and they sang that triumphant lyric at the end of "I Don't Want to be a Bride," which is the point of that song, which is we will live like kings under lavender skies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO BE A BRIDE")

CARLTON: (Singing) Live like kings under lavender, it's you and me, blue skies, blue skies. We will...

WERTHEIMER: You created, I guess, a sort of a different sound for this album from the previous ones.

CARLTON: I was inspired by my vinyl collection that my parents gave to me. And the way that you're supposed to listen to this is vinyl, because we recorded it analog. It might as well as been 1974. When I put the test pressing on of the record, I was like I can listen to this and then I can put on a Fleetwood Mac record and then I could put on my Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record, then I could put on my Ricky Lee Jones. And that was my goal, is to live in that wonderfully honest and simple time musically.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: Vanessa Carlton, thank you very much.

CARLTON: It was a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CARLTON: (Singing) God rest his head Sunday afternoon. The wicked in me...

WERTHEIMER: Vanessa Carlton's new album, "Rabbits on the Run," is out on Tuesday. And you can hear more songs from the album at NPRMusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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