Heart & Soul

Zoe FitzGerald Carter digs deeper in new album

In her second solo album, Waterlines, Zoe FitzGerald Carter expands upon her roots in the East Bay’s folk and Americana scenes. Her impressive acoustic guitar-picking is still evident, but the songs on the record are delivered in a variety of styles that highlight their spirited lyrics and her often-ironic sense of humor.

“Saturday Man,” a jazzy ballad, celebrates promiscuity from a female perspective. Chiming electric piano chords and a brief, laid-back trumpet solo support Carter’s mischievous vocal. A rolling bass line and sustained electric guitar notes that mimic the sound of a pedal steel give “One Too Many Days in Nashville” the sound of a classic country tune. The song tells the story of a woman who went to Nashville to make it big, but slowly realizes it’s time to give up and go home. The funky, full-bore rocker, “I Wanna Be a Teenage Boy,” takes on the sexism and male privilege women are forced to deal with on a daily basis. “I wanted to use irony and humor to skewer the superior attitude of privilege and self-satisfaction of men who find success, despite their obvious flaws,” Carter said, from her home in Berkeley.

Carter was also developing her skills as a journalist. “I didn’t have the confidence to be a performer; I had some stage fright issues,” she said. “At the same time I was writing songs, I was developing my skills as a journalist. After college, I wrote for newspapers in Boston, then moved to New York City to attend the Columbia School of Journalism. After I graduated, I free-lanced for Premiere, New York Magazine and various women’s magazines. I did that until I had a daughter, then I moved to California.

“After I was settled, I thought I’d sell out, and wrote a mystery novel. It never sold. I wrote a memoir about my mother called Imperfect Endings. She’d suffered from Parkinson’s disease for many years, and wanted to take her own life.”

Simon & Schuster published Carter’s book.

“It got a lot of attention; when I went out on tour to promote the memoir, I did readings and interviews on the radio,” she said. “It got me over my anxiety of performing. I started singing and writing songs in a more serious way. Eventually, songwriting took over. 

“I started playing with Sugartown, an acoustic string band. We played all genres of music, as well as my songs. Eventually, we decided to record an album of my originals and a couple of covers. For the most part, it was done live in the studio. I produced the album and, since we’d played the songs many times live, it was a fast process.”

That album, Waiting for the Earthquake, was credited to Zoe FitzGerald Carter—with Sugartown. “After it came out, I got more focused on songwriting,” Carter said. “I wanted to make another record. One of my bandmates said, ‘Maybe you should get a producer to bring in other ideas and other players.’

“I got in touch with Jeffrey Wood. He brought in a crew of Bay Area musicians and pushed me to really polish and refine the songs before we started recording. I made rough demos for all the musicians and then, after rehearsing a couple of times with the drummer, Dawn Richardson, and bass player, Paul Olguin, we spent two long days cutting all the rhythm tracks for the album.

“I’d been playing all the songs with Sugartown, so I had arranging ideas. Once Jeffrey brought in the new people, things morphed. The musicians had incredible ideas that brought out the textures of jazz, Latin, country and rock that I’d been experimenting with. The electric guitar interplay Michael Papenburg laid down was remarkable. It was gratifying to hear my songs coming to life, filtered through all these talented, positive minded people, who were adding so much to them.”

Carter finished recording the basic tracks for Waterlines just before the Covid lockdown.

“Right now, I’m not sure how I’m going to take the album out,” she said. “I’ve made a few videos and I may do some virtual concerts, but I’m hoping the release will signal some kind of return to normalcy. Even though I’m getting a bit of press and some radio play, it’s funny to not have some kind of big release gig with a band.

“On the other hand, the down time has given me an opportunity to delve deep into the songwriting. It felt like I was shedding my skin and sinking down into a new world of creativity, but I also love rehearsing and hanging out with my band. It’s my social life. I’m really missing it.”

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