Portrait: An Interview with Sabrina Carpenter
The pop world is an extremely crowded place these days. With the amount of new artists emerging daily, how does anyone stand out from the crowd? For 18-year-old singer-songwriter Sabrina Carpenter, a mixture of talent, sunny disposition, and a keen ear for great songwriting is the perfect recipe for success.
With her sophomore album EVOLution, Carpenter has established herself as not just a powerhouse vocalist, but also a gifted and genuine songwriter focused on speaking her truth.
On the phone taking a break from tour rehearsals in Anaheim, California, Carpenter revealed some insights about her creative process, like how EVOLution’s catchy pop exterior is only one layer on an album that is also filled with deeply personal, introspective components.
“You’re lucky if you get to tell a story with your lyrics, and you’re lucky if that story relates to you and relates to other people. I like to just tell the truth,” she says.
Clearly, Carpenter’s mixture of integrity and catchy jams has resonated. EVOLution peaked at number 28 on the Billboard 200, saw hit singles in “On Purpose” and “Thumbs”, and helped earned her over 12 million followers on Instagram.
But to understand Carpenter’s process you must travel back to her brave beginnings. Having departed her home of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania for Los Angeles at the young age of 13, Carpenter set her eyes on the prize early on, and used resilience and patience as her early tools for success.
“I just had a goal and had my heart set on a lot of things. I knew that I was going for it whether there was rejection or whether or not it was going to take a while,” she says. Though she feels “It’s been such a slow, winding road” with her music career, Carpenter found her first success booking acting gigs on the likes of television staple Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and in the Daniel Radcliffe film Horns. After landing the main role in ABC’s Girl Meets World, Carpenter soon became a Disney fixture, and set her sights back on her first love– music.
Certainly, Carpenter’s career arc is a quick moving vehicle on the outside, when you see the accomplishments and accolades that she has amassed in the past half decade. Her 2015 debut Eyes Wide Open presented a chill, coffee shop-ready vibe that helped her sell out her first tour of intimate dates.
But Carpenter really gained traction with last year’s sophomore relaese EVOLution, in which Carpenter cozyied up to catchier, radio-ready beats while simultaneously digging deeper lyrically. “I wrote EVOLution because I was such a different person and artist than I was when I released my first album,” she says. “As I’m growing, my music is growing with me, so I have to act on it.”
Like Britney, Selena, and Demi before her, Carpenter is a bona fide star working within the structure of the Disney hit maker factory. She sees her relationship with the mouse house as a means to paint a career with a very broad paintbrush.
“They know how to keep it in the family,” Carpenter says, providing a definite nod to becoming a Disney fixture in both music and television over the past half decade. “They’ve given me so many opportunities.”
Carpenter is grateful for the exposure, and truly appreciates the company that helped put her on the map. “Reaching a broad fan base is something that I am most grateful for. [Disney] has given me a lot of opportunity with my music to speak to a universal audience and know that a lot of different people are going to be hearing it– not just me and people my age.”
Ever optimistic and positive, Carpenter is a charming personality that constantly strives for quality in her work. Don’t let her fresh-faced persona and bubbly personality fool you, though. Sabrina Carpenter is anything but a carbon copy pop singer, which makes her that much more interesting. All but one track from EVOLution was co-penned by Carpenter herself, boasting an authenticity that makes her an interesting musician, and one who will be exciting to watch as her career continues.
“When I write lyrics, I like to write things that I would actually say. I’m not one to be in a room and for people to say ‘Well what if we talk about this?’” she says. Her bold independence gives her a sharp edge in the studio that translates to her records. “If I haven’t experienced that yet, or if I’m just not comfortable talking about it, or if there’s a way I can say it a bit more metaphorical, I’d much rather do it that way than take the easy way out.”
Though she’s conquering the music world and building quite the legion of fans, it’s not all about photo shoots and social media interactions for Carpenter. This is an artist who finds a lot of fulfillment in what she does, but also takes her career quite seriously. “People ask me ‘What do you do in your free time?’ and usually I’m writing music. The amount of time I’m actually working and the work ethic I put into things [might surprise] people.”
Ever interested in experimenting and artistic expression, Carpenter has recently entered the world of creative collaboration. Having recently been featured on Swedish EDM producer Mike Perry’s new single “Hands” (which also features Carpenter’s recent tour mates The Vamps) as well as collaborating on a stripped down cover of Harry Styles’ “Sign Of The Times” with fellow singer-songwriter pal Jasmine Thompson, Carpenter’s musical world seems to be growing.
“So much of what keeps this industry exciting is getting to step outside of your comfort zone and getting to step outside of what you know,” she says, admitting she loves “testing the waters in that [collaborative] world and I like it so far.”
Ever a fan of wordplay (EVOLution shows the word love), this summer Carpenter embarks on her biggest ever solo tour, the aptly named De-Tour, a 35-date North American tour that will be Carpenter’s biggest trek to date. “It’s going to be full of surprises, and I get to make the show a bit more of a story, so I’m very excited for everyone to see it. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve, that’s for sure.”
For now, Carpenter will continue her rightful climb to the top of the pop world, heading upwards with a humble yet empowering attitude. It’s a fun—but tough—job, filled with perks and challenges.
“The hardest thing about what I do is trying to make sure that I’m making everybody happy. I have to constantly remind myself that you can’t please everybody no matter what you do,” she says. “But the most rewarding part is when you get to make one person or a load of people happy.”
“I know it sounds really simple, but the core of everything that we do in this industry is just make people feel something. Whether it’s happy or sad, make them feel inspired. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
Sabrina Carpenter performs on Thursday July 6 at The Vogue Theatre as part of The De-Tour, with special guests Alex Aiono and New Hope Club.