Carlie Hanson’s name has been associated with some of the biggest pop acts in the industry. From touring with Troye Sivan to landing approval from Taylor Swift, Hanson’s career has been on a never-ending rise. Now, with her debut album, Tough Boy, out to the world, the singer-songwriter proves she is pushing her limit and sound to a new degree. Tough Boy is a frank vision of an emerging artist. Delving into her personal experiences, Hanson writes from the heart and the events around her. “I really like saying raw shit like that because I feel like it’s the most relatable,” she says from her bedroom in Los Angeles.
Donning a grown out buzzcut and new sound, it’s no mistake that Hanson is moving into a new era. So, with the album launch well underway, GAY TIMES sat down with the artist over Zoom to discuss the new record, her creative process, and making music for fans.
Hello! First off, a massive congratulations on your debut album and debut TV performance. How are you feeling after all that?
I’ve been really good and that was really surreal. The response has been really great. It’s just kind of nerve-wracking, everything leading up to release day and then you just hope that everyone reacts really well. I’ve felt all the love so yeah, I’ve been really happy.
I didn’t get to go into the studio and meet Kelly Clarkson. My eight-year-old self would’ve fucking cried, being with her. That was still really surreal. Seeing her hold the album was so cool. It’s just a full-circle moment, because me, my sisters, and my mom used to always listen to her album Breakaway when I was younger.
Your debut album, Tough Boy, is out now. You’ve previously released smaller bodies of work. Did you face any creative challenges working on a bigger musical project?
Not that making EPs are less important but it just felt it was a bigger thing happening. When I was making it, I felt like ‘Okay, this is my first album and this is what people are gonna remember forever’. I was putting these high expectations for myself. But it was as if nothing really changed. I went about making music the same as I always have been. I just feel like I’ve gotten better at it. You know, as you should. When you’re doing something for years, you should hopefully evolve. I was taking charge more in sessions and playing. I’ve gotten better at guitar and bass. That definitely shows itself in Nice to know you and Your mom and certain songs. With this album, I was taking more charge because I knew how to work with other people better. I also don’t like not knowing myself better in this era. So yeah, I think it’s a big growth.
Tough Boy was nearly given an entirely different name and theme. What made you switch up the album concept?
It was so much different. There’s this town in Wisconsin called Black River Falls. That was the first album title because, initially, I wanted it to be about missing home. Dealing with the differences between home and LA and how I’ve been coping, but then whenever I get into a writing session. My head wasn’t in that space. I was way more emotional internal battles rather than anything about Wisconsin. It was really weird. It was much different. Yeah, I’m glad that it ended. But the way that it did.
Not to spill what’s coming next, but I don’t even know if it will be the next thing. I could be doing a different thing next thing. I have been trying to write a lot more songs about Wisconsin and missing home. At the beginning of this album, I was trying to force that concept and it wasn’t right. I think I have so much in me about home and all that. So definitely something will come out soon.
Your song Off My Neck looks look at two friends falling apart and drifting away. A lot of your previous songs deal with romantic feelings. Did you find it harder to write about a platonic breakup?
That’s a good question! I don’t really have much to compare to break up wise. I’ve really only been in one serious relationship. This friendship was way harder to write about. I think it was really complicated because it was a friendship. We were working together but also living together. It felt way more complicated than dating someone and breaking up. I had so much trouble writing about that because I didn’t really know where we stood at the end of this friendship. I didn’t know we were supposed to be mad at each other. I was supposed to be sad, so it was really hard for me to find a perspective to write from.
Do you shape a lot of your music around personal experiences?
I’m just a person who really thrives in writing songs about experiences things they’ve never been through. I really have to talk about something that I know was real. Your mom is literally about how my girlfriend’s mom told me that Samantha, my girlfriend, never wore bright colours until she started dating me and I thought that was so interesting. How much more fucking real can I get than my girlfriend’s mom telling me that and then putting it in a song. I just love to play with real quotes in real fuckin’ things. I’m a sucker for the real shit. The song Minnesota was a very real experience that I had. When I was younger me and my friends used to always go to this place in Minnesota, and we lay down and watch the stars. I love that shit.
How does it feel to have fans connect and resonate with your music and lyrics?
It makes me feel like I’m doing a good job because when I listen to music and hear lyrics that make me feel like ‘holy fuck’. I feel that to the core. That’s what makes me, not to get sappy, but that’s the shit that makes me stay alive, you know, knowing that, people feel the same way that I do. It’s just a really reassuring thing that I am so happy listeners resonate with what I’m saying.
Tough Boy sees you creatively branch out into different genres and compositions. What inspired this new direction?
It was really natural. Also using more real instruments, actually playing bass and guitar and piano and everything. I was really thinking about how it was going to sound live a lot more, which I never really did with my past projects. So I think that’s why it is more alternative sounding. Of course, what I was listening to definitely played a part in why the album sounds this way. It was a lot of Dominic Fike and Jean Dawson, Third Eye Blind And Tracy Chapman. It’s all a lot more raw and real.
For those that don’t know, you ended up being featured on the Happiest Season film soundtrack. How did that come about?
It’s not really that cool or deep! It was a very industry put-together type of thing. I got sent the song and I thought it was really cute. I love Christmas. It wasn’t like I was in a session and I needed to write a song about Christmas. I got to do a song for the end credits song. I love that shit. It’s just fun. I was really random, but it was so fun.
Would you want to pursue another creative career path aside from music?
I have these moments inside of me that I could put in other artistic places, not just music. I feel like I’m a very expressive person like just watching me on this fucking zoom. I’m like moving and I have ADHD. So I feel like I could definitely enter acting or more things like that.
This album recounts a lot of personal experiences, who did you write this album for?
I really wrote this album for me and now that it is everybody else’s, I just hope that anybody who listens feels comfortable within themselves, knowing that I feel the way that I do. I want people to feel seen and heard through these songs. I just want people to feel safer, because, especially right now, the world is so crazy and hectic. I just want this album to be a safe place for someone to just listen to and forget about everything for a second.
Would you say a track like Fuck Your Labels embodies that feeling of self-discovery?
Totally, totally. I think Fuck Your Labels is such a strong one. There are so many people like myself who just struggle with finding a label to explain how they feel. It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be called anything, you don’t have to explain yourself to people. I think it’s good to listen to me say “fuck your labels” because people need to understand to live your life for you and not to explain yourself to other people. At the end of the day, everybody’s just worrying about themselves so you just got to do what makes you feel good.
Tough Boy by Carlie Hanson is out now via Warner Records.