Right now, Nathan Carter is THE biggest name on the Irish country music scene. And considering the wealth of talent Irish country fans have been able to enjoy over the last few years, being the man at the top of the mountain is an achievement to be proud of. But getting there didn’t come easy, as Nathan remembered during his sold-out show in the Tullamore Court Hotel last Sunday night. “The first time I ever played in Tullamore was in the Bridge House, about seven years ago”, he revealed to the audience. “We were due to start at about half ten, but there was only around twelve people there, so we said we’d give it another fifteen minutes to see if anyone else would come. At quarter to eleven”, he went on, “there were six people still there! Six had gone home in the meantime!” Oh, how times have changed!
If any dreamers out there think all the hard work stops when you get to the top, well they had better think again. Getting to the top is only half the battle, staying there is another challenge entirely. When you keep pushing yourself to achieve more, as Nathan continues to do – TV, arena shows, America – you keep raising the bar for yourself. That’s who your main competition is: the man in the mirror. What that also does, however, is push everyone else in the industry to attempt more, too. And for the country scene, that can be, and has been, only a good thing.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Nathan a number of times over the years now, as well as running into him at different events all around the country. And despite the fact that, in terms of success, he’s gone from big to bigger, then from huge to massive, he’s still the same humble, funny, and honest young man to talk to. To paraphrase the Tim McGraw hit, Nathan has stayed humble and kind every step of the way. While somewhere close to a thousand fans enjoyed every minute of his show last weekend, what only a few people will have witnessed behind the scenes was the time Nathan gave to meet some of his very special younger fans in person earlier in the evening. Nice guys don’t win? Yeah they do.
Nathan released his brand new album, ‘Living The Dream’, in the last few weeks, and it shot like a rocket straight to the top of the national album chart in Ireland. To me, going by the first singles, the title track and ‘Summer’s Here’, this collection seems to have evolved from the Nathan’s last album, ‘Staying Up All Night’, with perhaps more shades of an American country, country/pop vibe to this one. When we began our chat, I asked Nathan if that was a fair comment, or just crazy thinking?!
“No, yeah it definitely has. Well that track especially [‘Living The Dream’] because I was trying to aim to get mainstream play, on RTE, Today FM, those sort of shows. So I had to make it slightly more modern sounding for that single, but the rest of the album has a lot of the same influences from what I’ve done before. There’s older country songs on there, there’s some folk songs like ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Ned of the Hill’, and there’s some stuff that I’ve written as well over the last couple of years. But definitely ‘Living The Dream’ was slightly more modern sounding, for sure, and kinda had to be as the title track.”
‘Living The Dream’ was a co-write with top Irish songwriter Don Mescall, a man with whom Nathan has also written with before.
“I really enjoy working with Don, he’s really encouraging when it comes to writing, ya know. He’s just really good! He’s got great ideas. For this one, I came in with the tune, and the idea of the title, ‘Living The Dream’, and we ended up knocking the song out in about two hours. He’s that good, ya know! And he’s worked with so many different people, and he’s just done Geri Halliwell’s new album, he’s been co-writing on that with her, too. So yeah, Don is great. And I’ve got another ballad that we wrote which is my favourite song that I’ve written, and we’ll be releasing that towards the end of the year, and that’s a co-write with Don as well.”
As mentioned earlier, ‘Living The Dream’ went all the way to number one on the Irish album charts upon its release, a massive achievement for Nathan and his team, and indeed for the country scene. It’s also, of course, an experience – a dream, if you will – that most of us will never have the pleasure of living! Could Nathan remember where he was and what he was doing when the good news came through?
“Yes, I can! [laughs]. Last week I was at home and I got a call at half-one, we’d just got word that it had gone to number one, and the charts would be out at two o’ clock! I was ecstatic, I couldn’t believe it, ya know. Cos’ I’ve been lucky before with the others [albums], but at the minute with the streaming thing, with the likes of Ed Sheeran’s album, it’s going to number one most weeks, or at least top three. Because one hundred streams equals an album chart position, or something like that, as in it counts as one album sale, ya know. So you can imagine the amount of people that are listening to Ed Sheeran’s album every hour, nevermind every week! So the streaming thing is obviously huge. My album sales are maybe eighty per-cent physical, whereas his are probably ninety per-cent digital. So my audience is totally different to what a pop audience is, or the latest generation, if ya like.”
Now every new album tends to have one or two tracks on there that are the artist’s own personal favourites. I wondered if ‘Living The Dream’ had some for Nathan?
“Hmmm, ya know I don’t think I have a particular favourite one, to be honest. But I love singing ‘Beeswing’ , which is a Richard Thompson song originally, a great folk song. But then I like ‘Living The Dream’ too, that’s been a great song so far and it’s been going down really well at the gigs. There’s a good few on this album that I’m really proud of and that I really enjoy listening to. Generally, ya know, I don’t listen to the album [once it’s been recorded and released] because you’ve heard it so many times when you’ve been doing mixes, and playing it back, and you have to listen to every track maybe twenty times, so you’re just fed up of hearing it! [laughs]. But ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Living The Dream’ came on the other day somewhere and I’m not fed up of listening to those yet, so that’s a good sign, I suppose.”
Another massive career milestone for Nathan in recent times was his sell-out show in Dublin’s 3Arena. Again, like a number one album, a brilliant achievement for any artist. But there was something very specific I wanted to ask Nathan about regarding that night back in April. In the final moments just before that show began, when the band and everybody else were in position, and everything was all set to go, in those last few moments when Nathan had a few seconds all to himself….what was going through his mind?
“Stop being nervous. Just stop being nervous! [laughs]. I still couldn’t get over the fact that that amount of people had went out and bought tickets to come and see me at a show, ya know. I just couldn’t fathom it. Just because I’d played for so many years and done so many gigs where no-one turned up, ya know, and things were just rubbish! [laughs]. So I just couldn’t get this through my head, that so many people were actually there for me that night. So I was just thinking, Jesus, don’t be so nervous now. Cos’ it’s been a great journey so far.”
Was there any special standout moment of the night for Nathan?
“Yeah, I think it was when I sang ‘The Rare Ould Times’ with John Sheahan, the last remaining member of The Dubliners. And he got a standing ovation when I brought him out. We did that song and everybody was singing along, everybody in the whole place, ten thousand people or however many it was, all singing along. It was just really cool.”
Everything about Nathan’s career seems to be one huge event after another these days, and next month sees that trend continue as Nathan, along with American country superstar Miranda Lambert, headlines the Harvest Country Music Festival at Westport House in Mayo and Enniskillen Airport in Fermanagh. Joining Miranda and Nathan on the bill are a number of the biggest names in American country right now; Mo Pitney, Kip Moore, Dan & Shay, Maddie & Tae, to name just a few. But does Nathan listen to much American country music himself?
“I do, yeah, but not so much the new acts, to be honest. I’m listening to Glen Campbell’s new album, ‘Adios’, there at the minute, and it’s fantastic, I absolutely love it. That song ‘Adios’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a long time. And I can’t believe that with the condition he’s in, being so unwell, that he was still even able to do it, it’s incredible. I love the older type of country, to be honest, guys like Merle Haggard. Even some of the more modern singers like Joe Nicholls and Mo Pitney, who sound like that older generation, ya know, I really like that. I think they’re really cool.”
Going back to Nathan’s 3Arena show, and this will apply to his Harvest Fest appearances as well, and to so many more moments in his career, moments that most of the rest of us will never experience….how does he unwind after such huge events?? How does he just get back up the next morning, wash his face, pour his Cornflakes as normal, and just begin another day??
“The thing with those shows is they are special. But at the end of the day, they are just more shows, and they come and go pretty quick. But I was still on a buzz for about three or four weeks after it [the 3Arena show], I was still definitely on a high. But at the same time, I was doing more gigs as well. There were more shows waiting, so you quickly get back into it. Ten days after the gig at the 3Arena, I was in Scotland, in Aberdeen for two nights!”
And after Harvest Fest for Nathan, comes America in September! It’s the biggest territory in the world to try and tour, and try and break. Does that mean it will bring the biggest sense of excitement yet for Nathan? Maybe the biggest amount of nerves, too?
“Excitement, yeah, but very scared about it, too. Because it’s basically starting again! It’s going to be trying to build a fanbase among people who’ve never heard of me, ya know. So to try and get people to come out to the shows is gonna be hard work, I know that. I’m lucky enough in that I’ve had a TV special on PBS there which has been shown in a good few different States. But still, it’s like going back and starting again, and trying to build up that fanbase from social media. Because radio is just impossible to get in America, I mean it’s just impossible, ya know. So the TV thing will definitely be a help, but it’s gonna be a hard slog goin’ back to the start and doin’ it all over again. But it will be fun, too!”
Of course Nathan has some competition coming from within the Carter household these days, since baby brother Jake struck out on his own musical adventure. How has it felt for Nathan seeing Jake begin his career, and begin it so successfully from the get-go, too?
“Yeah, he’s had a great start. And I definitely never got the opportunities he’s had! [laughs]. He’s turning into a good artist, and he’s been writing a lot of stuff with a girl called Triona [Carville] who has supported me a good few times. And I’m glad that he’s doing his own stuff. Ya know he wants to do it differently to what I’ve done, which is good. Because there’s no point in him trying to be me, that’s for sure. He’s doing his own thing. He’s more into pop music and rock music, so he’s taking a lot of influences from there. But I’m trying to give him as much of a hand as I can, like we’ve got him on the Marquee gig in Cork [July 8th], he’s on Harvest as well. But he’s doin’ his own thing musically, which is good, and I think he’ll do well.”
Does Nathan try and let Jake figure things out as much as possible for himself, or offer advice more often than not?
“He doesn’t take my advice on board anyway! [laughs]. He’s very independent. So even if I did say something, he probably wouldn’t agree with it, so there’s no point in telling him anything! [laughs].”
Nathan’s chat show returns to our screens very soon, and the documentary of his trip to Music City, ‘Nathan Goes To Nashville’, aired earlier this week on RTE. Having done so much TV work by now, I wondered if it’s almost beginning to feel like just another normal part of what Nathan does, or is it still a bit like stepping into a different world for a while?
“It’s still like stepping into a different world, but it felt a lot more normal this time. When I say normal, what I mean is I didn’t feel as nervous doing it. The first time I did TV I was absolutely…I can’t tell you how nervous I was, let’s put it that way! [laughs]. I was so out of my comfort zone. It made a gig look real easy work, ya know! But having to interview guests, and find out all about them – like yourself, ya know, you have to do all your research – and then being in front of a ‘live’ audience and reading autocue, and links into breaks, and links back into whatever else. Then in the middle of all that singing and duets with some of the guests….aaaah, it was just head-wrecking! [laughs]. Because it was my first time, ya know, I was learning it all, all at once. This time, though, because I’d done it before, I knew what to expect, which helped. We only finished recording last night, and we’ve had some great guests, The High Kings, Donna Taggart, Shane Filan, Stella Parton. It’s been a great week, though. But I… am… wrecked! I woke this morning and I thought, ‘Ahh, I’m off!’ But then I remembered, no, I’m in Tullamore! But coming to the Court Hotel here in Tullamore is always a brilliant night for me, so I’m delighted and happy to be back here again. And ya know, once I’m back up on stage I’ll be lovin’ it all again. But it’s been a tough ten days to get here! [laughs].”
* Nathan’s brand new album, the chart-topping ‘Living The Dream’, is available now in TRAX, the Bridge Centre, Tullamore.
** Nathan plays Cork’s Live At The Marquee this coming weekend, Saturday, July 8th, and the Harvest Country Music Festival on August 26th and 27th.
His contribution to the Irish music scene has been recognised by his inclusion in the entertainment industry directory, the Hot Press Yearbook 2017, which is the essential music and media who's-who in Ireland. Anthony was also asked to present John Farry (Nathan Carter's manager) with his award for Best Original Album at the 2017 Hot Country Awards and in 2015 presented Lisa McHugh with her Female Entertainer of the Year award.
In his role with HEM Country, Anthony has interviewed many artists who are well known names on the international stage, among them Clare Bowen, Imelda May, and Una Healy, as well as rising stars like Courtney Marie Andrews. Anthony's features for HEM Country have also helped to shine a spotlight on many of the best Irish country acts like Robert Mizzell, Cliona Hagan, Barry Kirwan, Bernie Heaney, and Hurricane Highway, bringing their talent and achievements to an even wider audience.
During his time writing 'On The Right TRAX', Anthony has interviewed most of the biggest stars on the Irish country scene, including Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Lisa McHugh, Philomena Begley, Sandy Kelly, and Derek Ryan. He has also chatted with international artists such as Sunny Sweeney, Jim Rooney, Max T. Barnes, the late George Hamilton IV, and Tony Christie.
Anthony's sphere of influence extends well past the boundaries of country music, however, with time spent in conversation with international popstar Kiesza also to his credit. He has also shared time with several other artists from the Emerald Isle whose fame reaches beyond those shores, including Mundy, The Fureys, Frances Black, Pete Kennedy, Rackhouse Pilfer, The 4 of Us, Roisin O, Ham Sandwich and Mick Flannery.
As a writer, lyricist, and poet himself, however, songwriters have a very special place in Anthony's heart and some of his favourite interviews (together with the songwriters already mentioned) include those with Jimmy McCarthy, Johnny McEvoy, Charlie McGettigan, Kieran Goss, and Niall Toner.
Other household names whom Anthony has interviewed for 'On The Right TRAX' are the famous comedians Tommy Tiernan, Des Bishop, Neil Delamere, Jason Byrne, Andrew Maxwell, and Brendan Grace, as well as celebrity chef Rachel Allen, and television presenter Kathryn Thomas.
Anthony also does some artist representation and PR work, and has successfully secured national television and radio appearances for Irish and American artists.