Caitlin Cary isn’t quite ready to quit her day job working at a T-shirt manufacturing company in Raleigh, N.C., but the former Whiskeytown fiddle player/vocalist may soon have no choice.
The early reviews for her Yep Roc debut album, “While You Weren’t Looking” (released March 26), have been overwhelming; the lead track, “Shallow Heart, Shallow Water,” is being worked to triple-A radio stations, and her upcoming major solo tour includes a April 21 taping for NPR and PBS at Mountain Stage in Charleston, W.Va.
“There’s a saying that you get your whole life to make your first record, and I knew I had a lot in me, I just wanted to get it all documented,” Caitlin said recently. “It’s a crystalization of a lot of years of work and thinking from behind the scenes working in Whiskeytown, going to the back of the bus and writing songs with (former Whiskeytown multi-instrumenalist) Mike (Daly).
“All this music stuff came out of leftfield for me. I never expected to be in this position, so this is a cotillion for me.”
The album, produced by Chris Stamey, features guest work from Mitch Easter, ex-Jayhawk Jen Gunderman, Thad Cockerell, the Backsliders’ Chip Robinson and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster.
Leading off a limited edition bonus disc is a collaboration with former Whiskeytown frontman, Ryan Adams, dueting with Cary on “The Battle.” Adams also co-wrote three tracks.
Cary says she doesn’t mind having her name associated with Adams, the new bad boy of alterna-country.
“It’s nice to have a devil to look like an angel next to you,” she said. “I love him; he’s a dear, sweet kid, but he gets his focus confused sometimes. But I’m real proud of what Ryan’s done on his own. He’s made some great records. And I’m so lucky to be in this position for someone putting out their first record. Granted, it didn’t get me the huge major-label deal, but it certainly opened doors that aren’t open for other people.”
She looks back fondly on her Whiskeytown days.
“I’ll never forget the day we rolled into L.A., into the Geffen offices and got to ride around with the hot blond in the red Corvette,” she said, laughing. “There was always a carrot in front of our noses – ‘You’re going to be the next big thing’ – but I don’t know if we ever really believed it or if the band had it in it for the work it takes. You really have to work on greasing the wheels, and that’s not Ryan’s forte.”
Critics loved Whiskeytown, but it disbanded in 2001 without a commercial breakthrough.
“I’m not sure why it didn’t fly,” Cary said. “I guess there’s no accounting for tastes. Maybe today the band would’ve done well. It was certainly a volatile group of people, and everything happened so fast and Ryan was so young. I’ve often said that the hardest thing in the whole world is to keep a band together and healthy and happy and functioning. It’s really not easy. In order to be in a band, you have to have a big ego, and when you get several of them together, it’s a miracle when it works out.”
Cary is crossing her fingers, hoping her career works out.
“From all appearances, it looks like it’s going to do fine. I’m not expecting huge sales, but I’m hoping it does well enough to open some doors for me.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “One of my brothers got me Rickie Lee Jones’ first record, ‘Chuck E’s in Love.’ Around the same time, another brother got me The Pretenders’ ‘Brass in Pocket.’ “
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “James Taylor. It was somewhere in Cleveland, but I don’t remember the venue – all I remember is that he was on a revolving stage and his butt must’ve itched because he kept scratching his butt and didn’t realize that the stage was going around and around. I swear, I learned how to sing by singing along to his records. I grew up in the boonies in Ohio, so I didn’t get to see many concerts.”
WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “Working at Shoney’s in Charlottesville, Va., and having to wear that A-line polyester skirt. That was my blossoming time, when I was 20, and met all these boys in Charlottesville and they’d come to see me. It was my first experience with being in the South and I had this boss, ironically named Mr. Workman, who was this slimy pervert.”
ON THE WEB: www.caitlincary.com.
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc