LANCE CARPENTER IS HERE TO HELP. IN A SENSE, HE ALWAYS HAS BEEN.
The big-hearted Arkansas farm kid with a voice to match chose a career in service to others. Amid the considerable stress and turmoil attending that job, he found that the music he loved was able to quiet his mind and focus his heart. Slowly and often unintentionally, the power of crafting lyrics and melody drew Lance in a new direction. Eventually, he realized he’d returned to the exact place he’d started – the place he was meant to be all along.
“Anyone Else,” Lance Carpenter’s debut release for Show Dog Nashville and duet with label mate Krystal Keith, is a tantalizing glimpse of the depth of creativity to come. Already a chart-topping songwriter (Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It”), Carpenter has continually earned the notice of fans and gatekeepers, even without meaning to. Now, he’s poised to capture their attention on a much bigger scale.
Carpenter’s arrival as a songwriter and recording artist is, in many ways, an extension of a creative progression that became increasingly deliberate. The journey took him from self-taught hobbyist and therapeutic outlet to committed songwriter and Nashville-based professional hitmaker. Continually working toward developing his craft, a growing love of performing led to the recording session that changed everything. Unexpectedly so.
“My introduction to country music was my mom playing it in her car,” says Carpenter, who grew up on a cattle farm in Northwest Arkansas. “I never thought I would sing or play, but my stepdad has listened to the country countdown every Sunday for as long as I’ve known him. Country has just been a staple in my life.”
The boy who named his dog Jake because – of course – “Feed Jake,” recalls a formative story. “At the end of Bible camp one time they lined us up and asked us to sing our favorite song,. Everybody was going for stuff like ‘This Little Light of Mine’ or ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and I sang ‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas.’ That was definitely the only George Strait anyone sang that day.”
Though several friends played guitar in high school, it wasn’t until Carpenter was leaving for college that he bought an acoustic at a local pawn shop. “The first thing was probably a Metallica riff,” he says. “I’m country as a horse turd, grew up on a farm raising cattle, turkeys and horses, but ‘Enter Sandman’ was my first song on guitar.”
Without a thought to ever playing music for others, Lance picked up the instrument between classes and football practices. “I needed something to get away and the guitar was perfect because I couldn’t play worth a crap,” he says. “I had it for six months before I figured out you probably ought to tune it every time you play.”Carpenter got a job with the state of Arkansas after college and subsequently with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where he worked to support those affected by dozens of disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.
By this time, Lance was putting together his own songs. “Creativity has always been important to me, and jotting down poems wasn’t unusual,” he says. “When I finally learned a few chords and could put it to music, bad as it was, things started to sort themselves out. What I found is it took my mind of everything else – football, girls, schoolwork and, eventually, my job, life stress, everything. I had to totally focus or it would sound even worse than it already did. It was therapy, an outlet, an escape.”
Encouraged by an impromptu performance while on a job in Maine, Lance began to think his material might find a greater purpose. “My main thing was writing, so I found the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) by Googling ‘songwriting’ from my hotel room, sent in a few songs and heard back, overwhelmingly, that none of it was very good. But there were encouraging words about my lyrics and creativity. They pointed me to a song camp and that weekend was the moment I decided music wasn’t a hobby anymore.
“For three years I visited Nashville a few times a year, each for a week or two to write, meet people, and network with industry folks. Then I decided to make the move. I worked in Nashville for six months during the 2010 flood, after which I stayed in a friend’s guest room while I searched for a house to buy. Made the official move Feb 10, 2011 – three years exactly after the NSAI Song Camp.”
After moving to Nashville, Carpenter wrote incessantly, landed a publishing deal and earned a few cuts on albums that never got released before “Love Me Like You Mean It” was recorded by then-unknown artist Kelsea Ballerini. The song became a No. 1 hit. “I went to Walmart, bought three or four copies and took pictures. Even now, when I go to the store I’ll pull those CDs out and put them on the front of the rack.”
Working to get his songs heard, Carpenter played writer shows around Music City. As he did, his voice and guitar playing improved. “When I really started to figure out how to use that muscle, people started asking why I wasn’t trying to be an artist,” he says. “Meanwhile, getting a publishing deal is a little bit easier if they think you might get an artist deal and record your own songs. I realized that could be an added value thing, so I put together a 12 song demo.”
Intending to give copies to family and friends, Lance took the suggestion to do an album release show. More than 300 showed up in support. “I did nine or ten songs barely moving from the mic, but at the end I got a standing ovation. I about fell off the stage and thought, ‘Well I’ve got to do that again.'”
A mix of full band and acoustic shows followed, as many as 115 the following year. He also signed a management deal. “I just wanted to continue that independent career and life, playing as much as I could and writing as much as I could. I never planned on pitching myself to labels. I didn’t think that was in the cards, but I guess I was wrong.”
Carpenter’s appetite for new music extended to other writers’ work, and he came across “Anyone Else” years ago. “I loved it on the first listen and thought I’d like to record it some day.” Along the way, he also had a few co-writes with Show Dog Nashville artist Krystal Keith. “We really hit it off and it was great hearing about her life, her husband and baby. She wasn’t like a star’s kid at all. I don’t think we mentioned her dad [Toby Keith] one time in that first writing session.”
Hearing her sing at a recording session, Carpenter immediately thought of “Anyone Else” and Krystal agreed to record it as a duet. “When it was done, she played it for her people and they started jumping up and down,” Lance says. “Then Toby heard it, flipped out and played it for the Show Dog staff. He was like, ‘This song needs to be on the radio and we’re going to put it there. And also, who is this guy?'”
Within a few months, the answer to that question became, Show Dog Nashville recording artist Lance Carpenter. “It was such an organic thing,” he says. “If Toby had been looking for an artist or I’d been trying to get on his radar, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”
Now, he’s doing what he was always meant to do and, in a sense, what he’s always done. “When I worked for the federal government, it was complicated to explain what I did. I had to boil it down to, I get to travel the country and help people when they need it most. In the same way, it can be hard to explain what I do now to people who don’t know the music business, so I say I travel the country and help people. It’s a different way of doing the same thing I did before.
“We’re not responding to a tornado or hurricane and giving someone food, water or shelter, but I still get to have that interaction on a person-to-person level. I love connecting with people even if it’s just through a song that makes them feel something.”
Lance Carpenter. He’s here to help.