Header Photo by Mike Holp
As the grass tickled our legs on a lethargic Austin City Limits morning, a crystalline voice floated above the speakers. For many listeners, Carson McHone’s set simply acted as a peaceful start to the weekend’s manic, musical marathon. Her lilting waltzes and resonant vocals were like a slowly steeping cup of tea gradually erasing the sleep from our eyes. As her set progressed, however, the songs slipped into our veins like an energizing jolt of espresso. Like McHone’s musical career, her performance evolved throughout her Friday morning performance. By the end of her one-hour set, she had us feeling antsy and eager for what’s next.
McHone’s lyrics ring with deeply personal poetry, but they’ll make you feel like she took inspiration straight from your diary. The songs sound timeless, and they’re continually morphing into something new. What begins as a heavy heartbreak ballad can rapidly transform into commentary from last night’s news segment. McHone sees this evolution most clearly in her beautifully hypnotic song, “Dram Shop Gal.”
“I don’t trust no man who slicks back his hair
Though he may be a millionaire”
“When I sing that lyric, it was about a guy that I used to date who was a barber. And now I’m singing about Donald Trump.” McHone said.
Though her personal views always pierce through the music, McHone doesn’t consider them protest songs. To her, subtlety has more power than vehement arguments.
“I’m not going to tell you who to vote for in those words, but I’ll certainly tell you who to vote for,” McHone said.
As she put in the miles on the road, the country’s political divide pounded like a piercing headache. Local Austinites know that this city’s liberal bubble is too thick to see through, and sometimes, it takes a cross-country tour to understand the pervasive, political rift.
“It’s different — so different,” McHone said. “It’s wild to meet people who hold completely, utterly different values than I do. To me, they are monstrous values, and yet they are welcoming me into their home. In any other circumstance we would be spitting at each other, and yet we are connected on this certain level to where we can appreciate each other.”
As her lyrics subtly inch toward social change, McHone’s artistic life rushes like a rollercoaster. The past year has brought both euphoric highs and shattering lows. Rolling Stone named her one of the top ten new country artists you need to know, but the loss of her bass player punched a dent into her personal life.
“It’s been a devastating year but also really really powerful and really beautiful.” McCone said, adding another word that’s rarely used to describe hardship: “Empowering.”
More changes may come in the future, but for now she’s focusing on “how to evolve as an artist” and craft songs that will carve new avenues for discussion.
“If I can establish some sort of relationship with people that listen to my music and enjoy it, then at some point those conversations can be had.” McHone said.