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'I Remind People How The Soul Feels': The Musical Ascendance of MercuryCarter

Carey J. King 3.jpg
Carey J. King
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Charlotte native MercuryCarter on his start in fashion, singing and the arts.

In 2018, Charlotte soul artist MercuryCarter was invited to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Beyond the opportunity to sing at the second-largest jazz festival in the world, Mercury's appearance was made even more notable by the simple fact of his being the third North Carolina vocalist to have performed at the festival (following Nina Simone and Roberta Flack). And to think: the rising Charlotte artist began his artistic career not as a neo-jazz singer, but as a sewing fashion prodigy.

"I still have yet to find what my genre would be. I just call myself a soul singer. Not like your Aretha [Franklin] ... but literally a singer who pushes to activate the soul."
– MercuryCarter, soul artist

Interview Highlights:

Starting his artistic career in fashion:

Around 10th grade, I started to go to different thrift stores and vintage shops, and I would repurpose or “reinvent” different items. I started out doing jean jackets and hot-gluing different items on them. During this time, I had first discovered [designers like] Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow, and this was around the rise of Lady Gaga, who put those people in my peripheral vision. By way of her and those two [designers], it inspired me to take clothing more seriously. It activated a new space in my mind. When it comes to creating anything artistic, it’s just being able to show off that extension of something that was once intangible.

On transitioning from fashion to music:

After a while, it was absolutely taxing to sit behind a sewing machine for eight hours a day. After a while, the gratification became more and more delayed, and it just became work. It was no longer fun. It no longer gave my itch a scratch; it tore my skin open. [Laughing.]

So I decided to do nothing for a period of two-and-a-half years. I was confused. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I sang around the house, and of course people who were close to me were exposed to that, specifically in the car because I have horrible driving anxiety. And out of nowhere, my two best friends said, “You should start to sing.”

On recording his debut EP "Mercury" with a microphone and an iPad in his closet:

I didn’t have any resources or access to anything or anyone related to music at the time, so I downloaded an app called Music Studio and just did some YouTube tutorials to figure it out. It was all one-take. They were just diary entries for me.

I was nervous. I was afraid. I had never sung in front of the public in a way that wasn’t a chorus or musical in middle school. So much so that for the cover [of the EP], I told myself I was going to be anonymous, like Maison Margiela or like what Sia has done with her wig. I knew that I could sound good, but I never thought I would be able to professionally make music and have the nerve to sing in front of people.

On the future of jazz:

I think that’s what’s stifling it: it’s not the absence of talent, because I see a lot of amazing jazz vocalists who unfortunately just don’t get the reputation they deserve. I love people like Cécile McLorin Salvant, Jazzmeia Horn, and Gregory Porter, and I would consider Kurt Elling to be a modern-day jazz singer.

I guess people think jazz is boring because it doesn’t have this big whomping bass-line, or they’re not speaking about things that are as relatable considering the perception that modern pop culture has created to be relevant. I feel jazz is for those who have an ear, for those who like to eat and that like to marinate on what they’re listening to, versus one who likes an Ariana Grande where you’re getting your life within the first two seconds of the first verse.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

MercuryCarter - "Belladonna"
MercuryCarter - "Broken Birds"
MercuryCarter - "Fading Shadows"
MercuryCarter - "Invisible"
MercuryCarter - "Speechless"
MercuryCarter - "Who Wants to Live Forever"
MercuryCarter - "With Every Breath I Take"

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).