After putting out three children’s albums, Diana Lynn Carter is ready for her music to grow up.
While she has taught and performed for hundreds of children over the years, Carter’s new EP, “Politics and Fairy Tales,” addresses more adult themes, like love, loss and politics.
Carter started playing piano at age 4. By her teens she was working on a rock opera — about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. After studying journalism at San Jose State, though, she began her career as a reporter. Eventually, she left journalism to focus on music and commercial writing.
In addition to working as an artist-in-residence at local schools, she has also written commercial jingles, commercials and print ads. A member of the band The Strummingbirds—which includes her daughter, Lindsay Carter Coates — she’s eyeing another foray — into adult music.
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We spoke to Carter at her home in San Luis Obispo.
Q: With all the budget cuts, are you still teaching in the schools?
A: I’ve been teaching since ’96. There’s still people that know me, so that helps me. But it is not the way it used to be. I got a grant from Arts Obispo to do assemblies in schools. And I do musical science. And then PTOs and PTAs —parents are basically raising the money for arts programs.
Q: On “What the Heck” (from “Politics and Fairy Tales”), you address many of the hot political issues of the day: tax inequality, health care, student loans corporate greed. Are you a socialist?
A: It sounds like I am, huh? There are so many things that are wrong. And, of course, who am I to say how to fix them, right? But we’re definitely in the wrong direction. And I do see things that we could be doing better.
I’m that woman in the song, obviously. And I’m trying to make it. I’m trying to do things legitimately, the right way, and yet I’m still trying to keep afloat and climb out of this hole.
I really wanted it to be called “What the Hell.” But since I write children’s songs and I work with children a lot, I thought “heck” was a better word.
Q: When you were working up to doing a political song, did you listen to Crosby, Stills & Nash?
A: No, but I always have them in my head. That music was part of my life. And Bob Dylan and his lyrics.
Q: Do you have a favorite political song?
A: I really like “For What It’s Worth” (by Buffalo Springfield).
Q: You rarely hear political songs from a conservative perspective. If someone paid you to write a song — “Trickle Down Theory” — could you do it?
A: No, I think I have a bleeding heart. I’ve done projects for people that I might not have agreed with, but I’ve said no to voicing stuff where they were too conservative for me.
Q: As a journalist, what question would you ask yourself?
A: Um. Like, what the heck are you doing — you’re 53 years old?
It’s kind of late. But I just feel like I want to do this. I’ve been creating stuff— I’ve been writing plays and music and teaching. I have inspired kids and people and I love that. And I want to keep doing that. But I want to get out there more. ... What if I go through this lifetime and I’ve never tried? I don’t want to be a rock star. I don’t want to be a diva. I’m not the greatest singer in the world. I have a nice voice and I have stories to tell.
Q: You never recorded music for adults before?
A: I have, I’ve just never had it ready to sell. I’ve never wanted to completely put it out there. This is the first time I’ve said, “I want to share this.”
Q: I guess the toddlers probably don’t request “Free Bird”?
A: No. (Laughs) “Free Bird!” They’ve got to like Journey, though, because now Journey’s back.
Q: Your dad was a professional musician. What kind of music did he play?
A: He played a lot of popular stuff back then. Perry Como, Bing Crosby. He loved to go to the library and pick out albums. My parents struggled, and he worked very hard. A lot of overtime for the phone company—AT&T and Pac Bell. He had a guitar in his van. And in between jobs, until he got the next call, he’d sit in there, playing.
Q: Weren’t you writing a rock opera as a teenager?
A: Yeah. And I still have that. In fact, I just recorded it recently. I always had it in my head, but I’d never recorded it.