Back in the States for another tour, Irish country music phenom Nathan Carter has come a long way since his hit song, “Wagon Wheel.” He’s enormously popular—as witness his sold-out appearance at the Philadelphia Irish Center a few months ago.
As with so many artists, it was a bit of a slog to get to that first huge hit. Unlike many artists, he’s been able to remain popular and well in demand, adapting to changes in the music industry that might have cut short the careers of many others.
And he’s grateful for every moment he gets to play his music.
Carter is scheduled to appear Saturday, May 25, at Glenside’s historic Keswick Theater. He’ll be accompanied by Celtic Woman’s Chloe Agnew. It promises to be a great show. Tickets and info here. Better jump on it. Tickets are moving fast.
We recently interviewed Carter. Here’s what he had to say.
Irish Philly: How would you define Celtic country?
Nathan Carter: Well, I suppose my mixture of Celtic music, I’ve grown up with a lot of folk music and I played the accordion since I was 5 years old and being influenced by a lot of folk singers and folk bands like the Dubliners and Mary Black and Christy Moore. Plus my love of country music, which stems from when my granddad used to play me records of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline. So my music is kind of a mixture of the two of them and it’s blended together with my six-piece band which features fiddle, banjo, accordion, guitar, piano, bass and drums.
Irish Philly: Yeah, I have to admit, the first time I heard country music in Ireland it was in 1986 and I was really kind of surprised.
Nathan Carter: Yeah. I mean, Ireland has always seemed to have a fascination with country music. It’s huge here. I think that’s evidenced by Garth Brooks, who announced that he was going to do five nights in Croke Park. Croke Park holds 80,000 people. He managed to sell out five nights of tickets. And that had never been done before by U2. You name any band in the world, they never manage to sell them out, that amount of tickets. Unfortunately, the gigs didn’t happen for technical reasons, but the tickets were sold and it kind of proved how big country music is and always has been in Ireland.
Irish Philly: How do you account for that?
Nathan Carter: I think that country music is very similar to Irish music and folk music. And the fact that I think a country music probably hails from Ireland and Scotland in a sense when the natives took their fiddles and banjos over to the states years ago. And basically folk music is story songs and it’s all about a song with a great lyric and a great story. And that is the same as country music. You know. The best country songs of the world are story songs filled with love and heartache and pain, all about emotion. You know, so they are very, very similar in lots of different ways.
Irish Philly: So it stems from American country music, but is it its own separate thing in Ireland?
Nathan Carter: It is, yeah, definitely. I mean, here in Ireland we have our own country music scene, which is known as the Irish country music scene, which obviously features a lot of country-sounding songs, which have a lot of lyrics to do with Ireland and to do with the Irish way of life. But they’re basically country songs, but would have a lot more relevance as to Irish way of life and Irish way of living.
Irish Philly: Well, let’s go back. You mentioned this when you were growing up. Let’s talk about your early musical influences.
Nathan Carter: Yeah. Well, you know, as I said, my granddad played me lots of country music when I was very young. People like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens. And we used to sit around at the weekend and listened to all these old records of people like that. And then as I got into my teenage years, I started discovering the likes of Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, all the nineties era to the 2000s era of country. And I fell in love with it all again then. But as well as listening to country then, I was listening to the folk music at the time which was coming from Ireland. And I suppose bands like The Corrs and people like that have introduced Irish music to the world in a big level as well. So I’ve taken a lot of influences from different types of folk and country.
Irish Philly: “Wagon Wheel” back in 2012 was a huge hit for you. Was that when you felt you’d begun to break through or were you like a lot of other artists where it took a while?
Nathan Carter: Yeah, I mean I’d been gigging with my band and Ireland for six years before I’d released “Wagon Wheel.” And you know, I have a pretty good fan base and the gigs were coming and going pretty well. But I released “Wagon Wheel” and it definitely was a game changer for me.
Irish Philly: So that’s how you were discovered then, really?
Nathan Carter: Yeah, it was really. I mean I got onto a lot of TV shows that after that. The song itself was … obviously, it was a cover. I mean it was originally written by Bob Dylan and Old Crow Medicine Show, but I did my own kind of unique take on it. It just was one of those songs that seem to appeal to lots of different age groups. Literally young kids up into grannies and grandads were listening to it. It was being played in nightclubs, being played off the radio day to day. I recorded a video for it on the beach in Donegal called Rossnowlagh beach. That ended up having over 4 million views on YouTube. It was a great song. And like you say, it was a turning point for me in my career.
Irish Philly: Sounds though, six years, that’s a lot of toiling in the fields before that happened. Were you thinking that it was going to happen or was it just a question mark?
Nathan Carter: Yeah, I always kind of thought it would … things would get better. You know. I could see it progressing all the time with the crowds are getting bigger each time we’d go back to a venue or a town. But, you know, I didn’t expect the enormity of what happened when I released “Wagon Wheel.” It kind of really did introduce me to a whole new audience in the UK and in Ireland as well. And opened a lot of doors for me.
Irish Philly: That had to be enormously gratifying for you.
Nathan Carter: It was, yeah. I mean, because you know, the previous six years had been a lot of hard work. And to be honest I’d lost quite a bit of money trying to pay the band and pay for recordings. And at that point I wasn’t a signed artist. So I paid for everything myself.
But you know, I’m sure people in the music industry can relate to that. You know, when you don’t have financial backing, it’s pretty tough and you’ve got to just keep hoping and praying that things turn out well and thankfully it did.
Irish Philly: Well, you’re obviously enormously popular at this point. Is that still a surprise to you?
Nathan Carter: Yeah. I suppose it’s always a surprise, to be honest. In this business you don’t know how long it’s gonna last. So I get up every day and I work pretty hard. I don’t take many days off. And I’m always thinking of new ideas to try and help promote the music or promote the brand because it’s a very changing industry. When I started out it was all about CD sales, whereas nowadays it’s all about Spotify and iTunes and downloading and streaming music, which to me is a new thing as well. So I’m constantly moving and having to adapt to how the music industry is working. There’s a lot of changes over the last number of years.
Irish Philly: You obviously did pretty well in Philadelphia at the Irish Center.
Nathan Carter: We did, yeah. We had a great run across America in November. We did around about 12 dates which were really enjoyable. A lot of the venues were sold out. And Philadelphia was sold out as well. It was one of the fantastic standout nights for us and we really enjoyed being there. In the next coming months we’re actually back on tour again. We’re actually doing a cruise around Alaska and then we go on to play again and in Philadelphia on the 25th of May, which is a Saturday night. And this is a new venue for is this time as well.
We’ve never played at the Keswick Theater. Returning to Philadelphia promises to be a good night and hopefully a great show.
Irish Philly: It sounds like you have a built-in fan base in Philadelphia.
Nathan Carter: Yeah. Well, funny enough, I did some research when I got back on my Facebook followers and out of all of the states, Philadelphia and Boston were the biggest followers of my Facebook page. Which was great to see. That’s particularly one of the reasons we scheduled another date in to do ’cause I said it was why the gig last time went so well. I just thought it’d be great to get back as soon as possible.
Irish Philly: You have Chloe Agnew on your tour. That has to be a bonus.
Nathan Carter: Definitely. Yeah. I’ve been touring with Chloe for the last number of years and obviously Chloe has an enormous amount of experience having toured with Celtic Woman for 10 years or more. So you know, myself and Chloe are now on tour and we’d like to think that there’s something in the show for everyone. Chloe performed some of the numbers from Celtic Woman, which she’d be known for, and we do a few duets and collaborations together. On top of that, as I say we have a six-piece band to perform big music pieces from Riverdance and familiar pieces which people will recognize and hopefully be able to sing along with as well. So it’s an action-packed show. I’m glad to say that tickets seem to be selling pretty fast at the minute. We’re really looking forward to it. It’s going to be great fun. We love being on tour.
Irish Philly: It’s funny you should say that because a lot of bands get tired of that.
Nathan Carter: Yeah. I mean for me, I love seeing the world. I do a lot of touring in Ireland and the UK. But we get to go to places like America and, and more recently we were in Germany a couple of weeks back doing a tour. It’s great. I never would’ve got to see probably any of these places of it wasn’t for the music and the business that I’m in. So I enjoy it and I try to make the most out of every opportunity.
Irish Philly: Well, Germany, I’m kind of surprised by that. Your popularity is really far and wide.
Nathan Carter: Yeah. You know, the last couple of years I suppose with social media nowadays, it makes you a lot easier to just be discovered online. And so, funny enough, we have a lot of German fans who love country stuff and they love Irish music and the love folk music. I’ve done a couple of TV shows out there which has introduced me to an audience. It’s been great. Years ago without the help of Facebook or Instagram, all of these things it was a lot harder to, to reach people. But nowadays that’s one of the benefits. There’s some negatives but there’s a lot of benefits to social media.
Irish Philly: How do you see your career progressing from this point on? Have you thought about that?
Nathan Carter: You know, the American market is something that we’re concentrating on and we’ve kind of invested in the last couple of years and going to do tours. And you know, I think it’s a market that I would look to break into a bit more. If we could have a bit of success in America and maybe get to play some bigger venues the next time. I’ve been lucky that my show we recorded has been showing on PBS across the states in different states.
Hopefully [we’re] going to record another TV special for them and maybe that will introduce us again to some more people. To be honest it’s a constant building process. And I’m happy to keep working at it. And what did they say? Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it takes a long time. You know.
Irish Philly: Sounds like you’re having fun.
Nathan Carter: Yeah, I am. I love being on the road and I’m very privileged to be able to do what I do. You know, my mom and dad have nine-to-five jobs and they don’t particularly like what they do. So I consider myself pretty lucky to get up every day and enjoy going to work and enjoy doing what I do.