There's only one thing tougher than making your debut album, and that's recording your first demo.
"Making mine was a total nightmare", laughs Vanessa Carlton one of Rolling Stone's "Top 10 Artists to Watch in 2002." "I was 17 and living in Hell's Kitchen, working five days a week as a waitress in lower Manhattan. On the weekends, I'd grab my four-track and make the long drive to my parents' house in Pennsylvania because that's where the piano was."
The one-time dance student had felt "completely lost" in the regimented system of a major ballet school. She took refuge in an old dormitory piano, as as she recalls, "All these songs started pouring out of me and I began writing." Walking away from her nascent ballet career at 17 she took the waitress job and continued to write. Her father encouraged her to road-test her songs on the New York club circuit-which led to those demo sessions back home in Milford, Pennsylvania, population 1,104.
Carlton's A&M Records debut, Be Not Nobody, is an intoxicating blend of earth sensuality and emotional resonance. Even before the album was finished, the lead single "A Thousand Miles" garnered airplay on MTV. Carlton was working in the studio when she saw it air for the first time. "It seemed so surreal," she says.