Waterford artist Carrie Baxter took a long and winding road into the music industry, studying musical theatre in the London School of Musical Theatre (LSMT). She went on to land acting roles in the UK as her love of music slowly percolated its way to the top of her desires.

“It was non-existent to be honest with you,” recalls Carrie, reflecting on her musical options growing up in Waterford which, to her mind, left her with little option but to head to London to pursue her dreams.

“There was no such thing as producing songs in your bedroom or becoming an artist. There was no support from teachers,” explains Baxter, noting that nobody believed that she was going to study in London.

“You had to fill in the CAO and that was it,” she says, laughing at the thoughts of the parallel universe in which she pursued mechanical engineering as a career.

Essential Listening

  • Without You

  • I Wasn't Looking For You

However, secondary school was far from a bust and helped solidify her desire to do something artistic with her life.

“I did a musical in transition year. I was basically forced to audition. I was 16 at the time and my art teacher made me: ‘I’ve heard you sing; you need to get fucking in there.’ So I ended up doing the lead in the show. People say transition year is a waste of time but that’s how I found out what I wanted to do.”

After that effective but presumably paraphrased pep-talk with her art teacher, Carrie fixed her mind on studying musical theatre. “I used to dance, I wanted to be an actor and I quiet enjoyed singing. So, I just thought I’d do them all at the same time because it’s so expensive to go to college.”

“It was 10 grand for one year. There was no way I was going to pick one and go do a 3-year degree at RADA, so I just trained in them all at the same time.”

And yet, it wasn’t long before another well-meaning teacher with Carrie’s best interests at heart stepped in with some advice. Only this time, it was crushing.

“Six months into the course one of the teachers said: ‘Carrie, I don’t think this is the right course for you, you need to sing or act, one or the other. With hindsight she was right, but my heart was broken.”

However, seeing Carrie’s potential as a vocalist outside of the musical theatre realm the college provided her with the opportunity to explore other genres.

“They gave me repertoires of old jazz tunes and that’s how I fell in love with old jazz standards. They were right, even though I spent ten-effing-grand going to the school.” she says, before exploding into laughter once more.

“It was never really about singing for me, it was more about writing and being able to tell my stories through my songs.”

Not willing to give up so easily, Carrie got an agent and plunged herself into the murky world of the London acting scene, winning roles in commercials and dramas.

“I really enjoyed it, but I think being an actor is one of the hardest careers. Fair play if you get the part that changes your life, otherwise, you’re in the darkness for six months, then you have the best time of your life for two months and it’s just very, very difficult to sustain a career in acting.”

During this time the seed planted during her musical theatre tuition started to reveal itself as Carrie’s true calling.

“I started writing music for the first time and decided to make a run of it. I think after I moved to London I slowly but surely figured out what I wanted to do – ok it’s not that, ok it’s not that, let’s go with music.   

“With acting, or any kind of performing, you are essentially telling other people’s stories. I felt that that was cool for a while but it only half-fulfilled me. But when I started songwriting I was like ‘ok, I get it now,’” she says, summarising her journey to that point.

“It was never really about singing for me, it was more about writing and being able to tell my stories through my songs.”

In fact, Carrie was so smitten with songwriting that she enrolled in a masters in songwriting in the prestigious Tileyard in London and has released over 30 tracks in the last two years under her own name, as a featured artist or under the pseudonym Cecelia.

“I started out toplining over electronic music, but it just didn’t feel like the right space for me to write what I had to say.”

Baxter has taken a novel approach to working within the dance realm, alongside the neo-soul output she is becoming well-known for. Opting to release a record under her own name or not, depending on how the producer treats her vocals.

“Sometimes, when you give your vocals to an electronic producer, it comes back all cut to shit and you can’t tell it’s me. Those are the ones I release under Cecilia. Every now and then a record comes along were I’m like ‘okay, they haven’t fucked with my voice that much’ and it’s really great and that’s what happened with the Shadow Child record (Right Here) which was mega for me because I’ve been such a fan of his for years.”

Carrie’s urge to create finds her constantly collaborating with new and interesting people such as Notion and Irishman Nealo. These collaborations often come about from random encounters or Carrie reaching out to an artist after stumbling across their work online such as EDBL.

“I found his music and I was like ‘oh my god, I have to work with him’ and his manager messaged independently at the same time and we were like ‘that’s fucking weird’ and we started working together.

“We just clicked. I wrote the song I did with Nealo with him in an hour. We just work very well together so long may it last.”

"I don't want to hang on to things, I want to keep moving and keep developing."

Speaking of Dublin rapper Nealo, Carrie adds:

“We found him randomly on Spotify. I just fell in love with his work. He’s just so brutally honest. We only met recently, I supported him in Waterford and we did the track together.”

“When he wrote that verse for Without You I believe he was going through something quite personal and we actually had to rewrite the verse because it was so honest that he said ‘I just don’t know if I can do this’.

“Just ironically, whatever we wrote about ended up happening in his life and he was just like: ‘I have to rewrite this, I can’t let you release that song with those lyrics.’”

Carrie respects Nealo’s decision to protect himself by changing the lyrics to the track as her own lyrics have often prompted deep discussions within her family and unintentionally caused others pain.

“At first, I thought ‘woo huh, this is wonderful, I feel free, look at me writing all these stories’ and I really didn’t consider anybody else, nobody,” reflects Carrie.

“And then the trouble started, people asking ‘why are you writing those types of songs? This is in the past, it’s not what’s happening now’… I had to start thinking, ‘actually, this is really hard for other people for me to put this out and have an audience listen to it’.

“I didn’t realise how hurtful the lyrics could be. It’s been a very steep learning curve of approaching people in my inner circle and saying ‘hey, I’ve got this song coming out it’s a bit touchy. I just want to ask you if that’s okay? Would you like to hear it first?  

“I’ve had to discuss it with people and go through a process of stepping back from ‘I’m so proud of this song’, to let’s talk about how it made you feel. I’ve had to put my therapist hat on a little bit instead of my artist hat.” 

Having released two EPs and over 30 tracks in total over the last 18 months. Carrie is planning on being a bit more strategic with her output throughout 2022.

“It won’t be as jam-packed as last year. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked. I thought I knew what hard work was, then I became an independent artist.” she says half-jokingly

“I’m taking a few months off just to be an artist again – because the stuff that I’ve released in the last 18 months is stuff I wrote years ago. It’s quite exciting because I’m starting with a blank canvas, but there’s some really interesting people that I want to work with.”

“I touched base with New Machine recently and I’m going to do some work with him. That’s super exciting for me because he’s another person that I knew when I was very young to have grown up and really made something of himself. I’m really excited to do some sessions with him.”

Carrie also plans to finish several dance songs that she began working on with various producers throughout lockdown, but she notes “they’ll probably feature on their projects rather than mine.”

“There’s definitely a few songs I’m interested in putting out in 2022,” she says, before noting that she won’t sit on any new material that arises in 2022 for too long.

“If I have the best six months of writing I’ve ever had in my life, and I have an album of course I’m going to put it out. I don’t want to hang on to things, I want to keep moving and keep developing. I feel like I’m very much still learning what type of artist I am, but it feels to me like I’m a project artist. I want to put pieces of work together that have an absolute theme or a start and a finish.”

“I do want to do an album, I feel like it’s coming out of me. I’m getting the itch to write. Although I enjoy singles, they keep you rolling but, for me, I just really like doing a body of work from start to finish.”   

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