The night before Carter Louthian was to go to college he snapped. Two of his best friends had recently killed themselves a day apart, and his girlfriend just broke his heart. Sadness weighed heavy on him, and, when he looked at the packaged post-college suburban life he was heading toward, he felt even more emptiness. So he boldly decided to put the breaks on and tell his parents he wasn’t going to college. Instead, he was going to find meaning pursuing music.
Now, the DC-based artist emerges with his debut, Carter Lou & The Project. The 8-song album is a masterstroke steeped in timeless songcraft, anthemic hooks, classic rock panache, and world-class musicianship. As an added bonus, legendary modern rock producer Rick Beato (Shinedown, Needtobreathe, among many others)—the man responsible for producing Carter’s all-time favorite recordings—produced select tracks on Carter Lou & The Project.
“When I made the decision not to go to college, there was so much despair swirling about. I felt like music was the only thing that mattered,” Carter reveals.
In addition to Carter on guitar and vocals, Carter Lou & The Project also features longtime friend Curtis Wilder on bass and high school buddies Richard Smith on guitar, Drew Kerxton on drums, and Tommy Gann on keys. Select highlights since the band’s 2014 inception include numerous sellout shows—starting from the band’s second headlining show—a blowout at DC’s iconic 9:30 Club, and Carter earning a prestigious endorsement from PRS Guitars.
Carter Lou & The Project is a dynamic collection of spare but stately ballads and burly rockers replete with richly expressive vocals, and sincere yet poetic lyrics. Carter is the band’s principle songwriter and creative force. His aesthetic encompasses grunge, classic rock, alternative rock, sleek modern rock, and singer-songwriter intimacy.
Carter grew up in an environment that nurtured creativity. In the family vault there is an adorable video of Carter as a baby and his mother with her rocking out to Pearl Jam’s Ten. His parents had wildly eclectic listening tastes, everything from the Clash to Jimmy Buffett. One the most valuable pieces of advice he’s received in music was from his father. After a performance, he candidly told Carter he needed to work on his singing. In response, Carter found a coat closet in the basement, baffled it with blankets and foam so no one could hear him, and diligently spent a year and a half down there practicing singing.
Carter Lou & The Project is a profound first offering for a young artist. In his artistic quest, Carter recorded the album three times in two and a half years, ensuring his singing, the musical performances, and the songs were topnotch. Mark Williams at Bethesda-based Sucker Punch Recording Co studios produced the album except the tracks “Annabelle” and “Nothing Left To Lose” which were produced by Rick Beato.
Carter Lou & The Project opens with the anthemic “Do Or Die,” a track bursting with hooks and pent-up emotionality. The song is about finding the strength and trust to fall back in love after you’ve had your heart broken. The song’s playful video highlights the song’s broader meaning of putting yourself out there for a risky endeavor. In the video, Carter Lou & The Project attempt to play “Do Or Die” only to be interrupted by a hilarious onslaught of distractions including band managers, the director, forced wardrobe changes (replete with an appearance of a fur coat), and rock n’ roll temptresses. It’s a witty and insightful look at the all the obstacles that face bands.
The album brims with bold vulnerability and enlightenment. The stirring “Annabelle” is a message of empowerment to a dear friend in an abusive relationship. The track’s poignant and purposeful chorus feels like a life raft of sweet soulful salvation. “That song is about self worth—no relationship is worth enduring abuse,” Carter says. The burly blues-rocker “Insecurities” is a wakeup call to a friend in a fog of substance abuse. Other standouts include the stately ballads “Trouble” and “If Only In My Heart.”
Once the album was tracked, Carter noticed Rick Beato posted a contest on Facebook to work with an upstart band. On a whim, he submitted his music via email. Excited, and somewhat shaken by the opportunity, Carter went for a little walk outside to calm down. When he returned minutes later, he had received the news that Rick wanted to record Carter Lou & The Project at his famed studio, Black Dog Sound Recording, in Atlanta, GA.
Carter his and his trusted buddy and bandmate Curtis Wilder drove 10 hours south to track with Rick. Upon arriving, Rick handed Carter the iconic acoustic guitar that had graced so many of Carter’s favorite records. It was the start of two full days of hard work with Rick, and the ultimate validation of Carter’s courageous decision to follow his muse. “I never thought that moment would happen. Once it was all through, I thought if I died I might be okay,” he says laughing.