It’s been a minute since Carmen Rodgers dropped some new music. Sure, the Dallas-born/Atlanta-based soul singer’s latest album — titled “Stargazer” — hits stores and airwaves Feb. 17, but her last LP (“The Bitter Suite: The Deluxe Edition”) was released way back in 2011. That long delay between projects, however, was anything but intentional … as Rodgers is quick to point out.
“When I put out ‘The Bitter Suite’ … I said ‘OK, I’m gonna put out [my next album, ‘Intermission’] in 2012. It was gonna be kind of the part two to ‘The Bitter Suite,’” she says. “But as I was finishing the album and writing and recording, I realized that’s not where I was anymore musically or creatively. I started exploring some new sounds and working with some new producers. And then I was like: ‘Intermission’ is not the album anymore.”
From the ashes of that abandoned project rose this new collection of songs, which combined some material from “Intermission” with brand-new joints — and a new attitude. Where The Bitter Suite was a dissection of heartache and lost love, “Stargazer” comes off as a sonic move in a more positive direction. The album is laced with addictive, hook-driven tunes (like “Camille Leon” and “Beyond the Stage”); funky, hip-hop-flavored cuts (“Stargazing” and “Heartless”); and some flat-out beautiful-ass ballads (like “Stay,” which features live strings, and “Charge,” a duet with the ATL’s own Anthony David). That said, the thematic direction Rodgers ultimately took on “Stargazer” (named after both the flower and the singer’s propensity to daydream as a child) came after a good deal of introspection.
“I was just thinking about where I was in my life creatively speaking, as a woman, as a mother, as just a human being,” says Rodgers, “and, I thought: ‘[Stargazer] feels right.’”
Now, armed with a new album, she finds herself hitting the ground and doing the work to spread the word about her current creation; it’s a task that’s made slightly tougher because she is a member of the A’s “indie artists with a distribution deal” community … and as a result doesn’t enjoy the infrastructure or resources of your typical major-label artist. But as she hits the road this time out, she goes as a more confident performer — and that’s thanks to time spent with soul heavyweights Zo! and the Foreign Exchange. Friends with this crew of artists for years, Rodgers recorded vocals for “If I Knew Then” from FE’s “Love In Flying Colors” album and for “Show Me the Way” off “ManMade” by Zo!; she also went on tour with both acts as she crafted the music of “Stargazer.”
“Touring with them really was like going back to school. It was a big learning experience. Phonte and Nicolay have an approach to touring where they hit the road and hit it hard, so it’s a lot of singing and a lot of cities in a very short window of time. So I think I trained a muscle. There’s a tour muscle, and I think that tour muscle has been developed — and I think it’s made me stronger. The stage is now truly a second home,” she says.
The fruitful relationship she’s forged with the FE crew over the years is seemingly par for the course for Rodgers, whose success has hinged, at least partly, on cultivating a reputation as a vocalist who is more down-to-earth and less “tortured.” In a field where narcissism is king, she’s just as excited talking about the movies she’s seen (most recently “Selma” and “Top Five,” which she checked out twice) as she is talking about her own songs.
And though she’s not an Atlanta native, she’s deeply enmeshed herself in the fabric of the city’s soul scene, becoming a regular at shows around town — whether as a voice in the background or as a fan in the crowd.
“My expectation is to give as much as I can, and I believe that getting back is a natural result — versus a lot of people that come here and have their hand out and they’re really disappointed when the city doesn’t respond like they thought. It’s work and it’s an investment. Just be good to people,” says Rodgers. “There are many better singers [than me]. There are better songwriters. I’m just trying to continue getting to know what my sound is and what my fans like and be good to people … and I hope it comes across in the music.”