Aaron Carter knows that most of the people who hear his name still think of his hits from 16 years ago, like “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)” and “I Want Candy.” That’s okay; he’s here to keep making music anyway. A lot has happened since Carter released his last full-length album, Another Earthquake, in 2002, including a struggle with depression and reportedly filing for bankruptcy in 2013. He’s had producers and labels turn on him repeatedly, so in the absence of any industry support, he opted to cloister himself away and work on his own beats, which now make up much of his new EP, LøVë.
And yet, if he’s weary of toting around the baggage that accompanies having a career and fandom established when he was 10 years old, he hides it well — at live shows he still includes his old hits, going all-out in venues a fraction of the size of the stadiums he used to play. Carter has endured, and as the 29-year-old prepares for his first album in nearly a decade and a half, he spoke with Vulture about breaking the stigma of child stardom, the motivating power of losing everything, and his one big piece of advice.
It’s been more than 14 years since your last album. When during that time did LøVë start to take shape?
I’ve been working on it for two years now. I started really working on it at home in Malibu, just makin’ beats like I always did, and then I paired up with Melanie Fontana, who has written on Daya’s record and with the Chainsmokers. So, we wrote the songs, and then she brought in a friend of hers from Germany that was a producer as well. I was a little reluctant at first, because I kinda wanted to do it all myself. But I was like, “All right, I trust you, Melanie, so let’s bring in this guy to spice up my beats a bit.”
Sounds like you were pretty protective about having creative control. Is that something you learned from being in the industry for so long?
I’ve always been a producer, but nobody ever took me seriously, nor did other producers ever wanna really be partners with me, because they wanted it all for themselves. Over the last ten years I’ve cut all these demos with other producers and all the record labels have said, “No, Aaron Carter will never be able to do this again. It’s not gonna happen for him. Bye. Get out of here.” You know what I mean? And then I’m like, well, I’m not gonna give up, I’m done working with other producers. Their way didn’t work, so let me try producing it myself and see what happens.
Do it your damn self.
The moral of the story is don’t ever give up on yourself. When people are like, “I thought Aaron Carter was dead,” well, yeah, I was a zombie in my recording studio, trying to learn how to make beats. And being mentored by people like Jim Johnson and Deadmau5.
Because of your early success in pop music, do you feel you’ve had to work against expectations people put on you?
There was definitely stuff from the past, obviously, that all my fans hung on to and the music and the sound. But I didn’t make those beats. I didn’t write those songs. I just went in the studio, and the producers would be like, “Here’s the next line: I always tried to be the flyest kid on the block! Here’s the next line: The popular one with the rising stock. Let’s do that again.” Then I got to the point where I was 16, 17 years old performing all that old stuff and I was like, I cannot relate to this music. So I was like, if I’m gonna come back and do this I can’t be cutting other people’s records, for one, and two, it’s not even working. I can’t even get a record deal with it. So I do it myself. My fan base, we’re growing up together, and we don’t just have “Aaron’s Party” and dreams about how I beat Shaq anymore.
Do you find that the sound of contemporary pop speaks to you? Your latest stuff is very sonically in step with the electropop hits that have taken over mainstream music.
To be honest, when I was working on the project, I didn’t listen to the radio, or anybody else because I’m not a biter. I didn’t listen to that stuff, because I didn’t want to be influenced by it. I didn’t want people to say, “Oh, you took this from here.” No. I didn’t take it from anywhere. I secluded myself in the studio and just focused on creating my own sound. Now “Sooner or Later” is on Top 40 radio.
You’ve been through serious ups and downs, and from what you’ve said a lot of people were not willing to bet on you. How do you stay self-motivated?
I’ve spent so long in the last ten years trying to get back to everything I wanted that I grew up, so I just have this hunger in me that I think people lose when they don’t lose everything. When you lose everything you gain the hunger, you become hungry and when I go back to my instincts, my instinct was I love making music. I want to be really good at it. I want to be credible, and it’s not just as beat makers making my beats and stuff.
It’s funny, some guy tweeted at me and was like, “Wow I’m ashamed to admit this but I really like Aaron Carter’s new EP, amazing what good producers can do for you.” I responded to him and said, “Isn’t it though? Good thing I’m the producer too.” That’s exactly what I knew I was going to deal with when I came back out in the industry — and I’m leaving them no room to talk.