Carey Ott has been wandering around the world of music ever since he first plunked his fingers down on his aunt’s upright piano when he was only six-years-old. He was already dreaming as he sat there at the piano. And from that moment on it was only a matter of time – 34 years to be exact – before the Ottawa, Illinois native found his way back to Ottawa, IL via Nocona, Texas.
Ott had co-written a song with Ryan Culwell, called Nocona, which took Ryan about 20 minutes to pen all the detailed verses. Ott and Culwell grew up in little towns no one’s ever heard of and they instantly bonded over that small town upbringing.
“I always knew I would leave Ottawa, Illinois. Many people never leave their birthplace. That’s cool for them. But I guess guys like me and Ryan have that wandering spirit in our blood. Nocona is my nod to Ottawa and Perryton, TX (where Ryan is from) and all these humble places that raise weird people like me. There’s a lot of heart and soul in these small towns you’ve never heard of. In some way I guess I’m coming back home. But soon enough I’ll be back on the road, wandering. I’ll never stop. I can’t stop. It’s what I do.”
It wasn’t until two years after writing the song that Ott discovered Nocona (No-koh-nah) was a Comanche word meaning “The Wanderer.” That’s when he began to make sense of it all. The lyrics – Nocona I’m done with you / oh hell, I was just passing through – and, perhaps, more importantly, a lifetime of playing music and writing songs had provided Ott with a nomadic outlet for his own wandering ways.
For him, three previous studio albums – “Lucid Dream,”“Human Heart” and “Muddywater” – had given the singer/songwriter with an appetite for words a reason to wander from coast to coast – sometimes accompanied by a small band in a van and other times alone in a car with little more than an acoustic guitar and his own wild imagination – and songwriting provided him with a vehicle to go places – real or imaginary – he would have otherwise never gone.
“A wanderer can be a lot of different things,” said Ott, who says wandering on a human level is everything from fighting to make your own situation better or trying to make a better life for your family. “It’s a noble thing to wander. To stay curious. Wandering can be hunting and gathering like our ancestors did a thousand years ago.” He added, “We’re supposed to wander around and check things out. Investigate. I think that’s what I’ve always been – deep down – and that’s what kind of record this is.”
So at 40, Ott found himself coming back home to his roots in Nocona, so to speak, but the album inspired by this sleepy North Texas town of barely 3,000 people is a collection of 10 songs – co-produced with Neilson Hubbard – that play like a roadmap through an amalgamation of emotions.
“I’ve never been to Nocona, but we’ve all been there, ya know? I had an interesting childhood and I have crazy stories. Stories that I can’t believe I survived. It’s good songwriting to let some of those wild stories bubble up. Some of them are terrifying. We can laugh about it now.”
The album taps into a wide range of emotions from lust (Til the Well Runs Dry) to sadness (Through the Waves) to the sick humor of it all (Cosmic Joke). Speed of Love is about slowing down enough to appreciate the good that’s all around you. There’s the Marvin Gaye-like groove of (I Already Know) What’s On Your Mind and the child-like simplicity of Favorite Song along with the cinematic Flash Fires. Look at Me cries its sweet, self-centered plea for attention.
However, the Native American themed We Are a Circle connects all of us, and the entire project, as one.
“I can’t sit here and tell you what all these songs are about,” said Ott, who captured a lot of what’s heard on the album during the first takes recorded in his home studio in East Nashville. “A lot of that comes from the subconscious. It comes from a stream of consciousness. I have the bookends, Nocona and We Are A Circle, I know what those songs are about for sure.”
Some of these songs – OK, most of them – will mean different things depending on where you are in your own journey. When it comes to wandering, Ott has worked hard at not letting himself get attached or hung up on details. Life is about exploring new things – for Ott that means no musical boundaries – and consciously making himself take chances and risks.
Like the Native Americans, who indirectly inspired this album, Nocona comes from Ott’s learned appreciation of enjoying the moment. More specifically, it’s about enjoying the moment while moving and, at the same time, not lamenting yesterday and not worrying about tomorrow.
“This record has been a realization of that,” Ott said, “the making of it over the last five, seven years. Making it has been (a realization that) to move around and deal with uncertainty is my calling. It’s what I do. I’m human. I’m a wanderer. I’m a traveler.”