has spent the majority of her time in the Indianapolis music scene in the
accordion for The Warner Gear, sung backup and played bass and accordion for
Cliff Snyder. Now the elegantly understated chanteuse is striking out on her
own with Goodnight Charlotte, a collection of vividly-constructed songs she recorded with
cellist Grover Parido.
"The songs are very
much autobiographical," Wahlers said over cold green tea in her living room one
recent evening. "They come across as being really intimate. And they're not
fantastic stories – not that fantastic that they couldn't happen to anyone."
are a big part of Wahlers' living space, which she shares with Anna, a Doberman
mix she rescued from the Hamilton County Humane Society. A couple bass guitars,
including an upright, stand guard on either side of an old piano in the front
room. There's a banjo in the corner next to the couch.
"I like walking
around my house playing guitar, and I make up words and all of a sudden there's
a song," Wahlers said. "It's really free association."
Some come as easily
as while she's driving home from work. Others, not so much. There's one Wahlers
has worked on for five years now.
"And when I get it,
it's going to be spectacular," she said, arms raised. "No it probably won't be
because I'll overwork it. I like to shoot from the hip sometimes. When you
write intuitively, things come out in a way you wouldn't expect."
Interlochen and The Beatles
Born in Akron,
Wahlers moved to South Bend when she was 6. She attended high school in Muncie
(and Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan) before coming to Indy to
study at IUPUI's Herron School of Art & Design.
Wahlers is a
fourth-generation musician, something that didn't actually occur to her until
something that was this legacy when I was growing up," she said.
Her mom was a
wizard on 12-string guitar, Wahlers started on the upright bass at age 7 and
her brother took up percussion. Family jams in the living room weren't
uncommon. Wahlers has fond memories of taking the train to Cleveland to see
symphonies, operas and ballets.
classical music, but she managed to sneak Beatles songs into her repertoire.
She'd even ride her bike to the local Sam Goody to buy sheet music of the day's
popular hits to arrange for a string quartet she started.
Torment from peers
wasn't uncommon. Then again, all her friends played music, so it never seemed
"For some reason I
didn't quit, and I have no idea why," Wahlers said. "That would've seemed like
the path of least resistance. I guess I just got really good at it and decided
that's what I'll do."
She wrote silly
songs as a kid, but it wasn't until about five years ago that Wahlers was able
to finish a composition without making a joke out of it. That was a difficult
time in her musical evolution.
"She was frustrated
in what she was doing musically," said Greg Ziesemer, a longtime Indianapolis
musician and friend of Wahlers. "She had hit a wall. She was working on
original material and trying to develop herself as a songwriter. We talked
about being true to yourself and to not deny what you're feeling."
Wahlers tapped into
that, relying on memories to craft nakedly confessional lyrics about the human
spirit and its metamorphosis.
"It's like this big
rubber-band ball that keeps getting bigger and bigger so the shape changes and
it might be a little different," she said of her words.
doesn't come without a hitch, and Wahlers fears giving too much away. Wahlers
cites the chorus to her song "Marks on the Earth" (follow link to full stream; "I'm tired of trying to
prove that I'm beautiful / Burning for you / I'm tired of trying to prove that
I'm good enough / Broken hearts can burn, too"). That actually came to Wahlers
while at the State Fair, when she felt a little sad. In song it comes across as
more epic than it really is.
"Why did I feel the
need to say that, then record it and put it on an album?" she said. "That
sometimes bothers me. On the other hand, I think it's a really relatable song.
A lot of times when we perform it, people really respond."
By we, she means
Parido. When Wahlers set about to record her first collection of songs, she
felt something was missing.
"I knew I didn't
want to just do it by myself, but I also didn't want the typical rock band
feel," she said.
Then Wahlers saw
Parido play cello with Blueprint Music at the Indianapolis Art Center's
"I was just really
moved by him," she said. "He's a very expressive cellist. He's not someone who
just plucks out a bassline. He has a wonderful tone and sensibility."
worked up the nerve to ask a mutual friend to introduce them. She asked Parido
to play cello on her record and he accepted.
"It's funny because
a lot of musicians I play with start out as friends," Wahlers said. "With
Grover we started as collaborators and a friendship blossomed out of that."
"I think we've got
a really interesting combination," Parido said. "Audiences really seem to
respond to it. Cara's lyrics are very theatrical and visual. That lends itself
to the style of cello I play. I'm able to underscore a lot of these images
Charlotte in Paradise
Charlotte isn't even
officially out yet and it's already garnering attention. Andie Redwine, a Bloomington-based
writer, recently completed filming a screenplay she wrote called Paradise
Recovered, about a young
woman's journey and recovery from a fundamentalist Christian sect. Redwine and
Wahlers went to high school together but had lost touch.
specifically wanted cello music her the film. After finding Wahlers on
Facebook, she checked out her website and immediately asked to use Goodnight
Charlotte as the film's
score. Wahlers agreed, figuring it was a short. To her delight, "Paradise Recovered"
turned out to be feature-length.
"And it didn't look
like she made it with a camcorder either," Wahlers said of Redwine's film. "But
it didn't surprise me because she's very sharp."
Aside from Goodnight
Charlotte, Wahlers has
another iron in the fire. Last year she got a gig playing the Pioneer Village
at the State Fair. She was invited back, and asked a couple female musician
friends to play with her. This effort has now ballooned to include seven women.
calling themselves Alice Chalmers (a play on the antique tractor brand) and the
Stick a Cork in Your Jug Band. Fellow bass aficionado Dean Metcalf helped with
the name. They perform 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 10 at the fair. Wahlers plays
everything from banjo and auto harp to the washboard.
instruments, once you understand the concept of an interval, it's not too
terribly hard to pick something else up," she said.
gratification for someone who has emerged from the shadows to forge her own
musical path. And despite the many complaints she's heard over the years
— there's nowhere to play, there's not enough musicians — Wahlers
has found a receptive and supportive network
"There's a ton of
different venues," she said. "There have been some that have closed, some
showcases that have disappeared. But there's house concerts, coffee houses,
bluegrass picking circles in someone's backyard. There's a strong community
here. We're fortunate to be part of it."