What was life like in the Carter/Smith/Cash households?
"It was great actually," says Carter of life with her parents. June Carter Cash and Smith split when Carlene was about two. Smith later married singer Goldie Hill. Carter split her time between her parents.
"Mama toured a lot. Even when daddy was on tour, I would stay with Goldie a lot. I had my sister and two brothers on the farm. Daddy lived on the farm with horses I was completely crazy about. I was with daddy a lot, and I was with mommy a lot. They were really cool about it. Nobody talked bad about each other...I was really lucky, and I had a whole bunch of parents that were all great. I really miss my step mom Goldie."
As for the pressure of being part of the first family of country music, "It never bothered me honestly. I always felt blessed by it. I never felt the pressure of it. I felt the responsibility. I felt I needed to do my part to carry on the music...the rite of passage stuff. But I never was intimidated by it. It was just family. People would always interpret that was (why) I was wild or that's why I acted that way. But honestly I've been in therapy, and that's not it."
"I got to learn so much cool stuff and travel the world and had the greatest parents."
"It wasn't all what people might think - lifestyles of the rich and famous. Our life did drastically change when she married John. We always had great Christmases. Real family oriented stuff."
The title track closes the disc, a sad ending about loss given that it's about her late sister.
"That had to do a lot with much pain I was in after losing all those people. The cherry on the top - the worst possible thing in the world was to lose my baby sister. As much as it hurts to lose a partner or parent, those things are kind of expected, but losing your sister who's younger than you is almost like losing a kid. When we were growing up, every picture you see of us, I'm holding her hand. I was supposed to take care of her. That was very devastating to lose her. I threw up my hands...I got to pick up myself here because this is going to kill me. I have to turn it around and make it stronger somehow."
"You have to have faith that this is going to happen for some reason, or you can't make any sense of it - why my little sister died and why am I still here? Survivor's guilt. I miss her every day. I think about her every day."
Adams, who had drug problems, was found with another person in a trailer.
"It was not a surprise," says Carter of her sister's death. "No, it was not a surprise. It was a pretty sad story. Nobody really knows exactly what happened, which makes it even harder. The night when I got the call that she was gone, I was supposed to be flying out to get her in treatment because she was a little bit out of control. She was living in that little dinky bus thing...and they were not doing as well as they should be doing."
"I was getting ready to (take her to the hospital). It was that bad...She had once said to me after mama died, she said, 'Carlene, my life is over'. I said, 'What? You're younger than me'...It's really hard."
Carter made "Stronger" on her own terms, and she says that's how the future will be also. "I can go still go to Europe and still bring 4,000, 5,000 seats or 10,000 people festivals and make great money. In America, country music is getting saturated with new artists. Record buyers are a lot younger...I'm basically starting all over again, which is fine. That's okay. This way, I can pick and choose what I want to do. I'm not going to do the whole running ragged thing again. I still want to have a life and be happy and doing what I'm doing...I'm taking it slow. Everything's happening the way it's supposed to happen so far."
She has tour dates in Austria, Sweden, Norway and other European countries, "my usual summer kind of stuff already," she says. Getting U.S. dates has proven harder, apparently because of being MIA.
Carter does not seem fazed at this stage of her career about the new CD. "I'm not nervous. I've never put any stock into being nervous about any of this stuff. You write it. You love it. You do it the best you can, and you just hope people get to hear it. Dwelling and worrying (about it) if I do that, I would never sleep, and I can't go through that."
Speaking about her family, "I've really learned a lot of about this stuff from them - it's not being consumed with the outcome so much as the process."
With "Stronger" under her belt, will Carlene Carter fans be waiting another 13 years for new music?
"Absolutely not," Carter promises. "I'm already on it."