Friday, December 18, 2009
Here's an interview I did with the New Jersey based indie-rock band Carlon over the summer. The group was recently added to the Rope-A-Dope Records family which features the likes of John Medeski, Marco Benevento, Charlie Hunter, DJ Logic and many more fantastic artists.
A Johari Window as I understand it is a cognitive exercise that helps one to better understand their interpersonal communication and relationships. That’s a pretty interesting choice for an album title, what is the band’s experience with the Johari Window tool?
Band: In making the album we learnt about one another. We weren’t sitting there with four windows picking adjectives. We learned things about one another that you can only learn through spending way, way too much time with somebody (Laughs). That was sort of the experience for that album. It was all of us realizing something about one another. It was breaking down barriers, individual barriers. Learning how to communicate more or less when you want something, when you hear something should go a certain way or someone hears the opposite. I think that’s one of the challenges as a new band. We developed to a certain level but the album was the first time we had been put in that place in more of a creative mindset. Where it’s like we have to write this many songs and we want to record them by this time and how are we going to do that. The title itself came in retrospect. When we heard what it meant it was really what we had gone through. We debated over using a track name or self titled but none of that really felt right.
The album opens with “Mixed Messages”, a hard-rocking tune with blues sensibility and an infectious chorus. Do you feel the song’s mixture of different styles is an appropriate segue into a noticeably eclectic album?
Band: That’s a controversial track. I think Mixed Messages was such an old song, its probably one of the oldest songs on the record. That song is early on for us. We’ve gone through a full range of emotions on it. Its also sounded so many different ways before it made the record. It’s fair to say that from anyone’s perspective. If you asked all of us we might have different answers as to what would be a better all-encompassing segue. But because it started out so early with us with that track, during the recording process there was a constant strive to try and incorporate all these different ideas through every track, not just that song.
“Cantaloupe”, the single off of Johari Window is just drenched with reverb and evokes the recording techniques utilized on My Morning Jacket’s “The Tennessee Fire”. When you decided to record in an empty warehouse, were you hoping to create a reverb-heavy album that would really enrich and amplify your vocal harmonies?
Band: I think that we loved the idea of recording in a warehouse. I don’t think it was so we could have reverb drenched vocals, guitars and natural delay. That was stuff we realized we had once we were there. You could fly a kite in this room so you could put a mic all the way at the other end and have a natural effect basically. It would have been silly not to utilize the surrounding. We kind of wanted to have a home. It was big. Every night I’d walk in there and just have a big shit-eating grin on my face. There were instruments everywhere, a whole recording setup, and everything you could ever want to make a funny noise with was there. It was a quintessential situation for recording an album. We definitely didn’t choose recording there to get any sort of certain sound. Nothing was done with too much intention. We started the process a year before we finished it with the thought that we would be done in a few months, max. More and more ideas come and then our manager kept trying to put finish dates on us. When we started in the warehouse it wasn’t empty, there were storage racks from the company that was renting it out to us. We were crammed in a little corner and one day they pulled all the stuff out and said we were still free to use the space.
Although Carlon has been labeled as an “indie rock” band, the music on Johari Window really just seems to be influenced by both new hard-rocking and old southern and folk style music. Can you talk about some artists (new and old) that have really had an impact on the band and its style, either individually or as a whole?
Band: We definitely have an appreciation for American music. I’m a huge Ledbelly and Woody Guthrie fan. Songs that have bellowing vocals. Lots of volume, push and power. In terms of new stuff, I wouldn’t say that I was listening to so much when we were recording Johari Window, but I was listening to Danny Elfman. He scores movies, the Tim Burton films. We were all listening to contemporary and American music. We just wanted to put it all together in our own way. Everybody in the band listens to so much stuff, there is really nothing stopping the album from turning out completely different than it did. There are days we go into practice and we spend the first 45minutes jamming. That could be really dramatic ambient stuff or just straight blues or funk. There is never a time when we put borders or walls up around us. Driving to practice once we listened to Lauren Hill, Outkast and Woody Guthrie.
Even with its wide range of sounds and styles, Johari Window is ultimately a cohesive record that displays the band’s maturity. Can you talk a bit about the song-writing process and how the tracks came to flow so well?
Band: Nothing was really done with intent. A bunch of songs were written over six years ago, they were not written with intention of being on a record. “Rutherford” was an exception it kind of happened while we were in there. “Red Rover” was a newer one that happened within that year. Ryan and I had been writing together since we were teenagers, the concepts behind lots of tracks were incredibly old. But obviously since the band was started we have all added and they tend to evolve. In terms of things we have written together, in the catalogue we didn’t pick the super-old ones we picked the relevant ones. When the songs had the possibility of being put on the album then a whole new wave of new ideas got put into the song. You see how far you can go with it and what you can do with it. You also have to be willing to change old stuff which is difficult because you get really attached to old things. You also have to know when to leave old stuff and there is no rule book for that. That’s usually where we tend to disagree. We would bring a track up and somebody would say “oh I don’t want to see a change here” and that’s why lots of things get put by the wayside. We went through about 50 demos or ideas for songs and voted to narrow them all down. At the time I didn’t think all the songs fit that well but now the record feels great. We always talk about Beck and how you listen to this records and there is a cohesiveness to his records but there are always a few tracks that if you took them out of the album you would be like “what was that doing in the mix” but when you get through the record you can’t imagine it happening any other way.
On the album, the songs are very focused and well crafted. How do the songs translate in a live setting? Is there room for improvisation and stretching out?
Band: There is definitely room for both. We’re always changing. We can’t necessarily do what we did on the album live. We don’t have the money (laughs). With some of them we can, with some we can’t. You have to build in some live dynamic. The songs do change live because we only have two hands and on the record you can layer and have a lot of texture in the songs. There are only four people on stage. We’ve gone the route of people playing two things at all time and we are still trying different methods. It will be interesting to see how we keep playing live. When it comes to records there is a mentality that there are no limits. We make the songs individually whatever they can be we don’t think of them live. We add a layer if we think we should add one. It will be interesting to see what limits we have and what technology we have available to us. If people start paying us money we will play it just like the album. The whole point of recording is to be able to do things you can’t do in a live situation. It has forced us to be more courageous. Everyone tries new instruments. Just because you have never received proper training on an instrument doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to play it, and play it in time because you’ve been trying for ten minutes now (laughs).
Ropeadope Records is a pretty prestigious record label with a great mix of artists from a variety of genres. How did you guys become involved with the label?
Band: A friend from college, Kentavious Jones, is responsible for teaching me guitar. He is doing his thing down in D.C. and he wrote me a message saying “I’m friends with this label you should send me a demo” so we sent him a demo and we were in touch. They knew we had a new record out and in good will we sent a few rough tracks and they were stoked and it developed from there. It’s a very cool label and Andy and Lewis are great guys. They are small label compared to the Majors but they’ve always been supportive and done what they could.
The core of the group has known each other before the band even came into existence. Have you noticed a change in your relationships?
Band: No, not even a little bit (laughs). Our lives have changed, the love is still there. In many ways we are closer than we have ever been in terms of what we talk about and being there for eachother. We have all experienced bad things in our personal lives in a five year period. We always talk about remaining family, if we had more time it would be easier to do that. It takes a lot of time and coordination. People are getting engaged and starting new chapters in their personal lives so it gets more difficult but we are figuring it out. Communicatively, we’ve never felt as good as we do now. When we make zillions we’ll go on trips together and talk about all the pain we’ve shared and talk about things besides music (laughs).
Has the band begun to write new songs/plan for a follow up album?
Band: Definitly, most of the stuff that has been going on has been more musical. Becoming more complex and smarter about what were playing and how we play it. Playing tones as well as our instruments and getting the sounds we kind of hear in our heads and want to hear on a record. We were guessing and learning before but now we’re figuring out how to get exactly what we want and its showing in the music. We will be able to construct these songs to have a musical and lyrical message to get something across. If you listen to a movie score they can make someone feel sad or happy and its just music that does that. We want to exploit that emotional dynamic. We don’t have a concrete plan for a record, it took a little time post releasing Johari to bandage our wounds and to say “we need to not think about a new record yet”. As early as this winter we started doing more writing sessions and bringing new material in and so our momentum is starting to pick up. We start building on everyone’s ideas now. We’re trying to perfect our live stuff and we’re trying to get the album stuff to come across live on stage with only four people. It’s always refreshing to work on new tunes especially when we spent a year recording these songs and another year playing them live there are times when we have to hear and play something new. We don’t want to lose sight of our immediate goal which is to kick ass live on stage. Rehearsals are funny because we want to come in and play something new but we are determined in many ways because we don’t want to give up on our live show and develop new stuff but the opposite is true as well. It’s all about time management and finding a balance.
check out Carlon's music at www.carlonmusic.com & http://www.myspace.com/carlonmusic