Thursday, June 25, 2009

Carbon Leaf interview

Last night I caught one of the best concerts of the year so far when Carbon Leaf performed at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

The following interview appeared in the North County Times newspaper to preview their Solana Beach, CA gig tonight. The band also heads to the Roxy in West Hollywood on June 26, then onto Arizona June 27 & 29.

Stepping off the music industry treadmill will rejuvenate the creative process.

Carbon Leaf would agree, having rushed to make 2006 effort “Love Loss Hope Repeat” and not being completely satisfied with the results. Once promotional duties ended, the Richmond, Va.-based jam/roots rock band (best known for minor radio hits “The Boxer,” “A Life Less Ordinary” and “What About Everything”) decided to relax awhile.

After constant touring for six years, the musicians wanted to “take a year off, write as much as we could, peel back the songs and work from there,” singer Barry Privett said via phone while en route to a gig in Des Moines.

“We really needed to [ask ourselves], ‘why are we doing this?’ It became a revelation - you don’t release an album because it’s time [to do one], you release an album because you’ve got something worthwhile to say.”

For “Nothing Rhymes with Woman,” its third studio release on Vanguard Records (and seventh overall), Carbon Leaf “really got back to the foundation and remembered what sparked us to do this in the first place.” The enjoyable recording experience resulted in a more carefree vibe and lyrics interspersed with subtle humor. A few weeks ago, the album debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart.

“There’s a little more sunshine to it,” explained Privett. “We just wanted to cut loose and rock a little more. ‘Indecision’ reflects that. But there are also songs about struggle like ‘Cinamindy’ and ‘Pink.’ The latter is colored by sway-worthy accordion and violin.

Privett revisits adolescent memories of soap box derby cars and cardboard fighter planes on the rustic “X-Ray,” which recalls mid-period R.E.M. The jangly, harmony-laden “Drops of Rain” revolves around a gal walking around town on a lazy day: “flip flop/belly ring/pull back hair/I really don’t care/just a hoody affair.”

Elsewhere, the bluesy “Another Man’s Woman” is tailor made for hoisting beers skyward in a bar, while former touring partner Toby Lightman adds supple backing vocals to the soulful “Meltdown,” where Privett does his best to channel a certain heartland rocker circa 1977.

“It would be awesome if I sounded like Bob Seger, but I don’t. Those are the kind of songs you take a stab at and hopefully they work. I think we got away with it.”

Dave Matthews’ touring keyboardist Butch Taylor – a longtime friend of the group – also guests on several tracks.

Current single “Miss Hollywood,” now climbing the AAA radio charts, is about re-examining your dreams and continues the feminine thread running throughout the album. “That one is very close to my heart,” admitted Privett.

All five original members of Carbon Leaf attended the same college when the band formed in 1992 – a musically fertile time in Virginia when Cracker, Matthews and Pat McGee were all attracting major attention. Carbon Leaf’s debut disc “Meander” was self-released three years later.

“A really strange mash up of Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M. and Neil Young - just kind of weird and grungy,” is how Privett described the sound. Subsequent albums would regularly incorporate Celtic (bagpipes, mandolin, penny whistle) influences.

Then in January 2002, Carbon Leaf won the Best Unsigned Band category at the American Music Awards and performed “The Boxer” on the national telecast. “This was at the forefront of reality TV. To have an unsigned band on the AMAs was a big deal at the time.”

No label deal commenced, but the accolade reinforced the group’s need to stay on the road. Several radio stations added the track, later featured in a Pontiac TV commercial. Heritage folk label Vanguard eventually showed interest and put out “Indian Summer” in 2004. “For us, there have always been these small incremental steps to building the band.”

Since the stellar “Woman” is a sonic leap forward for Carbon Leaf, they shouldn’t have trouble accumulating a large number of new fans this time around.

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