'Lasting Impressions Of A New Dawn'
Indian Summer is finally here - and for Carbon Leaf, it's a change of season.
Known to fans as America's preeminent unsigned band, the Virginia-based quintet released its sixth album on July 13. More than the group's strongest effort since its last studio release, the critically acclaimed Echo Echo (2001, 45,000 sold), Indian Summer marks Carbon Leaf's most profound musical and professional transformation to date.
Just as important is the band's decision to bring its indie days to a close and sign its first label deal. Indian Summer is Carbon Leaf's debut release for Vanguard Records, whose staying power and reputation provide the perfect complement for this band.
Chatting just recently with Barry Privett (Words & vocals) and Terry Clark (Electric & acoustic guitars), I first wondered what made this, their 6th album (and their first major label debut) their strongest effort to date? [Barry] ”I think you just get better at what you’re doing and hopefully you progress as songwriters. You learn how to work better as a group and I think certainly working with producers helps because then you don’t have five people trying to win the producer prize. It takes the pressure off of having to quarrel amongst yourselves when you can have somebody else to refer to.”
[Terry] ”For most of us this was our first band, so it’s not an assembled bunch of side men, professional musicians and such. We learnt our instruments and learnt our song writing and stuff together so there’s been quite a learning curve. So, I think that now we’ve finally in the last few years started to come into our own song writing and sound wise and it’s really starting to pay off.”
It’s been said that you were the ‘hottest act on the Virginia college circuit’ … was this true?! [Terry] ”Well, we started in college in Virginia and of course, the band that you look to as your role models in Virginia is the Dave Matthews Band. And so they had a very grass roots approach and played a lot of colleges and sort of spiraled out of Virginia and both musically and in a business sense did it very well.”
[Barry] ”Yeah, that’s kinda where we began. We were a college band in Virginia and so that’s where we met and that’s where we stated playing out. So, that’s kinda all you knew, to find other friends at other campuses and try to get in other gigs and random things like that. But then we started to get away from that as we started to do more cities and getting into clubs and things like that.”
Which song that you have previously recorded would you chose as the one that truly encapsulates Carbon Leaf and what the band musically stands for … and why? [Barry] ”I think it’s fairly impossible for us to make that decision, ‘cause if you look at our stuff there’s a lot of blending of genres and such. But, certainly the most seminal song that we’ve done is ‘The Boxer’ because that’s where we got a lot of attention with the American Music Awards a few years ago. That was certainly a turning point, as far as getting recognition.”
Reflect back to that night at the AMAs and tell me what was going through your heads! [Barry] ”We were the first unsigned band to play the AMAs and we one of three that would ever play, ‘cause they got rid of the award two years later! When we actually won the final contest, two days later we played on the AMAs so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for it to sink in! Of course, you go in early, and you have a lot of handlers, and runners, and we were treated just like everybody else. It was certainly a big and exciting time. We met just a handful of people, but everyone was so busy it’s not like all the stars were hanging out in the green room talking! It was very much a production … and playing on stage for that blur of a two minutes was awesome! Even though it wasn’t the best performance because you’re so wired and I could barely get air in my lungs to sing ‘cause everyone’s so hopped up! It was a very fast and furious time and it got very busy the day after with stuff to do.”
"Because we were still independent, we got off the plane the next day and there we were, we’d just had this massive worldwide exposure and we’re trying to be the little engine that could! Then, with all our independent efforts of getting CDs into stores, all of a sudden we really needed to work our tails off. So, we would then eventually pick up management, pick up booking agents, and pick up a publicist, but at that time it was just us.”
Barry, tell me more about the song ‘What About Everything?’ and how it came to be as it sounds very personal [Barry] ”Well, I wrote the lyrics and the band wrote the music. The song’s a question and there’s no answers in it. It kinda stemmed from one of those times where you start focusing so much on your own life and you catch yourself kinda whining about things. But, if you stopped to think about your life in comparison to the world around you and how insignificant your troubles seem, well, that’s it. That was one of those moments that hit me particularly hard one night. You’re kinda ashamed of yourself for being so self focused and that’s where the song came from.”
Away from music, what do you guys do given a free weekend? [Terry] ”I just bought a new chain saw! My wife and I just moved so we have a bunch of trees that were kinda in the way around the house! So, that’s what I’ve been doing with my day off!”
[Barry] ”I’ve just been doing band work, ‘cause I handle all the management stuff on the scenes and that’s always never ending! Life for me right now is pretty much centrally focused on the band and if here ever is a window of opportunity I just try to write.”
What cheesy '80s song would you love to cover if asked ... and why?! [Terry] ’We were just talking in the van about how awesome Journey is … ,” he laughs.
[Barry] ”Journey’s awesome, but there’s no way I could sing at that level! But, if it’s got to be cheesy, man, who knows ...,” he trails off.
[Terry] ” ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ would be pretty cool too,” he adds.
If there were just 3 words that described Carbon Leaf, what would they be? [Terry] ”Really, … Really, … Really,” he concludes, completely devoid of any direction or original forethought!”
[Barry] ”How about … Never, never quit!,” he states proudly.
Where does the bands name originate? [Barry] ”Well, it’s not as deep as it sounds and it’s not a drug reference. We came up with it back in college actually, coming back from a rafting trip and we were throwing out a bunch of names driving through the wilderness. Road signs and whatever else popped up in front of us and then Carbon and Leaf popped together and it seemed interesting. And, we were playing our first show in a couple of weeks and this girl - who was gonna have us for her backyard thing on campus - took it upon herself to make up some flyers. And, she had heard that we were thinking about calling the band Carbon Leaf and so she put that on the flyers and then it just kinda stuck … and we couldn’t agree on anything better,” he laughs.
Finally, if you were asked to record a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other musicians to aid you in the project (using no one from your band!), who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the song be?! [Terry] ”Phil Collins, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson,” he says quicker that a demented monkey could peal a banana! ”How could you go wrong with that,” he laughs.
And what would the name of the song be? [Barry] ”We are the squirrels!”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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