Resuscitating Rock: An Interview With the Carlsonics
by kristina weise
Meet the Carlsonics: Guitarist Ed Donohue, singer Aaron Carlson, drummer Mike Scutari, bassist Nikki West and John Passmore. In 2003, Village Voice music critic Grant Moser picked the Carlsonics' self-titled debut album on Arena Rock as the 7th best release, one slot higher than Death Cab For Cutie's Transatlanticism (8th) and two over The White Stripes' Elephant (9th). The Carlsonics have been touring since 2001 and on January 29th they will unleash their beat in the Lower East Side of New York City. One thing is eminently clear while listening to Ice People and Tonight We Dine On Fumes - The Carlsonics possess the stamina needed to keep audiences addicted.
Band has been together since…
John: 1999 in one shape or form. The latest incarnation for about 4 years…we all met in college at James Madison University, in sleepy Harrisonburg, VA
Mike: Yeah, it was Aaron's brainchild. He propositioned me on the steps of the school's library. (Speaking of which, Aaron is conveniently 3,000 miles away and as his nature, won't be participating in the interview. This adds to the mystique.)
Condensed history of The Carlsonics….
John: Met in college, drank, played loud punk rock. Moved to DC, got jobs. Unfulfilled. Went back to drinking, playing loud rock.
Which artists have been your biggest artistic influences?
Nikki: Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground.
John: Sonic Youth, CCR.
Mike Scutari (of the Carlsonics), Marshall Costan (of the Foregones), Damien Taylor (Of (the sounds of) Kaleidoscope).
Mike: (blushes)…Err…Bob Pollard, Nirvana, Bee Gees (1965-1971 era).
Current album in the CD player
Nikki: Make a Rising (www.tonewplanet.com/MAR.html; prog-ish, maybe. Just a great, great band from Philly that isn't copying everybody else.)
John: Luiz Bonfa: Solo in Rio 1959 (Smithsonian FolQays Recordings).
Ed: Can - Soundtracks.
Mike: Tindersticks, Tindersticks.
1st concert you ever attended
Nikki: James Taylor.
John: The Black Crowes Southern Harmony and Musical Companion tour in Hartford, CT. I was 16 - it was awesome.
Mike: That's a lie; I know for a fact John's first concert was Billy Joel during his "Storm Front" tour. Luckily for me, my first show was far cooler: the Monkees at the Garden State Arts Center in NJ.
Any gigs for February?
Mike: Actually, I don't think so. We'll be recording in a witchy mountain home in foothills of central Virginia's Old Rag Mountain. But maybe a NYC show at some point?
Tell us more about the chemistry of the band: Who writes the songs, beats, etc.?
John: Well, People used to bring in parts, sometimes whole songs. Aaron or Nikki would sing various melodies and we'd pick the best one. Everything now is more collaborative. The "extended jamming" approach recently has been hard as hell, but worth it. It's taken us places we've never been, if you know what I mean.
Ed: Yeah, every song is different. Our latest song was written by cutting and pasting snippets of a "jam session."
Do you have a typical approach to writing?
John: Well, we just spent two weeks recording 70 hours of noise. We're still sifting through it, picking out parts for songs, etc. It's got a kind of Ring Cycle vibe to it.
Mike: Yeah, like John said, previously it was far more songwriter-based; someone had his or her parts, choruses, etc. And that was cool. But other ways are cool too.
Where do you think your band will be in 5 years?
Nikki: On the coast.
Mike: Well, I can say that five years ago when we started, if you told me we'd still be playing five years later, I'd be horrified. So who knows? Maybe we'll all become bankers or something.
Explain the dynamics of your music -- how did you come up with this?
Nikki: The dynamics of our music are pretty much inseparable from the dynamics between us in the group. Since everything develops in such a collaborative nature, the music just follows the energy. I mean, it sounds hippie as shit, but that's pretty much what has been happening lately, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Ed: It came to us in a dream…
Are there any other artists you'd like to work with?
John: Hmmm. Maybe, Lou Reed 30 years ago.
Nikki: We just played this ridiculous show with another DC band called the rude staircase. I would love to work with them just to see the process of how they put their songs together. (There are like, 12, completely necessary members of that band. It's great.)
Ed: "Kool" Keith - aka Rhythm X, aka Dr. Octagon, aka Dr. Dooom, aka Mr. Gerbik.
Discography thus far…