ON THE RECORD: Carrousel interview

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ON THE RECORD: Carrousel

Dropped by Robert Miller

Carrousel: “14″

Carrousel is a three-year-old dreamy folk band from Tallahassee, Florida. Mixing the airy aesthetic of a dream-pop band and the rustic Americana sense of a folk group, Carrousel have self-produced a full-length album, 27 rue de mi’chelle, which they released this past month. Officially being a two-piece, including Joel Piedt and Brad Fant, the band has a rotating mix of additional friends, musicians and instrumentalists—almost like a collective.

Fresh off of the buzz from their first full-length album, I got to chat with lead singer Joel Piedt about the band’s inception, the meaning of 27 rue de mi’chelle, the importance of God in his music and how soul will play a big role in the next record. Here’s how it went down . . . .

The Dropp: Carrousel started off as just you and Brad Fant, but now you’re saying there are more members in the band. Is that right?

Joel Piedt: Yeah. It’s kind of confusing. There’s this ongoing question of ‘Who is Carrousel?’ and I just don’t quite know how to answer that question. For two-and-a-half years it was me and Brad, and we basically started in our living room for two years, in this mess of a studio, and we just made demos and had people over to play string parts or whatever we needed. What we were planning to do was to make an album over the summer, start playing live and recruit the band, but we kind of stumbled onto the sound that you now hear through some demos. We realized it was a bigger project than we originally thought, so it became this “chasing the rabbit trail” to find the album, to find the songs, and it just unfolded.

The Dropp: The album, 27 rue de mi’chelle. Is that French?

Piedt: Yeah, 27 rue de mi’chelle [in French accent]. I kind of got the name from Ernest Hemingway. He has this memoir about his time in Paris after World War I, and there was this budding artistic community at 27 rue de Fleurus. There was a little cultural renaissance there in the mid-20s. So I was reading all about that, and kind of being inspired by famous French impressionist paintings, the French Romantic era, composers, and it just so happened the girl I was getting over at the time—her name was Michelle. And while our relationship was on the rocks, she took a trip to France. So everything just kind of started coming together, and I liked the idea of calling it 27 rue de mi’chelle.

The Dropp: So, France just kind of all happened at once for you?

Piedt: Yeah [laughs], it was all happening around the summer of 2009. Things were really starting to come together.

“There’s this ongoing question of ‘Who is Carrousel?’ and I just don’t quite know how to answer that question.”

The Dropp: What would you say 27 rue de mi’chelle is about?

Piedt: I think there’s a few things going on. On the surface level, you can’t get away from the fact that it’s a breakup record [laughs], at the very basic level. But I wanted to kind of get a little different perspective than the classic breakup record. I wanted to tell this story of love, loss and, ultimately, acceptance—you know—giving it up. So I wanted lots of images for that. One of the images I wanted to use was the sea; this idea of things being let go and washed away. There’s a lot of recurring themes throughout the record. There’s a song on there called “In Her Tomb by the Sounding Sea” that captures a lot of the different themes of the record. You’ve got the sea, you’ve got the tomb; there’s like some death imagery, the death of relationships and coming to accept that. There’s a lot of things going on. But the biggest story that’s being told is becoming a secure person with that and letting things go.

Carrousel: “In Her Tomb by the Sounding Sea”

The Dropp: What are some of Carrousel’s biggest influences?

Piedt: I know it’s predictable, but I went through a huge—near obsessive—Beatles phase in college. I know everyone says that, but I really did. So I feel like a lot of my sense of melody comes from them. You’re not going to hear direct influences, but it’s just like a backdrop. But for this record [27 rue de mi’chelle] in particular, though, it would be the Romantic-era composers. I was actually looking to quite a bit of George Gershwin, as well. I really enjoyed this idea of an impression of things, like what if we did this impressionism/romantic kind of style with a modern-day pop context? Which isn’t exactly a new idea.

The Dropp: Carrousel claims “dream-pop” as a genre. But what does that mean to you?

Piedt: Yeah, I feel like that’s kind of a buzz term these days [laughs]. When we first called our music that, it felt right, but where I’m at now songwriting-wise is a little bit different from that. I think we’ll always have that romantic/impressionistic flair to our songwriting. But for this record [27 rue de mi’chelle], I think that dreamy sound was the best means by which to tell the story. I never wanted to pigeonhole us into “we are a dream pop band,” though. I think it’s easy for bands to wear out the genre pretty quickly.

The Dropp: The production on the album is quite good. Did you get any outside help to produce it, or was it all on your own?

Piedt: It was basically all on our own, and that’s a huge credit to Brad [Fant]. Brad is kind of the visionary genius. He’s really meticulous and thorough, so we would spend hours trying to get the perfect sound. Well, not perfect, but perfect for what we were trying to accomplish. I was kind of more like the producer, visionary-type person, and he was all of the details, which involved ‘how do we get this sound?’ ‘what’s best for this?’ ‘what mic would work?’ We had a lot of help along the way, for sure. We have friends who are in the industry who give us advice, and people who we send demos to and give us feedback, and things like that. But for the most part, it was just us kind of hashing out ideas in the living room . . . . It was really a teamwork kind of thing. Brad for sure is to be credited for that. One phrase that we would always say to each other, in terms of production quality, was: ‘We’re going for perfect imperfection.”

Carrousel - 27 rue de mi'chelle cover
The cover of 27 rue de mi’chelle.

The Dropp: What kind of musical background do you come from, and what inspired you to play music in the first place?

Piedt: I was born in Memphis, so I come from a really musical family. My dad was in band and orchestra, my mom was in choirs, my little brother plays drums, my older brother plays trumpet, but my oldest brother, David, plays over 100 instruments and has over three music degrees and is just a genius. And the reason that’s important is because I have this little brother complex my whole life. It’s like I’ll never be as good as him [laughs]. But the reason that’s cool is because I decided I never really cared about being technically good or technically proficient, but I cared about the emotion behind music and what was going on underneath the notes, if that makes sense. So I kind of learned how to pick up songs off the radio and develop a good ear for music, and I began to sing what felt good to me, and write songs that fit my voice. Having that contrast with my brother was really formative for my beginning. It’s kind of a joke with my family now: David got all of the music talent and Joel got all of the creativity [laughs].

The Dropp: I know what you mean. It’s kind of a similar situation with my brother.

Piedt: Yeah, for me, I like that music is kind of a mystery, and I don’t know if I ever want to lose that.

“One phrase that we would always say to each other, in terms of production quality, was: ‘We’re going for perfect imperfection.’”

The Dropp: For some people it’s a touchy subject, so feel free to not answer this question. But I wanted to talk about the religious aspect to Carrousel. I read the lyrics in 27 rue de mi’chelle and I noticed there were a lot of references to “Lord” and “God.” I was wondering, how does God or religion play into the music of Carrousel?

Piedt: It’s huge for me. I know there are plenty of atheist songwriters, but it’s hard for me to comprehend someone who is creative who doesn’t believe in a God. There are so many people I’ve heard who say there is this “divine spark” that they can’t really explain where they get these ideas. But I absolutely believe in God, grew up in a church, but for me, when I was growing up it was just a thing to do. When I was 15 years old, my brother was killed in a motorcycle accident—not David, but the one after him, Tim. I called myself a Christian my whole life, but I remember saying, “God, if this whole thing is real, I need some kind of peace right now.” And as cliche as it sounds, I felt what was like this rushing wind come through me, and a voice—almost audibly—I don’t know if it was audible or just in my head, but I clearly heard the Spirit say, ‘You’re going to be okay. You’re going to make it.’ I tell you that story, because that’s the moment where it went from being this cultural thing passed down from my parents to this walking relationship with God. It was just a beautiful thing. That never really informed my songwriting—well, it did—but the last few years since Carrousel started, I began thinking about this idea of how do I make beauty that speaks about God without actually physically speaking about him? I don’t want to push that in people’s faces, but I still want to share what I found in God. So I found the best way to do that was through stories . . . . Every time we pressed record, we started off with a prayer, saying, ‘God, we want your Spirit to be all over this. We want people to experience peace and joy and not even know why.’

The Dropp: I feel more and more religion has come up in artists, musicians and bands, and its breached into the mainstream industry as well. Hopefully, people just understand that it’s crucial to the musicians lives, and that’s a good thing, because that passion transfers into their music.

Piedt: Yeah, a big moment for me was when I went to college and I heard Sufjan’s Illinoise for the first time. I never heard anything like it. I started becoming a Sufjan fanatic in college, and that was a big moment, because I learned I could be creative and touch people on a way deeper level than I ever thought. For me, that’s what music’s about, and that’s what I’m attempting to do in every record: try to bring life into other people. Maybe in a way that they can’t name, but in a way they can feel.

The Dropp: What albums are you currently listening to?

Piedt: My music tastes are always evolving, but lately, I’ve been trying to have an appreciation for where I’m from, Memphis. A lot of soul music and everything that goes with that. Obviously mo-town, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, all that. Otis Redding in particular has my heart right now. I just finished this 400-page book about soul music, which was incredible. If you have any interest in soul music, it’s called Sweet Soul Music . . . That’s where I’m at. I’m listening to other things as well. I’m still listening to Romantic-era composers. As far as albums that are coming out today, I’m trying to be selective, cause I don’t want to be too influenced by anybody. I really enjoyed M83′s latest album [Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming], which was great. But mostly it’s soul and gospel stuff for me.

Music video for “14″

The Dropp: We made a list not too long ago for our favorite albums of 2012 so far. What would you say your favorite album from this year would be?

Piedt: Yeah, I’m not getting into too many records from this year, but I’m enjoying the Beach House record that came out [Bloom]. I really respect Beach House, and I love their producer Chris Coady. We were actually going to work with him. He was going to mix our record, but long story short, we decided not to go with it. But yeah, I love them. I guess I’d say that? But I haven’t listened to too many other records from this year so far.

The Dropp: Where do you see Carrousel in the future? What’s the next step?

Piedt: We’re doing a lot of things on the business end right now, which I, quite frankly, don’t really like. We have a guy doing publicity for us right now, and he’s trying to get us out there with reviews and everything . . . We’re still regrouping, as far as numbers, because we had some members move away. So we don’t have any live shows planned so far. We did a bunch of touring back in March through May. We filmed as much as we could, so we’re going to release those live videos soon. If all goes well, we’re hoping to finish this record in the Fall, which I’m really, really excited about. I tell people, this last record took you to France, but this one will take you to Memphis.

The Dropp: Is there anything you can say about what the direction will be for the new album?

Piedt: We’re taking our symphonic sound and adding a lot more soul kind of sound to it, and I’m really excited to see what happens. Yeah, I don’t want to say too much, but it’s going to be a real fun experiment.


Fri Jun 29

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