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Brian Carroll

http://briancarroll.bandcamp.com/

As interview by John Duffy, MyRuralRadio.com Contributing Writer

MRR: So you are from Massachusetts but there is a definite Southern sound to your music, even your voice. How did that come about?

BC: It’s interesting, I get the “twang” comment a lot in regards to my voice. I don’t know, I suppose it’s equal parts where my voice kind of falls naturally and feels most comfortable and influence. That’s to say, I have a slight scratch in the back of my voice to begin with, and my voice falls where it wants to. Couple that with the whole “you excrete what you eat” idea in regards to songwriting. A lot of the music I personally listen to is traditional roots, bluegrass, and blues music…which in and of itself has a lot of that twanginess to it. I suppose over time, I have taken some of those influences and they have worn on me and come out in my “sound”.


MRR: So no sea shanties or whaling songs?

BC: Ha-ha, no…not yet at least! I did grow up in a town described as “a small drinking town with a big fishing problem” on the coast between Boston and Cape Cod. I have plenty of songs about drinking, none about fishing though. I’d imagine there would be a lot more “lie-de-dah-dah” in my songs that way.

MRR: But what is it about Massachusetts, do you think, that produces so many good songwriters over so long a time?

BC: I would have to say a huge part of it is the community we have here. The folk/roots music community in Boston/Cambridge is incredibly supportive and tight knit. Centered around places like Club Passim, Toad and the Lizard Lounge. With people that support you and places to play as your “home base” it gives the artists playing this type of music less of a reason to run off to Nashville or Austin or NYC in a way, I suppose. People tend to stick around and hone their craft because there are a ton of other great people doing the same. I honestly feel that we have the best music community around, or at least are tied in some manner. I also guess the fact that we have Berklee and the Conservatory in town plays a part in that as well. A lot of my friends and musical cohorts went to school at both those places.

MRR: How did it all start for you personally, singing and songwriting?

BC: In high school I wrote some songs for bands I had been playing in. Most of it had nothing to do with my own life. I just wanted to be like The Rolling Stones and write about chicks and fast cars and drinking beer…most of that stuff, I didn’t have all that much experience with. Then, I picked up a little record called “Stranger’s Almanac” and subsequently one called “Heartbreaker”…the voice behind which was a gent by the name of Ryan Adams and I had an epiphany. I was like “man, this is what I want to do. Why aren’t I doing this?”. So I played those records until the CDs wore through and I started writing stuff that was a bit more introspective and make me feel good to get off my chest. I mean come on, "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight"…that’s purely genius.

MRR: You started out playing in rock bands but what led you to playing what is really quick quiet, personal, even delicate songs?

BC: I first picked up a guitar because of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I wanted to play blues on a beat up sunburst Stratocaster, and drive around the country in a van. I started writing songs because there is a catharsis for me in it. It’s the poetry aspect of it all. It’s how I deal with the bad things that happen, the negative emotion and pour it into another vessel…a song. I wouldn’t say I am a particularly angry personality so most of that negative emotion is expelled as more somber and poignant, sonically speaking. A lot of minor chords and keys, haha. I’d like to think that a lot of myself is streamed into the songs and the hope is someone can relate on one plain or another. My personal preference is to gravitate towards more of the dark, moving kind of music in what I tend to listen to as well. Two of my favorite songwriters (Ian Fitzgerald and Will Houlihan) write some of the most moving, yet frequently sad sounding, songs I have ever heard and I love them for it. There is something that simply moves me more about those kinds of songs. It’s the stuff that you want to get rid of and get out of your head and heart, so I guess in the long run, people who write sad songs should be all around happier people, right?

MRR: “Time is like a loaded gun, don’t let it go off in your face…” What do you remember about coming up with a line like that?

BC: That line comes from “Train Keeps Rollin’” which was a song in regards to letting life pass you by. The line eludes to time being both a sensitive thing that can explode if not handled with care. It also is in reference to standing by and being an idle player in your own life, because quite frankly we are all dying as we keep on living.

I also take the subway train to my day job every morning and night. It can be amazing to me to watch folks just going about their day, wondering where they are headed, are they happy with their life? Those kinds of things. Watching the trains pass me by on the platform and seeing people’s faces in the windows of the cars just made me have this picture of being left behind, I guess. You shouldn’t take any moment for granted because quite frankly, it could all be over tomorrow.

MRR: Tell me about “Like a Building.”

BC: “Like a Building” stemmed from the Monthly EPs project where I challenged myself to write on a different subject each month, write, record, and release those songs as a short EP (which I did for about 7 months). I got halfway through April 2013 with a totally different theme, and then the Boston Marathon bombing happened and I changed my course. This song in particular for me was about the strength of a city rising up. The fact that by myself I felt like I could do nothing, but the community really came together and rose up…much like a city of buildings. There’s also allusions in there to the selfish acts of the bombers in the line “covet all you see until you think that you’re fulfilled / fruits from the earth and oil from the well”. Basically just saying that people with that mindset don’t think of others when they act. It was a really emotional time for me and I think Boston as a whole. As terrible of an event as it was, it truly taught me something about my city and how strong and beautiful human kind can be to one another in the wake of tragedy.

MRR: You are a solo performer but you certainly seem to be part of a definite, if flexible, music community; performing in combos and the like. How important is that to you even though your songs are very intimate, personal, even stark at times?

BC: As a member of this community, or a musician in general, the most important thing to me and what I get the most back from is playing with other people and highlighting their music. As a multi-instrumentalist, I am spoiled in the fact that a lot of my friends ask me to play and record music with them. I host a monthly residency where 4 different people from 4 bands come together for a night and just see what happens. Usually what happens is pretty amazing. And in my new duo, The Dead Ringers, my bandmate Matt Chieffo and I will be swapping duties on everything from mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, and keyboards to guitars and vocals. I guess it continuously challenges me to be a better player, plus I just like things with strings!

I think with my own music it comes down to the fact that a good song will shine through no matter what and a shitty song is still a shitty song no matter how many tracks you dedicate to it in Pro Tools. The words, what they meant to you when you wrote them and how they effect the audience when you sing them are the most important parts, everything else is just icing on the cake. Especially in this town, flooded with talent, people can smell bull from a mile away. If you are insincere, the audience is going to pick up on it. As far as recording goes, I do a lot of it at home (both Miscellaneous and The Monthly EPs were recording by me) so it’s partially my own ability (or lack thereof) to make something that sounds good enough for radio and play all the parts. I dig lo-fi and sparse arrangements of things. Recording a full string band around a microphone? That’s the kind of stuff I really eat up.

MRR: How frustrating is it for people to Google search you and come up with Buckethead?

BC: Haha, that’s pretty funny. I get random emails from time to time…sadly, I cannot shred like the almighty Buckethead does, but I was certainly a fan of Praxis and Les Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains back in the day. With a two second listen to my music I would imagine folks know the difference. I am sure it’s gotten me a few unwarranted “likes” on Facebook though.

Brian Carroll Music Biography:
Modern Roots, is perhaps a contradiction in its very name, but a musical ideal that Brian Carroll stands firm to uphold. Drawing inspiration in style and delivery from songwriters of yester-year, while writing from what inspires him in his everyday life, he bridges the gap between folk roots and current day Americana music.

Originally from the South Shore of Massachusetts in the sea salt swept town of Scituate, Brian was raised on a healthy mix of SRV, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. Playing in a variety of blues and rock n'roll bands through the younger years of life gave him an appreciation for musicians creating music through improvisation and true feeling. It was, however, in college where Brian found the bluegrass and country roots music which his style most sonically emulates today.


Incorporating legendary roots musicians Hank Sr., Doc Watson and Johnny Cash with his love of modern day songwriters such as Todd Snider, Justin Townes Earle and Glen Phillips, Brian spins a web of music that is part storyteller, part jammy blues musician, but all emotion.

In addition to his solo project, Brian sits in on mandolin and guitar with friends bands as often as he can and runs a monthly series entitled "Roots in the Round" with friend and fellow musician David Deluca.



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From Devils Hopyard State Park in Connecticut, singer/songwriter Brian Carroll plays his original song "Lilac Trees" for IdleWilde Creations' ongoing series The Old Guitar.



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