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Carbon Leaf

Carbon Leaf (Barry Privett)

Interviews | By on July 31, 2010


It’s no secret that Carbon Leaf is one of my favorite bands. They are a hard-working, independent folk/rock band that never stop touring, and just make incredible music! Their last full-length album “Nothing Rhymes with Woman” has been played on my iPod at least once a day and now they just released a digital EP on their own called “How the West Was One,” which you can order here. The ReadJunk staff (Bryan, Kristen and Matt) decided to send some questions over to frontman Barry Privett to answer, here’s how it went down:

How The West Was One Vol. 1 is a new EP that was just released through the band’s website independently. What can you tell us about the EP and the songs?

How The West Was One is Carbon Leaf’s first fully label-free, independent album release since 2001’s Echo Echo. We felt it was time to regain our autonomy and adopt a more aggressive release schedule than is allowed under a label system, and control our copyright on the material. The album concept is a collection of songs written while traveling west of the Mississippi, so it’s a symbol of pioneering spirit; of going out on your own to see what’s on the other side, so to speak. We had been there before, as the band was independent for the first four albums, but the landscape is always changing. Indian Summer was recorded independently, but then licensed by Vanguard after it was finished. Love Loss Hope Repeat and Nothing Rhymes With Woman were also released on Vanguard. Now instead of an album every 2 years under the label system, our goal is to have 3 releases a year Independently through our own label, and fast-tracked directly to our fans.

Barry Privett

Do you think record labels are a thing of the past or just something Carbon Leaf doesn’t need anymore?
Yes, they are, unless you’re a pop act and you need their access for Top 40 radio. You can make a cheap record these days; you can pair up with similar bands for touring; you can carve your niche. The caveat is you need time to develop. Lot’s of time.

What was it that drove you away from working with major labels? Do you find it’s easier to work independently or do you think it’s hard work with better rewards in the end?
Vanguard wasn’t pushy in terms of what we wrote, how we recorded it, or what we chose to release. The reason we left was that, while we had good success with Indian Summer, the industry shifted so much that being on a label didn’t make dollars and sense; we weren’t making money and they weren’t aggressively working the record. We released Nothing Rhymes With Woman and went out on tour from Virginia, and by the time we got to San Francisco, they had stepped back from the record and were working someone else’s release. Most of the albums we sold were pre-sales off our website. Where’s the value on being on the label? Everyone at the label was very nice, but the model is broken, and you need to adjust or die. With label accounting, it’s almost guaranteed that the label will recoup, while the band does not.

As primary songwriter in the group, what themes do you strive for each record? Is there a large collection of songs that you as a songwriter or as a group decide, what fits and what doesn’t? Have you at some point taken a song that was thrown off one record and added to another?
Ha, well love, loss, hope and variations on the theme it seems. I write the lyrics and vocals, and the band comes up with the music, generally. I work largely from the music first, so whatever is inspiring to me at the time, then we drill down to what works and what makes sense for the album as a whole. Some songs sit out, but not tons. We will be writing more now, and releasing more, and ultimately I think we’ll have stuff that we’ll hold for other projects down the line. We left a few songs off HTWWO that will better fit the next volume in this series. Really though, for better or worse, your themes are defined by what is going on in your life at that time, and the lives of your friends, family and band mates etc.

carbon leaf at bowery ballroom

I’ve noticed that Carbon Leaf are one of the few bands out there currently that has totally embraced social networking (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). You guys constantly post twitpics, ton of videos and I think it’s fantastic! Is there anything else out there that the band will start to do like offer live recordings after each show, podcasts, or any other social media things?
Yes on the live shows and podcasts! We’re working on the plan and hope to being going live with it soon. But yeah, offering up a recording from each night’s performance very much appeals to the band. We want to be very active with more content outside of just albums. It takes a lot of energy, so you need to really be disciplined and that’s something we’re trying to get better at…carving out that space.

Carbon Leaf recorded music for the newest Curious George movie (Follow That Monkey). How did that all come about? If given the opportunity, would you record more music for movies?
The producers at Universal were using an acoustic version of Life Less Ordinary as a temporary music cue for a scene they were working on, and ended up liking it enough to include it. Then they asked if we’d write some songs for the movie. We ended up writing 4 songs for the movie, and they licensed two existing songs. We’d love to do more movie soundtracks. It’s a ton of hard work, and it has to fit into your schedule, but it’s gratifying work and different, plus you’re meeting other creatives and working in a different capacity.

What’s the status on your intimate live DVD? Could you provide our readers with some details on that regarding the release date, content, etc.?
Now that we’re back from tour, we have to slog through the footage and sound and make sure everything is good to go. It’s just a process and we’ve been on the go since it’s recording, but something will come of it before too long!

You guys are constantly on the road in the United States performing for fans. Where are some places that Carbon Leaf haven’t tour yet that you would like to play? Is touring Europe an option in the future?
Touring Canada and Europe would be great. It’s expensive and you need a great plan, and preferably a good tour package with some other bands. We aren’t going to go without a great plan, but it is a goal. There is still a lot of work to be done in the States.

If you weren’t in Carbon Leaf full-time, what job do you think you would have?
I’d be a screenwriter, actor and director….or a forest ranger probably!

While out on the road, what do you do to pass the time by before gigs? Do you visit the local attractions, restaurants, etc?
There’s little to no down time when you’re traveling at our capacity. A lot goes into a 2 hour show, which involves just getting to the next town, but set up/soundcheck/warmup takes 3-4 hours. Before you know it, it’s Doors and showtime. Then packup takes a few hours. On the rare days we have off, if they’re not travel days, we usually hit a good local breakfast spot and everyone kind of does their own thing. I do like to see what I can of the area we’re in, and am often disappointed when we don’t have time…that’s something I hope will change.

carbon leaf at bowery ballroom

Here’s a series of quick answer questions:

- Last movie you saw?
Honkeytonk Man

- Most played band or album in the van?
In depends on who’s driving. Usually it’s people’s ipod whatever playlist they’re driving too, so it’s pretty random.

- Worst State to drive through?
Well, the roads in PA aren’t so sweet. Nor is getting in and out of Chicago. We blew a steel belt in parts of TX. I typically like driving through most states for what they have to offer, including Iowa, KS. Driving the 95 corridor south of VA gets a little ho-hum.

- Who’s the best van driver in the band? Who gets the most traffic tickets?
Terry will drain the tank to it’s last fume, though he’s good with the trailer parking. I don’t believe anyone has gotten a ticket in a good while. Not the kind of vehicle to be pushing boundaries in, for sure.

- A celebrity that looks like you?
Nick Nolte, Down and Out In Beverly Hills

- Song(s) you don’t like to play live?
Just the ones we don’t play

- Team Edward or Team Jacob (haha)?
You’ll have to ask Terry and Carter that one.

- Favorite 80s movie?
Raiders Of The Lost Ark

- Latest book you have read or reading?
“The West” by Geoffrey C. Ward

12. My fiancee Kristen and I are big fans of the band, and have been trying to find a wedding song to use. We would love to use a Carbon Leaf song but are having a tough time finding the right one. Any chance Carbon Leaf will have a slower, “lovey dovey” type of song on an upcoming album? How much would it be for you guys to write us a song (hahaha)?
Ha, too much money. I’ll see what I can do though for the next album.

13. Besides the new EP, what else is down the pipeline for Carbon Leaf and yourself personally? When will the band be back in the NY area?
Really, just getting more material in the queue, getting our label streamlined and humming, and some other writing projects I want to get started. We’ll probably hit NY again this fall…we’ll be touring with Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

Thanks a lot for the awesome interview Barry and keep on making great music for us to listen to everyday! Be sure to purchase How The West Was One on the band’s website and support independent music! You can buy it here.The CD will be released in the Fall but might as well get it now in digital format! ALSO, Be sure to check the band out live, as they are one of the best live bands out there!!

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