“I was touring in a band called Crooked Fingers,” Carroll recalls, speaking by phone from his Seattle home. “A guy in California—a Crooked Fingers fan—asked if I played in any other bands and I said, ‘Well, I write songs and I make records,’ and he said ‘I’d like to hear it.’ When I got home from that tour I mailed him a copy and he got on a Crooked Fingers chat room and told everybody to check out my songs, too. I would take burned CDs of my solo project and just give them away to whoever asked for them and one of them was Travis. I don’t remember even meeting him, but he got it and sat on it for two years and then called me and said, ‘I’d love to release it.’”
The result of Carroll and Morgan’s introduction is Together You And I, Carroll’s fourth record, released on Jan. 19. Currently, Carroll is touring in support of the album and will perform at O kafes Coffee House on Saturday, Feb. 6. Supporting Carroll for the show will be Assembly of the Ear and Deadfingers (featuring Birmingham’s Kate Taylor and Taylor Hollingsworth).
A 10-track collection of songs that befits the Americana genre, Together You And I was created following a lengthy and painstaking writing period.
“Nothing comes in a creative burst for me—it’s like blood from a stone,” Carroll offers. “Writing songs is really, really hard work and I’ve always been a slow writer. Lyrics are so important to me so I have to let that part simmer and work it over. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I spend 100 hours on certain songs. I’d be interested in keeping track some day. I’ve always envied the really prolific writers, the Bob Dylans and Eric Bachmanns of the world, but I’ve never been one. For me, it’s a slow process.”
Carroll adds, “With that being said, ‘Shadowman’ was finished three years ago and has been lingering. On ‘The Poor Boy Can’t Dance,’ the first track, I just had the chorus and it took many hours to find out what the story would be. I started with the chorus and worked outward from there. The subconscious is not a linear workmate, but that’s the fun part of writing, to see how the plot turns out.”
Even as he entered the studio to record the album, Carroll still found his songs evolving thanks to the input of his co-producer.
“I love bringing other instrumentalists in. The guy who co-produced the record, Matt Weiner, is a jazz bassist and he did the horn arrangements and some song arrangements, and his musicality put a certain spin on it. I love those changes. After you’ve worked a song over for so long and it feels dead to you, it’s great to have someone come along and inject some life into it. When you’re recording, you can get some mysterious stuff that pops up,” he says.
As a musician forging his career in the era of iTunes, YouTube, satellite radio and customized ring tones, I ask Carroll how he reconciles the give-and-take of accessibility in today’s climate with a possible oversaturation of artists and outlets.
“It’s a great question and time will tell,” Carroll says. “As with any complicated issue, there’s an upshot and a downshot. The upshot is obviously the accessibility for anyone—it’s available and you can find it. But I’m a pessimist often times and I’ve always been in a bad mood about the music business. I’ll preclude this [comment] with how much the Internet has helped a guy like me—it’s been incredible. I’ve never made much off sales, so the free downloading thing hasn’t had much effect on me. That being said, I love whole albums that work together and I still think in terms of records. My album titles are meant to be umbrellas over a group of songs. I’m also concerned about fragmentation. I think there is value in regional distinctions and that’s going to be lost the more we homogenize.”
Although technology plays an imposing role in the career of any current artist, Carroll feels that touring is still the most powerful way to reach listeners.
“It’s certainly the only way to make a living playing music these days. Usually, I tour solo because I can’t really afford to take a band out right now. Because I tour solo, I can make the tour schedule work around my schedule. I’ve always felt like live music is very important. A little more than a hundred years ago, 100 percent of the music you heard was live music and now that’s shifted. For me, music has always been about communicating. I do it for myself, but for me it’s about connection.”
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.