Ten years ago, I was at a music store perusing the CD shelves in the hopes of discovering something new and amazing. I settled on a fall-colored album with a big red butterfly called Indian Summer. It was by a band I hadn’t heard of that went by the name of Carbon Leaf. I decided to take the album home without even hearing a note (something I did regularly back then), and quickly fell in love with its warm tones. Upon repeated listens, I forged a deep connection with the album’s lyrics. Songs like “Life Less Ordinary”, “What About Everything?”, and “Let Your Troubles Roll By” spoke to me at a time in my life when I was making a lot of choices about my future and who I wanted to be. This album came to define this particular period of my life.
Ten years later, Carbon Leaf is still one of my favorite bands. What has impressed me most is their ability to persist; to forge new paths in this crazy music industry to retain and celebrate their music and their fans. In 2014, the band decided to re-record Indian Summer in order to reclaim the tracks they had originally released while on a record label. While on their recent West Coast tour, I was able to chat with Carbon Leaf singer, Barry Privett, about the somewhat unconventional re-record, what it takes to thrive as a band over the long haul, the band’s popularity on the east coast vs west coast, and what he would dress up for on Halloween. Here’s what I learned:
On Creating Indian Summer Revisited:
LMN: What inspired the remake of this album?
Barry: We’ve been a band for a long time, but only a few years we were actually on a record label. That [Indian Summer] was our debut. We had written the album and recorded it as an independent band and someone had forwarded it on to the label and they wanted to release it, so we licensed a deal and all and released two more subsequent albums with Vanguard Records. That relationship ran its course and we decided to leave that label in 2010. We have been independent for most of our career except for that period. We released two albums in 2013, two albums the year before that and we were like well, what do you want to do next? You know Indians Summer turns ten this September. It’d be cool to celebrate that somehow.
But the record label owned the album. We were no longer on the label so there wasn’t a whole lot we could do, but they didn’t own the actual songs themselves. We retained all the rights to the songs so it’s just the master recordings we couldn’t do anything with. So we decided to do a little research and found that we were off the term long enough that we could re-record it if we wanted to. We decided to re-record the album and put it back under our wing and have control over the songs again…or at least the new version of the songs.
LMN: Were there any particular challenges in remaking such a fan favorite?
Barry: We didn’t want to mess with it. If that was your favorite record we wanted it to still sound and feel like your favorite record. The challenge for us was to emulate the old one, but to improve up on it. Make it more organic. Update some of the things like machine drum loops that we could make live. Little subtle tweeks, but keeping the soundscape the same. We went through the original tracks and meticulously researched the sound that we had. Going back ten years is kind of tough! The gear changes, the techniques change, the room that you’re recording in changes. We got kind of good at getting there and I feel like it sounds like Indian Summer, but more organic. It’s got a better band feel I guess.
LMN: Do you have a favorite re-imagined song?
Barry: It’s funny, we don’t. We kind of anticipated some debate about that. The fact is we feel like we got it right the first time in terms of the songs and, for the most part, the production. We’ve had the benefit of having ten years behind us of playing the songs, so intuitively if you listen to “Let Your Troubles Roll By” on the first album, we were making that up as we went along, using some drum loops and patching weird sounds and having them come and go and we fashioned the song like that. Whereas now we play it live. It’s a band playing it. There are some parts that are different that we’re happier with, but I think the original stuff holds. It still stands.
LMN: Do the songs mean anything different now than they did ten years ago?
Barry: That’s an interesting question. Certainly, the immediacy of where you were then kind of rubs off and the songs take on a new life as you evolve and write new material and that becomes your new present thing. But that album still holds a place and time for me which I think is what makes it a great album. To be a fan of an album and to listen to it and for it to be a time stamp. That’s my goal, really, to make an album be a time stamp of life, where things are. And it did. It did do that. You start to remember a lot of things when you were recording about that time and relationships and it did bring that back.
On East Coast vs. West Coast:
LMN: I have a question from a fan who came from Virginia, but lives in Los Angeles now. She wants to know why you are more well-known on the east coast than out here on the west coast.
Barry: Well, we’ve put in a lot more time on the east coast for sure. We’ve been playing the east coast for six or seven years before we even got out west. You can play the east coast pretty easily, there’s a city every couple of hours. Out here, it’s still a pioneering effort to get from one outpost to the next. I wish we could get out here more often, but once a year is kind of where we are. It’d be nice to build more in some other cities. Some cities are bigger than others. Seattle is a big city, Portland is a bigger city. LA’s hard just because it’s saturated with so much entertainment.
LMN: Do you identify as an east coast band or with a particular scene?
Barry: It’s funny, we’ve been doing it so long we’ve seen scenes come and go and a lot of bands come and go regionally and we’ve kept at it. I can’t really say there’s a scene we’ve really been a part of. I guess when you’re young and first starting out it feels more like a scene but the reality is you start drilling down so much in what you’re doing, in writing and recording and touring, you’re not just hanging out in the scene, you’re focused on your fans and your material.
LMN: Do you identify at all as a Virginia band?
Barry: Well sure, our roots are there. I’m a Virginian. Carter’s a Virginian. Terry’s a Virginian. That’s where our families are and where we hang our hat.
LMN: And from what I’ve heard from all of my Virginia friends, you’ve done quite well, especially in the college scene out there.
Barry: We’ve been treated very well. We’re lucky.
On Surviving as a Band:
LMN: Is there any advice 2014 Barry would give 2004 Barry?
Barry: you mean aside from go to med school.
LMN: haha! Yeah, that’s something my 2014 self might tell my 2004 self too. But, you guys have evolved a lot and experienced different facets of the industry. What have you learned from all of that?
Barry: It’s tough. There’s so many variables to determine whether you’re going to be successful at it and being talented is not necessarily one of the major factors. Do you have a good group where there’s chemistry? Do you get along? Are you able to make your life work around the obtuse nature of being in a band and the demands of touring and being in your head a lot and writing? It’s a full time gig. It’s an overtime gig. You have to love what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing and be able to assess where you are and ask yourself, is it working? Is there a response? Can you get out on tour and get back home? Ultimately, it’s equal parts follow your heart and be realistic, always self-assess.
LMN: Carbon Leaf seems to have been quite successful at that, at keeping it going.
Barry: it’s extremely hard. You can be kind of successful at it and have a tight little business, which we do, but it’s incredibly demanding. The reality is when you’re younger, there is more time and less responsibility. You can get by on less. As you get older, those other parts of life are going to come in and so it’s a tough gig for you to keep your eye that far down the road.
On What’s Next for Carbon Leaf:
LMN: So, what are you up to next, more touring?
Barry: Yeah, we’ll be touring up through the holidays. And then January/February, we’ll be doing some writing. We’re thinking about a couple of projects now for the New Year, but we haven’t made any decisions.
LMN: You always seem to find a way to change it up from album to album. Where will you be going next?
Barry: That’s what we’re thinking about and I don’t have an answer. We did the Celtic album, Ghost Dragon, a rock/folk album with Constellation Prize, then some of the Vanguard re-recordings. We might do some more with that for some other albums, but nothing’s poking out yet. There’s some song we want to get to but we’re not quite sure what’s next.
LMN: You have had quite the productivity rate in regards to releasing.
Barry: And we’ve been like that since 2010. We were like, let’s release something every 6 months, woo hoo! We did that maybe every 8 or 9 months. We’ve done five or six projects since then. And then we finished those two albums back to back six months apart. I thought, well we’ve been together for years, let’s take a look back at some stuff because I would like to go back to the old stuff. Bring it back and kind of update it with the lineup that we have. I think we’ll do some more of that and balance it with writing the new stuff.
LMN: Do you have a favorite part of being on tour?
Barry: I love seeing the country, getting out of the east coast is a nice kind of breath of fresh air.
LMN: and escaping the colder weather?
Barry: Now it’s still nice out, but that won’t last long. We’ll start making our way north and then east again. You get a project up and running then you’re ready to get out on the road and promote it and after a couple of months, you’re ready to be done with it. Kind of like anything.
On a Carbon Leaf Halloween:
LMN: So, Halloween is coming up. If you were to do a show, what would you do?
Barry: uhh, we used to do Halloween shows and they were so much work. They were messy. We would decorate and carve pumpkins and put cobwebs everywhere and dress up. It just got so hard. I grew out of it. If I did it again I would hire crew members to clean up afterwards.
LMN: What would you dress up as?
Barry: There was one time I had a shaved head so I thought I’ll be a skeleton this year. There were a couple of years that I was kind of a suave werewolf. I had a fur ascot, a smoking jacket…I looked pretty good. I’m not gonna lie. I’d probably do that again.
After the interview, I stuck around The Roxy to enjoy the show. Here are a few pictures: