Carbon Leaf’s 25th Anniversary

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Richmond, VA-based band, Carbon Leaf, and they’re celebrating it on the road.  As often happens when Carbon Leaf comes to town, I found myself there.  And it’s not just because of the photos and review, but because I really love the experience.  But I’ll come back to that later.

Scott Mulvahill: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | iTunes | Spotify

For this first stretch of the tour, the band were joined by solo upright bassist, Scott Mulvahill.  Mulvahill, who made a name for himself by spending five years playing alongside Ricky Skaggs in the Grammy-winning band Kentucky Thunder, caused me to raise an eyebrow when I first saw him emerge onstage.  “How,” I thought to myself, “can a solo bass player entertain a roomful of people for half an hour?”  I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth, and by the end of his set I was standing in line at the back of the room, now singing a melody to the tune of “take my money” for his EP, Top Of The Stairs.

Scott has a voice like velvet and can pluck, slap, and bow a bass like nobody’s business.  But it was in his down-to-earth attitude and affability that he won over the crowd.  “As you may have noticed,” he began, “I’m a solo bass player.  I could really use some clapping for this next song, but if you stop…at any point… it will be extremely awkward for your lone bass player.”  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bass player, all alone, get cheered so loudly.

 

Carbon Leaf: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | iTunes | Spotify

As I was saying, I really love the experience!  Carbon Leaf doesn’t just put on concerts; they throw family gatherings.  They bring a storied history with them, like a family often does, with inside jokes and traditions that they have built with their fanbase over time.  If you’ve attended any of their shows in the last five years or so, or you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll be well aware of the one-mic portion of the show.  The band gathers around a single microphone, acoustic instruments at the ready, and the audience hushes to a whisper…or as much as alcohol will allow.  But sometimes one tradition finds its way into another, such as when the jovial holiday tradition of “Carter’s Christmas Beard,” a little ditty sung by bassist Jon Markel as an ode to guitarist Carter Gravatt’s winter solstice shavelessness, makes its way into the air – cutting off the intro to another song.  The laughter that results doesn’t make sense to anyone but family.

And that togetherness goes hand-in-hand with their upcoming album, Gathering Vol. 1 (out June 1st), which we were privileged to hear most of that night.  The album is said to be about community, and the two tracks which opened the show, “Come Sunday Morn” and “Bow & Arrow,” certainly brought the audience together quickly.  The band were as full of energy as the first time I saw them, nearly a decade ago.  And while the evening soon turned into a Maryland turf war over who could spoil the band the most with drinks, leaving guitarist Terry Clark merely uttering “Oh no!” as more rounds appeared on stage, and vocalist Barry Privett warning, “this will not go how you think it’s going to go,” it was a wonderful time for all in attendance.  At the end of the show, closing out with another one of the new tunes, “Gift From The Crows,” the band members all filed out and sat down at a table to greet anyone and everyone who wanted a moment of their time, a picture, and an autograph.  They stayed until the venue started kicking people out, and lingered even then to hear another fan’s long-awaited confession about what their music meant to them.

They’re good people, and you won’t regret it if you take time to see them live this year.  They’ll be around.

Carbon Leaf at Baltimore Soundstage


 

My wife and I rarely miss a Carbon Leaf show that comes our way.  In fact, I could find you at least four previous concert reviews I’ve done for their shows, but I’ll settle for one.  Needless to say, they’re an awesome act, full of warm personalities and funny moments.  But I’ve never had the pleasure to try my hand at giving them the full-on concert photography treatment, so it seemed like a no-brainer when I heard they were playing down the street from me at Baltimore Soundstage.  Here’s my review and picture gallery of that evening, April 15, which saw the band joined by a new trio, Me And My Brother.

Me And My Brother:  Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

“Grammatically incorrect and not actually related” states the little black and white info card I picked up from Me And My Brother’s merch stand.  And so it is, three solo artists [Carl Anderson / Schuyler Fisk / Sam Wilson] who happened to be touring alongside one another last Fall found themselves pulled together by an overwhelming bond.  It’s quite impressive that they’ve written a good deal of songs together in the short time since.  The modest group stood before us and laid out largely acoustic, folksy tunes (with a little electric inflection courtesy of Wilson), even joined by Carbon Leaf’s resident mandolin player, Carter Gravatt, and drummer Kurt Leon for two separate songs.  As of yet, the group hasn’t released an album of their unified efforts, but I purchased Carl Anderson’s solo album, Risk Of Loss, which possessed an air that reminded me vaguely of  Warren Zevon (though dialed back on the L.A. cynicism).  While the trio was laid back and reminded me of sitting on the porch with family on a warm Summer’s evening, songs like “Champagne and Reefer” gave me cause to pause and chuckle.

 

Carbon Leaf: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | iTunes

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Carbon Leaf show in which I wasn’t seated at a table enjoying dinner and a nice drink.  While those holiday shows are always special and dear to me, the energy displayed last Saturday gave way to an entirely different atmosphere.  One difference was a disco ball which ricocheted rays across the crowd and band in a stunning display of dancing starlight.  Every song could have been confused for a sing-along, as the audience knew these tunes by heart.  Old favorites like “What About Everything?” and “One Prairie Outpost” from Indian Summer are obvious, but even the intimate one-mic rendition of “Two Aging Truckers,” from the more recent Constellation Prize, received the audience’s choral treatment.  And the laughter of the band was infectious and spread throughout the night, such as the moment when vocalist Barry Privett disappeared for a few seconds and guitarist Terry Clark sneakily entered the center-stage spotlight for his newfound role as lead singer.  Privett returned the favor, as you can see below, by rocking out with some very sweet air guitar.

As the band left the stage at the end of the night, chants of “One more song!” emerged from the crowd.  Not long afterwards, Privett returned once more, jumping off the front of the stage and planting himself alongside the concert-goers, joining in their chant.  He quickly became unhappy with the lack of the band’s response, and began booing the others.  The crowd erupted in laughter, and a smile slipped across his face, climbing back onto stage for the closing track, “Let Your Troubles Roll By.”  After the show, the band made their way to the merch table, talking and signing things for fans until it was closing time.  I can only imagine how many conversations they accumulated amongst themselves before the night was over.  But every fan who stuck around was a happy camper, and I assure you, you will be too if you have the chance to catch this fine group of men in concert.

Carbon Leaf’s Holiday Show, Rams Head On Stage


 

Carbon Leaf’s winter holiday shows at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, MD have been something of a tradition for my wife and I since well before we were married.  Though we had complications that prevented us from attending last year, we always make the attempt.  This was our third time seeing one of these concerts, of which there are several over the course of the weekend.  There’s the 21 plus Friday night show, followed by a Saturday matinee and concluding with a 21 plus evening concert, all of which sell out each and every time (usually in the first few hours).  While we normally opt for their final residency appearance, wouldn’t you know I didn’t buy tickets in time!  Instead we attended Friday night, which turned out to be a truly wonderful performance.

Opening up the whole weekend was Marie Miller, a remarkably talented singer-songwriter who, with just one album under her belt, has already accumulated quite a few accolades.  After a single album, her song, 6’2”, was featured on Dancing With The Stars, and she had the opportunity to perform her tune, “You’re Not Alone,” in front of 750,000 people, to include Pope Francis, at the Festival Of Families in 2015.  I suppose that was a good enough resume to have her open for Carbon Leaf that night.  But let’s say you were like me, and you didn’t know any of that prior to hearing this young woman play and sing.  Then, like me, you would truly be swept off your feet.  With a velvet voice she lifted us, and with her aggressive mandolin chop chords she had my heel bouncing off the floor.   Her set featured several cover songs, including Coldplay’s “Yellow,” the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” and in the spirit of the holidays, a unique rendition of “Silent Night,” which took on a novel texture with a new vocal melody.  Her obvious musical competence, coupled with her charming between song banter led to quite a few hearts being won over.  Mine included.

Marie Miller:  Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Like any great family get-together, time with the Carbon Leaf family during the holidays is filled with heartfelt moments and a bit of uncertainty.  Not long into their set we all raised our glasses to honor the passing of astronaut John Glenn.  On the other side of the spectrum, fast forward towards the end and you’d witness a waltz between vocalist Barry Privett and Gaelic Storm’s Patrick Murphy, with trepidatious moments where there was leaping and lifting of each other, sometimes which appeared more like a fireman’s carry than a dancing maneuver.  My wife and I were pretty sure someone was going to be seriously injured, which would have been icing on the cake for Privett, whose forehead had already received an after-hours stitch up by a local doctor after losing a battle with a door earlier in the evening.  But these were just some of those special in-between moments when we weren’t all being wooed by old and new tunes that warmed us to our cores.

Some of the highlights of the night, barring those stated above, were the explosive “Desperation Song,” the single-mic’d “Two Aging Truckers,” and the now traditional “Carter’s Christmas Beard” (an homage to Gravatt’s face-warmer) sung by bassist Jon Markel.  After over an hour and a half of music, the quintet closed out their set much to the disappointment of loyal fans.  But they stuck around afterwards to have a drink and share a laugh.  I, myself, had the opportunity to speak with the drummer subbing in for the regular percussionist, Jason Neal: Scott Devours, a supremely talented individual who normally plays with Roger Daltrey of The Who.  I also caught the ear of Carter for longer than I probably should have, discussing music and musicians at length, ranging from Paul Gilbert to Ricky Skaggs to Clutch.  It was a good evening indeed, and one that I hope you’ll all go out and find next time Carbon Leaf stops by your neck of the woods.  You deserve it.

Carbon Leaf:  Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

For more photos of this evening, check out photographer Elmo Thamm’s album.

Interview with Carter Gravatt from Carbon Leaf

All photos courtesy of Elmo Thamm.

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I had the great pleasure of sitting and speaking with Carter Gravatt of the Richmond, VA. band Carbon Leaf on the April 19. Aside from playing acoustic and electric guitar in the band, Carter also mans the mandolin, violin, banjo, bouzouki, lap steel, cello, and a number of other instruments (he’s in the market for a nyckelharpa). After we knocked out the usual topics such as Game Of Thrones banter, we were able to get into the meat and potatoes of the band and their newest PledgeMusic project, Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat‘s revamping. We also took the time to discuss the making of their last release, Indian Summer Revisited, and a ton of other musician-specific questions, as well as some random oddities. For the full hour and a half audio interview, check out the provided Youtube video (opening it up in its own window provides a Table Of Contents to skip to specific topics). Below, however, is a transcription of some of the highlights, with a focus on the band and their current project!

What’s been going on with you and the band for the last four months?

January we had a little bit of downtime. We usually have a little bit of time off at the first of the year. We had the Rock Boat and we also had been working on a record project which has just now come to light. We were re-recording Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat. So we were starting that earlier in the year. Then we had shows throughout March – some stuff in February – and April we’ve had, for the most part, off. It’s kind of a vacation as we get ready for this Summer. Terry is mixing and working on the record and I’m fixing stuff – shipping instruments away to get fixed – and getting ready for the Summer to start it all over.

On how Carbon Leaf makes setlists:

We’ll show up at a venue and go in and take a look, especially if it’s a place we haven’t played before, and decide what kind of show it’s going to be. Is it going to be a rock show? Is it going to be an acoustic show? Will it be something in between? Once we do that then Barry will make the setlist and he’ll go through the setlist with me and decide what kind of instruments he wants on what songs. And hopefully I can play it!

So is that something you decide on the day of the show?

Yeah, absolutely! Every day is a little bit different. On any tour there will be a core of songs that we want to play or that we’ll fall into a groove with, where everybody is on the same page and playing it well. But we’ll take a look at the last time we were out on the road and what we played. Barry has a list of all the shows, all the venues, all the setlists, and we’ll look and see what we played last time we were in town and the time before that. Then we’ll go through and try to come up with a good list of songs and have the core things that people want to hear, but still have some stuff that we haven’t played, have some new stuff, and try to make a pretty creative list out of it. But yeah, that all happens once we get to the venue.

As you said at the beginning, Love, Loss, Hope, Re-Repeat?  Something like that?

Repeat Repeat, or something like that. I’m not sure we’ve settled on anything, haha! Repeat Again?

You guys recently just came off of doing Indian Summer Revisited last year and touring behind that. And now you’re working on Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat’s sequel, so to speak, but this one you said is going to be less faithful to the original songs. You’re going to mess around with it some more?

Absolutely! This one is going to be very different. There are a few things about it that I’m really excited about. There’s a tune called “Block Of Wood” on there and it’s actually, unless it’s been edited without my knowledge, actually has all the words in it now. That tune, I was always a little bummed that we sliced out some of the lyrics, because I didn’t feel like it made quite as much sense. But it’s a great song and now I think the full lyrics are in there.

When we made that record originally it was the first time we did a record not at home or in a studio that we could control the amount of time we had to work on it. The label said, “Look, we need the record by this date.” That was also the first time we’d ever had someone tell us when we had to have something done. We were kind of used to taking our time. We had been on the road touring intensely behind Indian Summer ever since it had come out. We hadn’t had the chance to stop and really develop the songs. The songs that we’d started to develop would be the songs that would end up on How The West Was One, so that was kind of where we were and that was our headspace at the time. A lot more ambient, kind of dreamy material. “Texas Stars” was slated for How The West Was One, “Under The Wire”, some of those songs. So they were kind of supposed to be part of a different project that we didn’t have time to work with at the same time.

We were up against the wall and we went to Nashville to record [Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat] with a producer who was really great, but we had the wrong batch of songs for what we needed to put out at the time and we didn’t have time to finish them. A lot of it, to me, I hear that stuff we didn’t get to put on the record and I feel like we finally got to straighten things out and do the versions of the songs that we would have done, had we had time. There are some things about the original recording of the record that I really do like. “Texas Stars”, the version on the original, I really enjoyed. It was a little bit more aggressive than the original treatment of the tune. There are little things, going back and listening to it, there were things that I really liked.  Like “Royal One” was actually, I think, captured in one take. That was Jordan, the drummer, and myself just playing in the studio together. But yeah, there are things I like, but I’m way more excited about finishing up with the new one.

Photo Courtesy of Elmo Thamm

I really do like the record the way it stands, but I know that there are things that you guys have said about it. That it was a very weird time for you all in the studio. 

It really was. It was just a lot of different things coming at once. There was the label saying, “We need the record.” There was the producer saying, “We’re not going to have time to do this record the way they want to do it.” Us finishing up our time at Nashville and not having the time to take it home…we basically like to get started, let things percolate, play some stuff and see how it sounds – see if it’s come around – and work from there.  So we were really out of our comfort zone with that. And during mastering,…Barry threw his back out and was singing literally right up to mastering, sitting across the street on a couch with ice on his back in a hotel room with Terry. But it was really, really rushed.

Do you feel that the new release of this is going to be different simply based on choice, or also because you have people that weren’t there originally, like Jason and Jon, now taking their own personality and putting it on the songs?

There’s some of that and the songs are going to be different.  It’ll be a pretty different sounding record. It’s just one of those things where, when we did Indian Summer Revisited it was nice to have that record as our own again and not be associated with our former label. We had talked about revisiting some of the older stuff, like Echo Echo, a while back.  It was one of those things like, “You know, when we get time…” We have a lot of those. The thought to redo the other two Vanguard records has always been…you know, we’ve always wanted another shot at Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat, and we just said, while we’re doing this let’s go back in a re-record Love, Loss… the way we wanted. Because with Indian Summer Revisited we really wanted to be as truthful to the original as possible, because that’s what we wanted. We wanted to have those songs back, and just to have the record again just to be able to sell to fans. We haven’t sold any of the Vanguard records since they sold out years ago.  It’s just cost ineffective for us. We don’t sell our CDs for more than $10 at a show, so with the amount we had to pay the label for the CDs, shipping, and then venue percentages, and damaged goods, we were basically paying people a few bucks to take the CDs. We thought we should do something about that. But we wanted Indian Summer Revisited to be very close to the original and I think we did a good job of trying not to ruin it for people. I hope we didn’t!  Our hope is not to ruin it for people that liked the original.

To me, the new one sounds fresh, but it’s close enough that I have a hard time telling the two apart.

There are little nuances that you don’t really notice are there at all until they’re not there. And then you’re like, “Wait a minute, something’s missing.” We wanted to minimize those, but there were some things we wanted to not be there. We used drum loops a lot on the original, because we had to, and we wanted to completely avoid that when we re-recorded it. And a couple of other little things, but overall I feel like it was a very honest and truthful recreation of that album. And it was kind of interesting to go back and listen to that record, because I haven’t listened to that record in years! And then to learn a lot of the same parts that I would have improvised in the studio the first time and I had to go back and learn them! That was an interesting challenge. And trying to figure out what I would have used to get some of the sounds to be as similar as we could. Of course, the funny part of that was that a guy that was working on the project with us videoed a lot of it and the video showed up about two months after we were done re-recording. It was like, “Man, I really could have used that a couple of months ago.” Because it’s got a video of all the amps I was using, a bunch of pedals and the order I had them set up in, which was really hard to figure out when you’re just listening to things. Cause there were a few things in there, especially in songs like “The Sea” and “Paloma”, where there are a lot of really effect-y guitars that don’t even necessarily sound like a guitar. So trying to figure out all I’d done, and of course this video surfaces after we’re done and it shows me doing half of it…I was like, “I really could have used that a few months ago.”

You buy the IKEA table, you put it together, and then someone shows up with the instructions.

Yeah, yeah! Like, “Huh, so that’s what happens when you put the legs on top.”

You hardly notice!

Yeah, you hardly notice. It does sit on the floor and it’s really weird, but…it was a lot of fun to do that. And Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat and anything else that we redo, will be a departure from the record unlike Indian Summer RevisitedLove, Loss, Hope, Repeat was the opposite, and I look forward to people hearing it! We’ll see what people think.

Photo Courtesy of Elmo Thamm
On a record of new material:

Barry has been writing. We’ve got 300 to 500 pieces of unfinished music that are just waiting to be finished up. It also crossed a lot of different…I don’t want to say genres.

More than one mood?

Oh yeah, tons! And that’s what Barry does. He separates it all out into his own moods. I’m not sure what he’s writing to right now. I know he’s been working on stuff for a while. Usually when he has a batch of songs done, he’ll bring them back to us and we’ll start picking through and figuring out what we’ll do. That’s what we were going to do with Constellation Prize, but when he brought back the batch of songs there was a chunk that had that Irish thing going and a chunk that was what would ultimately become Constellation Prize. We said, “Alright, let’s stop right here and divide this up and make two albums that kind of make sense together, but not intermingle the two.” So then we wrote out the rest of what would be Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle and then wrote out the rest of Constellation Prize. That way we had two different things and not taking a half of each, putting them together, and going, “Wow, this is a really non-cohesive blob of songs.”

You were talking about Barry bringing batches of songs and you guys going through them. Is that normally how the writing process for the band works?  

There are a couple of different ways, but essentially we’ll write the music and then give it to Barry at various stages of “doneness.” Sometimes it’ll be a mandolin piece or a guitar thing, and sometimes it’ll be things that we’ve fleshed out with the whole band and be kind of a finished song. But he’s got all of that and then he’ll pick through and find what he likes and we might start to sketch out some ideas with him. Or he’ll come back to us and say, “I like this and I like this. What I want in here…how about a bridge?” or “Can you take this part out and add in something from this other song?” It’s kind of like Legos! But you know, once things start to move towards becoming a song we’ll maneuver around what he wants to do with it. And some things will be done and he’ll come back with exactly what we gave him and he’ll have written lyrics and it’s done.

For instance, the song “She’s Gone” off of Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle. That was done pretty much exactly like the demo. And “Love Rains Down.”  “Ragtime Carnival,” I think, was another one that he just came back with…that’s the most fun ever, actually, is that first time we get together, we’ll sketch out the structure, and we’ll play through it. And to hear what Barry has come up with over what you’ve written is…man, that’s just the best ever.  I love that part. It’s the best part of the creative process for me. Like the first time we played through “The War Was In Color.” I was just standing there with my jaw hanging open, going “Could you…could you say that again?  Could we do that again, just so I can catch all the word again?” Or, I remember the first time we played “What About Everything?” and going “Wow, I think people are going to like that!” Or “One Prairie Outpost”…so many other songs. It’s so much fun. The first time to hear it and to be there.

Because you guys don’t discuss what the subject matter is going to be before Barry brings it back to you, do you?

Uh, sometimes! Sometimes with some of the stuff I’ve written I’ll tell Barry what I’m feeling or what I’d like to hear for a song. And that’s also amazing, to be able to have a little input. And whether or not it works out for that song, he always files that stuff away in his mind and it’s a really amazing thing. Some stuff off How The West Was One was a lot of stuff that I wrote on my own and had ideas for some of it. I’m always impressed when he comes back with words for it, because I sure can’t write them, heh!

It’s like, “You get me, man. You get me.”

“Yeah, man! You understand me. No one else does, but you get me!” Haha! But yeah, man, it’s fun. That’s one of the greatest things, is finishing songs.

Carbon Leaf - RagTimeCarnival_2015Next month, May 15 and 16, you guys have the Ragtime Carnival Campout. You did this last year and you’re doing it again. You’re going to have bands like Ben Daniel’s Band, Mandolin Orange…

Red Wanting Blue is coming. Trigger Hippie. Golly, I can’t remember the line-up now. But yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

This is going to take place at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, Vir. Can you tell us a little bit about where the idea came from, how last year went, and what you guys are planning for this year?

Well, to set it up we used to do a luau and campout…man, it must have been about 10 years ago. We did all the work ourselves.  It was a real ordeal to put it on. It would basically be one day of shows in which you’d camp out and the band would cook you breakfast and then you split the next day. But we just got too overwhelmed once Indian Summer started rolling and just didn’t have the time to put in to make it happen. We wanted to revisit it for a long time and just didn’t have the venue, because the place we were having it closed down. It was an island that was in the middle of the James River, which was great, but it got to the point where you couldn’t put on a show there. So we didn’t have the venue and we didn’t have the time. I guess a promoter approached Barry about two years ago and we had a real good time doing it, and a good turnout. Especially for the first year of doing something like that. I wasn’t completely sure if we were going to do it again and then found out last fall that we were definitely having it again.

The first day, you’ll show up Friday and there’ll be two stages. One is at the bottom of the hill and the other up on top, and it’s a little bit smaller. Slightly more acoustic acts will play up there, but there will always be someone playing. The main stage, someone will play, and then while the changeover is going on the other stage will be going.  Then after the show…I think we’re going to try and do a bonfire this year. We were going to try last year but we had some logistic problems. Then the next day the music will start about lunchtime. I think [Carbon Leaf] will start with an acoustic set on the small stage and then a closing set on the main stage that night. It’ll be all day. There’s great trails; I took my bike last year and rode a bunch. Yeah, great stuff to do and really pretty. The weather was really amazing last year, which makes me think this year will be terrible. You can’t get that lucky all the time! But yeah, I was excited about it last year and I’m really excited about it this year.

You mentioned trail biking. You guys have some interesting Pledge Rewards for the new Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat Pledge Music campaign. 

Haha, yeah!

You can go fishing with Jason, and he’ll even clean your catch for you if you want to keep it; Jon is offering intro boxing/juijitsu lessons.

Juijitsu probably, yeah! He is super big into that stuff!

And you can do a 30 minute guitar lesson with you or Terry, and you have a Mountain Biking reward, where people can go out with you and mountain bike. I’m taking that this is kind of a big hobby for you.

You know, well, I do try to go riding. So, if somebody gets it we’ll go out and get a cup of coffee, drive out to one of my favorite spots, and ride for a couple of hours. Then probably go get some barbeque or go to one of my favorite little dive restaurants and get a late lunch. Then I’ll happily send them on their way, hopefully dusty and dirty, but nothing broken.  Yeah, it’s going to be fun!

 

For more on Carbon Leaf, visit:
Official Website
Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat, Re-… PledgeMusic.com Campaign
Facebook
Twitter
Youtube

Bonus – What is Carter listening to right now?
Planxty – “Smeceno Horo” from After The Break