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By Phil Bonyata
Carrie Rodriguez interview
Austin native lives life with eyes wide open
January 21, 2013
Carrie Rodriguez has been around talented artists all of her life and those influences shine brightly through her musical craft. Her parents are Texan singer-songwriter David Rodriguez and Texas painter Katy Nail while her grandmother is (and hails from Texas as well) essayist Frances Nail. Carrie's voice has an ethereal rawness that is both beautifully soft and full of Texas back alley swagger at the same time. On her 2010 release "Love And Circumstance" she succulently mined the essence of artists like Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, M. Ward, Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams into something comfortingly familiar, while at the same time making it all her own. She loves the super talented Lucinda Williams and Bill Frisell and her music hugs back without apologies. Carrie is currently on tour so, do yourself a favor and catch the woman's electric performance when she hits the dusty stage at a honky tonk near you.
Livewire: You're parents were both artists and your grandfather an essayist...Did any one of them influence you more or was it a collective thing?
Carrie: Yeah, I would say that is was defiantly a collective thing. I did grow up in a house where paintings were covering all of the walls and it smelled like turpentine. I don't know if that was so good for my early brain cells. (laughs) I did grow up watching my mother paint everyday and she loved to listen to classical music or opera blasting out of the stereo while she painted as she was dressed in her rags of clothes. (laughs) I did think that was normal and it wasn't until junior high that I realized that not everyone's parents did these kind of things. So, it seemed like music was a perfectly logical profession to go into. I didn't worry about it being safe or I wouldn't make much money because I had so many artists around me all of the time. My father was a renowned Texas songwriter and they would take me to shows. I remember being four years old and watching local bands and other fiddle players. There was one in particular in Austin that had curly red hair. I was really into that guy - his name was Champ Hood.
Livewire: First crush?
Carrie: Absolutely! (giggles) I remember thinking, oh cool I want to do what that guy does. There were no protests in my family when I said that I wanted to play the violin. (laughs) I think if I would have told my parents that wanted to become a lawyer or something than I think that would have been frowned upon.
Livewire: Back when you were a teen you went with your father on tour in Europe. How did this shape your music?
Carrie: Well, it definitely broadened my horizons. You know, I flew to Frankfurt, Germany by myself when I was 14 or 15 because he was already over there. When I arrived I had to catch a train to meet him somewhere and it sure caught me up to speed on how to travel. We played in very small clubs, you know from Holland all the way down to Switzerland. It was not glamorous, but I knew that what we were doing was something important. I could see that my dad's songs touched people. There might have been only 20 people in the room but, I recognized that is was something very noble. Even though I saw the realities of the road, which weren't very pretty, I still choose to follow in his footsteps.
Livewire: On your 2010 release "Love and Circumstance" - you featured beautiful renditions of some of country music's greatest artists. Is there a single artist (or type of sound) that has influenced your music the most?
Carrie: Oh, that's a hard question! I couldn't say a single type of music because I like such a wide variety from early jazz to rock 'n roll to West African and opera...Up on the top for songwriters is Lucinda Williams or Townes Van Zandt. But, if I were to count the spins on my home stereo I have a feeling that I listen to Bill Frisell more than anyone else. He's not a singer-songwriter, he's an instrumentalist - a jazz guitarist I guess you could call him. Bill loves all genres of music too. A lot of his albums have an Americana feel to them. He loved old country music like old Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. The landscape of his music suits me - whether I'm on the road or at home being quiet. I think because I write songs that it's nice to listen to music without words sometimes because it leaves space for my ideas, I think. I collaborated with him a little bit - he played on "Love and Circumstance." The Hank Williams song that we did "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" I did it with just Bill as a duo - it's quite quirky. He's also played on my first record "Seven Angels on a Bicycle." I've been a fan of his since my early twenties and I was in a record store in Sweden and picked out one of his records because my boyfriend at the time was a jazz musician so, I thought "oh he'll like this" and I ended up putting it on and just falling in love with that record and ever since I've been hooked.
Livewire: You've toured with Jeff Bridges - is he more "The Big Lebowski" or "Crazy Heart" in person?
Carrie: Oh, he's The Dude, totally The Dude! He's The Dude if The Dude were a little bit more responsible and a family man. He has all of the qualities of The Dude...laid back, completely down to Earth and he's funny and he's really curious about the world. I was astonished just how down-to-Earth he is because he's a huge movie star and his life is not normal! The guy's been married to the same woman for over 30 years and she's wonderful and they have three daughters who are really cool. I got to get to know his family and got to go and hangout at his ranch in Montana before the tour started. That's where we rehearsed - at his ranch. So, every morning he would take us on a hike on his property and we'd go for like an hour and a half and he'd be picking flowers and giving everybody flowers (laughs) and by the time we started rehearsals everybody's in a good mood and all full of nature and that's the kind of guy that he is. He's very connected.
Livewire: What do you think of some of these large country music festivals (like Country Thunder) almost exclusively featuring mega stars (which I get because you need to sell tickets) but, the early sets seem to be Nashville pre-fab bands. Why don't they feature some edgier acts such as yourself Hank3, Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams to hip things up a bit?
Carrie: That's a really good question. I mean I'm so disconnected to that scene. I guess they don't pay attention to me either. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the whole Nashville industry is geared around making money. They've got it down to a science and they know what a song needs to have to appeal to the broadest spectrum of people.You need to talk about your truck, beer, the American flag and if all of those elements are in a song then it's going to make people feel good and they're going to buy that record. Personally, I can't think about other people when I'm writing a song - I have to be true to myself and hope that other people connect with it. I'm sure that a lot of the people in the country music scene could be great artists and songwriters if given the chance but, they sort of have to follow these rules that the record label tell them. They want to make a better living I guess. I don't necessarily want to criticize that, but it's not for me.
Livewire: I wish Nashville would embrace some of its living legends like Merle Haggard and George Jones more.
Carrie: That's what makes me so sad, country in the past was so damn good! The hits that Merle Haggard had, that he wrote like "Today I Started Loving You Again" and it's really simple, it's got one verse and one chorus. You don't need a lot to touch people. Unfortunately, what's out there now is not simple - it's tricky and smart and calculated. It's just sad and maybe it'll change.
Livewire: Do you think that technology is moving way too fast and we've turned into short attention spanned zombies or do you like all the choices available to us now at a moments notice?
Carrie: Yeah, well probably a little bit of both. One thing that is slightly disturbing is that now anyone can make a record. Alls you need is a Macintosh computer. So, I feel like there's more noise out there that you have to cut through. I mean there are a lot of recordings that are not recorded at the best quality. They're made quickly and they're made to be singles. The sad part about that is that there are people with 30 years of experience who run the old recording studios and they know how to make something sound beautiful and they're out of work. So, that makes me sad. But, on the other hand in the past it was so impossible to make a record if you didn't have a label deal. I do enjoy the fact that there are great independent artists who can kick start a campaign and put together enough money to make a good sounding recording. There are very talented people coming up who didn't have a major label deal and that's great to see too. It's got its downside, but I hope that good music rises to the top. I do believe, in the end, that what lasts is what's good. I remember when I was kid I would go up to my attic where my mom stored her old records and she had a great collection - the entire Beatles collection, a lot of pop like Joni Mitchell, opera, Janis Joplin just everything. I would go up there and I would pick a new record every few days and I'd go down and put it on my little record player and I would sit there with the cover and listen to the whole thing - from front to back. That was the coolest entertainment and I didn't need anything else. Now, you almost have to force yourself to sit down and listen to an entire album. People just aren't used to it and I still believe in the album. Because I love when music tells a story. A good album has a great shape and it's a special thing and sadly we're moving away from that. My producer, Lee Townsend sees the over-arching shape of an album not just an individual song.
Livewire: How do you react to a negative review?
Carrie: You know, I've had little comments that were negative but, I've never had one of those major blasters yet but, I'll get one someday.That would be tough to take one of those. Usually, when I read negative comments I can see some truth in them - I can go "you know I can see why you would think that." You really do have to have a thick skin in this business. I don't make music to please everybody, I just make music that I believe in. I just want to be true to who I am.
Livewire: On your upcoming release "Give Me All You Got" do you feel that your musical progression has a formula or is more organic?
Carrie: Oh, it's very organic. I think that what comes out of me are a direct result on what my ears take in. A lot of the songs on this record were written here in Austin, Texas and I just moved back home after living in New York for 10 years and I've spent a lot of time reflecting and that's what my songs are - reflections of the things I see around me and how I feel. In terms of the sound and the music I know that I've evolved since I first started, but I don't think that I've ever been too purposeful in that evolution. My first record was almost kind of jazzy country - maybe because at the time I was married to a jazz musician. The next record was a little bit more rock and I worked with a rock producer and his influence definitely shows up on that record. I think I'm going to follow whatever muse is inspiring me at the time. What's going on right now for me is I've been playing quite a bit with Luke Jacobs and he plays on the record and he helped me write some of the songs and his musical influence is definitely felt on this new album. He came from Minneapolis (who lives in Texas now) and is more of a rock/pop guitar player and songwriter and I love how that affects my songs and changes the sound and we put together an amazing band and that also affects the sound of the album. I don't know what's next - could be an all Spanish ballads album (laughs) I don't know...
Livewire: Being of Mexican-American descent - how would you attempt to solve the immigration issue?
Carrie: (Laughs) Well, I think it starts with recognizing how important our immigrants are to our country. In the past and today, so much of Texas is being built by Mexican immigrants and they're working the hardest here and that needs to be respected and recognized. I do believe that Obama is making a lot of headway on immigration. I keep reading about all of the things that he's doing and I'm saying "wow, this is moving in a positive direction." So, that's exciting. We couldn't survive without our immigrants who work so hard here. This country would just not survive and people need to realize that. They need to be accepted and respected. So, hopefully in the next four years we'll have a lot more accomplished. This week we're actually playing the "Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball" in Washington D.C. It's a party for the inauguration this weekend. It's run by the Texas State Society.
Livewire: Is Obama going to be there?
Carrie: I don't know (excited) but, I'm guessing he must make the rounds. It would be an incredible thought to meet Obama, but I don't want to get my hopes up. I'm just excited to be a part of the whole celebration!
Livewire: What's the strangest thing to happen to you while on tour?
Carrie: A lot of strange things happen on tour! (laughs) At the end of October, it was actually Halloween we flew from Austin to Kiruna, Sweden. This is a town 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle to play a festival called the Mean Bastards Festival and it's all about the coming of dark because in December and January it's completely dark there. So, they are bracing themselves for this. It literally took 48 hours to get from Austin to Kiruna and I arrive and it's like the Arctic literally, it's freezing cold and I played one show there and then played one show in Stockholm and flew home. The wow thing was flying to the Arctic Circle and landing on a runway of snow. I met Sami people who are the native people of that region and they herd reindeer, I met dog sledders and I met someone who owns that famous Ice Hotel - the hotel completely built out of ice.
Livewire: What's a good day for Carrie Rodriguez?
Carrie: "Carrie Rodriguez Day" is a pretty good day! On Thursday Austin is having "Carrie Rodriguez Day." I'm serious, I have to go play in front of the City Council and the mayor is going to give me a proclamation. I guess I get a plaque or something. So, a great day for me is being home in Austin, going for a walk with my best friend as we like to take walks in the woods here. Play a little bit of music at home and tryout some new songs and then head out to mother's house who lives in a dome. Think Hobbit type home. It looks like a mound, but is made out of cement. She's got a garden, chickens and my stepdad is super cool. So go for a walk with my best friend, play some music and go to The Dome for dinner - that would be a perfect day.
|Carrie Ridriguez 2013 Tour Dates|
January 23 /// Dan's Silverleaf /// Denton, TX|
January 24 /// McGonigel's Mucky Duck /// Houston, TX
January 25 /// Stateside at The Paramount /// Austin, TX
January 26 /// The Kessler Theater /// Dallas, TX
January 27 /// The Blue Door /// Oklahoma City, OK
January 29 /// Hi Tone Cafe /// Memphis, TN
January 30 /// 3rd & Lindsley /// Nashville, TN
January 31 /// Natasha's Bistro /// Lexington, KY
February 1 /// Grey Eagle Music Hall /// Asheville, NC
February 2 /// The Evening Muse /// Charlotte, NC
February 5 /// Club Passim /// Cambridge, MA
February 6 /// Rockwood Music Hall /// New York, NY
February 7 /// Avalon Theatre/Stoltz Listening Room /// Easton, MD
February 8 /// Artisphere/Dome Theatre /// Arlington, VA
February 9 /// World Cafe Live /// Philadelphia, PA
February 10 /// Club Cafe /// Pittsburgh, PA
February 13 /// Old Rock House /// St. Louis, MO
February 14 /// Knuckleheads /// Kansas City, MO
February 16 /// L2 Arts & Culture Center /// Denver, CO
February 17 /// Steve's Guitars /// Carbondale, CO
February 19 /// The State Room /// Salt Lake City, UT
February 21 /// The Triple Door /// Seattle, WA
February 23 /// The Green Frog Cafe Acoustic Tavern /// Bellingham, WA
February 24 /// Mississippi Studios /// Portland, OR
February 26 /// Arcata Playhouse /// Arcata, CA
February 28 /// Freight & Salvage /// Berkeley, CA
March 1 /// Sebastopol Community Cultural Center /// Sebastopol, CA
March 2 /// SLO Brew /// San Luis Obispo, CA
March 3 /// Belly Up /// Solana Beach, CA
March 5 /// Largo @ The Coronet /// Los Angeles, CA
March 7 /// Historic Arts Theatre /// Prescott, AZ
March 12-16 /// SXSW 2013/Thirty Tigers Showcase /// Austin, TX
March 27 /// Uncle Slayton's /// Louisville, KY
March 28 /// Southgate House Revival /// Newport, KY
March 29 /// Natalie's /// Columbus, OH
March 30 /// Nighttown /// Cleveland, OH
April 2 /// The Ark /// Ann Arbor, MI
April 4 /// Severson Dells Nature Center /// Rockford, IL
April 5 /// SPACE /// Evanston, IL
April 6 /// Legion Arts /// Cedar Rapids, IA
April 7 /// Flying Mango /// Des Moines, IA
April 8 /// Flying Mango /// Des Moines, IA
April 9 /// Sunday Roadhouse /// Omaha, NE
April 11 /// Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts /// Bloomington, IL
April 12 /// Turner Hall Ballroom /// Milwaukee, WI
April 13 /// Shoulder to Shoulder /// Wausau, WI
April 14 /// Cedar Cultural Center /// Minneapolis, MN