Interview: Timothy Carroll (part I)

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In 2008 Brisbane-based musician Timothy Carroll released an extraordinary album called For Bread & Circuses (available from iTunes and also here). It’s not a country album but it has some country elements, so for classification purposes I thought I could slip Timothy into this blog – also because it’s my blog and I can what I want (so there!), and because I believe him to be an incredibly talented singer-songwriter who deserves to be widely known.

In 2010 Timothy released an EP called The Deepest Dive, and he’s also made the demo tapes for his next album available for download only, under the title The Swedish Tapes (as he was living in Sweden when they were made). If these demos are any indication, the album – which is to be recorded soon – will be amazing.
Timothy kindly agreed to be interviewed by telephone, and as he gave me quite a bit of his time this is a fairly long interview that will be split into parts. I found him to be as interesting and thoughtful as his music suggests, and it was a great thrill to talk to him.

Timothy Carroll and his band will be playing a residency on Wednesday nights in November at the Joynt in Brisbane, from the 9th.

When did you start singing?

I’ve pretty much always sung. Even the preschool I went to, the woman who ran that had a guitar and I always really loved it when she would play guitar … She used to play old Beatles songs and stuff. So I’ve always sung and I used to sing in the car with my family, like old Blues Brothers songs. So it’s always been something that I’ve done and enjoyed.

Listening to you sing, I could swear you have perfect pitch – do you know if you do?

Well, I’m not very musical in the sense of knowing what notes are what. I haven’t got much musical training at all – I can’t read music on a staff or anything. And if someone told me to sing a certain note I couldn’t do it. I’m not too bad at just hitting the notes that I want to hit. But lately I’ve been writing some stuff up in the high registers and finding it a bit more challenging, maybe because I’m getting a bit older … I have to be a bit more careful about not drinking and smoking beforehand … I do have a few things that I do before I sing – I very rarely eat before I sing. But that’s more because I’m nervous and I just don’t feel like eating.

Do you do a lot of three-set gigs?

I very rarely have done three-set gigs – more one set – and I do believe in the kind of less-is-more approach to performance. I usually like to do fairly short sets and not give people time to get bored.

Given that you started singing quite young, is your voice your preferred instrument, as opposed to a guitar?

Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. The guitar is just a medium for finding melodies and for accompanying singing. Because I’m not that handy on the guitar, and I picked up the guitar much later, when I was about sixteen. So I just play the guitar to give myself something to sing to, I guess.

So when you’re writing songs, do you tend to sing them out first to compose, or do you use the guitar to compose?

I use the guitar to compose. Usually I’ll find a couple of little progressions or melody lines. Lately if I’m just noodling on the guitar I’ll record little sections on my phone or something, just so I don’t forget ideas. And then I’ll also work through a little bit further into a whole progression into a song without any lyrics. And then I’ll sing ad libbing and record big, huge, long versions of the song – like, fifteen- or twenty-minute long versions – and then I go back and find little fragments that are good or that could be fleshed out, and then cut it right back down to something about normal length – three to five minutes.

On The Swedish Tapes some of the songs are a bit more epic sounding, like ‘Where the Catholics Ruled’, and those songs could sound like the fragment of an epic track.

I definitely have made a bit of a conscious move in a new direction, in the way that I’m writing at the moment and the people who I’m collaborating with, which is exciting. My first record [For Bread & Circuses], I didn’t really go into it thinking, ‘I want to make a record that sounds like this’. I just had these songs and the only thing I knew how to do was to play like that and to collaborate with people who played the other instruments on my first record, which ended up being fairly folk/countryish, and I’m really proud of that piece of work and I really enjoyed making it. But with this one [to be recorded soon] I have had more of a thought about what I’d like to be doing and some different influences and it’s exciting to be pushing out into a new direction and working with some different people and I’m looking forward to re-recording those tracks, because those [The Swedish Tapes] were the demos that were done really roughly in my apartments in Stockholm and Berlin.

You say that they’re rough, but they don’t sound rough – they sound like fantastic tracks.

Thank you. I guess from my point of view most of them were recorded with one crappy mike and it’s not even a vocal mike, somebody had a T-shirt over it. And also some of the drums are not live drums, they’re programmed drums. So it’s just meant to be a platform to explore an idea and get a sense of what the song could be, and then it’ll be really nice to record it live with the whole band playing together and feeding off each other and stuff.

In terms of changing genre – for lack of a better term – it can sometimes be tricky if you have an audience for one kind of music and then you move in a different direction. But you’re an independent artist – you’ve put out everything yourself, and you don’t have a record company telling you what to do – so I guess that gives you the freedom to change.

Yeah, I do have complete freedom to do what I like, which is awesome. And I’m aware that there will be an element that the people who have previously enjoyed my records might not enjoy this one as much, but I don’t really mind about that. They can continue listening to the old records. It’s obvious, I guess, that I just want to make music that excites me and that I feel really good about and that I’m excited to play and perform and things like that. So I’m feeling good about the new record.

Part 2 of this interview will be published soon.

timothycarroll.bandcamp.com

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