It's becoming more and more common. Bands with immense talent, brains, and a willingness to work hard are somehow not signing up with the major labels. What’s not clear is whether the labels are bypassing the bands who are asking for ‘too much’ or the bands are bypassing the labels because the band prefers to keep their share of the proceeds from the music they create. As rock artist Will Hoge puts it in his song “Rock and Roll Star” off his Carousel CD (Atlantic Records, © 2001) speaking as the label to the would-be rock and roll star, “…I’ll give you $50,000! And I’ll keep just $10….. million.”
And so it is with Carbon Leaf – the band nighttimes.com covered after Carbon Leaf had just been named the “Best Unsigned Band in America” on Dick Clark’s 2002 American Music Awards. Twelve months later, and with only weeks to wear the crown until the 2003 AMA air, Carbon Leaf remains unsigned.
Nighttimes.com caught up once again with CL to cover its holiday show at DC’s 9:30 Club – one of DC’s best venues for household-name-bands who enjoy the occasional smaller venue (capacity 1,000), both to see the show (which was being recorded for a potential “Live” CD), and to learn what the crown of “Best Unsigned Band in America” has meant to the five member Richmond-based rock-band.
Backstage, NT met up with front-man Barry Privett. Barry’s neck was wrapped snuggly in a scarf which he adjusted between sips of his hot water spiked with lemon and honey. It was clear from the deep tones of Barry’s voice the long days and nights of touring combined with the arrival of winter in Virginia resulted in a severe cold for the front-man – something the packed house of screaming fans would never know based on the performance that would follow the interview.
In fact, the double-encore show was proof positive of the benefits of an aggressive touring schedule. Each of the band members had clearly become stronger in their music abilities. The creativity the band showed collectively – even in the recreation of their own songs to add teeth to their live show, rather than just play what you hear on the CD – only comes from playing together… a lot! The show was one of the best shows NT has seen in a long time.
Here’s our interview with Barry Privett:
NT: We’ve never told our fans where the name “Carbon Leaf” comes from. Mind telling us?
BP: We usually tell the media it is a science experiment whose results are inconclusive. But the truth is Terry (guitar) and I were enjoying a rafting trip during college and brainstormed the name on the river.
NT: The AMAs were quite a coup for CL. How have things changed since then?
BP: We’ve definitely seen more doors opening up for us. We’re still enjoying medium rotation on a dozen stations across the country, but those will all fade if we get lazy. The AMA is great, but you cannot rest a career on it. You have to work hard and tour to build your fan-base. It’s the only way, we believe, you can avoid the “flash-in-the-pan” syndrome. We have developed strong base here in DC thanks to stations like DC 101 and frequent shows. The trick is getting the same radio play and fan-base in, say, ‘Kansas’ where we might play to a small crowd of 16 people.
Another good thing that has happened this last year was winning the Pontiac contest. The ‘win’ brought an extra $50k to the band to invest in its next CD, and will give us some national play and recognition from the commercial airing on MTV and VH1.
NT: But here you are, a year later, and still unsigned. We know many labels have shown interest. What’s the appeal of remaining independent?
BP: Yes, labels are aware of the band, but it's important for us to tour as much as we can to expand our fan-base. That is your longevity and you cannot do it any other way. Big Hassle Media has been great and we will continue to talk to labels until one of them steps up to the plate with the right deal. We’ve worked hard for 9 years and don’t want to throw it all away just to say we’re with ‘a label’.
NT: We noticed from your website [www.carbonleaf.com] you scored some dates with the Dave Matthews Band. How did that come about?
BP: Yeah, that was a treat for the band this past summer to see the DMB operation. We know Butch Taylor, the DMB keyboardist. He’s a friend of ours and is a music writer at a Richmond recording studio that our guitarist, Terry, also works at. Plus our booking agent knows several of the guys at Redlight, ATO (Records), and in the RCA promotion dept. So there were enough bugs in ears that we were offered some slots.
NT: We also noticed you’ve had a lot of dates this year. How has being on the road and living out of a bus effected you and your band mates?
BP: Well first of all, it’s a van, not a bus. And yes, it’s been a little tough. Sometimes it feels like 24/7 kind of work. We play until 2 a.m., pack up and drive all night to the next city, set up and do it again. But I swear it is harder to play 3 nights than every night. At least when you’re playing every night you get in a groove, you say, ‘this is my job’ and you just do it. Our schedule has lightened just a little this fall so I’ve been putting in 8 to 12 hours a day on the business side. That has been some hard work, but it has to be done and I like knowing that we’ve developed the ability to do things ourselves before turning everything over to someone else as we grow bigger and bigger.
NT: What about the fact that 2 of the 5 of you are now married? If past is prologue, that will be an incredibly difficult barrier for a band on the rise to overcome. What are your thoughts?
BP: Well, maybe you should ask me that in a year! No, Terry was married first and his wife is great and very supportive. Jordan (bass) just got back from his honeymoon today and he is here with his new bride tonight. She’s great, too. But yeah, I hear what your saying. It will make things a little more difficult, but hopefully not insurmountably so.
NT: Okay. So you’ve been working hard, touring a lot, building your fan base. But the fans are going to eventually want to hear new songs. When do you find time to write? And when can we expect your next release?
BP: Funny you should ask. Tonight is our last show until New Year’s Eve, so we have the month of December (202) to write and get ready for our next CD. We have studio time scheduled in January at Sound of Music (Richmond, VA) and we plan on to have our next CD out in late Spring. We have about 8 new songs written, but only 2 will make it to the CD, so we have some serious writing to do over the next 30 to 45 days. We’ll begin putting some of the new stuff on our website and continue to encourage people to download and burn CDs and share with their friends. Right now our goal is to get Carbon Leaf music in the CD players of music fans. We think if we can do that, people will like what they hear.