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Is Carina Round The Next PJ Harvey?

Interviewed by Mark Walshe at VirginMegaMagazine.com

Carina Round is a gifted, gritty British writer and performer (a la PJ Harvey) whose second CD release, The Disconnection, on Dave Stewart’s Weapons Of Mass Entertainment label in the UK and Interscope in the US, is receiving rave reviews both sides of the Atlantic.

It is the culmination of many years of touring, guitar playing, singing, writing and hard work rewarded with an impressive tour roster opening shows for the likes of Ryan Adams, Coldplay, Turin Brakes and even James Brown. Carina came to the San Francisco Megastore to talk to DJ Mark Walshe during her first US tour opening for Snow Patrol. Fans of gifted, strong female performers like Tori Amos and PJ Harvey will fully understand what she is talking and singing about.

How has the tour been going?

Carina Round: Well, the gigs have been really fantastic. The amount of people there every night has gone up and down but all the gigs have been a really good vibe. Snow Patrol are so much fun to be on tour with. They’re really lovely people, really down to earth, good drinkers. Everything you need to be on tour with!

Are they from Scotland?

Carina: Actually, only one of them is Scottish and the rest are from Belfast. I think they went to university in Scotland.

What has been your favorite city so far on the tour?

Carina: We had a really, really great gig in Seattle, WA at The Crocodile, that was really cool. I don’t mean to sound like I’m being cheesy here but I think my favorite city so far has got to be San Francisco. I just saw it today and it’s really beautiful.

So this is your first time in the city?

Carina: Well, it’s my first time touring the States so it’s the first time I’ve seen all of these cities. It’s quite a dream because ever since I started becoming a musician I’ve been finding out different things about different artists that I love and am influenced by. It’s been a dream to visit all the cities that they come from and I’m finally doing it and it’s quite surreal.

What has been your first impression of the differences between American and European audiences?

Carina: I’ve done a couple of gigs in the rest of Europe but mainly my touring career has been in the UK. It’s really hard to say because this being my first tour in the US and it being with a major record company with press and advertising behind it, this was a very different start to what I had in the UK. I’ve been gigging there for eight years with no major record company behind me. I put this record out independently on my own record label and it’s been a hard slog to get people to listen. By now I can pull quite a few people in the UK and they know the record and they really love it but over here we’ve just had a few people hear the record so it’s been two totally different backgrounds in both places. It’s hard to compare but American audiences have been very accommodating so far.

You’ll be finding out all about the San Francisco audiences at your gig tomorrow.

Carina: Yeah, have they got a reputation?

I think so. We have some very nice venues here too. Speaking of reputations, I mentioned you to a musician friend from Birmingham in England and he said, “I know Carina, she works bloody hard, that one.”

Carina: That’s where I live. I’m from Wolverhampton but I live in Birmingham because there was just nothing going on in Wolverhampton. Yeah, I’ve worked hard for a few years now.

So have you been constantly been knocking on the door?

Carina: I was never really one for knocking on anyone’s door. You know from the start that the general consensus is that you get signed to a major label, then they try and manipulate you into being something else that you’re not. I wasn’t really interested in signing to a major. So I just got on with it and did my thing. My first record was put out on an independent label that was owned by a friend of mine. We’d had many drunken conversations about how a record should be put out and finally we did it together. That was a really limited edition of 8000 copies and sold them all.

Well, it seems like the hard work may have paid off because you were recognized by none other than Dave Stewart.

Carina: Yeah. Well, after I put my first record out on that independent label, one of the guys took it to Dave Stewart and he wanted to meet me. He was setting up his own record label in the UK called Artists Network. It was meant to be a very artist-friendly label, what they call a “transparent” label. This means you can see where all your money is going and you don’t do anything that you don’t want to do. So I signed to that label off the back of the explanation that they gave me. And because it was such a friendly label, nobody wanted to give them the funding. So, unfortunately that went into liquidation but I used the advance that I got from that signing to record and put out this record, The Disconnection, on my own.

So you actually paid for the recording yourself and Dave Stewart picked it up when it was done?

Carina: Dave then went to Jimmy Iovine at Interscope Records and set up a joint venture called Weapons Of Mass Entertainment. Jimmy loved it and now it’s out in the States and it’s just a dream really. The good thing about that is that there wasn’t a major label in it from the start so basically because I was paying for it myself, it ended up being all about the way myself and the band wanted it to sound. It was done really quickly, recorded really cheaply in 20 days. Recorded and mixed in 20 days. It was kind of a rush job, but I quite like that kind of thing.

That’s interesting because it doesn’t sound like a rush job.

Carina: Well, I wouldn’t say it was a rush job in a bad sense. I really quite like that ethic.

Who is in the band and how long have they been with you?

Carina: Varying times from five, six years to three years. The guitarist is called Tom Livemore, the bass player is called Simon Smith and the drummer is John Large. Someone came to the gig in New York, this really old looking guy in a tweed suit and I thought “Oh my god who is this coming to talk to me?” And he just started talking music at me and it was really fascinating. He just said “I really love the way you’ve got a hip hop drummer, a jazz bass player and a punk guitarist” … and he just totally hit the nail on the head. It was really amazing and I said “Okay you’re on it. You’ve really been listening.”

Is that something you’ve done deliberately, to try and get different players together?

Carina: Not really. I think I just heard the way these people played and really loved it and wanted them in my band. All of them are totally original in the way they play their instruments and that’s what I wanted. It wasn’t particularly about different styles of music although it probably contributed to it subliminally. Yeah, they’re all just amazing in really different ways.

We’ve talked about the musicians, but I think the most impressive thing about the album is your voice and the way you use it. Where does that come from?

Carina: I don’t know really. Found it (laughs).

Where? Under your bed?

Carina: You know, when I listen to people that move me vocally, not all of them can necessarily sing very well technically. It just comes from the gut you know? It’s totally about presence. It’s not about technicality. It’s about the presence of what you’re singing. I’ve had some gigs when I’ve just not been there and you can tell your voice is just not as good when you’re not mentally in the right place to sing. It’s the same with playing an instrument I think. Everyone probably thinks differently but it’s just got to be from the gut, it’s got to be emotional. You’ve really got to mean what you’re saying. Some of my favorite singers – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lou Reed or Nina Simone – all these people are fantastic. They can’t all sing great technically, but they move you when you hear them. The guy from the Flaming Lips, I mean what a voice he’s got. I used to absolutely hate it the first time I heard it, I just couldn’t stand it but it’s one of those that gets in your soul. It gets in the cracks and won’t leave.

When people compare singers I always think it’s a shame that they don’t go back far enough. Some people say they hear a bit of PJ Harvey in your voice I’m thinking more of Nina Simone and perhaps a little Billy Holliday?

Carina: I love her, she’s amazing. A big influence, not so much now but say, four years ago I was really influenced by Patti Smith. She’s just really incredible. There’s The Velvet Underground, Aretha Franklin always, I mean, who isn’t? Which singer isn’t in some way influenced by Aretha either directly or indirectly?

You had a very early musical education didn’t you? I was reading about how you would stay in with your first turntable when you were five years old.

Carina: Yeah, I got a turntable when I was five. I think mainly because I was brought up in such a terrible area my mother tried everything she could to stop me going out of the house! Buying a turntable was, I think, one of her more inspired ideas. It was great; she’d have all these records like Harvest by Neil Young, early Nina Simone and Bob Dylan. There was some terrible stuff as well I think – Peter Frampton was one of the “wrong ones” (laughs). It was Peter Frampton Live where he talks through this tube while he’s playing the guitar. It was really hideous!

You were lucky. I had Jungle Book and The Benny Hill Album with “Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West!”

Carina: I think the first record I ever bought was a 7” and I totally bought it for the cartoon on the cover. I was 5 or 6 years old so it’s not my fault but it ended up being “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” by Monty Python but it just wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be some cartoon theme tune or something. I was very disappointed.

There are some excellent effects and sounds on the album. It’s quite psychedelic. Did you experiment with sounds in the studio? How much did you plan for and how much came to you while you were recording it?

Carina: We recorded it really quickly and we only had five days of rehearsals before we recorded the album and a lot of the stuff – the band didn’t even know so it was really quickly … sorted out. I think there was scope for more experimentation on the record but the players themselves are quite experimental naturally. I think the sounds that Tom uses on the guitar are just … I don’t know where they come from. He buys all these crappy looking effects pedals and you’d just think that nobody in their right minds would buy that for a good effect but he just manages to get these fantastic sounds out of them. The bass player plays double bass but he uses a lot of effects on it and like I say, the drummer is really into hip hop and jazz and the kind of skewed things that come to him naturally I think really worked on the record.

How does it differ from the first record (The First Blood Mystery)?

Carina: I think I matured a lot as a person. On the first record I was spewing my guts over everyone (laughs). It’s like, seven tracks but it’s like listening to 15. Lyrics are all over it, they build and build with the music and it ends up sounding really intense. For this record, instead of adding a lot of stuff, we decided that the best way to make it intense like we wanted it (to be) was to really strip it down, take things off instead of ramming a lot of stuff in. I think I went, structurally and lyrically, for simplifying things and saying a lot more with a lot less.

It’s like you needed that first album to get you to this point?

Carina: Yeah, I think so. The first album was recorded even more quickly in ten days, or something, and it was my first experience of that kind of thing and it was exciting and invigorating and I’m still proud of the record itself, but it’s like looking at yourself in a photograph when you’re five years old or 14 saying, “Did I really wear that?”

When I do that I always think “hmm…nice flares.”

Carina: Exactly, the “flares” record!

What’s your favorite track on the album?

Carina: I think its “Elegy.” Well, it is today. We recorded most of the album in a little studio called Magic Garden Studio in Wolverhampton and the actual UK version of that song is just an acoustic guitar and voice with a harmonium. When they said they were going to put the record out in America I really wanted a different version of the track to be on it. I always wanted that track to be recorded differently anyway. So we rerecorded it at my guitarist’s house in the middle of nowhere in Staffordshire in the UK. It was this huge house with nothing around it for miles. I’m really glad we rerecorded it because it just gives the album a lot more scope.

I hear you wanted to see how long you could make the outro.

Carina: (Laughs) Well, there was a lot of us sitting on old sofas just saying “How long can we really make it?” And we recorded it live as well, which was the only track we did that with on the record. We thought it’s an album track so we can do what we want, so it’s quite a long outro and I’m quite proud of it. It’s a bit “Free Bird” (laughs).

Do songs come easy to you?

Carina: No. That’s the simple answer. I guess, oh I don’t know. I’m obsessed with words so I think the first thing that inspires me to move on with the song is writing lyrics. I sit for hours writing lyrics but don’t use most of them, but yeah, I’m obsessed with lyrics. I can hear a really great sounding album and if the lyrics don’t move me after awhile I just can’t listen to it any more.

Who are you listening to right now?

Carina: Kind of modern stuff. I’m playing to a lot of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s on the bus. White Stripes obviously, Flaming Lips. I got one of the Loretta Lynne albums that’s really cool. I recently heard a band called Turn Pale who are really good. Obviously I’m really inspired by all the oldies. If I can actually mention Lou Reed again (laughs). He came to my gig in New York. I was so freaked out. He was on the guest list and I said to everyone around me, “If this guy turns up, I just don’t want to know or I’ll not be able to do the gig.” I’m on the brink of being obsessed with that band (The Velvet Underground).

Yeah, Lou’s okay.

Carina: Oh man, but he’s got such a reputation for being a rude and horrible man. If you meet him and say that you like him he’s got such a reputation for really nailing you down. So I was very scared about meeting him. We came off stage and I always get really paranoid that the gig has been terrible. I think it’s quite natural. So I came off stage with my head in my hands and my tour manager said to me, “Well Lou Reed enjoyed it anyway.” I just thought he was joking to wind me up but apparently he was there and he asked to meet me and I went out and met him.

What did you say?

Carina: I can’t remember, it was like a dream. It was just very, very surreal. It was like my eyes had fish-eye lenses on them. It was one of the high points of my life let alone my career just meeting that guy.

From talking to you in here it seems to me that you are someone who is, kind of confused about the attention that you’re getting. Like a “why me?” thing.

Carina: Absolutely. Very good (laughs).Very good observation. You should have a different job. There should be a couch in here!

You’re very modest with how you take praise, lets put it that way. Do you think that has something to do with the fact that you’ve worked so hard?

Carina: I think it’s probably got quite a bit to do with my upbringing. We could go into this. My mum is a single mum and we were brought up in a really run-down part of a small city in the UK and I’ve always been dragged back down to earth all the time. I guess the fact that I had to work so hard for the small amount of attention that I got in the UK as well. But I don’t see the point of being an ass about stuff, really.

You’ve toured with some impressive artists such as Ryan Adams, Turin Brakes, Elbow and Coldplay to mention just a few. How was the experience of touring with those bands?

Carina: It was really great. I guess at the time your having a bad gig or a good gig or whatever, you take it in your stride but it’s the kind of thing that you don’t realize you’ve gained experience from until after you’ve done it. Probably like this tour here. It’s the kind of thing that’s really, really good to have under your belt. Touring with such a different spectrum of people, I did a gig with James Brown once, which was so terrifying.

How did that come about?

Carina: A friend of mine knew the promoter of the gig and I ended up on the bill and I supported him with just an acoustic guitar. It was just terrifying. The audience spanned from 15 to 50 years old. It was really amazing and the guy is fantastic, I don’t care what anyone says. He’s very old and he wears a wig but he’s really cool.

That is really something.

Carina: Then doing a tour with Ryan Adams was just really fantastic. It was really good at the time because he has such an electrifying personality and he gave me a lot of praise when he heard me for the first time. Just being asked to do the tour with him was a good confidence boost. Someone who is so talented and was getting so much attention at the time and such a great person who became a really good friend to really give me so much support and it wasn’t anyone I’d known before. It wasn’t family or friends, it was someone out of the blue with such amazing talent giving me praise and it was just really great to be on that tour.

What about the duet you did with him?

Carina: Oh, that never got recorded. I think maybe it was bootlegged once or twice. I did a gig with him at Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham. It was the first gig I’d done with him and he just burst into my dressing room and I thought, “Who the hell is this guy? “ and he just sat down in my dressing room and said, “Let’s write a song together”. I was just about to go onstage and I couldn’t believe it and he just sat there and started playing his guitar and we wrote this song together called “Idiot Dance” and performed it the same night. Then he took me round some of the other gigs he was doing in the UK and we performed that song. Then he invited me on the tour he was doing for Gold.

Will there be a recording of that?

Carina: I doubt it. I kind of like the idea of it just being “out there” maybe on a couple of bootlegs. It was just a real moment in time that song. It really encapsulates that whole era for me of doing that tour and it was quite … I was being renewed, if you like, as a person in that time of my life. It was just after a really dark period where I’d written most of this album so that was a really great time and that song is one of the things that is a mystery of that time of my life and it’s out there and it can’t be grabbed by anyone else. But if I’m ever poor enough to have to record it…

I’m sure he’d be more than happy to record it with you. You’re in the States now, track him down.

Carina: Yeah, I saw him a couple of weeks ago. It was cool.

What about Coldplay? Everyone is talking about them these days. What was it like touring with them?

Carina: I didn’t actually tour with them. I did a couple of gigs with them. It was really odd because the first time I ever did a gig with Chris (Martin) I was supporting a guy called Miles Hunt from The Wonderstuff who were really big in the UK. Chris was on first with just an acoustic guitar and it was so amazing, as soon as he opened his mouth the room was just silent. Nobody had heard of Coldplay, you know. They hadn’t even had a single out and it was just a mesmerizing show just him and an acoustic guitar. He’s such a great songwriter. Then it was a matter of a couple of months afterwards, they’d booked a gig at Ronnie Scott’s and their album had gone #1 but they honored the gig. It was so packed and such a fantastic energy and there was me supporting them, it was great.

Going back to the new album, I wanted to say that I like the fact that there’s so much light and shade in there. There are many different aspects to it and you don’t know quite what to expect next.

Carina: (The cover) picture on the front is kind of straight and cute and inoffensive and the picture on the back is very arresting and almost quite grotesque, really. That was the effect that I was going for that illustrates the music really well because there are a few rock songs on there but, you know, as we were saying about the comparisons I get to PJ Harvey. It’s almost like, “Well there’s a female who sings quite full on music” and the only person to do that in the last ten years to avail and critical-acclaim is PJ Harvey.

Do you get annoyed with that rather lazy comparison?

Carina: I don’t because I understand the fact is that the reason they have to compare me to someone who’s modern is that the magazine readers don’t know about people older than that. So they have to put a comparison in. Listen past the first two tracks of the record and there’s quite a few acoustic tracks on there and there’s one with loads and loads of strings. I think it’s good if people can make their own mind up on it.

When you’ve made an album like this is it difficult to think of what comes next as far as songs and recording?

Carina: I haven’t really thought about that too much yet. I’m always coming up with ideas for lyrics and stuff but musically it really baffles me as to what’s going to come next. Every time I write a song I feel like I’m never going to write a song again. I’ve always had that feeling. I always just don’t know where it’s going to come from. That feeling is very daunting but it’s also quite exciting. To push yourself and really make yourself write something better or a different feel. I think I want the next album to be a different sound.

Would you ever consider collaborating with Ryan Adams at any point again?

Carina: Yes, I’d love to do some collaboration with people who I respect. I’ve got nothing against that. It’s an exciting idea to push yourself that little bit further to try something really different.

"Is Carina Round The Next PJ Harvey?" was published on June 1st, 2004 and is listed in Interviews.

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