Posted On 09 Feb 2018
Meet Philadelphia’s Russ Carrick, who recently released his sophomore album “Tense Present.” It’s a lyrically-dense anthemic power pop mix that pays debt to college rock of the 80’s and guitar edge of the 90’s – with plenty of hooks and melodic harmonic to enjoy!
“Tense Present” showcases impressive development and artistic growth. Carrick’s song-writing, arrangement and collective sound have evolved from driver-friendly guitar hooks and DIY-ness of his debut album Mix Tape History, to a polished and intricate work in Tense Present.
Carrick shares, “I’ve been getting some flack from fans who counted on me for the in-your-face stuff, but there’s no lack of adrenaline in this album. The one thing you can say about my songs is that you will always feel like you’re being pushed forward…sometimes to a place that’s a little scary.”
In developing his signature sound, Carrick utilizes the gifts of accomplished musicians from up and down the east coast. These include talents as diverse as Philly-based visionary Quinn Waters, to local Providence, RI legend Emerson Torrey (of Schemers and Rain Dogs fame) with whom Carrick shared production duties. Adding polish to the final product of Tense Present is the analog mastering prowess of Pete Humphries (of Masterwork Recording). Fans of 80’s college rock and 90s power pop will equally agree Tense Present a must-add to your playlist.
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Learn more about Russ Carrick in the following All Access interview:
Happy New Year! Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
I’m happy to be talking to you here about my latest work!
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your music career? What are you most excited about for this year? Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Care to share them with us?
2017 will be infamous for many reasons, but I will also remember it as the time a bunch of folks started taking me really seriously. As for what comes next: this year I’m going to come up with a Christmas song, a song that uses the cello, and song that uses the Chinese instrument called the guzheng. It’s looking like the next album, part 3 of my alternative tryptic, will be increasingly involved and ambitious.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
My earliest musical memory was probably in the womb. (Mom was an avid Beach Boys and Beatles fan.) The earliest memory I can actually recall was performing The Monkees for my Dr. Scholl’s-wearing babysitters. Life took me in the direction of writing text (rather than songs.) This helped me pay the bills in a number of ways, and it remains the most developed asset I bring to my work now.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today?
Some of the most formative experiences I’ve had in life, both musically and beyond, stem from my years in New Orleans. This was a town steeped in almost every kind of music every night of the week. On Tuesday I could be eviscerated by the Hendrix-celebrating R&B of J.D. and the Jammers; on Thursday I could cool-ly absorb the prog rock virtuosity of Woodenhead; and by Saturday I could be thrashing to Dash Rip Rock’s signature brand of cow punk. It’s little wonder that I didn’t make it through my sophomore year at Tulane before I switched to “majoring in New Orleans” and flunked out of school.
How do you think your sound has grown on your sophomore album, Tense Present? How differently did you approach the whole process when it came time to start writing the songs for it? What remained the same?
My first album was a bit of a primal scream, a purging synthesis of my entire internal music library. (A friend called it a “love letter…to something.”) With Tense Present I was more deliberate, and much more methodical. Having spilt my “first blood,” and operating from a new place of confidence, I could not only select a particular sound for each track, but also a theme for track’s lyrics.
While it may be difficult, can you pick out a couple songs on this collection to talk about? How did they go from being just ideas in your head to full blown songs on the album?
“Holding My Fire,” the grande dame of the album, started as an attempt to create what I call the “one lick song” (think: Seven Nation Army.) First I worked to come up with the “one lick” groove. Then I just sicced my pit bull guitarist (Quinn Waters) on it and let him shake it around like a chew toy. With his pile of results, I turned to my personal favorite part of the process, the arrangement. Before long I was looking at six minutes of some pretty grandiose stuff, and I was fully prepared for my engineer, Emerson Torrey, to rake me over the coals for it. To my amazement, he thought every minute worked…and so did Pete Humphries, my mastering guru, who has been around long enough to know.
What do you think of social media today and the importance of it for artists now? Do you find that it’s hard to keep up with it all?
Like everything technological these days, social media is a blessing and a curse. Never has it been so easy to reach so many fans. But Facebook and Twitter are beasts that are always demanding to be fed…and often I let them go hungry. In the end, I would rather have these tools, and neglect them a little, than not have them at all.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
It’s going to be great in 20-30 years time when we will finally get to see how our current moment ACTUALLY influenced movies, music, and literature. (Right now it’s too much like trying to look at an aquarium from the inside.) Hopefully, at that time we will all be shaking our collective heads about how pathetic the Resentful White Guys behaved, right before they had to give up the steering wheel for good. (It’s either going to be that or it will be our Patriot Implants making sure we are praying to the flag.) Many of my songs address this directly, either in the form of a warning (“No Denying It”) or an elegy (“Dance Around the Rubble.”)
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
My radar is always tuned to turn up acts that function a lot like I do–artists that are combining spare elements, a lot of heart, deliberate production, and a lifetime of favorite melodies sloshing around in their heads. I think of bands like Wavves and Philly’s-own Modern Baseball…bands that do a whole lot with a little, mainly because (you can tell) they’re doing it out of love. My biggest personal inspiration is Dee Dee Penny (aka Kristin Gundred or Kristin Welchez or Kristin Kontrol or whatever she’s calling herself these days) of the Dum Dum Girls. She’s single-handedly crafted a unique, but powerful, sound using very few parts. I don’t think it would hurt her feelings to say that neither of us our born musicians, but we’ve both found a way to channel what moves us.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you find that a lot of your music has a greater meaning behind it?
I craft my lyrics with a (personal) theme in mind, but I make sure to leave them ambiguous enough for people to attach their own meanings to them. It’s like I’m making custom prisms using material that’s been laying around my life. People don’t necessarily need to know where the material comes from to use the prism. So for me “Tense Present” might be about my inability to live in the moment, while other people might hear it as a reaction to our aggravated times, or maybe someone’s got a gift in their closet that’s making growling noises–who knows?
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
It seems that I’m destined to be perpetually out-of-step with the “in sound” of any given moment, like I’ve got some sort of beautiful broken time machine. But I’ve worked hard in the lab to make tunes that I, as an devotee of alternative music, can get personally excited about–songs that pass my own “night drive” test. For a great many of you this will fall flat. BUT, if fan reaction is any guide, those of you who “get” what I’m doing will be very glad you found me.