THE GREENCARDS: Q&A
Congrats on the new album—it really shows the evolution of the band. Why did you call the album Fascination?
CAROL: ‘Fascination’ is track one on the album, and it’s the only song on the album written by the entire band; for some reason that doesn’t happen too often with us. We had a night off in Philly so we opened a bottle of wine and whipped it up in about an hour! After performing it at the next show, there was an absolute feeling of ‘this is a great direction for the next album.’ Another thing that spurs me on with this song is I get to put down the bass and chop away on the mandolin. I played mando when we cut this one too, which is just crazy!
KYM: I feel that ‘Fascination’ is the theme to this record. We tried different things; we were always looking at being tasteful and interesting, while being conscious about putting our own spin on things. The song itself was one we wrote on the road in the earlier stages of writing for this album and I believe it set the tone for things to follow.
EAMON: On a basic level, it’s that sense of curiosity and interest that takes you to new places and allows your to change and transform.
What did producer Jay Joyce, with whom you worked for the first time, bring to the music?
CAROL: Great arrangements, for starters. We had produced or co-produced our previous three albums and we felt we needed an injection–some new ideas and someone to push us harder than before. For me, it’s also so important to feel comfortable in the studio, to allow yourself to spread out and just go for it. Jay doesn’t strangle the session in any way; he’s up for trying anything.
KYM: We could call this record The Greencards & Jay Joyce. It was so valuable to the end product to have him involved with the songs in the writing process and to have his advice on what songs to keep and what to throw away, plus his input on certain changes. To get positive feedback so early in that phase was great to keep us motivated and stylistically focused. I loved his ideas in the studio with things like arrangements and his way of working. By far, it was my favorite recording experience.
EAMON: Jay brought a no-nonsense approach to the music. He’s a very experienced character, and knows how to get the best performances out of you. He often took on the role of drill sergeant. During one session he ordered us to walk outside, go to the top of the driveway in complete silence before coming back to our chairs again and straight into another take! He also is very good at trimming the fat, removing unnecessary chords, or even a full verse if he thinks it is surplus. Essentially he’s very creative and strives for the extra-ordinary, the unexpected.
Can you pinpoint which song on the album most represents The Greencards and why?
CAROL: I’d have to say ‘The Avenue.’ We’re on harmonies; it’s an important part of our live show. Kym sang one below me and Eamon was one below him so the layered sound on the chorus helps build the choruses up. I love the approach on the fiddle too. The solo really had to keep the energy up and Eamon definitely achieved that on this song. It’s so much fun to play live too.
KYM: I can’t choose a song really. Maybe ‘Fascination’, but I feel this record really does represent this band better than anything we’ve done. It’s a very focused album.
EAMON: Probably the title track ‘Fascination.’ Bizarrely, it represents the first time the three of us have sat down and written a song together. Musically it is very rhythmic, the mandolin is heavily featured, and the viola gets to play some wacky stuff at the end!
One of the highlights lyrically on Fascination is “Water In The Well.” It has a great message. In the song you say, “When your perfect plans, not all that it could be, Still you’re doing all you can to find a remedy.” Is this song a result of a particular situation in your life? Can you explain what inspired that song to be included in this album?
CAROL: That was a song Kym wrote with Bill Whitbeck.
KYM: I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Tom Petty over the past few years. I have been reading, watching DVDs and listening to so much of his stuff–I find him very inspiring. His outlook is very positive and it made me want to write positive lyrics, but at the same time I was coming up with dark melodies which certainly create tension within the songs. I bought a ukulele in Austin on a writing trip and came up with that little intro figure and melody. I wrote it with my great mate and writing partner Bill Whitbeck who sang me these three lines he had. They became the first two lines of the song and the ‘Water In The Well’ line. I loved it and thought that should be the title. This is probably my favorite of any songs I’ve written.
Tell us how two Australians and an Englishmen meet up in Austin and form a band? It’s an unlikely scenario. How did you all meet and start performing together?
CAROL: Austin, Texas is a great breeding ground for bands. This is a town that’s renowned around the world as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ It started out where Kym and Eamon had some studio sessions together and then we started jamming together at Mother Egan’s Irish Pub every Sunday. It’s crazy to me to think that you can make such good money playing for tips in Austin while working up a new ensemble. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that you could do that.
KYM: Carol and I moved to Austin shortly after arriving from Australia. I was producing an album for Texas artist Ben Atkins and I needed a fiddle player and Eamon’s name came up. I called him and he came in and did the session great. We stayed in touch and played a bit in other groups and jams before we thought to play a regular bluegrass gig on Sundays at Mother Egan’s Irish Pub. That’s where it all started for us.
EAMON: Yes, very unlikely, but it felt very natural at the time. We met in Austin, Texas, a town that is a big draw for people who want to play live music to fun crowds. Local people love their local artists and they just love original music so anyone who gets a taste of it wants to immediately come back for more. I spent a year there while attending the University, and as soon as I could I moved back in search of work. I met Kym in a studio. He had hired me to play on a record for an artist he was working with. We stayed in touch and after that I met Carol. We all realized we had plenty in common–culturally and musically. We were big fans of many of the same artists and it just felt like a good fit.
Moving to the United States, what drew you to Austin?
CAROL: Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen! Both of these guys and many Texas songwriters like them. Another thing that spurred me on was my good friend Kasey Chambers from Australia had just played SXSW in Austin and when she came back to Australia, she couldn’t stop raving how good the music scene was in Austin. The next challenge was to get the appropriate work visas and permits to stay and work in the US…now that’s not easy!
KYM: It’s a great city. I love the people, the music, the food and the climate. Coming from Australia, the sun and warm weather is very much a requirement for happiness. The first time I went there, I knew I could live there. I love Austin.
EAMON: It is such a welcoming environment. People literally greet you with open arms. Some cities are wary of lots of musicians moving in, but Austin seems to officially encourage it. It was obvious that this was a place of musical growth and fresh artistic creativity. There’s also a great quality of life-people like to be outdoors, whether hiking, camping or going to concerts on someone’s back lawn.
Growing up in Australia and England, what type of music did you listen to? Several of your influences on the MySpace page list American musicians. Is there a large scene for American music overseas?
CAROL: There’s a definite love of American music in Australia. My parents had all the old LPs of George Jones, Glen Campbell, Tammy and later on I found Patty Griffin, Leonard Cohen, Emmylou and Alison Krauss (I’m sure there are many more). Although there’s a big love for this music in OZ, it’s almost impossible to do what we’re doing over there. There really is no festival scene to speak of, and the fact that the population is so much smaller than the US (about 22 million), makes it harder to tour and sell albums. Most serious Aussie acts venture overseas at some stage.
KYM: Bob Marley, AC/DC and New Grass Revival were the main things I listened to from the age of 14-21. Most kids get introduced to music from their parents’ record collection and my dad loved a lot of American music. The likes of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Buck Owens, Hank Williams, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. I’m grateful because it was a good musical education.
EAMON: American music has always been big in the UK; rock and pop of course, but the more rootsy genres–like Americana, Cajun and Bluegrass, for example–was never given much respect when I lived there, and certainly not in my generation. I think it’s changed slightly now and a lot more artists tour in Europe. It has become a little more ‘hip’ to follow artists like Richard Thompson, Kathleen Edwards and Emmylou Harris. It seems the trend has shifted clearly in favor of ‘real’ bands again, away from DJs and electronica. I guess it began with the whole indie movement–folks like The Stone Roses and Oasis. Now we’re seeing artists like KT Tunstall come out of UK, and she’s a consummate musician. Growing up in the 80’s in the UK, it was more about synths and programming–nothing about that interested me. I was buried in artists like Mark O’Connor, Nanci Griffith and Ricky Skaggs. I was the only one on the bus with fiddles and mandolins roaring through my headphones! I got some strange looks.
Is there anything you really miss from Australia that you can’t get here in the U.S.?
CAROL: It all comes down to a good Aussie meat pie, they are extremely hard to get here. We found a place in Austin called Boomerangs– they do a fantastic steak and onion pie. I also like their curried beef pie. It’s also impossible to get Bonds T-shirts here too. They are good quality Australian-made cotton tees that look so good with just a pair of jeans.
KYM: Well, Nashville is very inland so I’m missing the beach and good seafood. A few other favourites are Carlton Draught (beer), pies and pasties, wagon wheels and real bacon.
EAMON: Applying this question to the UK-it’s really hard to find GREAT tea here. There are some import shops that sell PG Tips, but I have to smuggle a suitcase full of Sainsbury’s Earl Grey every time I fly back to the States!
What’s the dynamic of the band? For Carol: Being the only female in the group, do you play a different role because of that?
CAROL: Sometimes I get tired of the male banter in the van, especially when it’s soccer season and our XM unit is fixed on the BBC channel…it’s all about soccer. But I can’t complain really. The guys don’t expect me to load the van and carry gear or pack up my stuff. I do tend to wear jeans a lot as opposed to dresses; I’m not sure if there’s anything to that or not…
The Greencards have toured with Bob Dylan and also Willie Nelson—truly coveted spots! Can you talk about what you might have picked up from watching the “masters” perform on tour?
CAROL: The one big thing I got from that tour was ‘it’s all about a good song.’ Those two are the mightiest of songwriters. They’d just come out on stage and stand there with no pyrotechnics or crap, and fire off song after song, all of them hits. Willie had an amazing connection with audiences too. He just knew how to reach out and affect people with his music, a great thing to watch night after night, and we got to do that for 31 shows. We were very lucky.
KYM: Firstly, you’ll never hear better songs or two better songwriters–their catalogues are off the hook. It was early in our band’s existence and we had not really played to big crowds in a stadium-style setting. We had to learn pretty quickly what did and didn’t work. It taught us the value of originality. Dylan and Willie couldn’t have had more different shows. Willie played a similar set night after night, waving and talking to the crowd, kissing babies and all that. Dylan might play two songs he played the night before and talked once in the show, introducing his band about an hour in.
EAMON: Those guys had very different styles–Bob just seemed to appear onstage magically and the show began immediately; he and his band mean business! Willie was waving to the crowd and looked he’d like to jump down amongst this fans any second! But they were both being true to their own artistic vision. And through thick and thin, over decades of ups and downs, they have both clung to their artistic integrity. And that’s what I got from those guys–just some bigger picture wisdom. Perseverance is key.”
In 2009 there is a large call of change, hope and a bringing together of community due to President Obama taking office. Without asking your political opinion, how do you feel this will affect music in the upcoming year?
CAROL: I think it’s already had a profound affect on everyone, including musicians. I feel the positive energy that Obama has created, energy felt not just in the U.S. but around the world…this is a great time to be living in the States.
KYM: I feel a lot of positive energy around. A good year for music lies ahead.
EAMON: It seems there is a great deal of belief and confidence in President #44, from people on all sides, and that promises some good things. America is renowned for its optimism and hope and these values really seem at the forefront again. Hopefully music can help people express and celebrate these virtues.
Congratulations on receiving a Grammy nomination for Viridian. That’s a great accomplishment. Did you feel any pressure to follow that up with another great, maybe even better album?
CAROL: I don’t think you can ever expect a Grammy nomination; it’s just something that happens when all the stars line up. I’m not feeling any pressure about this album because I truly believe when you set out to make an album, you always set out to make it your best. Awards should not come into the equation–that’s just a big bonus if or when it happens. We have one nod under our belt so if it never happens again it still feels amazing to have that one.
KYM: I’m not sure that ‘pressure’ is the word. We put enough pressure on ourselves but I haven’t felt that from anywhere else. We wanted to–and needed to–make a more focused and honest album, and I know that we have done that.
EAMON: It’s important not to jinx yourself with things like this. No one in our band expected or aimed for that Grammy nod. You have to just remain true to yourself. Of course there was pressure to make a great album, but that really comes from ourselves, from our desire to make music we can be proud of.
Keeping with the Fascination theme, what fascinates/inspires you outside of music? Any particular films inspire you?
CAROL: I love a good movie or documentary. ‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button,’ and I loved ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ I’m also a big fan of the Sundance Channel. I tend to watch a lot of Classic Album Series DVDs on the road, and the ‘Making Of The Dark Side Of The Moon’ is something I watch endlessly…Dave Gilmour really inspires me.
KYM: I’m inspired by people finding success doing something they love. By taking the risk to back yourself in whether you’re a soccer player, musician, someone running for President or what ever. For films I like ‘Seven Years In Tibet.’
EAMON: Music is fairly all consuming but my passion for football (soccer in the states) is a close second. I’m a dedicated Arsenal FC supporter and follow news reports avidly and watch the games whenever I can. The World Cup was a great time as people of all nationalities come together to scream nationalistic hatred at each other–surprisingly fun!
Any other hobbies that might surprise your fans?
CAROL: I make my own clothes on the road; it gives me something to do in the van. I’ve been known to go to Saint Vincent DePaul and buy a bunch of items made out of vintage fabrics; I cut them up and sew them to existing pieces to reinvent my stage clothes.
KYM: Probably nothing surprising but I’m a huge Adelaide Crows (Australian Football) and Manchester United fan. I love ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Flight of the Conchords,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘The Sopranos’ and recently got into ‘Crash.’ I like playing golf but I’m pretty dodgy at it.
EAMON: Nothing shocking really. I was really into running last year and even ran a half marathon, but this year I’ve slacked off, despite my New Year’s resolutions! I’m going to try my best to get back into it, we’ll see…
If you were hosting a dinner party, who would you like to have there, either dead or alive? Perhaps pick three or so names…
CAROL: That’s a tough one. Bob Dylan for sure because not many people get to hang with Bob…Barack and Michelle Obama because they’re a great couple and George Martin so we could talk about how he made all those great albums.
KYM: I’ll stick with alive: Tom Petty, Malcolm Young, Ringo Starr, Roger Federer and Sir Alex Ferguson.
EAMON: Ooh, not easy. I’d probably start with Winston Churchill and have him begin with a toast (and make the after-dinner speech). I’d sit Paul McCartney next to Beethoven and I’d make sure there were a piano and a guitar in the room. Martin Luther King Jr. would probably have a thing or two to say given recent political developments, and perhaps I’d sit him next to the incredible actress Helen Mirren, who would inspire us all. There are many others, but realistically, six is about all I can cook for!
Is there a film and/or or book that’s pivotal to your artistic development?
CAROL: ‘The Alchemist’ came to me at a time when I really needed it. A simple fable but I think it was just good timing. Not long after reading that I sold everything I owned in Australia, bumped up the credit limit on my Visa card and bought a one-way ticket to the U.S.!
KYM: ‘The Beatles Anthology’ DVD series is amazing, and I wrote and practiced a lot whilst reading the book ‘Conversations with Tom Petty.’
EAMON: Corny as it may seem, ‘The Sound of Music’ was probably the most inspiring movie I’ve ever seen. There were so many themes–politics, tyrannical rulers, religion, demands of the flesh, and many more. Yet through all this the family was glued together by their love of music. We knew every song in our house growing up! I’ve read some good books in my time, but I’d be nowhere without a good scale book. Fiddlers reading this should pick up a copy of ‘Carl Flesh Scale Method;’ you will hate and love at the same time.