Carla J. Easton
THIS ranks alongside the most fulsome interviews…
I have ever conducted - Carla J. Easton provided deep and thoughtful answers to each question I asked her! We talked about her musical upbringing and the background to Lights in the Dark. She discussed the song and how she will follow it up; whether there are any gigs pencilled in the diary; how important her family are regarding her music tastes; performing with TeenCanteen – and what it was like recording in Vancouver.
I discovered the albums and artists who have shaped her and was told some wonderful stories and memories; learned about a few new artists worth checking out; discovered whether she gets to kick back away from music – and what this week has been like for her!
Hi, Carla. How are you? How has your week been?
I'm great, thanks.
The last week has been fantastic as all my friends from Canada arrived and we hit rehearsals immediately - amidst catching up with each other. I’ve has radio sessions and (been) launching the Lights in the Dark Tour.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Carla J. Easton and I have been writing and performing music since 2004. This started with the band, Futuristic Retro Champions (I wrote the songs and played synth), before moving onto TeenCanteen in 2012 - just after finishing my Masters of Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art. TeenCanteen was the first time I started singing what I was writing - and we released our debut album in 2016.
That year; I also brought out a solo album under the alias ‘Ette’. Now…I'm just me!
Lights in the Dark is your new single. What is the story behind it?
I wrote Lights in the Dark during the inaugural singer-songwriter, two-week residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in March 2017. It was the first of four songs I would write during my time there. I had a studio with a grand piano in it and windows that looked out onto snowy mountains and forests. It gave me a lot of time to reflect and focus. Lights' is part of a larger story thread - what has, now, become an album's worth of fully-recorded songs delving into lucid dreaming vs. the mundanity of reality (and the blur between the two).
Ultimately, this song is about the little things that count that you lose - and the little things that happen in daily life that point out to something being wrong.
It was recorded at Hotel2Tango in Montreal. How did you find the experience? Do you split your time between Canada and Glasgow?
When I returned from the songwriting residency at Banff; I made some big changes to my life. I had Don Henry's words ringing in my ears after a session with him where I played him some of my new material. He said: “You have to make more time to write” and he explained to me that I was maybe missing out on writing, what could be, some of my best work because my lifestyle didn't allow me the time to focus...
So; I got back to Scotland and moved back to my family home to live with my mum. She let me set up a home-studio – which, was, basically, my old upright piano that I've had since I was ten (which I got tuned!); a Korg MiniPops drum machine; a Roland-Juno Di and a Casio MT-45 - and I (just) wrote and wrote and wrote. I had GarageBand on my iPad and I just demoed up everything. I'd be up until all hours getting everything recorded. The more I did this, the easier it became and, all of a sudden, I was writing about two or three songs a week.
The entire time; I had kept in contact with Howard (who I'd met on the residency) as well as with my new friends I had made there – Jesse Aaron Shire, Brett Nelson and Kev Corbett. I'd send them these demos. The album started at La Chunky in Glasgow with my very good friends, Ronan Breslin and Coliln McGeoch, who have been nothing but supportive of the work I do since the very early days of Futuristic Retro Champions. I started Pro Tools sessions with them - to then take over to Montreal and build on with my band and Howard.
What's now remarkable is that a lot of the guide vocals recorded at La Chunky have ended up being the ones used in the final mixes for the album! I really love how this is a collection of work recorded between Scotland and Canada.
Recording at Hotel2Tango in Montreal is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had in a studio - and the most intense. Ten ten-hour days in a row with live tracking then overdubs, choir singing; tubular bells, trumpets; strings and sitar. None of the songs had been rehearsed together as a band. Howard said: “Let's just set up and hit record and make a record that captures the moment it all clicks”. We all went with our gut instinct on a lot of songs, as a result. I like going into a studio this way: I'd say I thrive on it! You don't have time to overthink anything and you aren't attached to anything going in.
Plus; when you get the chance to listen back, it's so exciting to hear what you have just created – it's incredible to listen to something that didn't exist thirty-minutes previously.
With that in mind; what are the main differences in the music scenes of, say, Glasgow and Montreal?
It's hard to say!
Most of my time in Montreal was spent in the recording studio. Prior to starting the sessions, I was invited to play at Pop Montreal - which is similar to The Great Escape, though it seemed more relaxed and less of an industry event. There were so many bands playing and gigs happening - the city was positively buzzing with late-night melodies.
Montreal is an incredible city - and I feel lucky to have spent time there while the album was being made.
The remainder of your upcoming album was also recorded there. Can you reveal the subjects and inspirations that go into the record?
Loosely; it's realisation and escapism: lucid dreaming and introspection with storytelling at its core. Howard and I talked a lot about George Harrison and All Things Must Pass during the recording sessions. I think that record and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound were always going to be huge factors in terms of sound - but translating into something new. All the musicians who recorded with me are also solo singer-songwriters in their own right so, bringing together all these different musical backgrounds and genres was always going to result in something that encompassed many different sounds - while maintaining a strong Pop feel with the synth. bang in the middle of it all.
You have recorded one album with TeenCanteen - one solo album as Ette. How do you feel, since then, you have progressed as a songwriter?
I'd hope I'm getting stronger and better as I'd never wanted to plateau as an artist. I'm enjoying playing about with song structure at the moment and writing without worrying about what part is a verse or what part is a chorus. I think that comes from reading poetry and attending poetry readings: thinking more about the flow of words and a song as a whole, rather than in sections. Though I know this has proved annoying for the people recording with me; when they say “Can we jump to the chorus” and I don't know what the chorus is - and everyone has a different take on what part the chorus is! Sonically, I feel like the album at Hotel2Tango is the album I have been hoping to realise for a long time. I think about arrangements a lot more when I'm writing now.
I know where a brass or string melody will go and that that will make up a large part of the final recording - so it becomes part of the songwriting. I'm not sure if that means I'm dipping my toe into co-producing or not!
Tell me about the music you were raised on. Did you have quite eclectic tastes as a youngster?
Very much so…and I could talk about music all day long! My eldest brother is ten years older than me; so I listened to what he was listening to. This meant that, at the age of five - when he was fifteen -, I was listening to Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits; The Stone Roses and The Lemonheads. The Lemonheads’ cover of Mrs. Robinson was the first 7'' record I owned. I remember the significance of Oasis bursting onto the scene as my brother was obsessed with them. There were always NME and Melody Maker’s lying about the house - and I would religiously read them and then ask my brother to buy me singles or albums based on the reviews in them. I had a huge poster of Tim Burgess on my bedroom wall by the time I was ten - facing a similar-sized poster of Bob Marley. I've always loved music. I equally adore Kylie Minogue and The Polyphonic Spree.
I think it's best not to be genre specific and dip your toe in everything.
In addition to writing a song for Belle and Sebastian’s E.P., How to Solve Our Human Problems; you are due to play on Marc Riley’s show. Do you have any other ambitions and big plans for the future?
We'll finish the Lights in the Dark Tour and, then, I have a couple of shows in April and another single release around then. I'm at my happiest writing and recording - so I hope to continue with that this year.
IN THIS PHOTO: Jared Celosse
If you had to choose the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
I used to get home from school and switch on the T.V. and watch music channels. We had Sky hooked up to a small box-T.V. in my brother’s room - which also doubled as a den for people to hang out in. I saw the VH1 documentary on the re-release of All Things Must Pass. I was fifteen at the time. I asked my brother to pick me up a copy of it when he was in Glasgow on his way home from work and bring it home to me in Carluke. He'd always do that if I asked him too. I remember the first time I stuck on C.D. two with the opening title-track. I was standing on my bed right up next to my speakers. My room was yellow and the sun was pouring in through the windows - and the opening chords and rhythm of All Things Must Pass Started. (“Sunshine doesn't last all morning...”). My dad had just passed away and George taught me how to deal with that.
I will always think of that record as a friend that got me through some difficult times. I love listening to it now as an adult and feeling like I'm home.
Tapestry – Carole King
My eldest brother is ten years older than me – and he is a music obsessive. When he passed his driving test; he used to make mixtapes and tell me to grab my sunglasses. We would go for a drive around the Clyde Valley listening to the compilations he had made. It was one of my favourite things to do from the age of eight onwards. One day, we were driving around with the stereo volume turned way up and the opening piano riff of I Feel the Earth Move started blasting out the speakers. It was the first time I had heard a piano so up-front in the mix. When Carole started singing; I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I think I must have been about fourteen at the time. It was also the first time I had heard a woman's voice sing that way. It was soulful and scratchy and wasn't perfect like the vocal performances I had been exposed to on Pop records of the time.
(I made a mental note).
My brother had the biggest C.D. and record collection ever. It was all carefully catalogued and alphabetised. He always told me not to go near it when he wasn't in! I never listened to him and would snoop around looking for things when I got in from school and he was still working in Glasgow (he didn't move out till he was twenty-seven!). That's when I found Tapestry and I think it changed my life in ways I'll never know. I'd been having piano lessons since the age of eight. Listening to Tapestry made me want to start and bash out melodies on my upright and sing along. Carole's voice made me want to sing along with her.
The Cookies – The Cookies
A lot of people (always) assume that all I listen to is girl-groups - which isn't true at all! I love and am fascinated by the genre and own a lot of records by them…but this stems from a wider interest in understanding their often-overlooked role in the history of popular music. The first girl-group record I got was a greatest hits compilation by a group I had never heard of before called The Cookies. I was twenty-one and living in Edinburgh at the time.
My favourite record shop was and still is Backbeat Records in Newington. It is jam-packed full of vinyl - it's so full you have to leave your bag and coat at the door just so you can get in the place. I had been visiting regularly to buy Northern Soul records and had struck up a friendship with the owner. There was a room in the back that he used to call ‘The Soul Kitch’ - as the shop was a converted old flat. He'd put a box in there and stick records in it - he thought I would like them. One day; The Cookies were peering up at me…so I bought it.
I got home and stuck it on my record player and Earl-Jean MacRae arrived into my life with a voice like an iron fist in a velvet glove - and that was me absolutely hooked. Who was she? Who were the group? Were there more out there? The swagger to the song Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby was incredible; the songwriting outstanding - but then it would be: it was Goffin and King
That's how I got hooked on girl-groups.
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
Wed 31st Jan: Manchester at The Castle
Fri 2nd Feb: London at the Sebright Arms
Wed 4th April: Glasgow at Nice and Sleazy's
Wed 11th (April): Edinburgh at Sneaky Pete's
You perform with a Canadian band. How exciting is it getting on stage with them and putting your songs to the people?
Sadly; I won't always be performing with my Canadian band - which is why it has been so wonderful to have them over for the release of the first single we recorded together. It means a lot to me that the first time people will hear these songs played live is with the musicians who helped me shape and create it.
Do you get to kick-back and detach from music much – is so; how do you spend your spare time?
I read a lot: especially poetry books and philosophy. I like to have a stack by my bed to dip in and out of. Sometimes, I draw. I actually hate being idle. It really freaks me out if I find myself with nothing to do. Outside of music; I've been working on a documentary with Blair Young for about eighteen months now - and I've been continuing to write and record with Stephen Watkins, too. I'd say solo album number-three is halfway done…before solo album number-two has even been released!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Always SO HARD to do this!
Right now, how about the Lambchop cover of Prince's When You Were Mine. It's absolutely tremendous!
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