Carla J. Easton
IT has been fascinating finding out about Carla J. Easton…
and everything going on with her right now. I ask about her upcoming album, Impossible Stuff, and what inspired the songs. I ask how her solo material differs from what she produced with TeenCanteen; if there are tour dates coming up – Easton reveals her favourite albums and artists she grew up around.
I ask what it was like working with Belle & Sebastian on their recent work and what she wants to achieve by the end of this year; if there is a treasured memory from her time in music; some rising artists that are worth checking out – Easton gives some useful advice for artists coming through.
Hi, Carla. How are you? How has your week been?
I've had a great week so far. Been pretty busy the whole of August playing various gigs – my own stuff and playing in other people's bands – so finally able to catch up with my nieces which makes me very happy and provides a much-needed boost.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Carla J. Easton. I've been making music for about fourteen years now, starting off with the band Futuristic Retro Champions which I formed whilst studying at Edinburgh College of Art. I was the synth player and wrote all the songs. We disbanded in 2009 and I founded TeenCanteen – this time synth playing; writing and stepping up to the front as lead singer. We released our debut album, Say It All with a Kiss, in 2016.
At the same time, I wrote and recorded my solo debut album (which I released under the alias ‘ETTE’), Homemade Lemonade. Now I'm writing, recording and releasing under my own name. It's all a bit confusing! I would say I write Pop music – I love Pop music in all its various forms, be that supremely electronic or a big, symphonic noise.
Your album, Impossible Stuff, is out on 5th October. What sort of themes and experiences inspired the music?
I think this is my most honest record to date, lyrically. I decided not to self-censor – sometimes, I can be wary of revealing too much – and I really wanted to make a huge sound with strings and brass and a full band behind me. This record also marks the first time I really allowed myself the time to write and arrange demos. My mum was 'thrilled' when I asked if I could move back home to her house in Carluke for six months to write an album. I pointed out that both my brothers were allowed to move back home when they were saving up to buy houses; she said an album is not the same as a house. I beg to differ.
Regardless; I isolated myself and focussed all my energy on writing an album. A lot is based on lucid dreaming – the blur between reality and fantasy – the insecurities I face and ponder over and the balance between the mundane and the exceptional that happens through various friendships and relationships through life.
What was it like working with producer Howard Bilerman?
Brilliant! The ten days in Hotel2Tango working with Howard are quite probably the best ten days of my life ever! Because I was working with Canadian musicians to make the record, there was no time to rehearse. I'd emailed them over demos in various forms – some very basic, some more fleshed out – prior to arriving in Montreal. The record really captures the energy and moment all the songs came together. We didn't have time to overthink any parts. Howard was wonderful in letting us develop and grow whilst keeping us on a steady path.
Do you have a personal favourite song from the set?
I think I'll always have a fond spot for Lullaby. When I wrote it, I knew it would be the album closer but I never envisioned how full and rich it would sound. After we had finished recording and mixing the choir section at the end and listened back I had to go and sit outside in the warm night air and have a cry. I was just so overwhelmed at what we had managed to create and there was a sense of relief from finally being able to realise the big sound I always have in my head and hearing it actually existing in the real world.
How does your solo work/sound compare to that of TeenCanteen?
I would hope that, lyrically, it's a development. Sound-wise, it's still very much Pop melodies at the core of what I do. I guess there is less limitation. With TeenCanteen, the records usually consist of drums, synth; bass and electric guitar. With this record, there is a lot of synths, pianos; drum machines, violins; timpani, brass; drums, bass; choirs, one-hundred-and-twenty-one string; tubular bells and even sitar!
Many might have detected you on Belle & Sebastian’s How to Solve Our Human Problems – Part 3 E.P. I believe you co-wrote and sung lead vocal on Best Friend. How did you become involved with the band?!
I had an email in my spam folder from Stuart asking if I would be interested in trying some co-writing and that he had seen TeenCanteen perform at a charity event I had organised. Initially, I genuinely thought the email had been sent to me by accident. I was really pleased with how Best Friend sounded when we finished writing and wasn't expecting to actually sing the song!
When did music come into your life? Which artists did you follow when you were young?
Music has always been in my life for as long as I can remember. My eldest brother is ten years older than me and, from a very young age, he would play me his favourite records and make me mix-tapes and I would raid his record and C.D. collection. I guess, because of the age gap, the bands he was listening to at eighteen were ones I was listening to at eight; so I was exposed to The Stone Roses, Oasis and The Charlatans as those were his favourite bands at the time.
The first band I fell 100% in love with was The Polyphonic Spree. They were 'my' band that I got my brother in to rather than the other way round. At thirteen, I discovered The Vaselines and that blew my mind. At fifteen, I uncovered All Things Must Pass by George Harrison and it changed my life.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
To be perfectly honest; last year was so amazing and brilliant I didn't think I would ever top it! I went into 2018 wholly expecting it not to be as good as last year but somehow I still get surprised every day by new opportunities or things I have, somehow, managed to do with my time. I am so excited for people to finally hear Impossible Stuff yet so nervous too as it was such a big album for me to write and record. I'm looking forward to touring it and playing it live as much as possible.
By the end of the year, I would like to think I will have finished writing what will be my third solo album - which is a sentence I never dreamed I would say out loud! I have managed to record half of it already. Not sure how that happened. I guess it would also be good to try and have a small break before the year is out!
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
I just recently co-curated and performed at an event for Edinburgh International Festival called Since Yesterday: The Unsung Pioneers of Scottish Pop which is linked in with a documentary I have been working for the past two years with my friend Blair Young from Forest of Black. We are telling the story of all-girl bands/groups from Scotland starting with The McKinleys in the sixties right up to 2000 when the Internet had its big boom. The event meant I had to put a house-band together to learn and perform songs by Twinsets, Ettes; Lung Leg, The McKinleys; Strawberry Switchblade, Sunset Gun; Sorrow, His Latest Flame and Sophisticated Boom Boom.
Amazingly, we got most of the original singers in from each band to perform their songs with us. The response blew me away and I don't think I'll ever get over playing Sweet and Tender Romance with Jeanette McKinley singing it backed up by Emma Pollock on harmonies. Jeanette hadn't sung the song in fifty years and it was glorious to see her take centre stage at a big theatre during a big festival and get such an overwhelming response from the packed-out audience. I was so proud of everyone that took part and it was wonderful to provide a platform to so many overlooked talented women. The sense of community between all participants was really empowering and I'll cherish that forever - one big Sonic Sisterhood.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Tapestry by Carole King
The first time I heard Carole sing on one of my brother’s mix-tapes was breathtaking. The song was I Feel the Earth Move and it was the first time I heard a piano to the fore with a female singing. Carole's voice is genuine and her songwriting is one of my favourite of all time. I was learning the piano at the time and I think hearing her record and falling in love with it started me on my path to bashing out my own compositions on the piano and starting to sing. Her voice isn't a 'classic' Pop voice and neither is mine. I think that's ok.
All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
My dad passed away when I turned fifteen – that same summer this album as re-issued. I caught a documentary about it and asked my brother to pick me up a copy in Glasgow to bring back home to me in Carluke. This album provided me with much-needed comfort in dealing with and accepting death and life, love and loss.
Don't Say Nothin’ Bad About The Cookies by The Cookies
This is the record that singlehandedly got me obsessed with the sixties girl-group genre. Earl-Jean McCrea's voice blasted out of my stereo like an iron fist in a velvet glove and I was instantly hooked and wanted to know more. Hands down, my favourite girl-group of all time.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I probably wouldn't be that fussed about a rider, to be honest! I've definitely found over the years that the less you drink before a show then the better you perform! It's not that I'd want to support her - I'd just love to see her play live –: Carole King. She's on my bucket list to see perform live one day. I went to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at the beginning of this year and left in floods of tears because it was so wonderful. I can only imagine what my reaction would be to hearing the real-life Carole perform those songs.
Actually, thinking about it, I'd love to tour with The Polyphonic Spree. The handful of times I've managed to catch them live have been my favourite gigs ever and I've also been an emotional mess of happiness when I see them live. I went to their fifteenth-anniversary show of the Beginning Stages Of in Glasgow in 2015 and met Tim afterwards. I couldn't get a word out. I hugged him and started crying and said ‘thanks’. Seeing them live when I was sixteen way back in 2001 - hearing that big Pop noise – was the first time I thought 'I want to do that!'.
Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?
5th October – Glasgow, Broadcast (ALBUM LAUNCH)
11th October – Manchester, Indie Week UK
12th October – London, Sebright Arms
13th October – Brighton, Hope and Ruin
20th October – Edinburgh, Leith Depot
3rd November – Perth, Aberfeldy Festival
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Take your time. Develop your sound. Don't worry about trajectories. Have fun. Explore. Don't over-practice a song before you go into the studio - that's the big one! -; let it develop and grow when you are in there with a producer and band. Gut instinct is usually right. Don't do 'pay-to-play'. Have no expectations – then, when something happens, it's incredible! Support each other.
IN THIS PHOTO: A. Wesley Chung/PHOTO CREDIT: Beth Chalmers Photography
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
Off the top of my head, my vinyl purchases this year have been U.S Girls’ A Poem Unlimited, Kim Richey’s Edgeland; Kylie Minogue’s Golden, Ben Kweller’s Sha-Sha (Record Store Day re-issue); Sorrow’s Under the Yew Possessed as well as a few charity shop finds – currently listening to The Partridge Family Album which I found last week!
From Glasgow: A. Wesley Chung's album, Neon Coast, is wonderful. I'm excited about a new band called Pocket Knife (ones to watch!) and am looking forward to the solo records from Jamie Sutherland (Broken Records) and David (Kid Canaveral) who is working under the alias Broken Chanter. There's a new bis album coming out later this year and I just LOVE BIS.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Try my best! Any spare time I love to see my three nieces Zoe, Rosie and Erin. They are fun and still full of wonder. I love finding and listening to records. Sometimes, I think the best thing you can do with a day off is to stick your headphones on and go for a walk.
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