My favorite type of interview is when the Q&A session naturally turns into a conversation between two people just chilling out and talking. That’s what happened when I sat down with Todd Carey in his dressing room at Martyrs in Chicago. Read on to hear what Todd had to say when I asked him my awesome questions…
What are your thoughts towards the ‘360 deal’ model that the majors are now imposing on new talent that they want to sign?
I don’t think that it’s gotten to the point where every label is pursuing their artists for ‘360 deals’.I think that’s the future of what’s going on.With file-sharing and with the way people are hearing music now, it’s so much more than a piece of plastic with digital information on it.It’s about the music, the package, the artist’s career.Anyone who wants to be involved with music of some sort wants to be involved with more than the recorded medium.They want a piece of their touring; they want a piece of their merchandise.Whether it’s a record company facilitating that, or a private entity, I think you’re going to see more and more of that.I don’t think that it’s necessarily true that record companies are all pursuing ‘360 deals.’But your question, basically right off the top, you just tapped into everything that’s going on right now.No one knows the answer.Whoever figures it out is going to win the game.I’m doing the “Pay What You Feel” thing.My record [Watching Waiting] is available online to download at any price you choose between $0 and $10.It’s exactly like the Radiohead thing, but on an independent level.They tried it as a major band.As far as I know I was the first to do it as an indie artist.I know other people are doing it now.It’s been really cool, first of all.It’s gotten a lot of attention.It’s involved with charity as well, so if you pay X amount of dollars, then X amount goes towards this “go green” organization.Not that that’s the wave of the future, but everybody trying different things like that is kind of heading in the direction of your question.
What would your response be if a major label approached you with a ‘360 deal’?
I’d be very open to that because that would be a smart major.I don’t know how many of them are doing it right now. You have to be thinking forward and have a great concept of it.Anyone who is thinking forward is doing great.I think at this point, anyone who is thinking traditionally is basically done.So if they’re thinking 360, then great.I would love to talk to somebody like that.
How much did you know about the inside of the music industry before making deals and signing contracts?What did you understand about publishing, licensing, touring, merchandise, major vs. indie labels, marketing, production, radio, etc.?
I think it’s a learn as you thing.I don’t think anybody knows before they get into it.They’re just interested on an artistic level.I think artists learn it out of necessity because they need to understand these things to get their art out there and make a living.I learned it as I went along and I feel that most people do.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned from mistakes you have made during your career so far?
It’s a slow burn.One victory at a time.Run the long race.Stay in it for the marathon instead of the short sprint.To use that kind of metaphor, that’s the way to do it if you’re an independent artist.If you’re Gavin DeGraw, that’s a different story.
What are some of the important lessons you have learned from music professionals with more experience in the biz?
It could be something artistically from a great producer and working with great producers in general.Myself being a producer in my bedroom, I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of creative things when I got into a studio with someone who had made a lot of records with a lot of professional musicians.Creatively you learn stuff as you go along.Business-wise, you learn things from mistakes you make.You learn things from successes you have.Every day is a learning process – it makes it exciting.There are no rules right now.It’s the wild, Wild West and that’s what makes it really fun and exciting.
As far as commercial music licensing goes, what television shows would you enjoy having your music placed and featured in?
I think everyone would love to have their music in Grey’s Anatomy – everybody.Entourage – I would love to have it in Grey’s Anatomy and Entourage.
What are your thoughts on having your recorded live performances downloaded for free by your fans (no revenue stream coming in from online performance rights royalties)?
I grew up listening to bands and that’s how they became popular – from their fans grass rooting their live performances.I’d be down.The only thing is, when you get into video, you get into a different realm.You’re not just trading audio recordings with people.It’s got to be good – that’s the problem.If it’s band approved, I’m into it.If it’s someone holding up their digital camera at a show, from the audience, I don’t really want that necessarily circulating as an entirety – or being promoted.Anybody can throw it up on YouTube.But something that’s being promoted – I’m totally all about a great artist approved video.I’m kind of at the mindset where I like to get my stuff out there as much as possible.If there’s going to be a live performance that people get into, I feel like that perpetuates an artist.Maybe I’m not thinking smart enough business-wise.It’s kind of the same thing as “Pay What You Feel.”If it’s going to get it out there, at some point, somebody’s going to buy a ticket to your show.Somebody’s going to tell their friend about it and it’s going to be so much bigger than trying to hold on to it the whole time.
Even though your last album Watching Waiting came out more than a year ago, what challenges, if any, did you face in putting it together?
It was so unbelievably fun.I don’t want to say easy, but it certainly wasn’t a rough process.Writing it is a different story.In terms of creating and recording it, the process was amazing.I enjoyed it so much I don’t feel like there were any road blocks.The challenge is getting it out there to people.
How would you categorize your music?
I’d like to think it’s a little bit more high energy and emotional than some of the other “singer/songwriters” out there.
How do you make yourself stand out from the rest of those in the singer/songwriter genre?
I just like to do it by pure energy.
What advice would you give to those who want to break out into songwriting or playing with a band?
I’m not sure if there is necessarily advice you can give. That’s such a highly personal thing.Writers should just be really true to themselves.They should trust their instincts and make sure that they have really good objective people around them to kind of bounce stuff off of.People who are not shooting them down, but people who they trust to guide them a little bit.“Yeah, that’s a great song, you should keep playing it” or “I don’t know about that.”That’s a good place to start.
Who are some of your favorite singers, songwriters and guitarists?
We were listening to Brandi Carlile today.The Beatles – I love The Beatles.Jimi Hendrix.Trey Anastasio from Phish – he’s great.Jerry Garcia from Dead [the Grateful Dead].Dylan [Bob Dylan] – great songwriter.That’s really cheesy.
What is going through your head in the middle of a guitar solo?
Nothing!Absolutely nothing.If I’m thinking while I’m doing a guitar solo, then I’m not giving the audience what they need to be hearing.It just needs to come out, completely naturally.
Are you ever surprised at what happens while improvising?
Yeah!That’s when it’s the best.When I’m like, “Whoa, where did that come from?”That’s what it’s all about.
How did you start playing guitar?
I saw La Bamba – that really cheesy movie about Ritchie Valens with Lou Diamond Phillips.The music was kick-ass.Los Lobos played and Santana is the guitar player in the movie.He was playing a Stratocaster and they were doing “La Bamba” and thought that was hot.Plus I loved Elvis Presley growing up.It was all rock and roll and it always had the guitar.
Are you self-taught or did you have any training and lessons?
No, I didn’t teach myself.I’ve taken lessons.I actually studied in college at the University of South California.
What are some of the first songs you learned how to play?
Stone TemplePilots – “Plush.”Probably one of the first songs that I learned to play was “Disarm” – by the Smashing Pumpkins.I was really into grunge and alternative.But I also really did like Temple of the Dog.
Who were some of the first guitarists that you saw live?First concerts you attended?
My first memory of being at a live music concert was in 1986 or 1987 at the [Michael Jackson] Bad Tour.I was seven and all I remember was being at Soldier Field.I didn’t see anything because I was really short and everyone was really tall when you’re seven.All I remember seeing were the lights of the stadium and hearing the thunderous echoing sound of a rock concert.I could barely identify because I guess my ears weren’t fully developed or something.I remember it was pouring rain the whole time.I have this flash of an experience of what I barely remember from that show.The stuff that really kicked my ass early was when my dad took me to see Ray Charles when I was ten – that was bad ass.You know what killed me?I saw Paul McCartney on his world tour in 1991 – his Flowers in the Dirt Tour.He was playing all The Beatles songs.I was eleven.That was the first stuff that really knocked my socks off.
Do you have a practice regimen?
These days I’m practicing singing more.With the guitar – I don’t want to say I’ve stopped practicing – that sounds really bad, but I like to let that just come naturally.I’m trying to get to a point now where I’m practicing new techniques for singing.At some point I won’t be practicing and thinking about them.It will just be the guitar, where it’s so natural.I just got to a point of singing naturally untrained maybe two or three years ago where I was taking this as far as I wanted to go.I like to surround myself with good people who I can trust, like a good vocal coach.Maybe a producer and learn.I feel like I’m in a relearning process of singing.I want to get to that point on the guitar where I’m just not thinking about it and it’s just uninhibited and as natural as possible.If you’re thinking, then a guitar solo is just not happening.
How much do you play outside of recording and touring?
Right now I’m tying to right a song every day.Generally they’re really bad.I spend a lot of time waiting for songs to come, which is totally cool.But right now – when you turn on the faucet, you force it on.When you write something every day, five out of six days of the week the song sucks.But on that seventh day you get something really good.That’s kind of where I’m at right now.That’s my practice routine in addition to doing some singing stuff.
Any plans for your next album?
Yeah, I’m already working on it, actually.I want to have the next record out by this time next year.I’ve got a lot of song written – around 20.But, I only really feel strong about six or seven of them right now.And who knows?By the time the album comes out they could be all different.I definitely know all the ones I’ve written are not happening.
When you’re in the studio, do you think about how the songs will sound live?
Totally.I try not to.I first just try and write it personally and make it good for myself.But then often, I feel the ones that stick are the ones that work well live.I’ve written some songs that are awesome in my room and then subsequently sound great on record.But for whatever reason, they’re not that great live and they kind of just fade away for me.I don’t keep playing them.
What are you thoughts toward the Guitar Hero phenomenon?
I think it’s kick-ass.It’s so fun.I hate it when people bag on Guitar Hero.That’s snobbery.It’s hard, man!I’m not very good at it either, but I hate it when people bag on it.It’s all hand-eye coordination.It has nothing to do with feel, at all – that’s why I’m bad at it.Well, for whoever is bagging on people for not being good musicians and playing Guitar Hero: those are kids who are going to be computer programmers who are going to fucking change the world.
How do you go about picking songs for your set list?Does it change when you play in your hometown of Chicago?
Definitely changes when I play here [Chicago] because I don’t want to play the same shit all the time.Definitely get in a groove I notice when you’re on tour.I’d like to play a different set every single night.When I’m on tour, the first couple of nights I mess around and I kind of get in a groove and keep it going.I’ll switch it up.But when I’m doing more one-off shows like the last few nights, it’s all been different.I want to get back to doing that more.
Below is the set list from Todd’s show at Martyrs on June 12th, 2008:
How much do you rehearse for a tour?
I try and get ready as much as possible.I’m going to do a tour in August and I’ll probably be preparing the music with the band a month or two months before.The band’s only going to get together a couple of nights before the [first] show.But I’ll be playing the songs; they’ll be playing the songs.There’s a certain amount of individual preparation that goes into it.I think part of the excitement of a live show is the coming together of those elements.
What prevents you from playing different sets every night?Or from changing songs in midshow, depending on your mood?
Oh, we never play a set that’s on the set list [for that show].We always change it – every time.We’ll have a set list, but we never follow it – ever!There are kind of two schools of thought on it.One is the super-pro, and it’s a show.It’s got to be amazing and dazzling, so the lines are planned, the lighting cues, etc.And then the other school [of thought] is like “Well, why the hell go if it’s going to be the same every night?”The magic is in finding something different.I’m definitely of the second school, even though I just said I play the same fucking set every night on tour.You got to keep it interesting – for yourself, you know what I’m saying?Or otherwise it gets boring.With hip hop there’s so much prerecorded music that it’s got to be all tracked out.It’s such a production with the lights and the background, etc.
What is on Todd Carey’s rider?
I don’t have a rider.
You are performing three times at this year’s Summerfest.How is it going to be different from other multi-act tours and headlining shows you’ve played?
Again, there are two schools of thought.It’s like the same set list versus the different set list.There’s the introspective artist versus the extrovert artist.I’m definitely of the second.I like to try and reach out and grab people; win the crowd over.When I play a festival, it’s gotten to a point where I have to tone it down a little to try and not be crazy.I’m not the one who’s just going to sit up there and be like, “You’re going to dig it or you’re not.”I’ll reach out in whatever way, whether that’s musically or talking.The game plan is to go and win people over.That’s what a good artist does.They win people over.
Did you ever go to Summerfest as a fan?
I never did.No.
What was it like your first time playing the “World’s Largest Music Festival” (Summerfest)?
It definitely wasn’t the largest crowd I’ve played for.But it was a fun show – it was the Fourth of July.All of my friends and family where there.We were opening for the “Hey There Delilah” band.What’s that band called?The Plain White T’s.That’s a good song.It was great before it started getting overplayed.It was just basically a lot of fun.
Will you test songs that you have already written for the upcoming album on the road?
That’s totally where I’m at right now.I’ve had a year of playing these songs and I’m starting to play a lot of new songs live.I’m going to do a couple tonight.It’s basically where you’re catching me right now; testing the new stuff out to see how it flies with people.How the audience reacts doesn’t have final say, but it definitely factors in to whether or not the new material makes the final cut to be on the new record.I’ll write and record a song sometimes before I ever play it live and it’s great as a record.But if I have a song that is working in my room and I take it out and play it for people and it doesn’t work, subconsciously when I go back and play it, I don’t like it as much.Just because I associate the emotional reaction.My emotional feeling with that song is that it didn’t go over.So I’m less inclined to want to keep it around.