April 25, 2012

Carina Round’s Explosive, Expansive Tigermending

By Etan Rosenbloom


Carina Round. Photo by Kristin Burns

There’s a whole lot to listen to on Tigermending, the explosive, expansive fourth LP from British ex-pat Carina Round. All those dark atmospherics and multi-tracked vocals and clanking guitar lines don’t come from nowhere – they’re the product of a creator open enough to follow her boundless musical instincts wherever they go, and keen enough to write actual songs to anchor her boundless muse. A few weeks before Tigermending’s May 1st release, we caught Round on the phone to get her perspective on creativity, commerce and everything in between.

So first off, I don’t think that you sound anything like KT Tunstall, but you’re both super creative, genre-bending women who make interesting rock music and you both have album titles with the word “tiger” in them. Has that come up yet?

No, what’s her album?

She has one called Tiger Suit, and a suit is the kind of thing that you could mend, you know?

It is. I also found out after I released my single that she had some song called "Girl and the Ghost." It’s really very strange. I had no idea until after it was done and I was going to call my record that and I didn’t, because of that. And now, apparently, we chose the same type of album title too.

Well, you have a creative soul mate for sure. But let’s focus on you. We’ll leave KT Tunstall out of this interview entirely.

[Laughs] Okay.

It’s been five years since we had a full-length from you and even longer since you actually recorded Slow Motion Addict. What led to the long gap?

Well, after Slow Motion Addict I was on tour for a while. I went out with Annie Lennox and did some of my own shows, and then, I think after that whole situation I just wanted to take a little break. So I was just playing and writing, and then I met Dan Burns through a mutual friend, and we decided to write a couple songs together. I was so impressed and bowled over and it was such an easy - well not too easy, but an easy enough experience. It was really creative, and it felt vulnerable but also very strong, and we wrote “For Everything A Reason” and “Do You” together and recorded them on the day that we wrote them, and I was just like “Whoa, I gotta do something with this guy!” So we made Things You Should Know together, and then I put that out myself.

At the back of that, I was reached out to by Puscifer and they asked me if I wanted to be involved in their touring circus. And I listened to their record and loved it so much that I was like, “Uh, yeah.” And then eventually, it turned into me working with them on Conditions of My Parole and also going out touring with them again. You know, L.A. is a really good breeding ground for different kinds of creative writing, so [I was] just writing with other people that were involved in soundtracks and movies. Also I started another band called Early Winters with this guy Justin Rutledge from Canada and Dan Burns, and Zac Rae, who’s an amazing piano player, and we put an EP and a record out at the beginning of the year, too. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I mean the hiatus between my records was long but it’s not like I haven’t been busy, you know?

Oh, sure. Well I wanted to follow up on the Puscifer thing. Since their first album, that whole Puscifer environment seems like such a different way of creating and performing music than most creators are used to. Can you tell me what it’s like being a part of that collective, and if you’ve brought anything from your Puscifer experience to the new record?

A lot of the songs from this record were written before I was deeply involved with Puscifer and the creative process of Puscifer, but I absolutely do [think it’s influenced the record]. I mean, [Maynard James Keenan] himself and Mat Mitchell, who produces the records and co-writes all the songs, are just two of the kind of people that I’ve never really met before, and the way they work is something I’ve also never experienced. As an artist, it’s very rare to ever get to actually be a part of the writing, creative and recording process of another artist, so you never really get to see how it’s done by other people, certainly in my experience. So to actually be a fly on the wall during that whole experience was so nourishing, and a huge learning experience. Obviously [Maynard’s] vision is really, really strong, but his creative process is not controlling at all. He was just an inspiration to watch and so was Mat, just to be around that and to see what his strengths are and how he recognizes what everyone else’s strengths are, and allows that to come together into one thing that’s obviously bigger than the sum of its parts instead of trying to control what everybody’s doing. It was really awesome to see that.

You had your fair share of fellow artists on Tigermending; Brian Eno, Billy Corgan, Dave Stewart. Did you take a Maynard-esque role in that, giving each of them their parts, or was it a more of a collaborative experience working with those three?

It was certainly a collaborative experience with the Brian Eno/Dave Stewart track. Dave sent me the original which was basically just the thing at the beginning, the little beat with the melody, and said “Write something to this!” And then in true Carina Round style, it took like five years to finish it. I’ve literally been writing it for five years, and it wasn’t right until it was right, you know? So yes, those two things were created totally separately. With the Billy thing, he heard he heard me playing “Got to Go” live and he just loved the song and wanted to make it heavier which I was totally down to do and really excited by. And of course as soon as he touches a guitar there’s no mistaking who it is playing it. And it was just brilliant. And I think both versions are totally different but really good, and I just love what he brought to the song.

Were you huge fans of all three of those guys long before you started working with them?

Of course. I don’t see the point of working with someone that you don’t respect, you know?

I was even thinking of one of those title connections between Tigermending and the Brian Eno album Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.

Right! Maybe we’re all interconnected in a very odd way, I don’t know. [Laughs] The title actually came from…I saw a painting a long time ago that was called “Tiger Mending,” and the name of the artist escapes me right now which is ridiculous, because, it’s like, “What’s Bob Dylan’s name again?” to me - I know her name so well…but it’s gone away.

Is it Amy Cutler?

Yes, that’s right. Anyway, I was so moved by the idea of the painting and just the vulnerability of it, and what the word could mean. It just stayed with me for so long that it made a really big impression on me, so I borrowed it.

Did you end up with a personal meaning for “Tigermending”?

I did. It’s some really absent-faced looking women sitting around, basically sewing up tigers, huge tigers that are completely just...you know, in the palms of the hands of these women that are fixing them, and there’s no suggestion as to what happened to them, and there’s no suggestion as to how the women and the tigers came together, anything like that. They’re basically just sewing up these massive, helpless, ferocious animals who are just completely vulnerable to these women. And, I don’t know, there’s so much intangible meaning that you could attach to that that I don’t really want to put into words what it means to me, because there’s too much you can derive from that, I think.

Tiger Mending

Tiger Mending, by Amy Cutler. 2003.

I’m looking at it right now, and it’s as if it’s all floating in space, too.

Yeah, exactly. I couldn’t even explain that painting if I wanted to. It’s amazing.

Well clearly your love of art and photography and film have impacted the visual aspects of who you are and the albums that you put out and your videos and such. Would you say that media other than music has influence your music?

Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. I couldn’t go through my life being inspired by driving on the 101 or all the other things that I have to do. All these things I think that I see in my life that surround me. I try and surround myself with things that inspire me in some way or another. The people that inspire me and clothes that inspire me and movies that inspire me and I think without actually going “Well, that movie totally inspired that song ‘cuz it’s about this person...” It’s more about little footprints they leave on me. The imprints and feelings that I’m given by it. For instance, the painting, I saw that painting years before the album came out. An I never looked at it and thought “God dammit, that’s what I’m gonna call my record.” It was just with me, I carried it with me, and when the time came it just made sense for it to be that, you know? And sometimes two completely separate entities can come together into one song…it could be about different people, the same feeling created by completely different situations and experiences, and sometimes I can’t even put my finger on it, I just know that it’s right, because when it comes together and it’s happening it doesn’t feel wrong.

That’s a really interesting perspective.

[Laughs] Or it could be a bunch of bullshit, I don’t know. To me it feels good, and I think one of the things I've learned from working with all these people and seeing how these people work and come together and connect through it is that it doesn’t always have to be completely tangible, and [not to] second guess your instincts all the time. And by the same stretch, if something is not right and you know it, keep going until it feels like it’s right. But I’ve had so much turmoil within myself before, in that something just comes together and feels really beautiful and it feels good but my monkey brain can’t put it together in words, so my initial reaction is to deny it, and I think that’s not what art is about, that’s not what creativity is about. You sometimes can’t explain why you’ve become so close to somebody as a person. And I think it’s the same thing, you’re not smart enough to be able to explain why a piece of art comes together as it is, it’s not a technical thing, and I think sometimes it’s better to just sit with the feeling and not try and tear it apart because it will just dissipate. I sound like such a f--king hippie right now. [Laughs]

We’re actually gonna print the text of this interview in a kaleidoscope of different colors just to play up that idea.

I don’t know what that means but I love it. [Laughs]

In listening to Tigermending, what you were just saying about the monkey brain and not sewing things up tidily actually makes a lot of sense to me. In songs like “You and Me” and “Weird Dream” and “Mother’s Pride” I hear this friction between the song craft element, the melody, the harmony and making it into a concise narrative song, and the complete opposite – that unhinged, primal expressionist part of you...so how do you decide how to strike that balance? When do you rein yourself in and when do you just let go?

I think as I get older that just becomes more instinctual. It’s not really like “Ooh I think this is a little bit too crazy, let’s reel it back.” It’s just about a feeling of “Is this right? Is this the song? Is this part of the song and is it correct and is it right?” And sometimes the writing of it is a completely different being to when it’s performed and sang. Like when I sing it, sometimes it turns from an antelope into an octopus. I thought it was something and it became something completely different but equally as beautiful to me.

For something like “Weird Dream,” that song went in a couple of different versions. It just started out as one thing and just wouldn’t leave me alone until it got to the point where it is now. I worked on it in the studio – I had a lot to with editing this time, and everyone’s performance was great and everyone did everything really good, but there was just something about it that needed to be jarring at the end and it just wasn’t. But jarring yet really beautiful, which I think we eventually captured.

But yeah, it took a really long time to get that one right, whereas “Mother’s Pride,” I think it took me as long to write it as it did to play it. It came right out, and so did “You and Me.” Both two of the fastest songs I’ve ever written. And I think I was, if this makes sense, consciously being unconscious about it. I was going through a period of, I call it my “yes period,” when I wrote the word “yes” on my left wrist and I just tried to live by it. I was trying to be openhearted and allow things to happen naturally without trying to control them, and those two songs were a huge part of that process. Because I wasn’t trying to control – not to say that I wasn’t into the craft of the writing, it’s obviously that as well, but I was striking a balance between the guttural song and then the craft of the song. And I think they turned out really good for it, I’m really proud of them. And I think you can hear that, too.

This seems like the most diverse album that you’ve put together so far. Did you start out knowing that it would be so eclectic or did it develop naturally that way?

I had a feeling that I wanted it to be strong, but I wanted those vulnerable moments in there. I think that I just do that naturally. All my records in some way or another have had those extremes. It’s never been a problem for me that one record can be diverse from one end to the other. I think it actually makes a record more interesting, so I've never really tried to rein it in and be like “Well, we should have the same drum sound on everything, and the same this and the same that.” And this record was made over four years, so I knew at that point it was gonna be diverse, but it wasn’t something that scared me.

I think because of the people that worked on the record, and because of whatever transitions I made over the last few years, and [the fact that] I was always living in the same location, I think that really does have a lot [to do with it]...the way the shadows and light of your music have a lot to with where you are at that time and who you’re surrounded with. So I think there is a really strong backbone, because most of the musicians are the same, and obviously it’s me and Dan producing it, and it’s my voice and my lyrics, and even though I think you’re right, it’s the most diverse record, I also think that it’s the most focused as well.

Because it’s the most distilled. And whatever part of me is happening right then, it’s more natural than anything else that I think I’ve done. And more connected. I feel more connected with it. I love the first record that I made, but I know I wasn’t particularly connected. It was incredibly searching, and it’s really good in that way, and it’s really raw, and there’s a lot of ranting going on, and I had a lot to say about myself. And then the disconnection was I think another step from that, and I think this one just took it to a different level. I don’t mean to sound like “Oh, I just took this to a different level.” I mean for me as a human and an artist that tries to progress every time, I do feel like it’s a real strong progression.

Carina Round Shaky

Photo by Kristin Burns

The diversity is a sonic diversity, a stylistic diversity. It’s not really a creative diversity in the sense that it sounds like it’s coming from twelve different people. You can hear that you are at the core.

That is important, and I’m happy you agree, because I have listened to the record and just thought “Wow, these songs are all f**king completely different from each other.” And there will be some people that probably will listen to it and not understand that, and not understand that there’s this really strong core or backbone running through it.

It seems doing things on a do-it-yourself level is the process du jour for so many artists these days, largely by necessity. You released your first two records independently a decade ago, before you signed to Interscope. Now that you’re going indie route again, how does self-releasing your music differ from when you did it with First Blood Mystery and The Disconnection?

I would say there’s one pivotal difference, and that is social networking. It did not exist when I first put out The Disconnection by myself.

How appropriate that it was called The Disconnection and there was no “connected” network.

[Laughs] I know, that’s pretty funny. To me that is the one main difference. And social networking has obviously opened up the channels to a lot of other things, too, but I really do think that it’s the main difference. Without it, it would just be so much harder; that’s why you need a record company, to basically put money into trying to get people to hear your stuff. And then trying to maintain a fan relationship after that. Like how do you do that without having direct contact with people? Nobody f--king listens to radio anymore. They put on Pandora, they put in one song that they wanna listen to, and then there’s a bunch of other music the sounds similar. Everyone has so much choice as to what they wanna do. I think people also realize if they wanna find something new and interesting they have to work harder than just turning on radio, or turning on the TV. And  obviously there’s millions of people who don’t realize that, and don’t realize what goes into it and don’t care, and that’s fine. You don’t have to care about me putting my record out.

The Disconnection

The Disconnection

But I think there’s just so many people who were so connected to the artist in the first place that they’ve come to learn that you can’t really trust radio, you can’t trust what record companies tell you all the time, and that they know there’s been a huge shift in the industry themselves. People that don’t make music know that, for this to have happened, it must have been huge. And they must’ve been really listening. Artists were really talking about it. They were really talking about it, and they had a platform to talk about it, and people could listen. And I think that just wasn’t there ten years ago. It just wasn’t the same. I could barely make a f--king call on my cell phone let alone map from here to [there]. Technology is so unbelievable, and for me I couldn’t do it without that platform.

I don’t know how you were able to do it for as long as you did. It seems like back then, the best you could hope for as an independent musician was to get signed and have people do stuff for you and give you money. And now a whole swath of artists just doesn’t care. They realize that getting signed doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of your career plan.

Yeah, and the other irony is, I can make a record for a tenth of the price that a record company will pay a producer to make a record. And when I sell it, I make 100% of the profit instead of none of the profit. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not balling. I’m not high rolling, I’m just saying it’s the first time in my entire life I’ve ever actually been able to make a living from music, and I’ve been doing it for ten years. And I was signed to a major label and I got an embarrassing advance – not big at all, because it was around that time where there wasn’t really social networking but the record industry was kind of f--ked, so artists who were signing to majors were getting smaller and smaller advances, so it was that kind of weird interim period where nobody knew what was going on. So they give you this advance and then you get a big producer, because they’re like “If you get a big producer then more people will listen, and then you’ll get on the radio, and then...” You know how it goes.

So it ends up costing like twenty times more to make a record and then everything that you make off the record – which you wouldn’t make anyway, because people would just download it for free because people were overcharging for CDs – anything you did make would just go straight back to the record company, and by that time you paid your rent for twelve months then you’ve got no money left. So what I’m saying is that even though it’s a much smaller scale and it’s taken a longer time, it’s possible for me as an independent artist to make a living as a musician, as an artist. It just reignites you. Not that I wouldn’t make art if I was poor, I’ve been completely broke for the last ten, and like you say, you didn’t know how I did it for so long, Neither do I, I have no f--king idea. [Laughs] There were times when I just woke up in the morning and I was like “How am I still alive right now? What am I doing here, and how am I still here?”

Let’s talk about your relationship with the film and TV community. You’ve worked with major composers like John Debney and Marco Beltrami on various films, but also so many of your songs have been placed in film and TV projects. Do you grapple with that idea of this work – which has its own identity when you create it – being fixed to some other image, or connected with somebody else’s idea, somebody else’s vision?

No, I think that gives it life. I think that’s what will give it longevity. Because when I create it, it could mean one thing, [but] I’m not going to try the control the world’s perception of it. As human beings we are intuitive, we are absorbent, and we absorb the things around us subconsciously. We’re not always sure why or how or what it means. And like I was talking about when I'm being creative or when I'm writing, I’m trying not to harness too much of what I think it should mean to even me. Obviously I have an idea of what I’m writing about and how it feels and where it’s coming from, but I think it’s really important to leave the door open to whatever is happening subliminally. I certainly would not try and control someone else’s interpretation of my songs or one of my lyrics, even.

I would imagine that when you’re working with Debney or Beltrami or writing something for any film or TV show, it’s a different kind of assignment than when you’re writing for yourself. Do you have to adapt or adjust your approach when you’re fitting your craft to someone else’s vision?

Absolutely. It is different. The challenge is to distill this idea that is trying to be put across and then put your own icing on the cake. I guess that’s why you could ask me and KT Tunstall to write the same song, and give us the same piece of paper with an explanation of what it needs to be written about, and we’d write completely different songs and completely different lyrics, and give those two songs to another person, and they could never know it’s about the same thing. That’s the beauty of what we do. And that’s also the beauty of being an artist: you never have to be done. You never have to be like “Well, I’m as good at this job as I’m gonna get, so what’s the point?” There’s all these different approaches and different ways of seeing how to write something, and I only think that the more diverse your experience is as a writer who is creating something, the better you become at it, the more you find your own craft.

So there’s always that sense of discovery?

Yeah, absolutely. Without that then we’re stagnant.

Tigermending comes out on May 1st, 2012. Find out more at www.carinaround.com
Follow Carina Round on Twitter: @carinaround