Solving “Who Dunnit?” with Carrie Clark

In college, as a writer, I was encouraged to listen to people’s natural conversation. It legitimately is an exercise that is designed in order to strengthen the musicality and poetry of your language. Inevitably, what I discovered was that, “listening” meant “eavesdropping.” I know what you’re thinking: it’s really wrong to invade another person’s private utterings for the sake of your art. But if you consider those moments when you’re alone (maybe) in public, while your friend is running late, in order to entertain yourself you remain invisible and become a sociologist studying people in their “natural” habitat. Babies cry, teenagers complain about their boyfriends, and suburban moms are shouting at their mothers via their iPhones. However, composers of every variety take in the sounds around them in order to gain inspiration for their work. Songstress Carrie Clark is no exception.

Carrie Clark and the Lonesome Lovers is a very raw sounding jazz, folk-band. The lyrics are down-to-earth and extremely relatable. Perhaps this is because Carrie takes the time to listen, even if she doesn’t always mean to. While her expertise in listening doesn’t make her Irene Adler, it certainly makes her a musician worth paying attention to. (Hey! You never know if something “poetic” you’ve mentioned will find its way into a collage of language.) Although the music can be quite mysterious, Carrie leaves enough evidence for you to deduce your own theories about what it is she may be trying to convey.

With her upcoming album, Between the Sheets & Turpentine, due to drop October 4th – Carrie and I took some time to explore her songwriting process, and I was able to do some “data” collecting of my own on the singer and her band.

ASHLEY JEAN: Upon my first listen to “Bum Bah Dum,” I thought, this has an old-fashioned detective feel, only to discover you’re a detective yourself. Do you think you could solve a mystery based on your observations?

CARRIE: I don’t know if I would be able to solve a mystery with my observations, but I most certainly could stir up a bit of trouble.

ASHLEY JEAN: It’s very apparent you’re inspired by the lives that are constantly hustling and bustling around you. Why’s it so important that you write about real events instead of writing about a song about a fictional character like, Sherlock Holmes?

CARRIE: I do love to make up fictional characters, but on this album, the majority of the songs are characters or experiences of someone I’ve met or observed – except for the mystery woman in “Bum Bah Dum.”  She is completely made up and the song is based on nothing at all that was observed or overheard and was so, so much fun to write.

ASHLEY JEAN: Now you say dive bars are the best places to eavesdrop in the winter, but what about the rest of the seasons? Are there any particular places you must go to during these times to find fresh conversation?

CARRIE: Dive Bars are great places to eavesdrop as well as in line at the grocery store, waiting for the train, and walking down the street. I don’t tend to listen in on full conversations as much as I seem to have a knack of hearing something completely out of context that resonates with me (or makes me laugh) and then I’ll go home and fill in the blanks of what may or may not have been taking place when I tuned in. I liken it to spinning the radio dial of life where sometimes you only hear white noise and other times you happen upon some pretty amazing stories.

ASHLEY JEAN: Being a fellow people-watcher myself, I find it sometimes to place certain situations down on paper; they’re just better when they’re experienced organically. Have you ever come across a piece of dialogue or action that you’re completely attached to but just can’t seem to fit it into your song?

CARRIE: Many, and the bits are on index cards in a box I keep by my piano so that when I get stuck I spread all those bits out on the floor and see if I can gain a little inspiration putting various ones together.

ASHLEY JEAN: Having self-taught yourself to play piano and guitar, are there any other instruments you are anxious to figure out and learn? Maybe something complex like – I don’t know – a recorder?

CARRIE: I would love to learn to play the accordion or the squeezebox and I definitely want to learn to play the harpsichord. It’s such a sweet instrument and almost as cool as a recorder.

ASHLEY JEAN: If I were to come across you sitting on a bench at – let’s say a train station, because I’ve been reading a lot about trains lately – what unusual habit might I see you performing out in public?

CARRIE: Talking to myself. It’s a terrible habit I’ve formed working from home and spending many hours by myself. Usually I’m having a dialogue inside my head but then I forget and start talking out loud. It’s embarrassing and can typically cause strange looks.

ASHLEY JEAN: With your big album release coming up at the end of September, do you have anything special planned for the night? (I’m not sure why I think there should be a murder mystery party. Sounds like a cool idea, though – maybe?)

CARRIE: We are having a release party at the Columbia City Theater here in Seattle before I head down the west coast for more shows and celebrations in California, Arizona and New Mexico. It’s a beautiful old theater space with red curtains, exposed brick and hardwood floors.  I think it evokes the feel of an old speakeasy. No murder mysteries, but plenty of surprises, dancing and fancy cocktails.

ASHLEY JEAN: Are your Lonesome Lovers actually lonesome? I’m just curious as to whether or not that is based on a true story, too.

CARRIE: Not so lonesome at all. The name was actually chosen by fans after we came up with a bunch of names we couldn’t decide upon. I love the word lonesome. It’s sad yet sweet and lovers well, who doesn’t want to have a lover?

ASHLEY JEAN: Let’s chat a bit about the album, which, drops on October 4th – because your music evokes a series of settings, places in my mind, I was wondering if you could describe the sort of environment that you think you’d find your album surrounded by, if in fact, it were a person?

CARRIE: My music would be surrounded in hues of red and greys, clouds and fog and just at the moment when you think it is going to get darker and colder, the sun breaks through and warms you through to the bones.

ASHLEY JEAN: And finally, because this is something of a trademark of ours, do you think you can make me a mixtape of the top 5 songs which seem to follow you while you you’re out in public – either in your mind or from the speakers at the mall etc.?

CARRIE:

Calexico,“Sunken Waltz

Train, “Hey Soul Sister” (My nephew is 3 and loves this song so we listened to it about 100 times while I visited him [I don’t recommend listening to any song that many times].  Now I hear it everywhere and it is one of those songs that once I hear it, it’s stuck in my head the rest of the day.)

Nina Simone’s version of the song, “Feeling Good

Willie Nelson, “Whiskey River

Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, “Summer Wine

Originally published on Sept 9, 2011

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