In a year ripe with dismal uncertainty and a palpable feeling of division, it’s hard to find meaningful rays of hope and positivity. It’s times like these that we need artists to steal our attention and take us somewhere other than here, and make us feel like we’re not alone.
Bruce T. Carroll is one such artist trying to do just that through his folk music, sharing his views and feelings about the world he sees today.
Yonkers-born Carroll likes to say he was “lost in the wilderness of music and commerce,” as he built and ran the adored music venue Watercolor Cafe in Larchmont, New York. But he’s since put his focus and efforts to where his heart truly lies, and that is the art of writing a song.
With the 2016 release of his first album Ruckus and Romance, which was deemed by No Depression Magazine as “devilishly brilliant” and “intensely beautiful”, Carroll has continued to mount praise for his penchant for witty and socially relevant songwriting. Irony and imagery often weave through his songs, and he was able to have a cast of stellar musicians who helped make the album what it is.
Carroll followed that up with his 2018 release, a six-song EP titled Finding You. The Andy Stack-produced record revolves around themes of finding, or regaining, something that might be missing or lost. He says the opening track on the EP, “Fox In The Henhouse”, “may, or may not be, my definitive statement on the state of the union…”
Carroll is at it again, this time dropping his brand new single “Lift Your Head Up.” We had the chance to ask Carroll some questions about the new song, The Watercolor Cafe, how he’s staying busy, and more.
So where did you grow up, and what got you into playing and writing music?
I grew up in Yonkers NY, which was a solid middle class town at the time. We occupied the lower end of the economic ladder. Struggled a bit, moved a lot. Listened to a lot of music from the start: my French mom sang to us constantly, played Aznavor and Montand records all the time, as well as classical. My parents divorced, and my dad started taking us to church every Sunday, where I was exposed to Baroque music played on big pipe organs. Very moving and impactful. Concurrently: The Beatles, Stones, Dion, The 4 Seasons… I love it all! Then older brother went off to college and came back with music totally new to me: Dylan, Ochs Baez…the folk thing. And that put me on the lyrical track- words, poems- lyrics! I picked up a guitar at 16, and wrote my first song at 18 while I was a freshman in college.
And you owned and operated The Watercolor Cafe in Larchmont, New York, is that right? Can you talk about your experience doing that and what the vibe was there?
The Watercolor was my baby. Modeled somewhat on places I had played in NYC, like JP’s or some supper clubs. It was a prototype music venue with great food, great music and great sound. And a savvy audience. Musicians loved playing there because they were fed well, paid well, and sounded great. And great contact with their audience. It was a great experience until the last couple of years, when the recession of 2008 started off a decline that I couldn’t stop.
Do you have a specific atmosphere or pastime that aides in your songwriting process, or does it often just happen sporadically?
The songs sort of tumble out of me, seemingly already written. That idea of the writer as being a conduit or channel for words deeply embedded in the “collective unconscious” is an idea I agree with. It’s weird sometimes, not knowing where things come from, but exciting to know that these songs will become manifest whether I want them to or not.
Who are some of your favorite writers, whether it be novelists, songwriters, or whomever that inspires you most to “pick up the pen”?
Faulkner, Joyce, Proust, Shakespeare, Byron, “the Greeks” (Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides) O’Neil, Tennessee Williams…the classics. Dylan, Waits, J Browne, Springsteen, Tim Hardin, Bruce Cockburn, John Martyn, Dave Carter. Lyrically strong writers, with passion.
So your new single, “Lift Your Head Up,” was just released. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this track?
When I wrote it in late ‘19, the country was largely quiet. The resistance seemed to be unclear as to where to go. I was very afraid that this country was going to “go quietly into the night”, and that Trump would easily be re-elected and that democracy was going to continue to be whittled away. It frightened me, and it angered me. I wrote the song as a wake up call and to inspire people.
“The songs sort of tumble out of me, seemingly already written. That idea of the writer as being a conduit or channel for words deeply embedded in the “collective unconscious” is an idea I agree with.”
Can fans expect to see it on an EP or LP, or is it a standalone single for now?
Well, I would like to put out a full-length CD because I have enough material, but I am not done figuring out how to finance it. As soon as I do that, it’s back in the studio for me!
Where was it recorded and who was involved in its production?
I recorded all the tracks at The Loft in Bronxville. Al Hemberger was the engineer. All of my “touring” musicians played: Marc Shulman, Sara Milonovich, Tommy Mandel, Joe Bonadio, Lincoln Schleiffer and Nicole Alifante. The song was mixed and mastered in the same place by the same man: Al Hemberger.
How does it compare/contrast from your previous releases?
Well, the sound on this song sounds big and full like the sound on my first CD, Ruckus and Romance. I like it like that. My second CD, Finding You, was much less produced, and more basic in its presentation.
Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process?
The pandemic has made it very hard to be inspired and hopeful, and there is a very palpable air of depression. Owing as much to Trump as to the virus, though they are very linked.
What are one or two pinnacle moments in your music career?
Well, sharing the stage with one of my musical idols, Jimmy LaFave, a year before he died stands out in my mind as a very significant date for me. And, more recently, hosting and performing in a benefit I put together for Stacy Abrams’ FairFight 2020 was a great musical experience and an important statement for me.
What does a dream gig look like for you?
Any show where I get to perform to a full house of musically savvy people who appreciate the political nature of much of my material. And where I get to share the stage with fellow travelers.
What might fans expect from Bruce T. Carroll to close out the year?
Well, for the next month I have a couple of outdoor live shows, but mainly I’ll be spending some time and energy campaigning for anyone committed to unseating the Trump administration.