After writing my review of 27 Rue De Mi’chelle, I wanted to chat a bit with Joel Piedt in hopes of catching a glimpse of what made the music of Carrousel so magical. Please enjoy this conversation.
APN: First of all, “27 Rue De Mi’chelle” is a truly beautiful record. The sonic atmosphere and production quality were both superb. How did you initially begin making music?
Joel Piedt (PT): Thanks very much for your kind words. I started playing back when I was in Middle School, but I’ve dreamed of making music for as long as I can remember. My older brother is one of the most talented musicians I know—he plays over 100 instruments, has 2 degrees in music—the whole works. I always tell people I got the leftovers. I never wanted to compete with him on a technical level, because I knew I’d never reach that level, either vocally or instrumentally. So I developed a really good ear and feel for music—the emotion of it all, which in turned developed into songwriting. I realized I didn’t have to be the best musician to play or sing the songs I wrote—because I wrote them for my voice, and no one could tell me what it should sound like. I found idea that very freeing, which eventually led to the sound you know as Carrousel—it just took awhile to get there!
APN: Part of your backstory is that you had a great job opportunity upon graduating college, but you decided to turn it down and instead move to Florida to make music with your friends. I can’t imagine your parents were too happy about that. What motivated that decision? What was the job you turned down anyway?
JP: I was offered by a friend of mine to lead music at a church. I studied theology in college—so it was pretty perfect: I would get to play music, love people, and work with a good friend. But I just knew in my heart that’s not where I was supposed to be. After a lot of prayer and consideration, I decided that this was one of the few moments in life I could really focus on songwriting. My buddy Brad (with whom I had worked on solo records in the past) told me he was transferring to FSU in the Fall of ‘09. It was like a red carpet opened up for me, I just knew I was supposed to move to Tallahassee and give it a shot with him. And I knew I’d regret it the rest of my life if I didn’t. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it sure taught me about stepping out in faith. In the end, everything was provided—a job, a place to live, recording gear. It all just happened…
APN: Tell me about the creative process used to make the record? Did you come to your friends with a batch of songs and ask for help hashing them out? Does Carrousel write democratically? Do you lay lots of stuff to tape, and then clean up the tracks later, layering in what you want?
JP: Brad and I were the only 2 official members of the band, so we worked everything out between the 2 of us, then recruited friends to help out as needed (backing vox, horns, strings…). And we were very particular about what we wanted out of them, probably to an annoying degree! But whatever, it was fun.
Between Brad and me, I would generally come to him with a pretty fleshed out version of the song, and he would help me make finishing touches. He added some brilliant parts, most notably, the wonderful Rhodes line in “14,” the haunting piano in “27 rue de mi’chelle,” and most of the string parts throughout the record.
For the most part though, Brad served as the engineer, focusing on the details of sounds and levels. He was fantastic. I mostly served as the producer/visionary. I had very specific ideas about where the songs needed to go, and Brad was the perfect counterpart to help me flesh them out.
As far as layering goes, I made a lot of demos before we started the album proper, where I experimented with different instruments and layers. That’s where the Carrousel sound was formed. In fact, a lot of the material from the demos was used in the final version of the songs—because we fell in love with the way some of the takes sounded. That really added a nice overall effect: some songs have different material that was recorded months before, so there’s this time-warp kind of thing going on.
APN: How does Carrousel manage to create all those sounds and textures live? Do you play with 5-8 people on stage for some songs? Who are your regular collaborators, both in the studio and on stage.
JP: Brad ended up leaving the project last October, so I recruited some friends to pull off the songs live. None of them recorded on the record, which was actually really neat. I got to hear the songs interpreted by different musicians—so they came to life in a new and fresh kind of way. I had heard the songs for so long, it was nice to have a new perspective on them. My friends Patrick Chin, Corey Chin, Rob Polishchuck, Landon Lee, Erich von Hinken, Malee Bringardner, and Danny Russell play with me live. I am very fortunate—they are wonderful people, and are quite gracious with me.
APN: What is behind the name “27 Rue De Mi’chelle? Is that street address special to you in some way? Is it actually located in France? Paris, Cannes, Marseille, or Avignon perhaps?
JP: It’s not a real address, but it’s based off of 27 rue de Fleurus, Parisian home of Gertrude Stein, sort of the center of the French art scene in the 20s. All kinds of people were there: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Joyce. You get a really nice feel for the atmosphere in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a memoir about his time in Paris after the war. I guess the whole thing just captured my imagination back in the summer of ‘09.
Coincidentally, I was writing all these songs for a girl named Michelle, whose name happens to be French. She visited France while our relationship was on the rocks, which led to the line “stay in France, run away from me” in the song “where do we go from here.” So it was a personal renaissance for me, all these songs about Michelle—the whole album just fell in my lap. It was my 27 rue fleurus. Hence, 27 rue de mi’chelle.
APN: In general, Carrousel seems to be quite a bright, eclectic, and intelligent band. Do you model your sound and/or aesthetic off someone or a certain movement in particular? Where do you look for specific artistic inspiration?
JP: Again, I was really interested in French culture around the time, particularly the Impressionist painters and the Romantic Era composers. They were able to capture something very deep and true about the human experience that resonated with me. So I wanted to see if i could do that in a pop record context. It’s not like that’s not been done before—it’s exactly what Brian Wilson was attempting with Pet Sounds, which too became a reference point for our record, if only for it’s emotional quality at first. Then we began to model our symphonic-type instrumentation after it, and even the means by which we recorded and mixed the songs. I will forever be indebted to Wilson.
APN: What bands have you enjoyed in the last 1-2 years? Your favorite books in the recent past? Any movies that have struck your fancy as especially musical, lyrical, or artistic?
JP: Honestly, I’m in a much different place now aesthetically. I’ll always have a sweet spot for that Romantic/Impressionism sound, but now I’m exploring new worlds. I was born and raised in Memphis, so I’m kind of obsessed with understanding/coming to terms with my hometown. Listening to a whole lot of the Stax Records catalog. I’m just in love with Otis Redding right now. Alot of Motown, Aretha, and the like as well…
There’s a great book about Soul that anyone with a passing interest in soul music MUST read: Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick; it opened up a new world for me. So thorough, and so revealing. Loved it.
I’m always in the middle of about 7 books at once—I’m a really big book nerd. Reading some on various world religions, also one by Thomas Merton on contemplation and Christian Mysticism called New Seeds of Contemplation. It is truly beautiful—this idea of entering into communion/union with God, while embracing the mystery of the divine. Gorgeous.
I recently built a raft and floated down a river for a few days with some friends; obviously, I took along Huck Finn to accompany me.
APN: What plans does Carrousel have for the rest of 2012? Might you be touring anywhere? Do you have any plans to record more in the near future?
JP: No touring plans now, verrrry unfortunately. We were playing quite a bit in March, April, May—and filmed as much as we could, because we knew some of the guys in the band were going to be moving. So we’ll be releasing a lot of that footage this summer.
And yes, there is a new album in the works. I’m thrilled with it. Hopefully we’ll start it in the fall, and be done sometime next year. If the last record took place in Paris, the new one is straight out of Memphis.