JC Interview for CIYH.com

           Jon Carroll Interview with Concerts In Your Home


 Describe your most memorable house concert experience. 
Always a challenge, as there have been so many but, HEY…Memorable…right? Remarkable…yeah?
 I recently played T.Edwin Doss and his wife Patricia’s Rocky’s Run House Concerts, which is a splendid venue right on Lake Anna which is just due SW of my boyhood town of Fredericksburg, Va.
 My sets can, if the chemistry is just right, take on an interesting narrative arch, as various songs of mine are chipped off the mother lode vein of my own childhood and past experiences. Not all, but some of the major corner stones are, as most writers will attest.
Well, that particular night the faces filling my view from the stage became a miasma of familiar retrospect, as more than a few of my childhood buddies, the brother of an ex-girlfriend, and the parents of our best playmates from next door (they still live there!) all were there beaming, nodding and swaying to the beat. It was quite dreamlike, but also so jovially companionable due to their knowing of all the landmarks and characters that were mentioned, it was as if everyone was given a decoder ring at the door!   

What's your best opening line? (from one of your songs, or one of your favorites)

I LOVE great first lines. Folks comment frequently on the first lines of my song Land That Time Forgot, which are: “I’m an old man eating dinner somewhere in Wyoming
Got my false teeth working on a microwave medallion”

 I was unsure of that line, the whole song really, until a fellow writer buddy of mine suggested I try putting it all in the first person, which made all the difference, for it as a song and as something to sing. I thank him every time I see him.
 First line by other…Paul Simon:
“We were married on a rainy day. The sky was yellow and the grass was grey
We signed the papers and we drove away. I do it for your love”

 Sorry for the bleak themes…I’m not mainly that way…but I do love the images and the setups, though…!
 OK….”I may go out tomorrow if I can borrow a coat to wear 
Oh, I'd step out in style with my sincere smile and my dancing bear”—Randy Newman  (I feel better, now..you?)

What song is most likely to make you cry? (if you were the crying kind)

I’m very much the crying kind and that fact proves to be a challenge, since singing and becoming overcome and blubbery are a nasty combination. There are different songs that can/will do that. Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne: …“They are leaning out for love, and they’ll lean that way forever” or his Song of Bernadette…Joni’s Case Of You… There have been a few embarrassing moments (unnoticed by others, I pray) during Mary Chapin Carpenter’s shows (I’ve played with her for decades now) when it gets a bit difficult to see the keys. Amazing writing will move you as it should.
How many miles did you drive last year?

Jeez, including tourbus…not fair…but scads. I drive a lot, too and I’d say roughly 9,000 miles. I do my solo shows plus mini-tours with other folks such as Eric Lindell and Peter Wolf. Sessions in other cities…adds up.

What is your favorite thing about house concerts?

The wondrous, unified and collective experience. I’m not one to put things in between me and my audience. Not alcohol, drugs etc. And the intimacy that proximity brings can be extremely powerful. The mutual respect and understanding in a tuned in room can really dissolve many of those classic barriers that come with the standard mise en scene. It really becomes less of a set or tableau piece, and more of an exciting adventurous dance. A real collaboration!

If you could no longer sell your music on CD, what would you do differently?
I would record each show and burn USB wristlets sold cheaply on the way out. Plus including a code for downloading something current and exclusive.

When is the last time someone critiqued your song, suggested a way to make it better, and you agreed?

That’s an interesting question that makes more sense than what some might think. I’ve worked on several stage plays, and cowrote some musicals, and the staged readings are a valuable resource as the audience, as well as the actors reading/playing the roles, weighs in after with opinions, sharing responses, and offering suggestions. I find that performing songs brings another initial response from the listener, and their sharing of that response includes some nuanced but none too oblique messages within that the writer can pick up on. How a fan even refers to the song can be quite telling. Sometimes, in the course of a conversation, it becomes clear whether the person got the hook, or maybe missed it altogether. Some folks remember the scenery along the way, with the destination not being all that important. So be it. The response of an audience in real time is the thing that turn the most knobs for me as a writer. A song that you’ve honed and fashioned for tortuous hours can become altogether a different beast once your performing it in front of an audience. The universe changes in performance, and, in that manner, the audience is constantly and covertly critiquing and making suggestions. I do enjoy post-show talkback sessions, though. In the theater, they can be quite valuable. After a house concert set, there’s usually a chance for that sort of give and take. It also gives people a chance to ask about Afternoon Delight.

Have you ever watched yourself do a full concert on video? If so, what did you learn?

Many times. The overall kneejerk reaction is to slow down, and that’s usually a correct move. I have a lot of energy when I perform, and some of my songs have a rhythmic pulse that, as a piano or guitar player having a drummer laying down the tempo will help to relax. Having someone riding shotgun, so to speak. In a solo situation, taking a deep breath and centering is always a good idea. As long as I’ve done this, it’s still an important part of the warm-up ritual, that is, settling down!

Is there anyone you like to go to for songwriting help or advice? If so, who?

Wow. I usually turn to great literary writers: Bellows, Malamud, Fitzgerald, Munro, Amis, Welty, Trevor, Greene, Conrad, Mortimer, Banks, Singer…any writer who writes like a writer. There are a lot of mundane lyrics out there, and to be fair, the way words, melody, rhythm and scan juxtapose in song makes it a different carnival ride altogether. The great songwriters that float my boat, Van Zandt, Cohen, Crowell, Mitchell, MacMurtry, Carpenter, Webb, Newman, Waits & countless others…tend to have one thing in common: they transport the listener. Music and song have a power that great film has, that is to create a story universe outside of the here and now. If I’m stuck, it’s usually because I’m unsure about what I’m actually wanting to say, not on how to say it.
 Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above throwing out a lifeline, but that usually happens when sitting there collaborating on a song with others. Honestly, I’m not one to call up another writer and yell help. I don’t think it’s pride, I just figure that they’re busy enough with their own damn songs!

What is the best stage name of all time?
I dunno, how about Tom Jones? Liberace was pretty cool. Elvis Costello hits on multiple cylinders. Boris Karloff. Karla Bonoff. Tommy Tune. Iggy Pop. I still want to know how The Edge gets called to the counter at the DMV.

Car you drive vs the car you'd most like to drive.

Honda Odyssey Van vs nice RV towing a coupla V-Twin cycles.

What percentage of your songs are about love relationships?


You can bring back any dead artist, and be their apprentice for a month, who do you choose?

Toss-up between John’s Lennon and Mercer, with the deal being they stay alive after the month’s up. Even if working with me kills ‘em. 

You can recruit anyone in the world to manage your artistic career, who is it?
The Tom Hanks character in That Thing You Do.

You can work with any living record producer. Who do you choose for your next project?

Tough one, but I suppose Phil Ramone, but I did already…but I was 18. No fair. He was one of those producers though, who was so very very musical and creative, that the players played and the singers sang extra special great on his sessions. One of the most respected and accomplished producers of our time.

You must personally destroy every instrument you own, except one. Which do you keep? Which do you destroy first/last, and why?

Not to take the cheap high road less than loquacious way out, but I don’t want to destroy anything, much less something that brings joy. I have separation anxiety. I get misty when checking out of a room I’ve had for three days on a tour. I still have my first drumset, my piano has been mine since 1977, my Wurlitzer Electric since 76, I won’t get rid of my Roland Juno 60, get the picture? Now, I’m sure other folks around me might have a hierarchy of plans. I think I’ve even heard them plotting deep into the whispery night.

Top item on your bucket list.

Seeing the Bosphorus Strait. It’s been an elusive dream.

Cat, dog, or goldfish?

Are you kidding? I tour. But I love it when there’s a dog around, even on the bus. I once slept with a Golden Retriever. Perils of the bottom bunk!

Writing retreat. You can go anywhere in the world for 2 weeks, where do you go? One instrument, one suitcase - what do you bring?

You’d think I’d might have already gotten around to this, but the Northern Neck of Virginia feels like the floor of my soul to me. For some reason, I’ve always been attracted to those little square office compartments at the top of grain elevators and mills, too. Just a typewriter will do. Loved that Alex Haley would book passage on tankers and merchant marine vessels to write. That’s the idea!

Plan B, or no Plan B?

Been doing this too long, it contains multitudes and it’s always brought new gifts and new incarnations of more Plan A, eh?