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Interview Data
Subject: Todd Carey
Date: July 17th, 2011
Format: In person
Recorded: Yes, audio
Length: Over three hours
Todd Carey

Interview Transcript[edit]

Growing up in Winnetka and Home Alone[edit]

Evan Amos: Let's start with a basic question or two; where were you born and raised?

Todd Carey: Winnetka, Illinois. It's a suburb north of Chicago.

Amos: That's a very affluent and rich suburb isn't it?

Carey: That's true. If you've heard of Northwestern University, it's a pretty famous school. It's two suburbs north of there and, are you familiar with the TFDI stuff? You know Matt Duke and Tony Lucca and where that was recorded? That was at Space in Evanston, Illinois. [Short audio adjustment break]
But to recap, I was born and raised in Winnetka, which has a reputation for being an affluent suburb. It's funny because if you look at -out of the singer songwriters- John Mayer, he came from Fairfield, Connecticut, which is the Winnetka of Connecticut. But what I was telling you is that it's two suburbs north of this place called Evanston, which is where Space is, which is this new venue where TFDI recorded stuff and a lot of musicians are playing.
So like I grew up north of Chicago, which is just had a really vibrant music scene. That's where I grew up, you know until I was 18.

Amos: They also did the Home Alone house there.

Carey: The Home Alone house was my sister's best friend's house growing up! The Home Alone house, I went over there while they were filming a movie. My sister's best friend and my sister were like 12, or maybe even younger, 9 or 8? That movie came out like the '90s?

Amos: It might have been '92 or earlier. [Note: Released in 1990]

Carey: Yeah, pretty young, but my sister's friend was like, "They're filming a movie at my house!" That house, by the way, looks a lot bigger in the movie than real life. It's not necessarily a mansion but I remember going over there in the dead of winter, and seeing them film that movie with Macaulay Culkin. No one knew who he was at the time. It was a small movie, and as an addendum to the story, they're selling the house right now; it's on the market.

Amos: I think if you went around to people with a picture of the house, everyone would be able to instantly recognize it as the Home Alone house.

Carey: Yeah, everyone knows it. I tell people I'm from there and that the house is there, they freak out.
Related to that, I did a tour this past December. It was called the "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Tour." I did it with Josh Hoge in December, but we did a tour named after that movie A Christmas Story. Are you familiar with that movie?

Amos: Yeah, and I saw the YouTube video that you had posted up from the tour where you were at the house.

Carey: The label that got behind me for that tour, Blaster Music Group; they're out of Cleveland. A Christmas Story takes place in Cleveland, so when I was at the house checking it out, I was telling them stories about the Home Alone house, so I kind of have a history with these houses. These famous Christmas movie houses.

Amos: Actually, they filmed other movies in or around that Winnetka area, too.

Carey: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Uncle Buck, all of the John Hughes movies.

Amos: I think he's from that area, so he uses it a lot.

Carey: Breakfast Club. So many great movies.

Amos: Can you tell me more about growing up in Winnetka? Like high school?

Carey: The thing about Winnetka that got me is that it's a very family-oriented, close-knit community. So my parents were raising me in this great area, and I went to this high school called New Trier, New Trier High School. The area is really focused on families and bringing your kids up. You know... properly or whatever.
I was lucky in that they had a great music program at our high school. In high school, my mom wouldn't let us watch TV. Instead I just ended up playing guitar, and luckily at the same time I had this great music program at my school, and that's what sparked it for me. I just ended up playing a lot of guitar.
As far as Winnetka goes that's it, I was so bored. I was just playing music.

Amos: I was bored in high school and you know what I did? I watched a bunch of TV.

Carey: See that's what I would've done if my mom had let me. She wouldn't let me watch TV. Did I do the Mario theme at the Rockwood show the other night?

Amos: Nope.

Carey: I do a stage story where I play the theme song for Super Mario Brothers. I play it on guitar. The little story is that growing up, my mom wouldn't let me have Nintendo, or let me watch TV, so I always had this longing to beat the original Super Mario Brothers. I never beat it as a kid, but as an adult I did beat it, and I celebrated that by playing the song at shows.

Amos: I have never beaten that game.

Carey: It took me long ass time. I still have to warp to beat it.

Amos: Can you tell me about your mom?

Carey: She was at one time a musician, a music teacher. She studied music at the Cincinnati music conservatory. She was going into music education. She went to the whole program where you're learning harp, the flute, so that's where I think that I got, like... the tools and the skills, or even maybe the raw ability to play music. I think that I got a love for music, the stats and the connections between artists, from my dad, who is not musical of all, but he just loves music. His claim to fame was that he had every Sinatra cut that had ever been released, essentially.
So he's a collector, not musically talented, but he's really into jazz. He got me going into everything when I was four or five years old. We'd just drive around in the car and listen to mixes. He played for me Beethoven, Stevie Wonder and Charlie Parker. Just last night he wanted to go to the Village Vanguard when he was in town, and we heard this really avant-garde pianist. It's really interesting for someone who's not a musician, because I find that musicians are the ones who like musician music. So he got me into the love of it, but my mom gave me the work ethic, to study it. She could also sing and she could play. I think that's where it came from for me.

Amos: So are you doing this stuff at an early age?

Carey: You know it wasn't as early as I would have liked. You meet these people who are prodigies, and they were just born playing. I remember my parents taking me to music class when I was really young. I remember that they were teaching us about beats. I must have been five years old. I remember this little card that had hearts on it to learn beats. And it was like "one, two, three, four." [mimicking rhythm pounding]
That's the earliest thing I can remember. But sometimes I'll hear from musicians like me who say, “I've been playing violin since I was four using the Suzuki method.” My parents were really cool in that they didn't push it on me. Later, I fell in love with rock 'n roll, and I just wanted a guitar. I saw the movie La Bamba, which I recently saw again, and it's the cheesiest thing I've ever seen.

Amos: Was there a big gap in time between the two times you saw it?

Carey: Huge. Like 20 years! But when I saw that movie it's Lou Diamond Phillips and the music is Los Lobos, who did all the music and is an awesome band. They're playing a lot of music and Santana was playing a lot of the guitar. At one point, Lou Diamond Phillips puts on a Stratocaster and plays the intro to La Bamba and that's when I was like, "That's rock 'n roll!"
Around that time, maybe two or three years after my first music class, I wanted to play rock 'n roll and I wanted a guitar. My parents wouldn't buy it for me, just because they didn't want to give me a guitar and it would sit in my room, which is something that happens with a lot of suburban kids. They go through that period, they want a guitar. I ended up saving my money and bought a guitar, and it did sit in my room for two years. I never did anything with it.
Eventually, I begged my mom to let me take lessons. I took lessons with this folk teacher, she was a hippie, in Winnetka, but she was so cool. I remember my first lesson. “Here's the song, 'Blowing In The Wind' by Bob Dylan.” I was like, "I don't know what this is." I wasn't that into it, but I did learn the three chords and I took it home and my dad was like, "This is really cool music!" He played it for me. I member going up to his den, his office, and we listened to “Blowing In The Wind.” I was like, this guy's voice is so weird, Bob Dylan's voice. I wasn't into it.
But that was all just planting the seeds, for me, that was where it came from. Eventually it came around, you know?

Amos: Were you just getting better and better?

Carey: No, it was really slow. It was really, really slow. I never considered myself one of those supernatural musicians in the way that those kids with the Suzuki method are. I think that my edge is I'm a really good listener and I have a pretty good knowledge of the history of music. My parents didn't push me, I took lessons, but I was learning really slowly. I probably had my first guitar lesson when I was, I don't know, 11?
I had a guitar around for a while and I was really into Paul McCartney and the Beatles. I used to listen to Paul McCartney records and try to play, but I didn't have any idea what I was doing. I would listen to the music on one tape recorder and then I had another tape recorder and I had my guitar, my crappy little acoustic that wasn't tuned the right way. I would record on that tape recorder me playing along to the sound with the other tape recorder listening to Paul McCartney. It was the first time I was trying to do multi-track. [Laughs]
I would listen to it afterward and it was never any good, but it was just me trying to do something. That was just me struggling to just make sense of it without having taken lessons and trying to play rock 'n roll.

Amos: So you're playing guitar, and I guess you're doing that for a few years. But how long before you take it to the singer-songwriter route and begin writing lyrics and composing songs to play?

Carey: It depends on the way that you look at it, my first... I can kind of remember when I finally started putting songs together. It might have been sixth or seventh grade. How old are you then? 12, 13? At that point I had been taking lessons for a year or two, and finally I could play songs on the acoustic guitar and I knew chords. That's when I really started to get into music that was cool at the time. Up until then, I was like “whatever” about music, but then it became about Pearl Jam and alternative music for me. I love a lot of those songs and some of them were basic four-chord songs, "Daughters." I remember that there is this song by a band called Candlebox that was really bad. I remember having those four chords and in sixth grade sitting in my basement and writing an acoustic ballad.
I feel like I'm full circle, in that the first song I wrote was a very singer-songwriter song. It was this ballad kind of thing. I can't remember what it was called. Uh... I have no idea what was called, but I can sort of remember how it goes. It was something about, "Can I trust myself?" That was the hook. It's funny because after that, I went on the longest journey with college. I studied jazz and I played in a jam band in college. That was really academic music because I was really into Phish and jam bands. What I was really doing at the heart of it, my first instinct was to write this very simple song. That's what I feel like I've come back to, that I've come back full circle in the past few years as a solo artist. Just simple songs.

Amos: When you wrote that first song in your basement, was that something that you just kept on with, the songwriting? Did you have a small catalog of songs by the time you graduated high school?

Carey: Those first few songs that I wrote I maybe wrote four or five. I think it was around the same time that I got a four-track recorder. I put them down on four track. I remember I played it for one kid at school, who said that one song sounds exactly like another song that he knew. It was negative feedback, but then I played it for my next-door neighbor, this other kid who's really cool, who was like, “You're good, you got to keep doing it.” He really encouraged me to keep doing it. I would say by sophomore or junior year, I had maybe five songs. Enough for a very acoustic-ey demo.
I remember for my senior project, by the time I was a senior in high school, I was getting serious about it. For your senior project, you could pick something and I decided that I was going to make a CD. At the time CDs were cool; recordable CDs had kind of come around. I rented a quarter inch 8-track, put it in my basement and plugged the mics right into the back of it. I just read in the McCartney reissues that Paul McCartney did the same thing, just plugged the mics right into the back. But I did six songs. I had a drum machine and I put together some rhythm tracks and I think there were six songs on there.
I used some of those songs for bands in college. That's when I got really serious. Around that time I was like, I think I'm going to study music, go to school to do that and get serious about jazz and learning how to read music. I really got it together my junior or senior year of high school, that was when I was like I'm going to do this. I knew then that I wanted it.

Amos: It sounds like if you're getting that type of equipment, your senior year, that you are stepping it up. Though maybe it's different for people now, because recording equipment is relatively cheap and computers come with programs.

Carey: Yeah, your computer comes with Garage Band, or a Mac comes with Garage Band. Everyone has a multi-track recorder now, whether they know it or not. But yeah, having a four-track recorder to me was the coolest thing. When I was six or 7 I was already trying to do it my own way with those cassette tape recorders
I would say by junior or senior year when I was renting real equipment that I was getting really serious. I knew somewhere it clicked. I played at a party when I was in eighth grade. I was at a party with a bunch of friends. It was the first time I ever played for anyone and it went off really well. The kids were into it and that buzz, I needed that. Somewhere around high school I was like, this is what I wanted to do. I've always known.
Todd Carey playing a show at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC on July 14th, 2011

Amos: When you were in high school, did you have a band called Heart Of Gold Band?

Carey: I did! How did you know that?!

Amos: Research. [shrug]

Carey: Yeah, we were really into... I started off as a songwriter. Like I said, for me it was always about simple songs, but I was also really into the Grateful Dead in high school. They wrote great songs but they also jammed. So I was trying to get more academic with the guitar and also it was important to start studying the instrument to go to college, because that was the path that I could see that my parents wanted, college, but I wanted to be a musician, so it became studying music in college.
So to me, the Grateful Dead and the jam bands coming out at the time. Like the Dave Matthews Band Phish and that kind of stuff. They were a link between cool music and people who play their instruments and who were almost on their way to jazz. I started studying that stuff and I put together a band called Heart Of Gold Band. A lot of people at the time thought it was named after that Neil Young song, but there's a line at the end of the Grateful Dead song called “Scarlet Begonias” and it goes: [Grabs guitar and sings]
Strangers stoppin' strangers just to shake their hand,
Everybody's playing in the heart of gold band, heart of gold band.
So there's this line about everyone playing in the heart of gold band and we named our band after that and we became the Heart Of Gold Band. [Laughs] We entered Battle Of The Bands in high school and my high school was a really big high school. Like 4000 kids. It's huge.

Amos: It's a famous high school.

Carey: There's a lot of stuff that happened there. I can tell you some funny stories about high school. I remember my junior or senior year the school was on the cover of Time magazine. It's a pretty well-respected high school academically, and it has this whitewash reputation, but Time magazine put us on the cover with this girl who was a friend of mine, actually "rumored friend," but this girl was smoking a huge bowl of weed. The story was called “High Times at New Trier High”. It was this article about this affluent high school that was super into drugs.

Amos: So the whole article was just about people from your high school doing drugs?

Carey: Kind of, I think it was more examining youth culture and pot. They took us because we were considered like a model high school, but this was happening with my high school, even with kids who were going to great colleges and doing well. The irony was that these were my friends. Like, I know the girl on the cover! Or, the rumor was that it was this one girl that I knew, but it didn't show her face, it only showed you her body.
Anyway, it was a big high school and around I think my junior year we entered Battle Of The Bands. We did really well and we won our junior year with a Heart Of Gold Band. We were playing Grateful Dead covers and some originals, too. That helped spark me to the idea of playing in a rock band at the time. It was my identity, so that's what got me hooked right there.

Amos: At the time that you were doing this in high school, did it take a lot for you to get up on stage and perform? To put yourself out there?

Carey: Not for me. I've never considered myself a singer and I've had to work to be a guitar player, but the one thing that I've always had totally naturally is performance. I always get a rush off of being on stage in front of people. It feels totally natural to me. The rest of it I had to work for. I still don't consider myself a great singer. I think I'm a pretty good guitarist, but the performance is what I'm great at.

Amos: Did you ever do anything like plays, theaters or musicals growing up?

Carey: No, I was not in the theater, and I know a lot of performers who were. Brendan James was. He's very poised; he's had that training. You can tell if you look at someone like Jason Mraz. He's a total theater kid. Are you familiar with Bushwalla?

Amos: I know of them, sorta, but not that well.

Carey: There is a band called Dishwalla, but Bushwalla is just one guy who is like Jason Mraz's partner. He wrote “Curbside Prophet” with him. I've toured with them a whole bunch and know Bush from hanging out with him and seeing them perform. Where I was focused in high school on just playing rock 'n roll and learning my instrument, those guys were performing on stage, which is like a whole other set of skills. I think that it really shows in their music and what they do; people really respond to it.
In retrospect I wish I had been really able to study the voice at an early age and maybe had some of those other theater skills, but I was just so focused on having a band. A garage band. That's what I wanted to do and I really wanted to be a great guitar player, too.

Amos: How did you learn to sing then? What level of singing were you doing back then?

Carey: I was just doing it in a garage band way, like the bands that I was into early on, the alternative bands and growing up I listened to the Beatles. Those people claim that they didn't have vocal lessons. For me in my own brain, it was never that I needed to study this. I started just singing and the result was sometimes it was good and sometimes it was really bad. I guess it was something that I just started doing naturally, singing. I've studied since obviously, I think that anyone who becomes really serious about touring, just as a preservation thing, you start learning how to sing.

Amos: I think it's fascinating, just in the aspect that I can't do it. I will never be able to sing. I have no natural ability for it. But then I talk to other artists and ask them something like this and they say, “I just did it!”

Carey: If you look at someone like Tony Lucca, he's been a singer since he was a kid. So to me I'm equally fascinated the way that you are, trust me. It's only been the last five years, what I consider the start of my solo career, with Watching Waiting, where I got the songs together and went out to LA and recorded them with Marshall Altman and put out a record on a record label and that was in record stores, that's when I started thinking about being a singer.
But that's jumping ahead to a long time later.

College at USC and Telepathy[edit]

Los Angeles

Amos: I listened to some of your Telepathy band stuff.

Carey: Man, I am not singing on some of that stuff. I mean, I am, but I'm not.

Amos: It sounds much different than the stuff that you're doing now.

Carey: Totally. Telepathy was my college band.

Amos: After graduation, what made you decide to go to UCS for college?

Carey: I went to USC in LA, but like I said before, I knew that I wanted to play music. I really knew that I wanted to be in a rock band, more than a singer-songwriter, but if you're 18, you go to college. If you're from the suburbs you go to college, generally, unless you're a real rebel. I wasn't ready to rebel like that. So I thought to myself to focus on music and I want to study music, so I'm going to go to college to do it.
USC had the most contemporary guitar program that I could find and they gave me a scholarship, which was the other thing. A lot of the other conservatories that I was looking at were really highbrow jazz conservatories doing serious stuff.

Amos: Like Julliard?

Carey: Julliard was more classical, but there's a jazz program there. Berklee has the whole range, with the top players in the world, but also people who could get in. My parents also wanted me to have an academic education. USC had that. To me, it was in LA, which is a center of industry and it had guitar teachers who were playing contemporary music. A lot of those guys were doing sessions with rock bands. It was a place to me that I could A: play music, and B: be 18 and LA.
I was playing contemporary music and I was also doing the academic stuff that my parents wanted me to have. For myself as a writer I also wanted to learn and for a kid from the Midwest to go out to the west coast was cool.

Amos: What was the academic side of that? Were you doing a dual major?

Carey: The cool thing, another thing that I think attracted me to USC, was that you couldn't just be in the conservatory, you had to have your gen-ed classes and a curriculum. If you go to Berklee you can just play music and take those kind of classes. In USC, you're getting a Bachelors of Arts, which is a more standard college education. That was important to my parents, and I wanted to play music, which is a middle ground, and then finally it was in LA, which was awesome. It ended up being best of all the worlds. To top it off and what really did it was that I got a scholarship. To me it felt like those guys really wanted me there. I felt that I had accomplished something by getting the scholarship.

Amos: Did you do well on the academic side?

Carey: I was always a decent student. I think I might've had a, I don't know, 3.0 GPA or 3.5 grade average. I was really focused in college to be studying and have it together.

Amos: What do you actually learn in the music classes when you go there for your Bachelors of Arts?

Carey: It was this crazy 18-unit curriculum. Freshman year they're trying to weed out the people that aren't into it, so that got you up at eight in the morning doing ear training and theory. Those are the first classes that they stick everyone into. So it's freshman year at eight in the morning and you're studying theory and doing ear training. They were tough classes at the time, especially when you're freshman in college and partying, to be up at eight in the morning.
So you had that and then you had your instrument lessons. At the same time, the college is saying, “Hey, you got a take a basic biology class and a basic English class.” All of these gen-ed classes. I ended up doing an English minor in college. I took it further and started studying literature. I had my music major, and I had my English minor. I basically forgot that I did that until right now, that I actually have an English minor.

Amos: Is this all at Thorton? The major music campus at USC?

Carey: It became Thorton while I was there. When I started it was just like the USC School of Music. At some point in my sophomore or junior year this guy named Thorton had passed away and his wife gave a bunch of money to the school. This was crazy amount of money the school ended up with all of a sudden. I remember walking out of class and walking side-by-side with this guy, and it was Herbie Hancock, walking right next to me. It seemed like after that the whole place just blossomed.

Amos: So like they put new buildings up?

Carey: New buildings, and people like Herbie Hancock were suddenly there. They renamed it and the whole thing just took shape while I was there. I got really lucky in that sense.

Amos: How long after you get to college do you start your band Telepathy?

Carey: Basically, the first week of my freshman year I started Telepathy. I had all the songs that I have written in high school and I wrote so many songs in the stairwell of my dorm. The first week I was there I met a kid living across the hall from me, who became my best friend, Kevin Dooley, who was a drummer in the USC marching band. The USC marching band is like really famous. They're one of the biggest college football marching bands and he was the first snare drum. He controlled the entire band. He was this crazy kid and I remember him telling me he got a 1580 on his SATs and knowing him, that's because he spelled his name wrong. He was nuts
He was there as a jazz studies major. Actually a dual major, jazz studies in electronic music and a minor in psychology at the same time he was pulling these military practices for the football team. So I meet this kid and he's across the hall and he's literally beet red, because he's been burned in the sun, because he's been out in the sun with the marching band. Somehow, I don't know, we just end up jamming downstairs in the dorm lounge.
The bass player in Telepathy was a good friend of mine named Isaac Slape, who was just hanging around and then we ended up starting this trio. It was mainly stewing funkier, beefed-up versions of simple songs that I had wrote that had jams in them. We played our first date at this coffee shop on campus called Ground Zero. We recorded it and we released it as an album. From there, our band Telepathy played for four years.

Amos: What was the name of that album?

Carey: Live a Ground Zero. I don't think it's available anywhere, like you couldn't get it off iTunes or something, but that to me was the best thing that we ever did.

Amos: Before you recorded and released that record. Did you ever have anything that you put on disk. When you're in high school or before that? Just that high school project?

Carey: I had the CD that I did as my senior project in high school and it was just something that we sold it shows when I was playing in the Heart Of Gold Band. My little core group of friends was into that album.

Amos: Do any of the songs that you were doing with Heart Of Gold Band or Telepathy survive with you today?

Carey: Little moments have from Telepathy, especially on the After The Morning After EP. The outro of the song “Where Are You Tonight?” is from a Telepathy song called “You Won't See Me Down.” There is a song called the “Stranger”, which is an outtake from Watching Waiting. I might actually release that soon, but that song had moments of stuff that we didn't Telepathy. Stuff like that bleeds over a little bit.
Those first solo albums that I did are the ones that I was doing in my college dorm room under my own name. My first albums have a lot of Telepathy bleed over by the time of what I consider my solo career. The Marshall Altman stuff. When I became a nationally touring solo artist, it was all fresh. It was like I was starting over essentially, to me there's a very distinct break in my career and was '06 when I moved back Chicago, but I'll get into that. That's what I consider to be the start of my career.

Amos: When you started your band Telepathy, how long did it take from the start when you guys started playing together, to the point where you would actually go out as a band and play shows?

Carey: It was very quickly. Which reminds me, have you heard of John Mayer's new Berklee lecture/seminar that he did? He was talking about the dangers now in the new world of quick self-publishing, because your instinct now, because of all the outlets, is to quickly do something and then get it out there. So for me when I was 18, I always wanted to create something and get out there very quickly. Even if I wasn't ready. I was 18 and I started this band. The first thing I was thinking was, let's go play gigs.
We started playing with that first gig where we released a CD on campus and then we slowly started to work our way in the clubs in LA. Within the year we started playing at some of the hotter clubs in LA within our freshman year. As a band in our three or four years of college we had a residency at the Knitting Factory in LA. We also played the House of Blues in LA. We have shows where we had like 500 college kids come out. We did all of that as a college band
For me it was all practice. That was all just practice to improve my solo career. It was me learning how to navigate both the creating and writing music as well as the music industry practice for what I'm doing now

Amos: Thorton actually has a music industry program doesn't it?

They do.

Amos: Did that interest you at all at the time?

Carey: It should have [laughs] but I was much more into the creative part. I got lucky. because I have a lot of friends that were in the industry program. We quickly got a manager. I met a guy who was in the music industry program and he told us that he wanted to manage us and he started booking us at these clubs. We were all learning together, actually, I still have friends here in the city, the Eshak twins, who work at Mick Management, who are John Mayer's, Brett Dennen's and Ray Lamontagne's managers. They were my year at USC in the industry program. So there's a lot of people who have gone on to do stuff from that program, which is cool.

Amos: When you're in college and you had your Telepathy band, were you thinking at the time that this is just a college jam band thing that I'm doing with my friends, or did you have the idea at the time that this is a band that you would actually go out of school with and really run with?

I was totally serious about it. I wanted to go all the way with it as I always am about everything I do musically. Retrospectively, I see how it was practice, but at the time, I was completely thinking that we were doing it. We were playing in LA clubs. We were trying to go on tour. I don't ever half ass anything.

Amos: Was that almost like the “let's quit school and do this!” kind of attitude?

Carey: We never said let's quit school. I'd say that we wanted to graduate. Our hero bands at the time like Phish and the Dave Matthews band, they had gone through school. So I saw people who'd gone through school and still became successful. So it was like lets stay in school, and let's get the education and become more well-rounded people. I was putting in all of my time besides school into the band. Essentially, I never thought to quit school.
Maybe I was having doubts in my own mind as a solo artist, but after two or three years at USC, I felt that like I had gotten everything I can academically from my instrument and now I just want the degree. I really wanted the degree.

Amos: Does something like that make you feel antsy, like you were biding your time?

Carey: In retrospect no, but at the time for sure. At the time, probably by my sophomore or Junior year... because I looked at people like John Mayer, who dropped out or Norah Jones. They got a head start on their career by dropping out. But then again, I never felt... I've always thought I was a late developer in high school; I was always a little bit behind everyone else. I think it's actually worked to my advantage that as I'm older, I'm still playing with the younger bands and artists, so all of this comes later, but for me that's worked. I've never had to rush things, so to speak

Amos: So as part of your Telepathy band, in addition to the live album, you also released what looks like one or two studio albums?

Carey: So we were playing as Telepathy and were doing all these clubs and we were playing really ornate music. It was kind of jammy, but I missed what I grew up with, which is great songs, simple production and stuff that really related to people. I made a solo record, Elevate, to rebel against all of that. I moved to 8-track digital, moving with the technology as it comes out. I got an 8-track digital set-up in my house in my senior year of college. Basically I was doing in high school again, but much better and I made Elevate. It was just me. I wrote some songs that... I would still play since you asked me if stuff that had made it. I would still play a few songs from that record like the title track. There's also a song called “Rain” on there that I like.
At the time people were starting to break out, singer-songwriters. There was this whole kind wave going on of singer-songwriters that were breaking. I thought that's much more of what I like musically and what I naturally do. I could see really having a career and I was starting to get fed up with this really intense music. It's more of a college mentality. We were studying, and I just wanted to make direct and cool music. So I made that record, Elevate, and I started playing solo shows. Technically, that's the beginning of my solo career, but like I said I don't really consider the start of my solo career until I up to move back to Chicago and started the Marshall Altman project.

Amos: So what you're doing both at the same time, the Telepathy stuff, which is very focused around real live shows, and then the solo stuff where you want very simple songs. It feels like the two would be really at odds with each other at the time.

Carey: Exactly, it was so much at odds, but the solo stuff literally grew out of the band where we would be playing these crazy shows. I would think to myself, man, I really want to strip this down and play a simple song for the audience to bring them back into this. To me that was the part that work the best, the simple stuff that I was playing. The simple stuff and the jam band were totally at odds with each other and I just kept going more and more to the solo side. That felt natural to me.

Amos: So when did you start really doing your own solo shows?

Carey: I started doing them around the end of Telepathy around my senior year of college or the year after I graduated. I was doing just solo shows.

Amos: What about the other guys from Telepathy, were they only interested in doing the jam band stuff or did any of them would go on to become session musicians?

Carey: I think that we were all there because we were well rounded people. But none of them necessarily had the ambition that I had. Our drummer was a genius. I could tell he was eventually going toward... he's teaching now. He's doing psychology, getting his doctorate. Something like music psychology, doing groundbreaking stuff, but he still plays. I could tell he was heading back in that direction. The bass player, he's still a musician. These guys, they would play session stuff with other bands. The keyboardist who joined us at the end was the real deal. His name is Aaron Arntz and he's actually won a Grammy as a side man with Frank Zappa... Zappa Play Zappa. And he's recently toured with this artist Nikka Costa, whose a really funky girl. They've toured Europe and he's opened for Prince, so the answer is yes, he became a side man.

Amos: How is the solo stuff different? Did you approach it differently? Were the venues different, like would you be playing at coffee houses?

Carey: Yeah, it was certainly less ornate and the band had this big energy, which I've always wanted to bring to the solo stuff. That was important to bring to my solo stuff, but the solo stuff was an outlet that I wasn't getting at first. It was mellow. I didn't really look at it as something major for me. The more I started doing it the more it started feeling right and that's why went with it, so to speak. To answer your question, yeah, I played more smaller and intimate-type venues. I remember that there is this place in LA that I think still exists called Genghis Cohen. It's almost like a church-type room with pews and there were definitely some singer-songwriter showcases for big acts. I remember Howie Day was playing there for his first gig and I remember Matt Nathanson there. It was this really small little place, and that's where did my first few solo shows.

Amos: And so did this change the way that you were musically writing songs?

Carey: Big-time, because at the time I didn't have a great band to play them. My college band wasn't really good at playing simple-focus songs so I had to write them to be performed solo. That always hasn't been my favorite thing, so it's been a challenge. One of the things that I started doing around that time a lot was looping. I would loop an acoustic guitar and eventually when I started touring solo I was looping my voice and bass and all kinds of stuff.

Amos: Is that a thing where you have the foot pedals on the floor? I've seen Howie Day do that in concert.

Carey: Howie Day is a really good example. I got really into that and that was my way of keeping energy. When I was just playing by myself I would start to miss that fuller sound so I would start to loop and build these sounds. I was trying to keep some of the jam audience for my band, who would come over and start see my solo shows.
I remember I was playing at Genghis Cohen, and I was playing some solo songs and I would ask the audience if they had any songs that would like to hear or request and I would try to play them; I would try to play them on the spot. Someone requested “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” by Paul Simon. I had never played it before, but I knew the song so I looped it, the chord progression. I started building it and then I soloed over that and that was the launch of my live solo stuff. I was doing looping and that was what I did early on.

Amos: So you have this college band and you're in your senior year of college and graduation is looming up. What is the mindset with you and the rest of the band about what you're going to do with yourselves after graduation?

Carey: We were serious. We got a house in Los Feliz and we moved in. I said, “I'm going to go for this!” The other guys got jobs and I think that they were along for the ride to see what would happen, more than anything. I had a backup, because at the time, I kind of knew I was heading toward the solo direction. So as always, I went full on-board. I was scared.
I started teaching guitar lessons to pay the bills around that time. Basically, the band continue to grow. We kept played bigger gigs after we graduated. We did things like headlining the House of Blues, something I mentioned, but basically we kept playing until it ran its course. The other guys were like, “I think I need to go back to school or just focus on getting a real job.” And I was already out the door with some of my solo stuff.

After college, moving back to Chicago[edit]


Amos: What happens when Telepathy eventually breaks up, do you stay in Los Angeles for while?

Carey: I was basically in LA for one year after college and Telepathy broke up and then I was doing the solo thing. That was basically the beginning of the solo thing, because I was in LA, thinking that it was cool, but I've been working for such a long time building up this audience, but I remember growing up in Chicago. That kind of town for me was different from LA, because LA is an industry town. If I'm ever playing shows in LA, the people in the audience... they felt very savvy. It seemed like everyone there worked in the entertainment business. So for me it was really hard to find fans who weren't sitting back there and who were judging it as a professional as opposed to fan.
I remember growing up in Chicago and the energy for going to the shows and they have such devoted fans. So I thought to myself if I should go to Chicago and start this solo career there with these new songs that I'm running. I had written “Ain't Got Love” at that time, which is the first track on the Marshall Altman record. So I thought to go back to Chicago and just really relaunch myself as a solo artist. I thought that I could get some traction there, so that's what I did, I moved back Chicago. I started playing clubs and very quickly, I was doing like 200 or 300 tickets. Almost immediately, as soon as I started doing that and writing songs, that's when I started to be serious about it.
So this is the start for me, and this is when I start feeling like I was really pulling the trigger of moving back Chicago and saying I'm going to do this. So I moved back and I immediately delve into finding a band that was going to support my solo music. Well, that became my Chicago band while I was living there. I had this apartment in Lincoln Park and I set up a studio and started writing as many songs as I could. At the same time, I would be playing in Chicago every three weeks. At some point I may have had a residency where I was playing every week.
I was building a fan base and playing the songs live in front of the fans and seeing if it was working or not. I remember that by the end of '06 or '05, I had a very similar situation to where I am now, where I had a hard drive of 30 or 40 songs and I started sending them around to producers and saying I really want to make a record. I was really into Carencro by Marc Broussard which is a great record. It's like who's the guy behind that? It had the energy... with the singer-songwriter thing that's often missing, that energy like a funk or a spark. I wanted higher energy stuff than that. The stuff I played at Rockwood the other night was more higher energy than the singer-songwriter thing.
I heard that on Marshall's record on Carencro, so I reached out to him with the demo for songs. It was like, “Ain't Got Love,” “Friday Night” and... I can't remember the other songs, but he was super into it, he loved it. He saw that I had a following at the time and that I was doing well, that I was selling records on my own. This was right when Myspace came out. Were you ever on Myspace? This might be before you.

Amos: I know of Myspace. It's come up before with other artists like Brendan James, who made his Myspace page in 2005.

Carey: Yeah, that's actually what links a lot of us. That links me to Brendan. This guy that I toured with recently Nathan Angelo, Tony Lucca. They'll tell you this, too, in a certain way that a group of musicians can ride a wave of like Napster. I really noticed Myspace. When I had moved out to Chicago and was starting to play live, people were going to my Myspace page and were listening and leaving comments and buying records. That helped establish me. So around that time my Myspace page was getting a lot of action and thing started taking off for me.

Amos: What's funny about that is that Tony Lucca is almost like the granddaddy of this because he had a personal website in 1997 that he'd sell his CDs on.

Carey: Wow, that's the earliest I've ever heard anyone on it.

Amos: Yeah, basically back then, because they didn't have PayPal or other services that are common today, if someone wanted to buy a CD from his page they would have to print off a paper order form from his webpage with a check and then mail it to Tony Lucca at his P.O. Box. He'd pick that up and then mail you a CD.

Carey: That's incredible.

Amos: Back in LA, can you tell me more about jobs that you do, was it anything besides the guitar teaching?

Carey: It was just teaching, and I was paying the bills that way. I was lucky in that I didn't have to work through college. I had a scholarship and my parents were also supporting me. When I graduated I was like, “I'm going to take the responsibility to be a musician, so I'm going to get a job and support myself.” So around that time I had this music degree, and I could easily get a teaching job. I started teaching at music stores, where you get paid peanuts to teach these kids, but they set it up and they bring you a full schedule. I was a good enough teacher to where the kids really liked me.

Amos: You seem like you'd be a fun teacher.

Carey: I was! Well. Thank you for that compliment, but I loved teaching. So when I left the music store I did it on my own. I can teach them privately and I'd be able to charge them a lot more money. I was better able to work that schedule around my music and show schedule. I was basically just teaching music and playing for that year after college.
When I first moved back to sit Chicago I started teaching again, while I was writing for Watching Waiting and playing around Chicago. I have to think... I don't think I was doing much touring around that time. There was just a point where I was teaching, and I had a manager and he said, “Man, you have to quit your job to do this.” So I took that leap, and it was scary as hell. Sometimes it's still scary, but the difference between people... I don't even want to make that statement. But for me the difference was quitting that job.
I feel lucky in that I haven't had to go back to my job, which would be teaching. But I'm so glad that I haven't had to. So sometimes I wake up and think that I'm just so lucky. I just feel really fortunate.

Amos: How did you do guitar teaching when you moved back to Chicago? Did you do store thing again?

Carey: Part of the reason that I went back to Chicago was that I knew so many people. So I had my neighborhood and my family, friends, connections like that. I used those when I started teaching again.

Amos: Would it just be children? What kinds of people come and get guitar lessons?

Carey: Everyone from... I was teaching six-year-olds, 55-year-old dudes who would come in and want to learn Springsteen. Everyone at the time, I remember that was when American Idiot by Green Day had come out, and so every kid who came in wanted to learn “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.” That song paid my bills. I was teaching all of the kids that and I had parents. Occasionally, I would have a really cool student who wanted to actually learn the instrument.

Amos: Did any of the kids you teach go anywhere?

Carey: Not that I know of. Oh! Actually one of them went to school and is now a sideman guitar player. He was really cool. His name is Brad Miller, and he's in Illinois and is in a touring band now, but I don't know the name of it, but yeah, he's the one.

Amos: So when you're in LA, did you do both Elevate and Revolving World there?

Carey: Yeah, I did Elevate in college and Revolving World was like, the band's over, here's something that will tide me over. I started doing that at home in LA as well.

Amos: We're both of those released in the same year?

Carey: Yeah.

Amos: Was Revolving World produced by Jim Tullio?

Carey: Revolving World was actually produced by me. Tullio did two songs and he was in Chicago, so Revolving World was actually a transition. I had done 10 or 12 songs on the record myself in LA and I think one of them was with drummer who ended up being on Watching Waiting. I had 10 or 12 songs, and then I was like I'm going to go back Chicago and start my career over with this record. Or at least use it to start my career.
So when I had moved back I met Jim Tullio, who is a pretty successful Chicago producer, who lived in Winnetka. It was this dude who lived up the street from me. Somehow we got hooked up and we worked on two more songs and put them on Revolving World. So, often times, interviewers will be like Jim Tullio produced that record, but really I did and he just did a couple of songs.

Eric Robinson & Marshall Altman[edit]


Amos: So did you basically not work with a producer at all up and so that point with Jim Tullio?

Carey: Jim Tullio was actually first producer that I worked with. Well actually, Telepathy had one producer that was a friend who is actually a really brilliant guy. You may know him. Do you know Eric Robinson?

Amos: Yes, I do.

Carey: So here's a funny story about Eric Robinson. It's funny because I want this recorded for prosperity, because the Eric/Marshall connection is famous. When I was in college my sophomore or junior year, we released The Better After album from Telepathy. We had a record release party at this club. We played this great show, the audience was awesome. We have been working on this album for like a year and a half and when we released it after the show I was so happy, because it felt like I had done something.
Eric Robinson, who was a freshman or sophomore at the time in the recording arts program at USC, comes up to me, who was a friend of my manager, and says, "That was a cool show. The album's okay, but you've got to make another." I was just like, "Who is this kid?!" We were all celebrating and he comes up and says this was not very good, you need to do another right now, let's do this right now.
That's how I met him. He ended up working with Telepathy on that next project and through that time in LA he became one of my best friends. I would bounce stuff off of him. He would kind of record stuff for me. Tying it together three or four years later, when I was in Chicago, but I went to LA to make Watching Waiting with Marshall and said, "Look I like you, but I don't really know who you are, and I want someone who I trust around in the recording process. Is it okay if my friend Eric comes and sits on the couch while we do this?" I knew that Eric was really skilled. So that was my way of... I didn't say, “Eric is going to assist you on this record.” but I knew if he was in the studio that... Eric is a very outgoing guy and everybody loves him, especially artists. I knew that if I got him into the room that Marshall would like him.
Marshall said, “Absolutely not. I don't know who he is and I don't want him around.” I resisted and I held fast and said I really want Eric to come and hang out, so he came and hung out. The rest is history and he became Marshall's assistant and mixer. Now they're partners, or they were, I think.

Amos: I don't think he's with him in Nashville now.

Carey: No, he still lives in LA. Eric lives in LA.

Amos: While Marshall lives in Nashville now.

Carey: Does the Galt Line still exist?

Amos: I think that the Galt Line still exists in Nashville? I know that there was some confusion when I was doing Marshall's stuff, because he has a record label and the studio both named Galt Line. Or he uses the Galt Line name for multiple things, but I'm not sure if he really has a record label still.

Carey: I think that these days, everyone kind of has a record label. I know that the Galt Line record label released the Curtis Peoples album and that was a real record release. I still think that Eric and Marshall still collaborate on some level today. After I left and finished Watching Waiting Eric and Marshall continued to do work together and work very closely. The first record that they did after I left was a Kate Voegele album for Myspace records. Then they did so many records after that: Curtis Peoples, William Fitzsimmons, Virginia Coalition, Matt Nathanson, Matt Wurtz.

Amos: Matt Duke.

Carey: They did Matt Duke! Matt Duke was basically right after I left. So I'm going to claim that I have some serious influence on all that stuff, introducing the two of them, because Eric ended up introducing a lot of artists to Marshall. Though I know that Marshall met Matt on his own

Amos: One of the funny things that I've noticed since I started this project is that everyone seems to know everyone else in some way. It seems like Marshall Altman is one of the linchpins in the middle it all, and then you have Eric Robinson, who did a lot of projects with Marshall.

Carey: It's funny because in LA, everyone knows Eric. I feel that I'm happy that I brought Eric and Marshall together, because they became a real force for a while there, one of their Galt Line Studios was two blocks away from this club, The Hotel Café, in LA. A lot of the musicians that they made records for there would be at the club and then they would go over to the studio.

Amos: I've heard out quite a few of the venues come up a lot in some of these interviews like The Knitting Factory. The Mint.

Carey: Yeah, The Mint is still very much in existence. I did a tour with Brendan James and Jason Reeves, Jason Reeves is one of my favorites; to me he's one of the best. He co-wrote a lot of the Colbie Caillat songs that are really famous, like the song “Bubbly”, he wrote that or wrote a lot of that stuff. Yeah, so I went on tour with Jason and Brendan last fall, and we played at The Mint. Telepathy and I had a residency at The Mint and then three years later, where headlining at The Mint with a sold out show with the Jason Reeves.

Amos: I remember seeing YouTube videos of you guys on the tour that you took yourselves. I think at one point you were swimming in a creek. When I was researching for Brendan James I noticed you both had been on tour together.

Carey: That was actually the first tour that I did with those guys like in '08 or '09. That was a while back.

Amos: Was there more to your decision to move back to Chicago from LA, other than the crowd aspect that you mentioned?

Carey: I definitely wanted to be closer to my family. When you're on the West Coast and everyone else is in the Midwest, it's really far away, and it's this huge gap. Also, truthfully, I knew that, and this is going to sound bad, it was going to be easier to be a big fish in a small pond in Chicago, as opposed to being this 19-year-old kid getting swallowed up in LA. I was seeing other people get record deals, and I just didn't feel like I was ready yet. I've always been a late bloomer and I needed time to incubate. So when I came back to Chicago I was still getting it together. I was writing songs for Watching Waiting and I knew that I would have a more forgiving environment in Chicago, so to speak. I admit that.

Amos: LA's a big market.

Carey: Yeah, yeah. If you're a good band in a place like St. Louis or Kansas City you're going to get some traction in people are going to hear about you. Chicago is not a small town and there's a lot of incredible bands that have come out there. I thought it was just the right mix. Fans are really ready to accept a cool band. Also, LA is very pop oriented, and I love pop music, but I wanted that leeway to be able to have creative freedom and have an audience.

Amos: Before you actually moved back to Chicago, you were in the movie A Mighty Wind?

Carey: Yeah, totally! And that was one of the advantages of going to school at USC. We'd be in our classes and someone would come in and say, “Hey, they're holding auditions! They need sidemen musicians for A Mighty Wind.” I remember going in and auditioning and they said they liked me and to come on in as an extra. Then I was just in the movie.

Amos: There's a lot of stuff that they film at USC.

Carey: A lot of TV shows, they use the image of the college. I think a lot of people, maybe like people overseas, when they think of an American college, they probably picture USC, because it's the image used in a lot of TV shows.

Amos: Did you see stuff filmed there when you attended?

Carey: All the time. USC is a very industry-oriented school, but it's also really great academically, and that's why loved being there.

Amos: Do you see kids when they go to school there fall for the Hollywood glamour? People who suddenly want to become actors or work in that industry?

Carey: Yeah, there's a huge Orange County representation there. Some people joke that USC is the University of Spoiled Children. It's a very expensive school, but I had a scholarship and was lucky in that respect, but I also think that there's a high enough standard to where a lot of people who were in the film industry program were talented to begin with, so they go there. It's hard to have stars in your eyes when the bar is that high. Like you had to have something going on to be there in the first place.
They had a really famous film section there and it's probably one of the things their most famous for.

Amos: I was kind of thinking that other people, maybe not involved with that, would start to see all that and then the idea gets in their minds that they want to jump over to it. Like, I want to be a musician, no wait, now I want to be an actor!

Carey: Totally, that exists everywhere. I didn't see so much of that, but I think it was there. I was in a bit of a bubble for the first few years that I was there. I was really just studying guitar and playing with my band and chasing girls. That was it.

Amos: How did you get the scholarship for USC?

Carey: It was an audition and I think I just did well during it. I think that they just had scholarships to offer and that they liked what I had. So they just offered it to me.

Amos: How did you find it?

Carey: I have to give my parents a lot of credit that when I was looking for schools. My mom was really helping me a lot researching what schools had good music programs. She was really there for me so a lot of that is her doing.

Amos: So I guess you saw it posted somewhere and then you had to fly to LA to audition?

Carey: I didn't apply for that one, they just offered it to me. I was just hoping to get into the school and then they offered me a scholarship, and that was all done from there.

Working With Other Artists[edit]

Amos: Did you do any co-writing or playing with other musicians when you were in LA?

Carey: It was more collaborative on the band side of it; I was just really into playing. I really haven't co-written besides the Watching Waiting stuff and then later the Mikal Blue. I did a little bit of co-writing with those producers who were established guys known for co-writing. Literally, until the last four months of my life, like now, now, I was not in co-writing, and now I'm into it. I just started it for the next record I'm doing and I'm doing a bunch of co-writing.

Amos: Did you have something that you did with Sara Bareilles?

Carey: Yeah, she sang on Watching Waiting. She sings on “Smile”. [plays a bit of the song “Smile”] So that's one of the songs that I wrote and so few people know that Sara Bareilles was the person who sang on that.

Amos: Is she credited for it?

Carey: Yeah, but this was right before she became huge. When she came into the studio she was just a friend of Eric's. He was like, “Yeah, you've got to meet this check, and she should sing on a song.” Then she blew up after that. Oh, and Michael Chavez is on that album. He's John Mayer's guitar player. But, yeah, Sara sings on that song and I would say just my core fans know that.

Amos: That reminds me of when Tyrone Wells was talking about one of his songs at a show and how one of the former American Idol judges, Kara DiaGuardia, had sung background vocals for one of his songs but wasn't credited because it was done on the down low.

Carey: Do you know that John Mayer song “Gravity”? At the end of it there's this girl who comes in and sings some "oohs" and that's Alicia Keyes, but it's not credited because of label hassles.
But the whole Sara thing was on the up-and-up, she was doing really well in LA, but she wasn't star. I don't even think her album had come out yet. She knew Marshall because she had previously toured with Marc Broussard.

Amos: Since she only sings harmony on the song, was that ever something that you had imagined? The idea of using of possibly using a female vocal on the track?

Carey: At the time I had just written that song in Chicago. When we started in the studio, Marshall said this would be a cool one to have girl sing on. I didn't even hear it to tell you the truth. So I was like, “Cool, we'll try it.” So she just came in.
Now I have a new song called “Gotta Be Next To You.” That's on After The Morning After and I played it at the Rockwood show. It's Amber Rubarth, she sings a duet with me on the After The Morning After version. So when I wrote that I was thinking this would be really good with a girl singing. Now, I think like that.
It's all part of the learning process. You learn these things as you go.

Amos: I always wonder how things like that go. If you're writing a duet, do you have to have a chick in mind to do it with when you're writing?

Carey: Yeah, that's always hard finding someone and someone who's good is another situation altogether. Like I said, you learn more. It sounds like you're a musician as well and you write?

Amos: Nooo, not at all. I'm like your dad.

Carey: Oh, but believe me, you guys make the world go round. I'm doing this because of my dad. People are interested in that stuff, and I'm like that, too, if I wasn't playing music. I'd be collecting data. I really would be.
But yeah, I'm glad for being fortunate enough to work with good people, because I've worked with bad people. So you learn from good people. Or, you learn quickly from who's good and who you're going to get good experience from. Even someone like Eric Robinson, who is younger than me. Always, I was learning from him.

Amos: Have you had a bad producer experience yet?

Carey: Yeah, but I'm not going to comment on who and what and where. That's just like anything else, you're just trying stuff. Think about jobs, like you can have a good boss or you can have a bad boss. So next time, maybe you'll know to stay away from that type of person. It's learning things as you go. You can suss out what's working and not working. If you're stretching and trying you'll find things out, what does and what doesn't work; it's a byproduct of applying yourself. Finding someone that you don't work well with just means that you're trying and expanding your horizons. If you don't fail you're not trying.

Amos: So say you're thinking of doing a collaboration and then you go to producer. I guess you throw some stuff at them and then maybe like two weeks later you figure out that it's just not working?

Carey: It doesn't even have to be two weeks, it could just be one song. It could be anything. Maybe it's a band member who doesn't work. You have to feel these things out. I was reading your interview that you did with Marshall Altman, he can still get in a room with somebody and the chemistry isn't there. It's totally true. Unfortunate as it is.

"The Challenge"[edit]

Amos: At what time did you start "the challenge"? Was that when you were in Chicago?

Carey: The challenge started around... I was in Chicago for maybe six or seven months and then I started Watching Waiting with Marshall. Maybe we had been halfway through it and it was time to do my first real tour as a solo artist. It was my first real tour for anything really and like it was time to do a real tour.
I had never done a real tour with Telepathy. We had runs we'd gone to Northern California, but nothing major. So for my first tour it was done by a friend of mine. Basically, it was booked by a friend and she was like, “I got this perfect guy for you to tour with. You're going to love this guy.” I said, “Okay, whatever.”
She introduced me to this guy Bushwalla, whose name sounds kind of ridiculous. A lot of people get it confused with Dishwalla, the band.

Amos: Meanwhile, this is a single guy? That totally sounds like a band. You say Bushwalla and I picture in my head five guys.

Carey: It's one dude, and sometimes people go to his Myspace page, and they don't even get it. You have to see him. He's a performer in that sense, like I was talking about Jason Mraz and Bushwalla, and he writes great songs. We set up this tour and it was like '06, and it was basically a collection of house concerts and some club dates. We did Chicago, where I was playing big shows.
I remember calling him on the phone before the tour. It was the first time I was going to be in a band with someone I didn't know, so I wanted to talk to him and was a bit nervous. He was so cool, and immediately I thought this was going to work. So we go on this tour in February '06, or maybe it was '07, and we were doing house concerts. A lot of his fans, these super Mraz fans, they love him and they were bringing us to their houses.
We were having these adventures where, like we pull up to this one house in Cleveland. A nice area of Cleveland in February, pulled up in the snow and we get there and the mom answers the door. There's no one there, so we think that this is going to suck. We start setting up our instruments and then I remember turning around and there were 40 high school girls sitting there expectantly waiting for us to play. We ended up playing a great show.
For me, it was my first real experience as being a solo artist and really getting my music out there. Around that time, Bush says that he's always writing songs and then he told me about “the challenge”, which this guy, Bob Schneider started. Bob is a singer-songwriter of Austin and who is one of my heroes. He was really multi-genre. You go to a show and he's rapping or he's doing hard rock, then doing country. He's doing everything because he's constantly writing songs, constantly.
So he had developed this game, where he and three or four other friends would throw out a word like “eagle”. Then you'd have to write eagle in the song, either in the chorus or just somewhere in the lyrics. They would all take a day or two, and they would write the song and then they would play for each other. As time got on, they got busier and they couldn't do it in person so they started doing it via e-mail. Somewhere along the line Bushwalla got involved, I think through Jason Mraz, in the challenge. When I was on tour with Bush invited me into the challenge.
So this is like '06 or '07, and I started in the challenge and I remember that my first song challenge was "anywhere but Memphis." I wrote that song in the back when we were driving in the back of a van. I wrote that song as we were going from gig to gig. We recorded it in the van driving and sent it around. That was the beginning for me of being in several periods in the challenge. I'll do it for like six months and be in the game. The whole concept is that you can't slack. Its like this crack-the-whip vibe. It's now once a week where you have to write a song, but if you miss a week or two weeks Bob kicks you out. You have to keep it up and the whole concept is to not be a slacker. Even if the song is bad, even if it's terrible, you do it anyway because it's the exercise of writing songs.

Amos: Is it something where it's a website and people can see it, or is it just like an e-mail ring?

Carey: It's a totally private e-mail ring. It's totally under the radar, that's what's so cool about it. There's no access to the public for this. It's really more of a process than anything. None of the songs are necessarily meant to be released, though some of them do get released. Some of Jason Mraz's songs were written in the challenge and some of Bob Schneider's were. I don't think that I've ever actually released a song I wrote from the challenge.

Amos: How many songs have you written for the challenge so far?

Carey: I've probably written like 30, and that's not a lot compared to what Bob Schneider's done. He's done hundreds. I've been in and out of it sometimes then I'll stop, because I go on tour, but Bob's constant and I don't have any idea how he does it. So the idea is that some of these songs are good and some of them are terrible. Some are hilarious, some of them are really sad. I just did a stint in it. I stopped couple weeks ago, but I was in it for three months, February through now, basically.

Amos: Do you know the Jason Mraz song that became an actual song?

Carey: Yeah, there's one on the We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things album. It's the one with the James Morrison guest vocal, I'm trying to think of the title. The term from the game was "sewing machine" and... oh, it was “Details In The Fabric”. “Details In The Fabric” was the title.

Amos: Isn't that the one that starts with a voicemail message?

Carey: The voicemail message is actually Bushwalla. That whole thing was part of the challenge. He left this message.

Amos: How many people are in it? You, Bushwalla, Jason Mraz?

Carey: It fluctuates. When I joined in '06 or '07 on the tour with Bushwalla, there was me, Bushwalla, Jason Mraz, Mike Doughty, the lead singer of Soul Coughing, Steve Poltz, who wrote the Jewel song “You Were Meant For Me” and Bob Schneider. At various points I'd come in and there would be a lot of different people, Anya Marina, a bunch of people. It fluctuates. People come in and out all the time, because they can't keep up. Sometimes, for me, it's overwhelming and I have to get out if I can't do it every week.

Amos: Is this well known? I've only seen one reference to this and it was in an interview that you did a while ago.

Carey: I posted an interview of Bob Schneider on my twitter awhile ago, where he was talking about this. I don't know if Jason's talked about it publicly.

Amos: What happened with the managers that you had in Telepathy? Did you keep any of them when you made the decision to move to Chicago from Los Angeles?

Carey: Managers are a really personal thing. You're fast friends, and they give guidance, each one is a different story. My manager with Telepathy was a college friend. We ended up parting ways because he got busy and I got busy. The funny thing is we're still in touch. I send him new songs that I write because I want to hear his reaction. We go that far back, and I trust him that much because he heard me when I was 18.
My second manager, who managed the beginning of my solo career, was a good friend from high school. They always end up being good friends. He took me through the Marshall record and ended up working at Brick Wall management, and now they manage Marshall, which again, I hooked them all up of course. [laughs] When we moved to New York he ended up with Brick Wall and I did my own thing after that. Now I have a new manager who's great and she's been working with me for about a year and a half. She has a company in LA called the Radley Company. She's got me on the road a lot and working on new records.

Amos: When you moved to Chicago, did you approach your music career differently than how you were doing it in LA?

Carey: I became professional in Chicago. It's ironic that I left the industry to become part of the industry. My goal in life up to 2006 was to make a record that was distributed by a major label and then go to Tower Records and buy it. When Watching Waiting came out in '07 I went to Tower Records and I bought the record. Then six months later, Tower Records closed. It was bittersweet, because I got to see my dream realized, but then the industry fell down.
In '06 I had moved back to Chicago and my game changed. I put out a record on a major label, essentially, and was touring and working with a great manager and stepping it up. That was when I quit teaching at that time. I became a touring singer-songwriter. That was the change in my game for me, I became a "national artist."

Amos: Did you experience any artistic changes in your music, after you had moved back to Chicago?

Carey: Absolutely, I had consciously started writing songs that, to me, were better songs. I think I was learning how to write better songs at that point, since I was doing it a lot more. The songs accomplish things that I wanted to accomplish. My Telepathy songs were 10 minutes long with crazy instrumental breaks. Did Matt Duke ever have a period where he was doing, like, jam band stuff? I think I'm wrong about that.

Amos: No, Matt Duke had recorded a demo when he was 18 that got him hooked up with Drexel University in Philadelphia, who had made this music industry program for its students. There he made a song sampler and later his first studio album, Winter Child, with the college. After Winter Child, Rykodisc noticed him and picked him up, and that's when he made his record with Marshall. So Matt Duke actually had things happen one after another.

Carey: It's really interesting, I see a lot of artists, and there's no rhyme or reason in the way that people approach it. Some people fast track it and some people are a slower burn. I've always felt that I've been on the slower burn. For me, I wouldn't have it any other way, because I've learned so much. I feel like I know what music to release and what music not to release, so I'm having a better feeling of what I want to do.

Amos: Yeah, going over it, your's and Brendan James's history, it feels like there's a lot of overlap going on there, or a lot of kinship.

Carey: I've always felt a real kinship with Brendan. We met and I think '07 or '08 after Watching Waiting had come out and two songs had been chosen to be in this movie, Palo Alto, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival. It ended up coming out on DVD and distributed by Lionsgate. The opening credit has "Ain't Got Love" on it and “Watching Waiting” is also in the movie. I came out to New York around that time, and I was dating this girl in New York. This was when I was still in Chicago and Watching Waiting had come out. I was touring and promoting it.
We went to the premiere at Tribeca and at the party Eric Robinson was there and he told me I should meet this guy Brendan James. So Brendan and I had met and my manager was there. At the time Brendan was working on the final product of the Mikal Blue record and he said that he was going to have to start touring.
I invited him out on a tour run in Chicago. It was like Chicago, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Indianapolis. That's where my main core stuff is. Because when I moved back to Chicago I developed my Chicago audience, and also Milwaukee above and Indianapolis below. That area is always where I've been the strongest. I brought him as an opener and we really bonded on that tour, and I became a huge fan of his music. Subsequently, I ended up touring with him on his own tour. During that tour, he ended up showing me Park Slope, where he was living and I had this girlfriend out here in New York. So that was what triggered my New York move. That's how all that started.
At that time I had been in Chicago for a couple of years and really felt comfortable with what I had established. So I thought it was time to take it to a higher level. That's what brought me out here.

Putting Together Watching Waiting[edit]

Amos: From the time that you get Chicago, what goes into the lead up of Watching Waiting?

Carey: It was just playing those songs live, building an audience. When I first moved to Chicago in '06. The first day that I played was in this little dive bar called the Tonic Room. It's still there, but it was really smoky and nasty, and the stage was on the side and was weird. I remember playing “Smile”, that song with Sara Bareilles, and “Ain't Got Love.” That was early '06, or maybe late '05.
By the end of '08, I had written songs for Watching Waiting. Watching Waiting had been released and we're touring. I was meeting people like Tony Lucca, Curtis Peoples, actually I don't think I met Tony Lucca until later, but I met all of those guys in that scene. I was starting to get aware of these people through Myspace. By the end of '08 the record had been out and I had been touring. I think that the record release for Watching Waiting, we did like 700 tickets at the Park West in Chicago.
So at that point I felt like I had set out what I intended to do in Chicago, which was make a great record and get it released, get a label and build an audience at the end of that cycle. I was trying to write new songs, and it was like, what do I do now to take it to the next level?
Also, I couldn't find the caliber of musicians that I wanted in Chicago. I had my band was okay, and this is a little risky to say, but they just weren't up to snuff. I was holding auditions just trying to find people as good as the band I have now.

Amos: Do you mean in a studio sense or live playing sense?

Carey: Both, essentially, I didn't feel comfortable bringing new songs to them. I just felt songs wouldn't have a good birthplace. Whereas the guys out here in New York are used to playing a sideman. They know how to support a song.
I was really wanting a better band, and I knew that I could find that in LA or New York. I didn't want to move back to LA and my girlfriend was in New York. Also, my manager had just moved to New York for Brick Wall. I was like, “Man, New York really sounds exciting to me!” My draw on the East Coast isn't that big, so maybe I should come here and work on it. So I took the leap and moved out here.
Basically, what it was was for me was that I had when Chicago set a goal and accomplished it, and then I was ready to set a new challenge. After that... I'm not saying that I conquered Chicago, because that's really presumptuous, but I had achieved a goal that I had set for myself, which was go there, write some songs, make a great record and gain a following. Now, the new challenge is going to be really hard, and has proven to be really hard, is to come to New York and gain a foothold. I'm still working on it now.

Amos: When you say make a record in Chicago-

Carey: I didn't make the record in Chicago. I made it in LA with Marshall in Burbank, but I was based out there. I was a Chicago artist. When when I made that album, all of the literature when Watching Waiting had come out said this Chicago guy. You know what I mean? That type of approach. It worked, because I had this LA-produced record with good studio musicians. But I was a Chicago artist. I think people found that interesting.

Amos: How did you get the deal for distribution on your Watching Waiting record?

Carey: That's a good question, I can even remember. I think my manager... oh! Marshall was working with Matt Nathanson, and they were doing Some Mad Hope for, like, forever. It took like three years. I member they were working on it for a year before I started and then it went on for two more years. Matt Nathanson in the meantime, because he was taking so long, he did a live album called At The Point. They distributed it through a company called High Wire Music/ Fontana which was a Universal Music distribution company. It was fresh on everyone's mind; they had used it and I had met Matt Nathanson. When Marshall was working with them, and he said, “You should take this record over there and see if they like it.” They liked it so they put out.

Amos: How do you get the funding together for your albums?

Carey: It happens all sorts of different ways these days, you know as the way the industry's changing... it's just like artists use to sign deals and labels would develop them. Over the course of a record now, artist development is you. It's an artist himself being really diligent in developing his own style. I have to bounce stuff off people and get their reactions to see if I'm on the right track. Personally, if I'm on the right track... that used to all happen with the record labels. They would give you money, and they would invest in you.
For me it's come a million different ways. I've made money from touring and funded records. I've had private investors. I've had record labels behind me, in a project by project basis. It's always come from somewhere, you know? That, to me, is a sign that it's working. Now that I've said that though, watch, that's the end. I've always been lucky in that, if I've ever needed something something comes around and works and I can support myself.
I did this tour with Josh Hoge in December and I had this label behind me called Blaster Music. They're out of Cleveland. I've had stuff like that, where labels come in.

Amos: Is all of that just on a temporary basis?

Carey: That was just for that tour, and they are continuing to work with us potentially on the next EP/single/record whatever it's going be.

Amos: Did you try to do stuff for showcasing?

Carey: Yeah, when I first did Watching Waiting. We did some showcases, and we ended up with a lot of stuff from those showcases like publicity or magazine articles. People would come out of those shows and write about them. Actually, a lot of the team for Watching Waiting came together during the showcases, like the Aware Street Team. They came out to the showcases. So for a time, I really wanted to stay independent, but I also wanted a major-label distribution, which we got for that record. The showcases were to build a team to get people involved. Like the right publicist, and the right street team.

Amos: I was looking up the CD listings for all of your previous work on Amazon. The After The Morning After EP is attributed to Todd Carey, Watching Waiting is attributed to High Wire/Fontana and all of your stuff before then is attributed to Kufala.

Carey: Kufala is an online thing where they do a lot of live releases and they also distributed my first two records, but with Watching Waiting we wanted to do a major-label distribution, which we did. For After The Morning After it was like in EP, which is like a whole another thing with Mikal Blue, but I just put it up myself for iTunes. We used this thing called DashCo (?) and they're the ones that work with iTunes to help us get this featured. Like the new single, “Begin.” After After The Morning After had come out it hit like 22 on the iTunes pop charts, so to have this kind of assistance when records come out this cool.

Amos: So when stuff like that is coming out, are you responsible for designing all of your own record art or putting together your own photo shoots?

Carey: It's always a combination of things, like I know what I want and it's always good to have someone to confirm with or have an art director. So for example, when I did Watching Waiting and After The Morning After they're the same photographer who shot the cover, this girl named Laura Crosta who's really good. I brought in an art director to wardrobe it and afterward she had a photo guy to come in, so I'm definitely involved, the whole way.

The Whitefish Bay Sessions EP[edit]

Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

Amos: What is the Whitefish Bay Sessions EP?

Carey: The Whitefish Bay Sessions EP, I wish it was more available, but it was a limited time thing. Actually, I'll probably release it again, but it's the demos for Watching Waiting. I sent Marshall Altman three or four fully-produced demos of songs that made it onto Watching Waiting. He listened to them and then he told me he'd really rather listen to me sing them live with an acoustic guitar.
I took my studio Whitefish Bay, which is in Northern Door County, Wisconsin. My parents have this cabin up there. I went up there with a guitar and brought a bunch stuff. I recorded 15 songs of just acoustic and live vocals and I used those as the demos when I went out to LA to record the album. After the record was out, I picked five songs from those demos and released it as a limited edition EP.

Amos: Was this digital or physical?

Carey: It was a physical CD that was available from my online record store. It's never been released digitally. Once you put something out there digitally, it's out there forever.

Amos: I notice that you can still get stuff from your Telepathy band through iTunes, not all of it, but some of it. You can only get the physical CDs from Amazon.

Oh, also it's funny that you mentioned that your parents have a summer home in Wisconsin. When I was researching for this interview, I saw a mention or two of Wisconsin, and how you recorded stuff there. I was trying to figure out your connection to the area and in my notes I wrote "family summer home?" So it's funny to see that I was right about it.

Carey: Yeah, it was just a cabin in the woods, but it's really small. Are you familiar with Bon Iver? This whole PR campaign for his new record is that he recorded it in a cabin in the woods. I was so boned when I heard that, because I said to myself, “That's what I do!” I wish I would have used that. If you listen to the Whitefish Bay stuff you'll hear that the songs really changed from that to the record.

Amos: How long did you do those Whitefish Bay recordings before recording Watching Waiting?

Carey: It was basically while I was waiting to make a record. I was in Chicago, and we were building a following playing shows. I was still writing and getting stuff ready. I think we had the record date set, that I was going to go out in August and make that album. Before that, Marshall asked me to send him some demos in the summer. So I just went up to the family cabin and I spent about a week and a half there with my recording set-up. I had just met my then girlfriend. I had just fallen in love with her and she came up and visit me at the cabin and we spent a week in the woods. The whole experience for me was really cool. It was just me playing the music live in the cabin. I think it turned out well.

Amos: What kind of recording setup did you take with you?

Carey: Basically all the gear that I have here in my apartment right now. I carry a lot of gear with me when I travel and when I'm on the road, because I think it's important.

Amos: How does shipping and hauling that equipment work out for you? I remember reading something from Brendan James where he was talking about how it would cost him a ton of money to ship or check-in his keyboard because of all sorts of carry-on and luggage rules at the airport.

Carey: Yeah, that's got to be tough for him. If I'm flying. I carry on an acoustic guitar and I check in an electric guitar. I have a pedal board, and I check that too. It just depends on baggage fees and what airline I'm flying if there is a band that's meeting me and they have equipment... it all just depends on the logistics of travel.

Amos: Do you do a lot of flying-type touring? Is it more of the van type?

Carey: It's mostly the van type. That's what I prefer, because you have all the gear in the van with you. Let me put it this way, when it comes to traveling I'd rather fly, but if I was touring I'd rather drive.

Amos: Do you have a time when you did the Whitefish Bay Sessions EP?

Carey: It was about August of 2006. I think that we made Watching Waiting in October of 2006. Man, I could be wrong, I don't know. I already had the date set for recording Watching Waiting, but the demo CD was something of a challenge that Marshall gave me, where he wanted me to do the entire record acoustically. He just wanted to hear that style, because I produce. I can add drums and all that myself for my music, but he just wanted to hear the raw presentation of it. The Whitefish Bay Sessions was almost like a homework assignment that I fell in love with doing.

Amos: Do you play drums?

Carey: I don't play drums, but I do drum programming. I wish I played drums.

Amos: The material that you recorded for the Whitefish Bay Sessions, was that all new material that you had recorded? Once you had moved to Chicago?

Carey: Yeah, there's a lot of songs that didn't make it, too. It was basically the raw materials and the title track I had just written. I actually just wrote the song “Watching Waiting” while I was up there. I wrote “Watching Waiting” while waiting for this girl to show up at the cabin. It took five minutes to write that song, and it's, by far, my favorite song in the album and it took me five minutes to write it. I had “Ain't Got Love” and “Smile” that I had written in Chicago and I went up there with the purpose of recording them, but I wrote some other stuff on the fly in the cabin like “Back Off Baby” and “Watching Waiting.” I also wrote some other stuff out there that didn't make it.

Amos: I do think “Watching Waiting” is the stand out from the CD.

Carey: To me that's the definitive Todd Carey stuff. After The Morning After, which is this EP that I just released, is sort of like in an between, basically something between the Watching Waiting album and the album that I'm going to record next. Mikal Blue, his production style lends itself to super simple. Where you just present the song as it is, almost like a stripped-down project, and that's what After The Morning After is.

Amos: Are you working with Mikal Blue on your new album?

Carey: No. Actually, I'm probably going to be working with a bunch of different producers. Since January of this year I have written around 35 or 40 songs that are there on my hard drive right now. I've been demoing at home and getting ready for the next record. I've already started work with this group in Brooklyn, called the Lionshare. They're like pop/hip-hop/rock producers. Are you familiar with Andy Grammer at all?

Amos: Yeah, actually I am, he just had a free iTunes downloads available.

Carey: Did you check out the other songs that he had?

Amos: No, it was only the free one, but I did like that one that he did.

Carey: He's got another well-known song that's very rock ballady. Those are the guys who did that song. I was just in the studio all day working with them.

Amos: It's funny that you mention that you wrote 30 to 40 songs, because in my mind, before I started interviewing musicians, I thought that all artists were just sitting on a mountain of songs, but some people-

Carey: Yeah, they just aren't.

Amos: Yeah, they'll say that they went into the studio to record their album with just 14 songs.

Carey: It's really different for everyone. Bob Schneider talks about this with the songwriting challenge. Some people, and I think that the percentage is very very low, they only write good songs and they only write a few of them. It's so rare, and I barely believe it but it happens. For me, I have to write a lot to get some good shit. So for me, I've probably written like 40 songs since February and I would put out an EP or an album of like 7 songs because those are the strong ones. I played a bunch of them at Rockwood. We played a song called "The Right Words At The Right Time" and one called "My Kind Of Crazy." Those are strong, but I wrote a lot of songs to get those songs.

Amos: For me, sometimes it's funny, because artists will release b-sides on singles and I usually love those b-sides more than the a-sides.

Carey: Basically, you can hold in your hand what I have out there, it's a record and an EP. The Mikal Blue EP After The Morning After, I made a full record for that with 14 songs. It was a whole album, but I ended up just releasing an EP because I only wanted to put real quality out there. Personally, I love the real quality, but these days with the way that everything is happening in the industry, you can only afford to put your very best out there, your best foot forward. You and I are fans, we like to hear about the b-sides and everything, but it only makes more sense to put your best foot forward.

Amos: After the release of Watching Waiting it sounded like there is a big push for promotion. That seems like a big step up than what you had done earlier. Was that just more of a lot of attention to tours and publicity?

Carey: It was all very seat-of-the-pants, but it was released in record stores. We had some radio play and Aware Street Team was promoting it. We had a publicity push; I was featured in magazines. We did a record cycle for Watching Waiting for about like two years. It was like '07 through '09.
After The Morning After came out in 2010. I started off with small Midwest tour runs, and then later I did a national tour with Brendan James and Jason Reeves. I did another tour with Curtis Peoples and Keaton Simons. That was called the “Sweep The Leg Tour.” Curtis had put out a record that Marshall had produced at the Galt Line. Both of those tours were national tours. I did another tour somewhere in there called a “Three Of Hearts Tour.” That was with Jonathan Clay and Alexa Wilkinson. I think that there's a bunch of YouTube tour blogs online of that which are slightly embarrassing. It was a fun little tour. We kind of started a band actually. It was like the three of us and we were just play on each other stuff.

Amos: That sounds like TFDI.

Carey: Yeah, exactly. It was totally like that. When I went out with Curtis and Keaton there was like a house band that was playing our stuff. I did basically three major tours for After The Morning After, and then all kinds of college tours and a bunch of one-offs, like festivals.

On Songwriting[edit]

Amos: Do you write on the road?

Carey: It's hard. It's really hard, man. I was just thinking about this because I had said that I had written about 35 songs since February, and how I've been in this flow of writing every day. I went out on the road just now and I've stopped. Every now and then I'll wake up in a hotel and get great song, but it's rare. I really have to be focused on writing to get the material. When I was doing the Whitefish Bay Sessions stuff Watching Waiting came to me because I was in the mode of writing and recording. For me it's a craft. Every day I have to get up and do some free writing. If I'm open enough from doing that something will come to me. Whether it's good or bad, whether I keep it or not. Some of the best songs that I've had I've just been walking down the street and then the whole thing will just be my head. The whole melody, the lyrics, everything. All I have to do is pick up guitar and play it. Other times, I'll work on a song for a while. It can be all types of different ways that it comes.

Amos: Do you do songs from beginning to end or do you have a lot of snippets?

Carey: There's so many different ways, I prefer beginning to end. For example, “Watching Waiting” was beginning to end. It was done in five minutes. The whole thing, with the bridge and everything. Other songs, I'll write a lyric first and then put it to a melody. Other songs, I'll have a melody with some mumbled lyrics that kind of resemble what it can eventually be. Other times, I'll throw up a drum loop on my rig and write something over that. Now, my newest thing in the last four months, is that I'm doing co-writing. I used always just write on my own.

Amos: I think a lot of artists do that.

Carey: A lot of artists do, but I feel in our circle now, a lot of people are co-writing. Now I'm getting into it and I think it's great. I'm always much more of a collaborative person anyway. I like playing live with musicians, so why not the hell write with them? My favorite writers have been duos, like Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Amos: Wasn't that them writing their own songs separately?

Carey: Yeah, later on, but in the beginning they were truly writing them together. Or they would have ideas, and that they would complete them together. Later by the mid-60s they were writing separately.
But I have to say, I just co-wrote the song "My Kind Of Crazy" with Ernie Halter and Ryan Enis from Utah and it sounds great. I want to do more of that.

Amos: What is co-writing? Before I started getting really into this, I would have a very literal sense of the idea where it's just focused on writing. I would imagine two guys with a white board writing a lyric up on the wall, then the look it over, and then strike it out if they don't like it.

Carey: It can be that. It's so artistic and so open it can really be anything that you can imagine. I've seen that, where it's two guys with a pad looking at each other and writing. It can be I have an idea and I Skype it to my friends overnight, then he write something and sends it back. Or it can be something where I write like 99% of it and then a producer or someone else writes the other 1%, but it needed that 1%, that's like the Lennon McCartney thing later. It can be really anything. It's art.
I hate to generalize it, because it can always happen different, but if I'm doing a writing session for my own song and not another artist, I'll bring in a pretty complete idea. I tend to write stuff that's pretty complete. Maybe I write lyric won't make sense, because I've written it cryptically, and then they'll come along and make sense of it, which I found to be really good. The song “Elaine” on Watching Waiting, Marshall isn't even credited as a co-writer on it, but he really helped to make it a story.

Amos: He seems to be a producer that does quite a bit of co-writing.

Carey: He has co-writing credit on two songs on Watching Waiting, in which he really did chip in, and, to his credit, really stepped in and shaped a lot of stuff. With Mikal Blue we co-wrote on the song “Begin.” I wrote the song and then he came in and fixed it. It can really be any way that you can imagine.

Amos: Talking to musicians about writing songs. It strikes me how common it is for people to say that their best work comes from nowhere and that they can't force themselves to write songs.

Carey: You totally hear that a lot. I'm reading this book called “Songwriters On Songwriting”, and a lot of people say that. I like to force things to the point where, maybe I'm not forcing the things that I'm using. Like, I'm forcing things and then maybe I'll be more open later when I'm not forcing it. When I wake up, I don't want to write a song, but I do it and then later in the day when a real inspiration hits me, I'm so much more prepared for it and I'm better able to capture it. It's preparation.

Amos: When do you consider Watching Waiting to be done and you start work on your next album that eventually became After The Morning After?

Carey: The reason that I write so much now is because after Watching Waiting, I didn't really write very quickly after that. I went out and toured a lot, and it's hard writing on the road. So about a year afterward, I started writing for the follow-up, like this song called “So Many Songs To Sing”, which is on YouTube, you can find it. It's one of my favorite songs. I did a lot of producing on my own of that song. I produced three or four versions. Then I sang that live and sounded great, that and another song that I was producing at home became what I thought was going to the follow-up record.
Several dozen different versions later and two years later, I have a whole different thing that it mutated into, but essentially, I wrote a bunch of songs after Watching Waiting. I was recording them home and I was going to produce it myself. This would be around the time that I moved to New York. Around that time I was thinking that I had to do a follow-up record, so I was writing songs, and I said I was going to do it myself. I rented a studio apartment in Park Slope and started producing stuff. I started calling it the Slope Sessions, because I was doing in Park Slope.
So I was basically doing another Whitefish Bay Sessions in New York, and about 2009, and I probably had a full record worth of stuff. They were okay, but they weren't amazing. Around that time I was going through some serious personal stuff. It was pretty tumultuous for me. I'm a pretty steadfast person and easy-going, but I had moved out here and then all of a sudden all sorts of stuff starts going down.

Amos: Relationships?

Carey: Yeah, relationships more than anything. I broke up with my girlfriend. I split with my former manager, and I was out here in New York, and it was a new start for me. I was writing a lot somewhere in there, I decided to take a trip to LA. When I was out there, I had a CD of these songs and on a whim I called Mikal Blue, because I had known him from Brendan James. He was up in his studio and he said to come on over and we'll hang out. I played him some new songs, and he said that they were awesome. Literally within a week we were making a record. Just out of nowhere, like all of a sudden we were making record, and I wasn't even supposed to, I was going to make it on my own.
Yeah, but I was in his studio in his studio and it was so cool. It's called Revolver. He's a super Beatles freak, and he's got all of these old mics and paraphernalia. The idea with Mikal and I was that we were going to do an EP. So we did a couple songs out there and we thought that it sounded really good. We are both really surprised and I couldn't believe how fast it happened, especially after I had been struggling for so long to write songs and to get something that I could put out.
Immediately, we were both super into it after that I just jumped headfirst and said, “Let's make a record!” I went back and we ended up doing that. We ended up doing 9 or 10 more songs, including “Where Are You Tonight?”, which is on EP. We did “Begin”, which is the single that came out just two months ago. We also did several others that were released in different forms, like b-sides style.
We did one called the Secret Summer Single during my tour last summer. You could only get one of the songs from the Mikal Blue sessions if you came and bought a ticket. So I've been working on slowly releasing those Mikal Blue songs. If someone was an astute fan they coule probably work on piecing it together.

Christmas Songs & Growing As An Artist[edit]

Amos: You also have a Christmas song right?

Carey: The Christmas song, chronologically it's after the Mikal Blue stuff. The Blue stuff came out in May of 2010 which is last summer. I had been almost 3 years since I had done Watching Waiting and there was this kind of build up on Facebook and on Twitter where people wanted a follow-up, because I had been holding out for a long time. So I put it out and immediately fans were liking it and it was like 25 on the pop charts. An independent release! It was like “Lady Gaga, Todd Carey.” I couldn't believe it. It stayed like that for a week or two on the iTunes pop charts with no promo.

Amos: This is all for the Christmas song?

Carey: No this was After The Morning After. Sorry. This was when we put this out last May of last year. So the After The Morning After EP had just got a life of its own, and fans were just buying it and talking it up. Literally, I hadn't toured in a year and all of a sudden there was a demand for tour, and that was like May of last year, and ever since then I've basically been touring. I started playing shows. I went down to North Carolina, and it was packed. For me it was a revival. Like I have the Watching Waiting thing and it was great for two years, but then I had this rough year after that. I know Brendan went through a year like that. I wasn't playing live a lot. I was trying to write and when this thing came out it was just a resurgence. I've been on the road for like a full year. That went into the Christmas tour last year, the “You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Tour”, which is where the Christmas song came from. I produced that myself.
It's funny because I literally detested the idea of putting out a Christmas song.

Amos: I love Christmas songs!

Carey: I hate them! I mean, I love them, but I just never considered myself the type of artist who would do it. Yeah, so I didn't want to do a Christmas song, but all of a sudden I had written this song. I couldn't believe it. I don't know where that came from. I tell you I detested the idea of writing a Christmas song.

Amos: I think some artists have done original Christmas songs well. Relient K did a very good Christmas album. Rosie Thomas. Sufjan Stevens went insane and released like a seven disc Christmas CD set.

Carey: I love Sufjan, he's incredible.

Amos: His new CD Age Of Adz was something that I didn't like at first, but I've really grown on it and I think it's some of my favorite stuff of his now.

Carey: Yeah, that whole electronic stuff it's amazing.

Amos: Have you wanted to do electronic stuff?

Carey: Well, I did the Mikal Blue stuff, and in the Christmas song thing I did that on tour. The strings on that were produced by these guys the Lionshare. They're the ones who did this Andy Grammar single that's like #2 on VH1 charts right now; it's really blowing up. So for the follow-up record, I've been working on with them. It's more processed beats and less... because everything I've done has been more organic. Until now, I really wanted to be a credible, organic-life artist. Now I feel like I'm ready to really take a new step. I really want to get more of the electric guitar and heavier beats. That's going to be the next project.

Amos: I don't mind the idea of studio albums, things that necessarily can't be played live. You know, why not do that? I always think it's interesting when artists can move or switch genres during their career. Like, I think of Jewel, who started out very singer-songwritery and then ended up producing a dance album at some point.

Todd Carey, where is your dance album?

Carey: I haven't done my dance album yet, but the Jewel thing feels like a record company ploy to me, but I will say that other artists, they do it because they're legitimately interested, like Sufjan Stevens. As an artist when you write, for me, or at least the good ones, they write what's going to be interesting or surprising to them; it's selfish. I do what I find interesting. Hopefully, because I find it interesting, other people will to.
I feel like I've done enough at least for this moment, but I'm definitely going to come back to this, but I've put out plenty of organic records and I want to try something else now. That's not to say that this isn't going to be organic. I'm trying to head toward the more upbeat energy vibe. For me to have a drum loop, instead of a real drummer, that's a big departure to me. But I also want to keep it grounded, so this is only going to be a step up, and not who is this guy now?
I want to go into more contemporary meets organic vibe, because After The Morning After and “Begin” had a very singer-songwritery, organic vibe. It's great, I mean, I wanted to do a record like that. I definitely want something that's funky and fun this time round, because After The Morning After is pretty heavy.

Amos: What about your early solo stuff, like Revolving World, how did that compare to Watching Waiting.

Carey: It's more or less advanced than Watching Waiting. I was really into Room For Squares and the Dave Matthews Band. I wanted to get something like that, though they don't necessarily sound like that.

Amos: You have a lot of time between Watching Waiting and After The Morning After, was all that you were doing at the time the tour schedule and getting ready for the new album during those three years?

Carey: Yeah, I was touring, and then there is the full year of just trying to get the next record together. I thought I was going to be doing it on my own, just spending a lot of time and then at the end of it hooking up with Mikal and we ended up putting together a record. It felt very redeeming because I was searching for a while and at the end when it came out and did as well as it did. I was able to relaunch and get back out there. It was a tough year, but I wouldn't take it back, because it was part of the process.

Amos: Thinking about the two years that you said you were touring, is it hard to keep a relationship during that time? I know that a lot of artists do, but it seems like a very difficult thing.

Carey: It's really, really hard. I haven't figured it out yet, so we'll see what happens. But, yeah, I know a lot of people who have great stable relationships, but it's really tough. That's the answer. Luckily, I'm single.

Amos: It's just a lot of e-mailing and phone calling, I imagine.

Carey: Yeah, that's what that song “Gotta Be Next You” is about, that whole deal.

Amos: “Gotta Be Next To You” is just me imagining you sexting a girl.

Carey: [Laughs] It's so funny because I've written other songs about what you're talking about, but that song is not about it. I have a song called "Text Me" that's about sexting basically, but no it's not. See, that's what I like about songs. The fact that that can be interpreted that way is awesome.

Amos: Well, you have lines in that song that can seem to imply it.

Carey: Yeah. Like, "Camera phones won't do this time"

Amos: See, to me that's, "Sending you a picture of my dick won't do this time"

Carey: [Laughs] Well, yeah that's pretty much does imply that, I guess.

Amos: Did you do much press for After The Morning After?

Carey: No, not really, it was more of an independent release, but I'm hoping to do a lot of press for this next album. After The Morning After I purposely went under the radar, and it worked. After The Morning After was about fan connection via Facebook, even the song talks about it. It was connecting with those fans that I had from playing live. We didn't hire a publicist. We didn't do a music video. Actually, I've never done a music video, but that's going to happen, possibly, for stuff coming up.

Amos: I think that we live in a time where a music video could be made pretty cheaply and by people without a lot of experience in that type of thing. I know a lot of indie artists have either made very simple music videos or they might have known someone who was good enough to put something together for them.

Carey: I've never actually done one, but a lot of people just have their friends put together music videos. I think because I haven't done one in that I've been playing music for this long. When I finally do it's going to have to be awesome. We are going to get some awesome people for it. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I like Brendan James's music video for “The Fall” a lot. When I do it I want it to be really good. I feel like I'm holding out, and that's one major thing that I haven't offered as an artist yet. Like I'm glad I haven't, because now you're seeing even smaller bands with these awesome videos. I feel like my fans are ready for an awesome music video.

The Business of Music[edit]

Amos: Do you ever think that you're going to release the Mikal Blue stuff at some point, as a package?

Carey: I don't know if I will. It's cool to know that it's in the bag if I want to.

Amos: I know that b-sides don't really exist anymore, so that's too bad.

Carey: Yeah, I love b-sides, but that was back in the day when volume mattered to record companies for sales. If you have more product you sell more. Now recorded music isn't about sales it's about having something that you can tour off and market the rest of your brand on. It's almost better to have five amazing songs, as opposed to just do b-sides, which you and I both love. As an upstart artist, it doesn't make as much sense. One day when I'm more established understand go back and release everything.

Amos: I was talking to Jason Finkel a while ago and he was saying the same thing, that people should just do EPs now because people have ADD.

Carey: Yeah, no one's listening to a full record. I mean, right now, because I'm an artist who's working in my current time. I'm interested in how to best market myself and how to sell music right now. That's how I'm thinking.
I want to make records for ever. I love records, but this is just the way that you do it now.

Amos: I feel that this is a very hard time for artists right now, because artists and managers really have to figure out what does and doesn't work, if they can even make money from album sales, etc.

Carey: Some artists, believe it or not, still believe in CDs. I'm so surprised when I find in them, but it's there.

Amos: See, this brings up something, because what you do with the CD nowadays? You put the CD in iTunes and then you put music on your MP3 player and then you never touch the CD again.

Carey: Yeah, and where do you even buy them? Nowhere.

Amos: Also, I guess for something that can happen now, artists who play live shows, if someone's in the audience and they like it, they can buy songs when they're in the audience. You can connect to iTunes through your iPhone and start downloading it right there.

Carey: I've never had anyone say that to me, though. I've never played a show come onstage and have someone say, “I just bought your music on my phone!” I'm sure that will happen more, though.

Amos: I think that it's something that people can do. Who knows if they actually do, maybe they're just still stealing it all.

Carey: People are stealing music, but I don't care. I think, generally, if I'm playing a show then they come up and buy it from me at the merchandise booth. I really don't care if people steal my music. I just really want to get it out there.

Amos: You did a pay-what-you-want program on Watching Waiting.

Carey: Yeah! That was at a time in '07 where Radiohead had just done that with their CD. I think that we were one of the first independent artists to do that, doing the pay-what-you-feel. We did it and it was so successful. I looked at the numbers, and I think the album was downloaded 6,000 or 7,000 times. For me, that's a lot when Watching Waiting came out my goal was to sell 10,000 copies and just from that download campaign, 7000 people downloaded it. It was amazing. That was one of the craziest things that I've done.
So my philosophy is just getting the music out there that's what I care about. It's never been about money.

Amos: I guess a way that people can think about it now is that the music is a way to get people to come out and see you on tour.

Carey: There's that, though I'm not about getting people to pay later when you're at the tour. For me it's about getting people hip to what I'm doing. That's what I care about. They download it, they become a fan, and maybe later down the line they come to a show or get your next album, whatever. They're just aware of, you know?

Amos: Or buying merchandise, like T-shirts

Carey: Yeah, that's generally where it happens. It's funny, merchandise is always the last thing I think of and it's always my manager or someone putting it together. Lately, I've been more excited about it and I've had items like these yoga pants that people are into.

Amos: Does it say “Todd Carey” on the butt?

Carey: Yeah, have you seen them?

Amos: No, I just know that they put words on the butt.

Carey: Yeah, but it's funny because this is the last thing that I think of, but it's all part of the deal now.

Amos: Do you really have a mind for the business side? Do you focus on it? When you said you were at school, you said you disregarded their music industry program.

Carey: No, all I cared about in college was just playing music. It's been a slow build for me to get where I am now, but I'm really actively involved in the business side now. Like, I'm my own best manager. I have a manager, but we're basically co-managers. A lot of the really successful artists are that way. It's been a long road to get here.
In college, all I cared about was the music. In Chicago, during Watching Waiting I was kind of involved, but I was still playing the artist part, where I was only really focusing on the touring. Ever since then I've been really actively involved in the business, and when I say being a manager, I can mean networking with my fans online every single day. Things like answering every message that comes my way. Every Facebook message, every e-mail message, it's a never-ending job, but I love it.

Amos: I guess that's a necessity now, the idea of Facebook and social networking.

Carey: Without a doubt. Myspace was a real booster for me and it's one of the reasons I'm here today. Pay-what-you-feel is one of the reasons that I have some of the fans that I do today. So of those experiments and those new methods have been really important to me.

Amos: Thinking about how you've been doing things recently, are you just going to focus on lots of little releases constantly?

Carey: It's just keeping the ball rolling, as opposed to stopping like I did between Watching Waiting and After The Morning After. After The Morning After and the “Begin” single are basically part of the same record, the Christmas single was a Christmas single.

Amos: So, would you never wait that long again? Three years is a very long time.

Carey: I will never wait three years again. Ever. The funny thing is that it kind of worked out doing it that way. Like I said, I wouldn't take that back, because there was so much anticipation for the project that kind of kept me. It was like a happy accident. I really built up something with my fans some real anticipation before checking out the songs.

Amos: We're basically at wrapping-it-up point, did you have anything you wanted to talk about before we go? Did you want to talk about your current plans?

Carey: I'm working with producers now, I'm looking to have a single out in the fall and then a full-on EP or record. Later, hopefully with fully produced music video.

Amos: That sounds good, thanks for sitting down and talking for a long-ass time.