"Let's get fucked-up! It's Wednesday!"
This piece of midweek advice comes courtesy of Corey Gloden, lead singer of Strange Young Things, who are playing at The Loft in Tempe. I'm kicking back at the bi-level club's copper bar with my friend Whoopi Pupi, watching the local rock group perform.
Black Carl is scheduled to perform at the Phoenix Film Festival on Friday, April 4, at the Harkins Cine Capri at Scottsdale 101, and during Band Wagon II on Saturday, April 5, at Modified Arts.
Gloden's suggestion actually sounds pretty good, thanks to the sleek bartending stylings of Gina. She's an attractive blonde and a way super-friendly gal who rocks a black vest, black skirt, and calf-high black boots. Her overall appearance, according to Whoopi Pupi, "makes her look like she listened to a lot of Poison in the '80s."
This is by no means an insult, by the way, because she keeps our cocktail glasses filled and the conversation friendly. She's also a seasoned drink server who delves out quick-witted retorts to young bucks trying to pull a fast one over on her. For example, a young girl orders two Bud Light bottles, hands Gina two debit cards, and instructs her to charge one drink to each card. Gina responds, "Do you care which beer goes on what card?" So rad.
I'm one of those people who think of a perfect comeback weeks later, so I make sure to tip her well because I don't want to be on the receiving end of her clever witticisms (my ego can't afford to take such a hit). Instead, I engage her in a conversation about Black Carl, a Tempe-based group that's playing this evening. Gina's eyes light up as she tells me that she thinks the band is great, how they play The Loft monthly, and that their lead singer, Emma Pew, gets so into the music that she drips with sweat at set's end. (Gina, as I later found out, also books shows and was responsible for booking Black Carl's first show at the venue, back in April 2007.)
My introduction to Black Carl came when New Times music editor Niki D'Andrea hooked me up with a copy of their recently released EP. The self-titled, five-track effort — as the band would tell me during a subsequent drinking and chatting session at Casey Moore's — was recorded by Craig Schumacher of Wavelab Studio. (The Tucson recording house has also worked with Calexico, DeVotchKa, Los Lonely Boys, and Ziggy Marley.) On the disc, Pew sounds like a singer straight outta Muscle Shoals, the famous Alabama soul sound machine from the '60s. The rhythm section — composed of guitarist John Krause, drummer Chad Leonard, guitarist/random small-instrument player Matt Noakes, and bassist Ian Woodward — jams out not only soul style, gritty funk, and groove-oriented music, but human beatbox, hand claps, and foot stomps as well. Not only is it funky, but it's also fun as hell.
Following killer Blunt Club DJ mash-ups of OutKast, Pharcyde, and Kanye West, Black Carl begins their onstage setup at The Loft. As they warm up, "Hypnotize" by The Notorious B.I.G. drowns out a sound check.
Now, many bands would get all pissed off about extraneous noise leaking into their pre-show prep. But the members of Black Carl aren't fazed. They actually take it in stride as Pew hip-hop dances and guitarist Noakes riffs along with the tune's infamous refrain, "Biggie Biggie Biggie, can't you see?"
This carefree attitude carries over to Casey Moore's, as they talk about some of their influences (Otis Redding, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, TV on the Radio, The Meters). When I ask them about any upcoming releases ("Hopefully in May," Noakes says), Pew tells me that they play an insanely fast version of "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads. "And it blows everybody out of the water. A one minute and 23 second version of it," she says. Then, with the help of Noakes, they launch into an impromptu rendering, filled with lightning-fast "fa fa fas" and "run run runs," punctuated with a "qu'est-ce que c'est." Krause then goes into his own inaudible "Micro Machine Man" version. These cats are fun.
BC also puts on a kickass show. On this night at The Loft, they open with "Chemistry," complete with Leonard's live mouth rap and Noakes' tambourine shimmy-shake. At tune's end, the power to their amps cuts off for about a minute, but they keep playing anyway. Then, midway through the set, Leonard and Krause switch instruments. While doing so, Woodward plays the bass line to Herbie Hancock's seminal funk tune "Chameleon." And Gina was right about Pew, who doesn't possess a lot of range, but uses what she has to the fullest.
The energy of the joint also turns. While the other bands and DJs played, most people looked as if they were standing in cinderblock shoes. But when Black Carl performed, many more folks moved their feet. This, according to Noakes, is something that happens often during their performances. "We've played shows that are your typical dead show, where people are just standing there and listening," he says. "But then something happens when we play, and the whole energy just turns around. It's the best feeling to be able to do something like that."
Despite the fact that I personally don't care that they call themselves Black Carl, ignoring the band's name is hard. However, I will admit that in the days leading up to the interview, I became more and more intrigued, especially after reading their MySpace blogs and hearing that they've been cryptic about the name's origin in past interviews.
I didn't want to ask right away and put them on edge from the start. So, midway through the discussion, the opportunity presented itself as they chatted about the songwriting process.
Says Pew, "It's pretty organic. One member will write a lyric or some music and others will contribute. It's really easy. It's not even like we're writing a song."
Krause adds, "It's like a collective. We all add something to each other's ideas. That's why 'Chemistry' is named as such because it all came together like that."
That's when I dropped the question: Why is Black Carl named Black Carl?
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Pew yells, "Goddammit!" Leonard laughs uncomfortably. Woodward sardonically adds, "It's not a question we answer very often." Noakes and Krause mumble something I can't quite decipher. Then Pew says, "Basically, this is a question to which we've yet to figure out a standard answer."
Krause breaks it down further. "Really, it's not that interesting. I was recording stuff and let my roommate hear the first song. He laughed and said, 'This is the Pink Floyd of hip-hop. You should call it Black Carl.' From then on out, I was like, 'That's amazing!' and I just went with it. People can assume whatever they want, man."
Gotcha, man. Just keep playing that funky music, white boys and girl.
Hear Black Carl for yourself in our latest Up on the Sun podcast.