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A Conversation With Carolyn Wonderland
by
Samuel Barker
October 4, 2001

Carolyn Wonderland

Samuel Barker: Where did the idea come from to self-release this newest album instead of going through a label?

Carolyn Wonderland: It was just the freedom of doing it. We have had these tracks laying around for a while, some of the first ones we did with Brian over at Willie's Place. Then when Eldridge joined the band for the last few months we didn't have a place to stay so our friend set us up with a house, and in this house was this perfect tile room, so we went about finishing our record and recorded 7 tracks there, and it was just because we had the space and the time to do it. It was hectic doing it between gigs, but we knew we had a house for a month so we decided to go ahead and record it there. It was just easier to do it that way instead of waiting for a label or something.

Samuel: Was it ever frightening putting it all on yourself or more of a feeling of freedom?

Carolyn: Well, it's a little less worry really because you're not worrying about burning anyone else's money in the studio or no having a particularly inspirational day and thinking 'oh, hey, that's going to be on the record…great.' With this, we got to spend everyday with it, so it was a lot more free. It was a lot more free this way. Also we figured that we have a record and we can be like 'here it is, it's done, and if you want to do something with it, then great, let's hear what your plan is' as opposed to saying 'we're some band and we can make you a record.'

Samuel: Is that an option still, to put it on a label?

Carolyn: Yeah, if they're interested in it, sure. If something happens naturally, great. We've been doing this ourselves out of force of habit, we haven't really had the time to shop around for anybody or look for big management. We just keep chugging along.

Samuel: Do you have any touring planned to support this release?

Carolyn: We just finished our first leg, we did the Sturgis Bike week, that's when we first got it, so it was nice that we got to do our official release up there, that was in August. That was cool. We played right before Steffenwolf and did the stuff with the USA network. That was our official release. Then we went from there to Seattle and did the Hempfest, and did that area. We did like 12 shows in 10 days, it was nuts. Ran down the west coast and hit Fresno, Long Beach, El Paso, Tucson, and then came home, it was fun. We'll do more touring in January and February, in time for the Olympics, go up there and do the West Coast again.

Samuel: Has the response been good when you've gone out on the road?

Carolyn: Some cities always, because we've been playing there, playing for our friends. That's how I book us; we always play the places where we'll have a good time. So we'll always have places to play in Omaha, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Denver, and all through Seattle. It builds, folks remember us sometimes and bring their friends, so it works out.

Samuel: I noticed you've started playing a piano as well during the shows now, not too much today, but last night you played a lot.

Carolyn: its there, if you feel like it, it's there.

Carolyn Wonderland

Samuel: Has it been fun to add that dynamic? I know it gives the music an almost psychedelic sound at point.

Carolyn: The first instrument I learned was piano, so it's fun to go back and freak out on it a bit. When we play in Austin, we have a piano player that plays with us, my friend Cole. In Austin we have the full orchestra, our friends sit in, sometimes you'll have Guy Forsythe come in and be a bunch of goofballs. There was no reason for me to bring a piano there, but then I started thinking why not. On this past tour I brought it out and thought 'What the hell?' Get the whole Barbara Mandrel thing going. I just need to get my mandolin strung up and my coronet working and we'll be set.

Samuel: How's the move been to Austin? I know you've been there a bit over a year now.

Carolyn: It's our second year up there. Presently we are between homes, doing the couch surfing thing, looking around.

Samuel: So you aren't officially living IN Austin now, eh?

Carolyn: We're not officially living anywhere right now. I registered to vote in Austin for the last 2 years, I had a place there for a while, but it's awfully expensive to live in Austin, so we're just hanging around here. It's like being on tour in your hometown.

Samuel: I know you've been doing the weekly gigs in Austin as well as the weekly gigs here, has it been hectic going between the two cities?

Carolyn: No, we've been doing it for two years. I've been playing the Last Concert Café since I was teenager, so this is our 10th year up there and Saxon's; it's our second year there, so it's habit. A three-hour drive ain't nothing like being on tour, so it's kind relaxing, it's nice.

Samuel: Growing up around Houston, who were some of the local musicians you looked up to on the way up?

Carolyn: Mostly, Little Screaming Kenny was my first; he's my absolute hero. I love him; I still think he's my favorite songwriter ever. Then there's Big Al Bettis, Terry Greene, Alison Fisher, and Joe "Guitar" Hughes. I don't know, there are a lot of people to learn from and love here in town. There's a pile of them.; the first one being my mom.

Samuel: Being a woman, what were some of the first things that made you decided to play to play guitar and front a band?

Carolyn: I never knew that it was any different. My mom played guitar in her band and when I was a kid I would watch them. Then, I guess I always played. It was around the house. I couldn't carry a piano with me, so I carried a guitar. Plus, when I was a kid I really didn't want to be a chick singer, so I didn't sing in the first band, I was like 'No! I play guitar.' But I like to sing too, so now I do both.

Samuel: Have you always played blues oriented rock or did you play any other styles growing up?

Carolyn: I've gone through all kinds of different stuff, because I like everything. I went through a phase as a kid where I was really into classical music. Then, blues was more of what I got to see in the clubs when I finally got out. Screaming Kenny was playing straight ahead rock n' roll and blues, so it was nice to see someone with a hybrid of so much stuff. You could sense the zydeco, you could sense everything in the songs. I don't know, I tried to pick up on all of it, not favor one child over the other.

Samuel: Did it help growing up in a place like Houston where so many genres of music come together?

Carolyn: Oh yeah. Nobody ever gave me any second thought, I just sat in the back and listened.

Carolyn Wonderland

Samuel: I see on the new album that Scott sings a song, have you been consciously working to allow everyone to bring their music in and become a true band?

Carolyn: Yeah, Scott writes a bunch of songs and Eldridge writes a bunch of songs, this records is mostly my stuff, because it's been four years between records and I had a lot of songs written, but we've been working on a lot of Scott and Eldridge's songs. On the next records, we're going to do a lot more of that. I've also been writing songs with my friend, Guy Forsythe up in Austin. I'm open to anybody and everybody to have some fun.

Samuel: Has it been nice to be doing some more work as a group?

Carolyn: Yeah, it's always like that. When you get back from the road, you can hear everything is a little bit tighter because everybody has been living together for that period of time, and it's fun because you play so many shows in so many nights that you want to try something different, so we pull out some old songs and stuff you want to jam to. It's a good time.

Samuel: Anything you'd like to add?

Carolyn: Go see live bands every chance you get. Take a chance sometime and you'll be surprised every now and then, you'll find something you like.

Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at suma@rockzone.com.

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