Local Current Blog

Carroll on Billionaires, ‘Girls’ and amateur theatre

Rising quartet Carroll are releasing their debut "Needs EP" this week. (Photo by Allison Zeal)

Carroll has been leaking demos across the web over much of the last year. They were the winners of the 1st songwriting contest from Humans Win! recording studio in NE Minneapolis, and the prize was a professional space to record their debut EP Needs (which is now available on Bandcamp).

The quartet was birthed in the basement of their house on Carroll Ave. in St. Paul and brings the talents of Brian Hurlow, Max Kulicke, Charles McClung and Charlie Rudoy together to form a dreamy blend of moody pop rock. Their year is already off to a positive start with increasingly well-attended live shows, a just-announced finalist slot in Vita.mn’s Are You Local? showcase and now the release of their first music video for “Billionaire.”

I digitally sat down with Brian and Charlie for a “making the video” sort of interview. Watch “Billionaire” below and then dive into their thoughts after the jump.

Brian Hurlow: So, before we get started, are we all caught up on Girls? Charlie has been roaring through the first season.

Charlie Rudoy: Ray and Shoshanna forever.

Jon Schober: It’s extremely important that Girls guides our lives as young people in this world.

Author’s Note: We talked about Girls for a long time.

So the video for “Billionaire” seems pretty straight-forward in what you guys are trying to get across. But it seems like that simplicity has more to it. What does the video, the song and its content mean to you all personally?

Brian: So the video came out of some brainstorm sessions with my old friend Sean Kusanagi. He’s a really talented filmmaker, but more importantly, has a really specific style and vision that I thought would fit the philosophy of our music in general. So we got together in his cabin and just threw around ideas for days: bouncing tennis balls on the wall, taking screenshots of music videos, watching like 4,000 other videos we liked. We wanted something that fit Carroll.

Charlie: It’s cool that you mention the straight-forwardness, because with our music a lot of times, we’re excited about keeping things minimal.

Brian: I think simplicity is one of our highest values. But it’s one of those things that arrives at the end of a process. Like, you have to go through a ton of useless complexity to get to resonant ideas that are clear and simple, even though simple things seem “easy.” We were really trying to distill something with the video and not hit people over the head.

Was the video originally much more complex?

Charlie: No, it wasn’t. I like this video because it’s ostensibly these pretty recognizable scenes of a dinner party, dancing – whatever. But there are little clues, just in the way it’s shot, that lead you to question the motives of the characters. Is everyone happy together? Is everyone lonely? The basic premise was kind of just these shots, but it was fun. We got to transform Brian’s parents’ house in Washington and use their hot tub!

Brian: My parents were so chill.

I was going to ask where it was filmed. That means the budget was totally reasonable I’m guessing. Because it looks like it costs a decent chunk of change.

Brian: We cashed in on a lot of favors. I mean a LOT.

Charlie: They got these amazing Red cameras from Western Washington University or something.

Brian: Yeah, we really pulled out the stops.

Charlie: But pretty much the only expense was the food coloring we got to make those drinks blue.

Red cameras? What are those? I know nothing about cameras.

Charlie: Neither do I, but it sounds impressive.

Brian: They used them for The Hobbit. They’re “the best.” Or so they say.

So they’ve only been used on The Hobbit and a Carroll music video. Let’s pretend that’s the case.

Charlie: Yes.

Brian: What’s important with the camera though is that it allowed us to do a lot of slow motion in a seamless kind of way. It helped us get our point across.

Charlie: I also thought they were going to pay for a sexy leading man. Then I showed up in Washington, and they were like, “You have to be the star.”

Did you put up a fight?

Brian: No, he didn’t. Charlie is an actor man.

Charlie: I must admit, I did musical theater in high school. like I was Mungojerrie in Cats, no lie.

Brian: No joke.

I was the Music Man. I feel you.

Charlie: 76 trombones.

I dropped a girl on her back, but that’s another story. So he knows how to act is what you’re saying.

Brian: He was an easy choice.

How long were you out in Seattle filming it?

Brian:  We shot it in one night which lent to the vibes I think.

Charlie: We invited everyone Brian knew from home, which clearly is not many people. But there was this one guy – we had no idea who he was, but he’s my favorite part of the video. He was in the hot tub with us, and we were like, “How’d you get here?”

Why choose to do a video for “Billionaire” rather than “Lead Balloon” or “Sticks” (the first two songs the band released)?

Brian: For starters, the song has a more specific subject matter which lends itself to the video aspect I think.

Charlie: But the tune itself is pretty cinematic as well.

Brian: And sort of slower and darker in tone, which we thought was fitting.

Charlie: It’s funny because we didn’t even want to release it as a single, but we just thought it would be great for a video.

How many songs are on the new EP by the way?

Brian: Five songs. Which is funny, because we actually have a lot of music.

Charlie: We’ve been waiting on this EP so long we’ve essentially written another LP in the mean time.

Brian: The EP is like a snapshot.

Plans for a full-length late this year or next?

Brian: Yes. We’re gonna do it ASAP. Maybe late summer if possible. This was a great process for us. It really solidified what we sounded like. It was really surprising to hear it. Like, “So THIS is Carroll.”

Charlie: We want to see where this EP takes us. We hope to tour on it in the spring

Where did you record?

Charlie: Humans Win! in Northeast with Mr. Lance Conrad of Van Stee. He heard a really low quality demo of “Billionaire” actually, and that’s what got him interested in us.

Brian: Most Carroll music starts as over-blown phone recordings, but together with Lance we were able to polish it into something that sounds like us. But we have even more we want to try in the studio. More shredding.

Charlie: I hope with Needs people feel the melancholia that’s in there, even in a song like “Lead Balloon.”

Oh, it’s definitely apparent. It feels transitional as well. Like, ‘this is what we sound like, but it may not be how we always want to sound.’

Charlie: Thats why I like “Billionaire” and the video. Even at its sexiest or sleek moments, there’s uneasiness.

Brian: I think our future music will probably have the same sort of juxtaposition between sweetness and a little bit of something else.

Charlie: I’ve always been into bands like Olivia Tremor Control or Sparklehorse — bands that deal with dark themes through pretty accessible melodies.

It’s cool to hear your takes on what Carroll’s music means, and even you guys don’t seem 100% sure. And that’s a good thing, because it gives plenty of room for expansion without being pigeonholed like so many other bands are.

Charlie: We’re really proud that the video reflects our desire to do as much by ourselves as possible.

Brian: We are really enjoying being a real “indie” band. Literally.

Carroll will compete as one of three best-new-band finalists at Vita.mn’s Are You Local? showcase at Mill City Nights on Friday, March 1. Also on the bill are Sims, Solid Gold, Wiping Out Thousands, L’Asassins, and fellow best-new-band finalists Bad Bad Hats and Audio Perm.