wears the trousers magazine

carina round: years of refusal


interrupting yr broadcast: carina round

An abridged version of this article is available in our latest issue. Order a copy here.

Sometimes the best songwriters are the most woefully unrecognised. Wolverhampton-born Carina Round has three spectacular albums under her belt, has shared stages with the likes of Annie Lennox and Ryan Adams, and counts Lou Reed among her fans. Yet she maintains a limbo-like status, continually poised between underground fame and mainstream recognition. Returning to independent means after a stint with Interscope, the ever-resilient Round is once again proving herself to be capable of the consistency her fans have come to expect. With a new EP, Things You Should Know, released digitally today [review] and a partly fan-funded new album waiting in the wings, I chatted with Carina about evolving as an artist, getting closer to the fans, and her fierce determination to maintain her integrity in the face of The Industry.

* * *

You always seem to be pretty humble about your guitar skills. How long have you been playing?

I started playing idly when I was 17 or so. I never had lessons so it’s hard for me to play in a conventional way. I didn’t start learning ‘proper’ chords until later, I just made up my own. I just learned out of necessity as I wanted to perform my own songs. I was so incompetent on guitar at my first show that I ended up dropping the guitar and doing it a cappella. Luckily I improved, but not to the extent where I can shred, which is probably a good thing. The first song I learned to play in full was ‘Like A Hurricane’ by Neil Young when I was around 22 or something.

Do you still have your first guitar?

No. I gave it away. It was a handmade Louden acoustic from Ireland and they don’t make them anymore. I do have the first guitar I bought myself, which is a ‘50s Danelectro. It has kind of a Velvet Underground sound and doesn’t stay in tune past the fifth fret, but I love it.

You’ve covered The Stooges and The Pixies at live shows. You’ve also named Velvet Underground as a big inspiration. Ever thought about recording a VU cover?

I have never really been one for out-and-out covers, unless it’s been for an exclusive or something. I don’t think people should record covers unless they have something different to offer than the original, i.e. Jeff Buckley singing just about anything. We are not all that gifted at crawling inside someone else’s song and busting it open. I like to add excerpts from other songs to the end of ‘Let It Fall’, which is the Pixies and Stooges thing that you mentioned, but the length and intensity changes depending on how I’m feeling. Sometimes it’s Lucinda Williams and sometimes Eminem.

You’ve talked about headlining gigs for a pre-fame Coldplay, and I saw you headlining a ULU gig a few years back when a then-unknown James Blunt opened. Why do you think you haven’t achieved the same level of mainstream success (yet)?

Maybe I should have learned those conventional guitar chords earlier…

I once attended a show where you (very impressively) told a noisy crowd to shut up or get out. Are you generally that assertive, or is that a necessary aspect of commanding a stage and being taken seriously?

Ha. No it’s not always necessary. I suppose I just thought that they were the kind of audience that would respond to that. Sometimes I take a different approach, like playing very quietly. Sometimes nothing works and I could be singing the Bible in Martian. Mostly though, if people are talking it’s other audience members who ask them to be quiet.

Have you been made conscious of your gender in the music industry? Has it had an impact on your music and the way you are treated?

It would be foolish to say no but I try not to let it be an issue. The truth is, yes, I have come across men and women who are terrified of a woman with a strong personality and opinion and self-assuredness and who are quick to pin us as being ‘difficult’, but there are probably as many situations when being female has worked to my advantage. There has been many a time when I have heard that I am someone’s ‘favourite female artist’, which makes me wonder if that ranks us automatically below ‘male artists’…which is a term I can pretty safely say I have never heard uttered – ‘Oh! James Blunt. He’s my favourite male artist!’ Still, I appreciate the compliment.

You’ve set up a donations scheme to fund your next album in return for one-on-one podcast gigs etc. Does having to take this approach to make a record feel demeaning at all, or do you see it as an organic way to create on your own terms?

Not demeaning at all. Very much the opposite. Actually, I chose not to ‘shop’ this release to anyone else. I wanted a self-release as I needed zero interference with the music and made sure that all involved with making the record knew and agreed. It’s a lot of work for everyone involved but already feels very rewarding. It’s very difficult financially as my last deal left me with nothing and I haven’t borrowed money, so there have been a lot of favours pulled. But every single person involved is unbelievably talented and passionate and fierce and full of love, from my co-producer to co-writers to musicians to management, photographers, artists, videographers to website builders and friends who made appearances on songs or offered support or let me stay in their house in order to be where I needed to be when I needed to be there. The whole experience has brought us all together in a very close-knit family way. I’m very lucky and extremely grateful.

It has also given me a chance to communicate directly with fans about what is going on, which is very special to me. Many of the things fans who donate will receive are personally made by me, including T-shirts, CDs and handwritten lyrics. This is not something that seemed remotely possible when I was on a major. It just doesn’t pertain to the same mindset. To me this level of connection does not seem small-minded but much more universal in its approach. The results are way more gratifying on a personal level for all involved.

The first two albums seemed fiercely introspective and personal whereas the third [Slow Motion Addict] could be viewed as music about music, in the sense that it seemed to express both your need to survive in the music industry and your refusal to sell out to it. Is this an issue continued in your new material?

No. I refused and I survived. What I refused and what I survived was much more painful and important to me than the music industry.

With Slow Motion Addict you seemed to veer away from bluesy, rhythmic roots music into more indie-rock territory. How would you describe the new EP?

The EP is quite mellow I suppose, but no less passionate than any of the other records. I think it contains some of my best lyrics. I don’t know what the next record will sound like yet, but I know it will revisit the more ‘throw down’ kind of expressionism incited by a disastrous end to a relationship, disastrous beginnings to others. Love, friends, desire, loss, joy, blah blah blah. I intend to write a song-by-song bio for my website.

It does not feel necessary for me to continue the same musical paths every time I do something. All of my records venture from sound to sound within the actual record. It’s something that I’m proud of. It was a fight, for example, to keep the song ‘The Disconnection’ on Slow Motion Addict, as certain ears found it difficult to hear that track in conjunction with something like ‘Take The Money’. This kind of departure doesn’t seem strange to me.

Who are you listening to at the moment?

Laura Veirs, Sandy Dillon, the new Neko Case record and the new Decemberists records are making me sick with joy. Agent Ribbons, My Brightest Diamond, Battles, Plague Vendor, The Bird & The Bee, Benji Hughes, Grizzly Bear, Kid Harpoon, Karen Dalton, Mystery Jets, Cosio, Sierra Swan, Sam Stewart, TV On The Radio, Katell Keineg, Pink & Noseworthy…

What would your ideal touring line-up be?

Radiohead, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Arcade Fire, Katell Keineg, Jeff Buckley, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir, Flaming Lips, Leonard Cohen, Maria Callas…I guess it would be a festival.

You’ve worked with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and other industry veterans. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Keep it simple, stupid.”

* * *

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
Photograph by Kristin Burns


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