Recording Artist, CARSON, TALKS: on Music and Performance
At just 22 years old, recording artist and producer CARSON is wise beyond his years. Confident, talented, and grateful for all he’s achieved, the musician is set to take the stage at The Bowery Electric on April 9. We had some pre-show questions for him.
You have an upcoming show very soon at the Bowery Electric. New York City is home to you, so is there added pressure to perform here? Or does it feel more like performing at home?
It’s funny, I’ve lived here for five years now and I feel like I’ve only just developed my own relationship with this city in a way that I never did with Chicago, so it really does feel like performing at home for me. The pressures that come from the performance really come from myself, pushing to make each show a spectacle of lights, outfits and a killer set list.
Have you played at this venue before?
I’ve never played at The Bowery Electric before! I’m so excited because I actually remember the first time I set foot in the space the first year I lived in New York and thinking ‘God, I’d love to get on that stage and perform!’. Back then I was unsigned, a musical theatre student and just playing shows with a keyboard, so to be up there and book the venue felt a bit abstract; now I’ve got a fantastic band, an EP out and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
In your own words, how would you describe your music?
I would describe my music as a concoction of synth pop music with soft rock influence in its rawest form. I pull a lot of my inspiration from producers and songwriters rather than vocalists; So, if Max Martin or Benny Blanco produced a record for Coldplay or The Killers that’s what you get. That being said, I really write from wherever my emotions take me and let the production emote the feeling. So, in a sense I never know what’s going to come next! But yeah, I do stay in the realm of pop rock. It’s really what I grew up on and what was playing and popular when I was coming into myself.
You started creating music at such a young age. How have you seen your music evolve over the years?
I did! I started at 14, which is really crazy to think about. It was before everybody and their mother wanted to produce music. I was producing all through high school, playing tracks for my friends in my basement and working with other artists. My production skills and my ear have really evolved, but also there’s a general maturity in my writing now. I challenge myself to not stick to writing from just one emotion, I try and cover the whole spectrum of feelings. It’s very easy for me to write something just to write something, but I get my best when I challenge myself and try to stay on top of honest writing as opposed to just trying to pass the time.
Being that you're still so young, and in such a tough business, have you faced any doubters, or challenges that tried to stand in your way?
Yes and no. Before I turned my career over to music, I was in musical theatre so I’ve always heard that my career is ‘a really tough business’ but that never scared me; it only made me want it even more! One of the real challenges I’ve faced is that because I’m not Queer, or because my music isn’t hip-hop, I feel like a lot of outlets don’t really want to talk about it. At first it was frustrating having produced, written, recorded and creatively directed an entire EP all myself, and to watch other artists who maybe just wrote something and sang on a track get recognition and press praise because they’re what’s “in” at the moment, but now I don’t really care. I’ve been cultivating my mediums for almost ten years now and I’ll do it for another ten. In turn it makes me really appreciate the people that do take the time to listen and talk about it, like you and John Ali. And the truth is pop music is a very fickle genre, and my work is so era specific that people are either love it or hate it. I’m just putting out music that I love, and that I think is awesome.
Is there an artist that you try to emulate your career after?
There are a lot of artists that I try and emulate in different aspects of my work. Career wise I really love Justin Tranter’s timeline. He’s such a brilliant writer, performer and he’s just himself. I think that’s something we both share in common as artists, is that we do what we feel and we stick to our guns. We’re shameless about who we are, what we like and how we choose to express ourselves. I remember hearing about him when I was attending Chicago Academy for The Arts because he was an alumni, but I didn’t really get into studying his work and Semi Precious Weapons until later on. I love keeping up with what he’s doing.
You attended CAP21, one of the most rigorous programs in the nation for musical theatre with several notable alumni. What made you leave and go into music?
I have such an extensive background in musical theatre. Most of my artistic growing up happened back in Chicago in the repertory company under the works of Stephen Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, Marvin Hamlisch; I have my director and mentor Janet Louer to thank for that, I really wouldn’t be who I am as a person or an artist without her. But when I got to New York I found myself getting increasingly frustrated with what musical theatre was becoming and where it was going. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of work that had something to say being made anymore, it felt like it was all safe or outdated revivals. There was a lot of ‘be yourself, but don’t be yourself’, ‘we wanna see who you are, but be who we want you to be’ in the audition room, and as a gay 6’5 twink, it felt like there was no room for me to be who I was. So I took it as a sign, graduated, and six months later signed a recording contract with an independent record label. It was a very clear and relatively seamless transition for me.
Being an out gay artist at such a young age, do you think your sexuality has influenced your career and music? If so in what ways?
Totally. I really think gay men have an emotional advantage creatively, and it’s a blessing and curse. I can’t speak for the generation now, but my generation was still raised under the idea that boys couldn’t be sensitive or love other boys; gay was bad. And for better or for worse, I’ve always known I was gay and I was very sensitive as a kid, so for years I felt alienated and I turned to the arts, specifically writing and music for expression. Those years growing up before I came out where I felt alone and troubled were really incubation grounds for me to cultivate my art because that’s all I had.
Now, as I’ve gotten older, I deal with different demons and different kinds of alienation, but without that pain and loneliness early on in my formative years I really don’t believe I’d be the artist I am today.
What artists have influenced you over the years?
Well, I grew up on all of Dr. Luke and Max Martin’s hits. I think they’re both such brilliant musicians and producers. Dr Luke is actually why I wanted to get into music production in the first place. All of the defining songs from my teenage years he had worked on, so I started to study him and what he does with textures, samples, hooks, and vocals. He’s a master at production. I also grew up on lots of Fleetwood Mac, K.D. Lang, New Order, Tears for Fears, Carly Simon and Bon Jovi thanks to my Dad. There was one summer where I only I listened to Empire of The Sun’s ‘Walking on A Dream’ album. Peter Mayes had such a great way of combining the classic rock I grew up on and the synth pop that I loved. While writing N°1, I was listening to a lot of Benny Blanco, and revisiting Luke & Martin’s work so there’s a heavy influence of that sound. Writing wise, I love Sia, Justin Parker, James Fauntleroy is a genius, Justin Tranter, Justin Parker makes me cry.. that’s just to name a few, I’m a real nerd about these thing!
So, what is next for you?
A lot is coming up! I’ve got a track coming out next month called ‘The Middle’ that’s being mastered right now! Stylistically it’s bit different from my last record - I’ve pulled inspiration from Robyn’s ‘Honey’ - but still in the same genre. Im in talks of two music videos, and I’m kicking off the summer with a show at PIANOS, May 26th at 10PM! I’ve got more music lined up for summer releases which I’m really excited about because I love the tracks we’re releasing. To be honest, in the last year a lot has happened in my personal life and I think it’s translated into my work really nicely.
If you could picture yourself ten years from now, where do you see yourself as a musician?
This is such a great question because I am so one of those people that will, ten years from now, actively look back at this article and reflect. But I’m not sure not be honest... I know I’ll be in music to some degree, by then I’ll be 33 and this industry is always changing. If I could have it my way, I would be writing for other artists and playing my own shows. People would come to see my shows knowing who I am but also what I’ve done, similar to Sia. People go to see her because she’s a great artist, but also because she’s a lyrical and melodic genius! I wrote a track for an artist over at Republic Records this year and I really loved the idea of hearing my song on the radio even if I’m not singing it. I dropped my attachment to being the image, and just loved the work.
You can gain access to CARSON’s performance at The Bowry Electric Tuesday Apr 9, 2019 (doors open at 7:00 PM for guests 21 years and over) here. The Bowery Electric is located at 327 Bowery, New York, NY.
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Author: Elizabeth Hazard
Elizabeth Hazard is a creative director, producer and writer with several years of experience producing content for magazines, websites, brands and artists. Liz has worked with some of the most accomplished talents in the industry to conceive, develop and produce photos, videos and written work. A published author, she frequently writes about fashion, art and cultural topics for websites and publications. She also holds a certificate in curating from Node Center for Curatorial Studies in Germany.