A Q&A with The Lonely Wild’s Andrew Carroll

The Los Angeles-based band, The Lonely Wild’s debut EP, Dead End landed at number 19 on this site’s Best of 2011 list. Through that debut, the band won quite a bit of attention throughout the blogosphere, and in turn quite a number fans, which made their full-length effort, The Sun As It Comes which was released back in April highly anticipated among fans, critics bloggers – and yours truly. The material on The Sun As It Comes is earnest, rousingly anthemic and mixes heartfelt indie rock with the sweeping, cinematic feel of a Morricone film and gorgeous, almost swooning harmonies and melodies – in other words, it feels larger than life and yet deeply personal. But the album reflects some profound artistic growth for the band as it not only captures the band’s live sound with an unflinching fidelity, the album also manages to capture the general sociopolitical zeitgeist of the last few years. Songs like "Banks and Ballrooms" “Bankrupt” and a others capture the sense of confusion, loss and despair that average Americans across the country felt after the financial collapse, as though there was the instant recognition that the rug had been pulled out from underneath them, and in some way as though their way of life disappeared overnight without any warning. Simply put, those songs are the stories of the hard-working little guy getting crushed by much larger, more manipulative and more evil, oppressive forces. And these little guys are demanding a fair shake and their sense of dignity and purpose. It is by far the smartest, most empathetic and most political work I’ve heard from the band, and that I’ve heard this year. Tracks like “Closer Than The Needle,” “Who’s Calling,” and “Come Back Down” are hauntingly gorgeous songs of lovers desperate to run away together towards something better … 

In this Q&A, I spoke with the Lonely Wild’s Andrew Carroll, the band’s primary songwriter via email about how the Occupy Wall Street Movement – in particular Occupy Los Angeles – helped influence a great deal of the material on the album; how this album differs from their debut EP; the response to the band’s lengthy national tour; and much more. Check out the Q&A below. 


Photo Credit: Zoe Ruth Photography

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WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that being a musician was the only thing you wanted to do?

Andrew Carroll: When I was ten years old I was writing songs and drawing album covers before I could even play an instrument.  Being a child of the 90s, I was really into Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, etc., and I decided I needed to start a band, so I got a friend to take drum lessons and I took guitar lessons.  From the start, we played original music.  We’d learn the occasional cover, but the thing that excited us most was playing our own songs.  At that time I had rock ‘n’ roll star dreams, but as I grew up, I started to think more “realistically” and decided I would be a lawyer or something, and keep music as a hobby.  About midway through college, however, I think I realized that I was never going to make it as a lawyer or some type of businessman.  Music was all I thought about, and the only thing that made me really happy, so I started studying writing and classical guitar.  Since then, I’ve been singularly devoted to making music the focus of my life.

 

WRH: How did the members of the band meet? 

AC: Ryan Ross, Andrew Schneider, and I met studying at Loyola Marymount University.  Schneider and I were in the guitar program together, and Ryan and I played in a band called You Me & Iowa.  In 2009, that band broke up, and I began to write songs on solo acoustic guitar.  I decided I wanted to expand the scope of the songs with broad arrangements, so I got together with Ryan and we began to work on the material.  Schneider had recently returned from New York where he lived after graduation.  He came to our studio and jammed on the songs with us.  We started performing as The Lonely Wild in mid-2010.  In 2011, we met Jessi Williams playing at a club in East Los Angeles with her band, Coyote.  We immediately loved her voice, and had her come in to sing with us.  A couple of months later she joined the band and toured the country with us.  When we parted ways with our first drummer, we met Dave Farina through our friends in the band, The Janks

WRH: How would you describe the band’s sound?

AC: One critic said we have a “Laurel Canyon sound with the intensity of a big city."  I like that.

The Dead End EP was on a list of my favorite albums when it came out in 2011 – it landed on number 5 on the Joy of Violent Movement’s Best of List that year. How does The Sun As It Comes differ from the EP? And was this a conscious decision? 

AC: A good handful of the songs were written around the same time as the EP, but I think the main difference is that we had a lot more time to sit with the songs as a band.  We were performing most of the songs on the album for almost a year before we recorded them, so we had the opportunity to really flesh out every detail of the arrangements.  We also decided to do all of the basic tracking for this album live to tape, which allowed us to capture some of the intensity that we try to put out on stage.  

WRH: How does the songwriting process work? And when do you know that you have a finished song?

AC: I usually need to be alone when I write, or at least alone in my own head- space.  Sometimes lyrics come to me first and I have to fit them to a melody, other times it’s the opposite.  A lot of times the music and melody will come into my head at once, and where ever I am–driving, at work, hanging with friends–I have to stop and hum the tune into the recorder on my phone as best as I can, so I won’t forget it.  And sometimes I just sit down with my guitar the old fashioned way and see what comes out.  

Once I’ve got the melody, chords, and lyrics, I flesh out the arrangements, record a demo, present it to the band, and we tweak things and figure out how to perform it live.  For me, a song is a song when I have those three things, melody, chords, and lyrics.  If I can sit down and play and sing the tune start to finish, it’s a song.   

Both Dead End and The Sun As It Comes are probably the most heartfelt and deeply earnest albums I’ve heard in some time – the songs are personal and yet epic in scope in a way that reminds me of very early U2 and of Harvest-era Neil Young. There’s the urgent, and sweetly plaintive cries of lovers desperate to run off together; other songs talk of the sensation of the emptiness and despair of a profound loss. And yet there’s a sort of bittersweet hopefulness throughout. How much of the material is based on your experiences or those of folks you know?

AC: Everything is personal.  All the songs stem from my own experiences or those of friends or family.  I’ve yet to master the art of telling stories about imaginary people.  It’s actually something I’d like to try to do more in the future, because I don’t think you only have to write about personal experience to speak to some larger truth, but it’s what comes most naturally to me right now, and feels most genuine to me.  

WRH: When I heard the album’s first single "Banks and Ballrooms,” the Occupy Movement was pretty much at it’s height and captured both public consciousness and (for quite a few folks) loathing. “Banks and Ballrooms” “Bankrupt” and a few other songs on the album manage to accurately capture the sense of confusion, loss and despair that average Americans across the country felt after the financial collapse, and the sense of fury over the corruption of the political system as know it. In some way these songs seem to describe the hard working little guy getting crushed by much larger, more evil forces. These tracks are probably the most politically-conscious songs I’ve yet to hear, and the band does it in a way that isn’t “in your face.” How much did the Occupy Movement and their sociopolitical viewpoints influence these songs and the rest of the album, if at all?  

AC: I try to write songs with some sort of social relevance, without being overtly political or preachy.  It can be dangerous to write about current events, because within a few years the material can sound dated.  Artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan had the ability to write songs that addressed specific social issues tied to a particular moment in time, that retain a timeless or universal quality.  That’s something I aspire to do.  

The Occupy Movement served as a big source of inspiration for a lot of songs, because it seamed like such a hopeful moment.  The disparity of wealth in this country and in the entire world is nothing new, but every few decades things take a turn for the worse, and it seems like only then do people wake up and get outraged.  The Occupy Movement focused the public cry for accountability from our financial institutions and political leaders.  It was a voice that I, and I think a majority of the public, could identify with.  

I saw some time ago, some footage of the band playing the “Banks and Ballrooms” during Occupy Los Angeles demonstrations. How did that come about?  

AC: Since “Banks and Ballrooms” is about events that ultimately culminated in the Occupy Movement, we thought, “What better place to play the song?”

WRH: The band has a sound that’s difficult to pin down. It has a timeless, cinematic quality while being intimate, heartfelt and deeply earnest – all of these are increasingly rare in an age of sneering irony and self-obsession. Have you had any particular point where someone has missed the point/misunderstood your work? And how has that impacted you as artists promoting and selling your work?

AC: I’ve never encountered someone that has totally “missed the point,” but I have had people tell me their personal interpretations of songs, that weren’t necessarily things that I had intended to write about, which is always interesting to me.  That’s one of the great things about art.  Once it’s out in the universe, it’s no longer up to the artist to assign meaning to the work.  

WRH: You’re touring to support the new album. What’s been the response to the new material?

AC: It’s been overwhelmingly positive so far.  We’ve been getting some great press and radio coverage which has helped bring new audiences out to shows.  It’s a really exciting time for us right now.  We’re just happy to get out there and spread the music to as many people as possible.

WRH: What advice would you give to aspiring artists who are trying to make a name for themselves?

AC: Be true to yourself and to your art, and just keep doing it.  The rest will follow.

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