Growing up isn’t the same thing as growing old, but there’s a lot to be said for the wisdom of experience. You’d think with 17 years in the business, Carla J. Easton would have nothing left to say, or at least be tired of saying it.
Far from it, in fact, she’s busier than ever, and taking on greater responsibility while learning on the run. SNACK caught up with one of modern-day Scotland’s most positively contagious performers to chat production, comparisons, getting back to yourself, and how the kids are alright.
Time has lost a lot of meaning in recent years, but does it feel like three years since your last solo record, Weirdo?
I don’t know, sometimes it feels like Weirdo came out ten years ago, but I think that’s more to do with being busy with other projects. It’s a weird thing where time has gone on, but you’ve been so busy working on other stuff that you don’t realise time has passed. It’s only when you stop and think that was quite a while ago.
Then again, three years isn’t that long to write and record an album.
And you’ve had lots of other projects too in that time?
That’s it, the Poster Paints album was also written, recorded and released during the three years, so technically, it’s two albums I’ve written. Also, I’ve started writing again and have about five new songs, and if there’s a theme there, I’ll explore that and I’m like no, you should concentrate on this new album right now, not fannying about with your guitar and putting up videos of trying to play it and singing new songs!
You said at a recent Glasgow gig that you’ve got a lot of shit exes. That’s not great for living, but it must be brilliant for a songwriter?
Oh yeah, there’s plenty of material to mine [Laughs]. I’ve spoken to a few songwriting pals and they’re always saying, ‘I can’t write when I’m happy’, and I say ‘me too’. I’ve never been one of these writers who can sit down and say I’m going to write a song today, unless it’s a co-write. Then, you have a discussion with each other to find common ground or a common thread.
In terms of writing for myself, an idea for a song comes from personal experience, or if I am interested in a concept or idea that I’ve read about or research, it’s usually bringing the personal to that.
Then, people say pop is not political, but the personal is political. If I’m going through something or I’m feeling some way, surely someone else has gone through that or has felt that way. So, if you write about it, you’re helping someone else process that situation.
That show, the Hug & Pint gig in August, was ferocious – you felt the first few songs as much as heard them. Your live band plays on this album, don’t they? Was that a big step for you?
Yeah, they played on a couple of tracks on Weirdo but nowhere near the full amount. They weren’t on any of Homemade Lemonade or Impossible Stuff, it felt good to have them really involved in the album this time.
It’s funny you put out records under your own name, and I’m writing all the songs, but we’re a band. We’re in the rehearsal room together all the time, on stage together all the time, we’re in transit vans, we talk to each other all the time, we’re friends and it’s a gang. It was good to have them more involved, and while not all of them feature on every track, because of the way I work in the studio, there’s been opportunities for co-production with some of my band members, or there’s some tracks like ‘One Week’, which was produced by my drummer Calum (Muir). To have their input on the recording was great, it was the first time I did it and even again, when we came to play it live, it sounds different from the recording, bigger and ferocious as you say, but I like how it translates.
How was the production process?
I always say, my favourite thing in the whole wide world, of everything I do in music, is when I finish a demo. It’s a real punch the air moment, there’s a euphoria. I’ve tried to work out why and it might be I’m listening to something and I’m the only person that knows it exists. Or I managed to capture my ideas, harmonies and where it rises and falls. It’s good to be able to listen back to the sounds that only existed in your head.
It’s trying to maintain that enthusiasm without suffering from imposter syndrome. Me, self-producing a record isn’t saying I’m better than anyone who has produced one of my records before. I’m not, it was very much new to me.
Four records in, what are you going to do, what have you still got to say, and what are you going to take from it?
For me, I like learning, I like developing, over the years, I’ve become more aware of inequality for women on stage but the stats are worse when you consider the recording studio and behind the scenes. I’m thinking, can I be part of that? Does it help me as a musician, as a songwriter, so I thought fuck it, go for it.
Financially as well, it’s cheaper to produce your own stuff, which I won’t lie, that was another factor.
I have a certain amount of money I raised through my fan club, so what’s the best I can do for it? Also, knowing it was completely fan funded, that you’ve got the support of your community and your team to facilitate these experiences, that’s something else.
I only make music because I was a music obsessive growing up. I remember when I was eight, my brother signed me up for the blur fan club, when you had to fill out a physical form and post it off, and you got stuff through the mailbox. I remember the excitement of opening these things, or in the very early days of the internet, me and my High School pal Debbie emailing Polyphonic Spree and getting a message back and remembering back ‘wow, they responded to us directly’.
Is production something you see yourself doing more of, not just for yourself, but for other artists?
What’s interested me the most, as I have been approached by a musician to produce, [is that] I think as songwriters we all have a potential to produce, or just understand it better, and get what you want from the experience. I’ve gone from ‘oh yeah, I’ll produce your record’ to saying ‘I think you should produce your own record and I’ll give studio advice.’
I remember the first studio experience TeenCanteen had; we’d never recorded to a click. The drummer was in tears, ready to quit as we couldn’t get it to a click, but you don’t have to.
What’s the sound you’re going for? You can do electronic drums and that’s fine, and then live, it’s live drums. Are you more comfortable recording vocals at home? If so, do that, it’ll remove the red-light fever.
Are you going to put your guitar through an amp, are you looking to capture the room? There’s so many ways to make a record.
I was in La Chunky Studio with Ronan (Breslin) doing vocal takes on the most expensive mic ever but then I wasn’t happy with the performance so I’d redo them at home with a shit Scarlett mic, but I was happier with the performance. I couldn’t give a fuck what the equipment is if the performance hasn’t been captured, then it’s not right, and it wasn’t right for that record.
You describe a lot of your songs as Artist X meets Artist Y. Do you have a Random Artist Generator to pull these together, or does it all come naturally?
I hate comparing my music to other artists but I understand you do that it to make it accessible. If I hear a band live and fall in love with them, you want to tell your pal about them or you hear the record, you say it sounds like x meets x on x or whatever. I think that’s from being a vinyl addict. I’m still working that out because I think some of the descriptions, I use put people off the song! For ‘Tempt Me’, I said its Tom Petty jamming with Carly Rae Jepsen and Cher and people were like ‘what the fuck are you talking about?’.
SUGAR HONEY feels like a personal record. Do you feel able to speak more freely on the topics that matter to you with every passing record?
I think SUGAR HONEY is my most uncool record, it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists to follow current trends or what’s popular right now. There was a point in my life a couple of years ago when my mum had a stroke and I normally go to my record collection to listen to something that makes me understand what I’m experiencing and there’s nothing that directly relates to my parents entering their final phase of life.
Is it because we don’t want to write about ageing? Is it uncool to write about getting older? Fuck it, I’m gonna write about it because it’s helping me. I shared the song with my mum, and we shared it with friends and then other people started talking about their experiences and it just comes back to, if I want to talk about something and I want to communicate, then I can. It’s quite freeing as well when you stop worrying.
Is there any message you hope people take from the record?
I think being in my late 30s, I’m really thankful to still be in a position where I can make and release music. 17 years is a long time. Whilst it’s good for me to go off and make an uncool record, I understand the privilege of having the support from fans to do that and SUGAR HONEY is not trying to be anything other than myself at a point in time. There are songs that are a bit stupid and then there are songs that are a bit more serious, because I’m not trying to be anything else other than me.
It’s interesting because I’m still really good friends with Howard Billerman that produced Impossible Stuff and when I sent him the SUGAR HONEY album he was like ‘welcome back it’s nice to hear you again’ and I was like okay because as much as I love Weirdo, I wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere near as successful as it was.
I don’t think Lloyd Olive Grove Records expected it [to do so well]. We did a repress before it had even been released, that was insane for both of us. I felt I lost my [unique] voice a wee bit in it, so you know what, here’s SUGAR HONEY. That was my voice at that point in my life, here’s its flaws and that’s okay, let it do its own thing now. We don’t maybe always take on board that when any artist releases an album, it’s just three or four pages from your diary. It’s not necessarily who they are, it’s who they were at that point.
SUGAR HONEY feels like my most personal record because I was so involved in it and I took my time, although three years really isn’t a long time to write, record, demo up, and mix. Perhaps, if I’m sitting with record execs, they’d say ‘Sleepyhead’ doesn’t sound like the rest of the album. It can’t go on, this is for another album; but I’m in the position where I can say I want it on the album. I think that’s a beautiful song and I think it’s a great closer. Similarly, I can write a song about a love letter to the city I live in but I can also write a song that’s talking about how it’s dangerous walking home in the same city.
You’re launching the album with shows in Galashiels, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with the Glasgow show being an all-ages matinee gig? Is there a big difference in arranging the matinee gig to the more traditional shows?
Yeah, it costs more for the artist! It’s a massive factor nowadays. I’m not touring because I can’t afford to tour. I could go on the road on my own or as a duo or strip back the set and put it all on track but when you’ve spent three years making something, you want to play it live the way you want. I want a live show as a five -piece band maybe with some of the brass and saxophone players on it. It’s as much a party for me to celebrate the end of the recording and releasing of it as it is for people to come and experience and celebrate a release of new music.
The matinee show costs more and that’s because of licensing laws but it really pissed me off because that’s saying well unless you’re a multi-international artist that can play the Hydro that can facilitate these licensing laws and the extra security then DIY artists can’t be part of the conversation. Same with grassroots venues that don’t have the support to be part of the conversation, and I think they should. I think that’s an untapped audience.
I’m working at RIG Arts [an arts charity in Greenock] right now with a bunch of teenagers that can’t go to gigs and they’re so passionate about music and they’re making their own music. They can’t even get on stage to play their own music and it’s because of alcohol licensing, so I wanted to do an event that would be as inclusive as I could make it.
It’s at Mono in the centre of town: it’s entirely wheelchair accessible, the toilet facilities are wheelchair accessible, kids can come, adults can come. If I’d done it in the evening then kids would have had to go up on the raised platform in Mono – it would have been like a pen!
I want everyone all together, I was that weird little kid that was desperate to go to concerts that weren’t necessarily big pop concerts. I got into the Barrowlands at 12 when it was an Over 14s show but security wasn’t as rigid as it is now. It changed my life, being in a venue like that at 12 and seeing bands on stage and seeing the stars on the ceiling.
SUGAR HONEY is out Friday 20th October on Olive Grove Records.
Carla plays a matinee show at Glasgow’s Mono on Sunday 12th November, Galashiels MacArts on Friday 17th November. Tickets.