Music Interview: Carla. J Easton – Lockdown, Fan Clubs, and Shiny Pop.

There are some artists who are so prolific, you wonder what it would take to stop them in their tracks. After catching up with Carla J. Easton, we can safely say the lockdown isn’t slowing her down in any way. She’s even taken up running to pick up the pace.

We chatted with Carla (by phone) and as always, every aspect of the music business was up for grabs.

 

Obvious question – how are you dealing with things at the moment?

I’m okay. I’m just waiting on a 1,000-piece jigsaw to arrive today, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve just started running, which I haven’t done before, and that’s good. It’s funny how quickly things are adapting, especially in the music industry. Live shows and gigs were arranged so fast, it’s amazing.

 

You performed live on Stina from Honeyblood’s stream. How was that experience?

At the time, it was great. It was before the lockdown and it happened at a time when it was good to sing and make noise. It felt like medicine to sit and chat about music, and it brought people together.

I have to say Stina is an absolute powerhouse, and it’s really admirable the way she handled it. Being able to adapt to the situation and keep going in this new environment is great. I think a lot of people are doing that. I’m a believer in thinking we all need some time to reflect. The other day, I had a day when I didn’t do much apart from my daily allotted exercise. I felt guilty for a while, but then I thought there are times when you need to slow down. So, I’m focusing on mindfulness and making time to read, and doing some more home cooking. It’s good to slow things down.

I’ve got a good friend in Canada, the most amazing musician ever, and they put up a post saying they’re working on an album. And they were worried about “do people even care?” I think now more than ever, people care about music.

 

 

Do you think, going forward, the way artists engage with fans will be altered?

I was talking with a guy who does PA hires for festivals, and he has lost a lot of work. They have a lot of VR stuff, and they’re thinking about setting up live stream gigs, and high-quality gigs. Working out how you monetise that for the artist is crucial. The music industry is changing so much anyway with streaming.

It’s easy to forget that decades ago, when Oasis played the Barrowlands, you had to pay to access a channel on Sky to watch it at home. Maybe that model died out, and we can look at it again.

I know the live music economy is seeing growth upon growth each year. As a DIY independent artist, I’m yet to see that money come in. Quite often, because I’m paying for my session musician and the cost of travel, I’m lucky to break even, and I’d see that as a success. It’s the merch sales when playing live that would turn a profit for me.

 

Before the lockdown started, you set up a fanclub.

I’m really glad I set that up now, because it’s become an absolute lifeline. I was just thinking about ways of supporting myself making music; my album comes out on Olive Grove, which is a not-for-profit label.

That’s great, because I retain all the rights to the music, and all the royalties come to me. But on the other side of that, there’s no money from a label to fund our next record or a tour or a bit of promo.

I’m thinking about how I can sustain my band. I have a really amazing band who plays with me, and we have our rehearsal studio, and I want to play live and create a live experience. I thought I needed a bit of help. I look on it as a business, and I needed a cash injection into the business to take it to the next level. I’m in the fortunate position of having written and recorded a lot of music in the past three years. The weird thing is I’m always thinking I’m not doing enough, and then I look at my computer and I have 24 files of studio recorded material.

I was talking with my brother and we were discussing Blur and how they used to have a fan club. The Beatles still had a fan club at the height of their career. I also thought of myself, as a music fan: I started making music because I love music, and what would I like access to?

I looked at the Patreon model, but I wasn’t sure if I had time to deliver content every month that I would be happy with. The idea of a fan club, which people could join at any time of year and receive these limited edition handmade items, appealed to me. If one of my favourite bands did that, I would do that. It has involved a lot of making, and a lot of photographs, and it has helped me connect with my fanbase.

 

I take it you get a big confidence boost from people supporting you in this way?

It’s a massive confidence boost. Not a lot of people knew I was doing it, and I spent a month finalising it, and getting people’s opinions. I set it up, and I was up till about one in the morning, when it was going live at nine in the morning. So I slept in and I woke up at half ten, and I saw loads of people in my inbox, signing up for the fan club and messaging support.

I was honest about why I wanted support, and I had learned in the past year to ask for help if you need it. It’s important to not feel ashamed about asking for help. I hope people like it. The next album is very different to the last, and I say people who really liked Impossible Stuff may not like the new sound. It’s so shiny, pop, and big, while Impossible Stuff was more of a singer-songwriter album. I think the fan club stuff on offer is a nice midpoint between that and the next album, whenever that comes out.

I’m lucky with Lloyd at Olive Grove; he doesn’t say “your album has to sound like this”. I don’t have anyone checking up on me when I’m recording – you just do what you want to do and it’s your vision.


I was going through the tracks which make up the new album, and there’s one track which sticks out like a sore thumb. But it’s what I want to call the album. I was speaking with my manager, Davie Millar who was in Finitribe, and he said “keep it on, it’s a great song”.

I’ve been told in the past that I jump around a lot, and that “some fans won’t be interested in you because you don’t do the same thing every time.” I’ve been doing this a long time; I always want to do something new, and I like the challenge. I like taking on new genres and seeing what my take on it is.

With this album it’s interesting, because I wanted to make a big shiny pop album. I was co-writing with Scott Paterson from Sons & Daughters; we’d spent a lot of time together last year because we’re in The Vaselines live set-up. We’d be in the studio, listening to songs, analysing the structure and wondering why that was a successful pop song. It’s not like writing by numbers, but as soon as you get into that headspace of listening to certain music, it seeps into your own writing.

I don’t feel guilty about that, because when I was at art school studying Fine Art, you research a lot of stuff before you make your own. You want to know how to do it well, you want to get your message across in a way people understand, and you want to know where your work will fit in with a wider context. That’s not new. If you look back at The Brill Building, it was formulaic in the songs and the structure. It was fun to take these models and ‘rules’, and spin them on their head, while applying what you know to that.

 

Also, surely musicians are inspired and influenced by the music they love. So there will always be a starting point.

I would hope so; I think that. I love listening to records and I still buy vinyl. I love the fact it forces you to appreciate a whole album. Music today is more song by song, and playlists, which are the new mixtapes.

I appreciate an album, and I’ll always make music in that way. I think an album is ten or 12 songs, because I think it’s five or six songs on a side of vinyl. However, you look at these artists releasing music in segments, because that’s how people consume music. As a fan of music, I am fascinated by all this.

 

New song ‘Get Lost’ has been played by Marc Riley on 6Music – is it indicative of the new album?

Very much so. This is why rehearsals with my band have become really important, because we’re using synths and backing tracks which are linked to pads. It’s a whole new world of possibilities. It’s hard to get everything timed up and to edit yourself. At times I’m like, hold on a minute, step back, what do we need here?

It’s nuts because Impossible Stuff featured so many musicians on the album. This record: some of it is with a band, some of it is me and Scott, or a combination of two or three people. It was quite freeing making a record based on the sound you want to achieve, not fitting everything with what you have.


I like to think about each song and think about what the song needs. Like, does this need a guitar, and if it doesn’t, do I put a synth on it?

 

Do you think the current situation will shape many musicians’ way of working?

One of my friends, Kim, is an amazing songwriter in Nashville, and I wrote a song and let her hear it. I thought it was a bit personal to put out to the public, but it was good for me to work through these feelings. She said she always thought the role of the songwriter is to articulate what many people can’t, and to be a voice for others.

I think a lot of musicians and artists will find this an overwhelming period in which to be working or releasing new music. I’ve thought about Kim’s words, and if I can articulate something that others can’t say, that’s an important role to play. And maybe it’s something to hold on to as a songwriter right now. It can give you a purpose, and it can help you communicate with others.

 

You’re currently making a video at home – it looks colourful. What can you tell us about it?

Prior to the lockdown, I started shooting outside footage for the video, but that stopped. But I’m going ahead with my plans to release a single from the new album. I guess the only difference will be that there’s no live shows to promote it. It will literally be an online campaign for the new single, and radio airplay if I can get it.

So, I thought to myself, what you have got? I know some people bulk-bought toilet roll and pasta. But weirdly, I bought two hundred balloons and a wig, because I thought I would need to do something creative to keep myself sane. It’s a three minutes of colourful escapism. Maybe it’s the first lockdown video; who knows?

 

How are you coping with the situation?

It’s important to keep up to date with the news, but I’m maintaining a more positive attitude by not being online at all times. But, I’ve never felt so globally connected. I’ve got friends in Canada and we are sending video updates, showing what life is like in our areas. It’s good we’re maintaining this network of support for each other. I’m also having video chats with my brothers, and my mum, and I’m able to see my nieces. I think we’ll start talking in terms of before and after all of this, the way we used social media before, and yet here in my little bubble, it is really supportive.

It’s good to use social media for positive things, sharing recipes, book recommendations… And it’s wonderful to see so many art galleries and museums opening up online.

 

I’ve really enjoyed the debates that have happened around the Tim Burgess listening parties.

Tim Burgess’ listening parties have been absolutely brilliant. It’s such a positive thing to revisit old albums. I’ve got two older brothers and the eldest one was WhatsApping us while he was listening to the Tellin’ Stories album party. I think he was pissed by the end of it in his kitchen, and he was like, I can’t remember the last time I listened to this album from start to finish.

 

Any final thoughts on what’s happening right now? And what are you doing next?

My heart breaks every time a venue says they are shutting their doors. I hope they can open again at the end, because for a lot of grassroots artists and DIY labels, the small venues are the heart of a live music scene.

I’ll be posting out the vinyl for my fanclub, which arrived while we were talking, so that will give me something to do!

Carla J. Easton will release new material on Olive Grove Records, and you can find more details about her fan club at carlajennifereaston.com/fanclub

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