“I gave birth to these songs, and the village raised them”: A frank, revealing discussion with the North Carolina singer-songwriter on her career to date, the acclaim and attention surrounding her recent album and award-winning video, and the pros and cons of trying to earn a living as a musician in the ever-booming Asheville. She has a new single due out this Friday, August 31.
BY FRED MILLS
Sometimes, just sometimes, a rock critic’s discovery of new music is completely random in its serendipity. We get a lot of music thrust at us, unsolicited, from the dozens of packages that arrive in the mail every week, to the discs and demo tapes slipped to us in person while out at a show and attending conferences like SXSW, to the scores of downloads and streams that turn up in our morning inboxes. But once in awhile there’s a chance encounter, or out-of-the-blue recommendation, that does the trick. And in a sense, it’s perhaps all the more meaningful precisely because of its unexpected, unscripted nature.
Such was the case with Reverie, by Asheville singer-songwriter Carly Taich. Not long ago I was at a gathering of area arts professionals, and during the lunch break I spotted a friend seated at a table across the outdoor courtyard so I wandered over and sat down. He was chatting with a young lady, who introduced herself as Carly. I learned she was a local musician as we exchanged business cards. End of story, right?
Not quite. As it turns out, I already knew her music. I just didn’t realize it. Less than a week earlier, while driving in my car I had caught the tail end of a segment on a local radio station about an area songstress; I liked what I heard, and mental note to check the station’s website for more details when I got home—a mental note I promptly forgot. Until, that is, after the aforementioned encounter. And wow, did I really like what I heard online at her Bandcamp page.
So sometimes coincidence leads to serendipity.
Reverie is, without a doubt, one of the most delightful records I’ve heard this year so far. (It was released late last year, so I’m moderately red-faced at not having discovered it earlier.) It’s so obviously far and above even many of the nationally-released, major-label-helmed titles of 2018 that I will make a prediction that it will get picked up by a major or a major indie.
Certainly, I’m biased on a couple of levels: First, Taich is from Asheville, where I’ve lived on and off for nearly two decades, and I know firsthand what a quality music scene we have here. Second, when you can put a face and a handshake directly to a piece of music, it lends the music a certain additional intimacy, and we become fans of music in the first place because music is all about the listener-artist relationship.
By way of background, Taich found her way to Asheville about three or four years ago, having already released a full-length, 2012’s Beginners, and 2013’s Live From Straight Street EP, plus a single. (You can hear them all at the above Bandcamp link.) She hooked up with producer Mike Johnson to record at Sedgwick Studios, along with melodic foil Alex Travers on violin, plus members of local outfit Midnight Snack—Johnson on bass and keys, Jack Victor on drums, and Zack Kardon on electric guitar—and Reverie was the result. And while Taich has been rightfully compared to well-known artists such as Tori Amos, Kate Bush, and Neko Case—full-throated, powerful women, all—her indie-folk, baroque-pop music is so immediate-yet-subtle, so vulnerable-yet-wise-beyond-the-years, that it nearly defies easy referencing.
From the elegant, swaying, violin-powered swoon that is opening track “WISE (When It’s So Easy)” and tingly atmospheric ballad “Roaming Stars,” to the Knopfleresque-twangy, gently rolling Americana of “Dusty” and the thrumming, bring-up-the-handclaps “Give Me A Likeness” (the anthemic vibe is not unlike U2’s “Beautiful Day”), Reverie is a start-to-finish, no-filler/all-killer gem—a veritable calling card to greatness if enough ears find it. The latter tune’s lyrics bear additional attention:
“Amidst all the muck and the torment / the tossing and turning / the wondering what wanting more meant / she’s made up her mind / some people are not worth the pain / what on earth has she got to gain looking for insight from behind closed eyes / so out with the tragic / in with the magic / something feels different now…”
Read those words again, closely; there’s a remarkable degree of self-scrutiny present, a psychic escape hatch from inner turmoil that most of us never find—in with the magic, indeed. Throughout the album Taich challenges herself to do more and to be more than just a tourist on this planet, viewing relationships and even mundane daily encounters as opportunities to grow, maybe even evolve, and then to share the wealth/wisdom that comes from that evolution.
She’s as pure and prescient a young songwriter as they come. And I’ve heard a lot of ‘em. I’m hardly alone in that assessment, either. Earlier this year, Taich landed a couple of significant, very public kudos: The video for “Give Me A Likeness,” directed by Nathan Rivers Chesky, took home Best Soundtrack honors at the 2018 Music Video Asheville awards ceremony; and at the fifth annual LEAF Festival Singer-Songwriter Competition, presented by NewSong Music, she was named winner, and, along with seven other finalist singer-songwriter solo and duo acts, was selected from more than 500 entries to this year’s contest, which means she’ll have a high-profile performance slot in at the popular Western Carolina outdoor music and arts festival’s fall 2018 event taking place October 18-21 in Black Mountain, NC, near Asheville.
This week, Taich is releasing a new single, “My Own Stages,” which will be available on multiple digital platforms. (Visit her CarlyTaich.com or her Facebook page or go directly to the track at her Bandcamp page or Soundcloud account.) Featuring the same players as appeared on Reverie, she describes it thusly:
“A musical montage that glimpses into a simpler and more romantic past the singer is not so sure ever existed. Retro-folk, pop that dives into unexpectedly deep territory, hitting our nostalgic nerves along the way.”
The song has an immediacy that draws the listener in from the get-go, wholly consistent with the album’s indie pop sound and style, while adding more prominent background vocals, a spoken-word, answering machine segment in French, and a subtle country rock vibe. Declares Taich, in her trademark lilt, “Birds have wings/ People have pages/ I sing on my own stages.”
With the song fresh in my head, I connected with the artist to learn about her background and her approach to making music. Carly was more than forthcoming with her answers—she clearly thinks a lot about what she’s doing, how/why she’s doing it, and how lucky she is to have so many people taking notice of her. We started off with a couple of obvious queries, and she immediately took the ball and ran with. At the closing of my queries, a simple “What’s next?”, she noted that she has “a couple more singles up my sleeve that I’m hoping to release in the next few months.”
Here’s one fan, music journalist, and Asheville resident who will be watching for them. Everyone else should, too.
BLURT: What got you started in music? Training? Notable influences or inspirations as a kid? Any lightbulb moments where you went, “I think I could get up there on the stage and do this too”?
My mom is a wonderful singer, songwriter and artist and my dad has always been really passionate about music, memorizing lyrics, collecting instruments and CDs. I am the youngest child, so I had a lot of time to myself to be play and creativity was highly encouraged in my house. I started writing songs before I had anything to write about. I always knew I had the potential to be a singer, after my first solo for a church play around age 7, but didn’t admit it to anyone until much later. I wanted to be a singer badly enough to not want my dreams crushed by critics.
My older sisters introduced me to a lot of indie music I never would have found otherwise like Elliott Smith, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Lauryn Hill, and (I must mention Schoolkids artist) Angie Aparo. My dad played a lot of The Andrew Sisters, Sam Cooke, and Leonard Cohen, and we watched musicals together. When I was 14 I had the amazing opportunity to go to a small “music industry” camp for teens in LA for two weeks. It totally changed me, and when I got home I began writing complete songs with guitar—and the rest is history. Luckily, the high school I went to had a fantastic choir and theater program. So good, in fact, that the kids who usually got the roles were theater veterans. Not being an experienced actor gave me the opportunity to shine in other areas, and I found that writing my own songs was like starting my own business. I was my own boss—I could be creative on my terms.
I started taking voice lessons shortly after joining choir and continued throughout college as a music minor at Appalachian State (in Boone, NC). Voice training gave me invaluable confidence. I always say my first love was drawing, and there was a significant moment my senior year of high school where I chose to put down the graphite pencil and pursue music full force.
What should our readers know about the 2012-13 music you released? It seems like even that early you had a clear idea of what you wanted your sound to be like. For example, “L’Chaim,” from Beginners, would not sound out of place on the Reverie album, and I love the live version too.
“L’Chaim” is actually the only song on that album that I still perform! And I’ll bring back “Love To Break It To You” cause it’s so damn feisty. The way Beginners came about was much like the way Reverie came about. For both records I had a handful of songs and a good producer friend who said, why don’t you just make an album out of these? If I had a clear idea of how I wanted that album to sound, I didn’t know it. It’s good that it came across that way. I think maybe my writing style was maturing and becoming more clearly defined, and the songs were strung together by a common feeling/phase of life.
You arrived in Asheville about 3 years ago. What brought you here? What keeps you here? Has the area music scene been welcoming/nurturing, or is there ever a sense that, with the huge and steady influx of people over the past few years, the pie slices are getting cut thinner and thinner for musicians.
What brought me to Asheville was a need to leave Boone, which was getting too small. Half my family moved to Hendersonville from Charlotte (where I grew up), so I figured I’d move in with them and try applying to “real” jobs. I had a degree in Advertising so I thought that’s what you do—apply to work in your degree field. I felt totally under-qualified and disoriented. Pursuing music had been the plan for so long, but that felt like a thousand miles away. I was in a new town, in a long-distance relationship, and living with my mom after a breakup with my band of two years. I started meeting musicians in Asheville and was fairly blown away by their hospitality. There was so much energy and professionalism in this niche music scene—particularly by the band Midnight Snack, who were also newcomers from Berklee School of Music and welcomed me in warmly. It was a natural move. I was encouraged by a big win at the Brown Bag Songwriting Competition just months after arriving, which led to multiple recording sessions at the esteemed Echo Mountain and lots of new connections. For the first time, most of my friends were songwriters and producers, and everyone wanted to collaborate with each other. I’m still here three years later because that flame hasn’t died.
The scene has already grown so much that I can’t keep track of all the bands. I try to make it to my friends’ concerts and half the time am singing in them, so there’s little time left to see new ones. That’s definitely a goal of mine—to hear more live music. Professionalism and competition in music is growing here. It’s not oversaturated like Nashville or L.A, so there’s still a freshness, an attitude of “your success is my success.” We celebrate the arts and want to keep that alive. But just like the fear that Asheville itself is being loved to death, there is the likelihood of musicians using Asheville as more of a stepping stone, where they can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond and not “loving” it back. And that’s where we lose some of the authenticity that makes us great.
It can be hard for musicians in Asheville to survive. You have to be really thrifty. Most everyone’s working multiple jobs while the cost of living goes up. There is so much talent, but unfortunately you can’t make much money playing original music. This year I’ve been a little disturbed by how low the audience turnout has been on some incredible shows. Where were all the people who were drawn to Asheville for our thriving arts scene? Is it because, as you said, the pie slices are getting smaller and too many choices? If people don’t show up to support us, we—the music community as it is—won’t survive. That being said, there are tons of people and organizations that are dedicated to supporting the arts, and without them, I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have!
How did you connect with Alex and the other musicians who are on Reverie? Tell me a few things about writing and recording the album that are personally significant to you, or even that might surprise your fans?
I met Alex in college at the music school and he actually played on a few songs for Beginners. We lost touch for a few years while he was in Nashville, then one day he happened to walk past the store where I was working downtown. I was like, “Hey I know you!” We’ve been collaborating ever since. I actually met Jack of Midnight Snack online before meeting him in person. I was considering a move to Asheville when my friend, who was bartending at Foggy Mountain, saw them perform there and told me to check them out. I realized I had actually seen them before on YouTube—both of our bands had done Arcade Fire covers. Eventually Jack Victor, Mike Johnson, and Zack Kardon ended up grouping with me. I needed a band for some live performances. Once we had put together all these full-band arrangements, it made sense to record them.
Something significant about Reverie, I’d say, is the collaboration aspect. I gave birth to these songs, and the village raised them. The band and I tried to present the songs in the most authentic way possible. Together, we probably made a million decisions about arrangement, production, release, etc. So I got to oversee every tiny detail. I’m not sure if all artists can say that. It was truly DIY. I hired my friends, who happen to be incredible, professional musicians, and we handled every piece of the project with care and integrity. I felt that the songs were in the best hands not just because they are super talented, but because these guys are genuine—they do everything for the good of the music. (On a side note: Katie Richter and Peter Brownlee, the rest of Midnight Snack, also played a part
In the production and release of the record.)
What songs on the album are your favorites? Which ones are the most gratifying to do live?
I’m proud of the way “Give Me A Likeness” turned out—that one went through soooo many revisions from start to finish that it was in danger of being overworked, but I feel in the end it captured what it was meant to. “Let It Shine” was special because it just sort of “fell off the bone” when it came to arranging and recording, too. We recorded it live, meaning all instruments at the same time, including vocals. At the end section when my vocals go all over the place on “come morning, let it shine”, that was totally off the cuff.
I enjoy playing that one live because it creates such a mood. I love the easy, pop nature of “Pity.” That was the first song we ever arranged as a band. “Anatomy of an Illusion” is probably my favorite to do live—there is usually an audible response from the crowd that says “Damn, I just got punched in the gut!” It’s always a good show when people feel they were punched in the gut. Oh, and “Roaming Stars” is a really fun one live because it creates this sort of meditative place for everyone in the room. We can all get weird to that one. Did I just mention half the album?
Do you feel the response to Reverie has been encouraging? Any misconceptions about you and the album? Because reviewers are notoriously tunnel-visioned at times, it’s easy for us to get things wrong even when being well-intentioned.
I have been really encouraged by responses to Reverie. Of course, after putting so much energy into something, you want more people to hear it and buy it, you want more monthly listeners on Spotify…
Recently, someone told me they were going through a breakup and my album was on repeat in their car, helping them through it. It’s stuff like that that reminds me, “Oh yeah, that’s what’s important. That’s why I do this!”
Still, I wouldn’t mind if there were more of those people. I know they’re out there, but they don’t necessarily know I am.
So far, I haven’t experienced much tunnel-vision on behalf of reviewers. I feel that Reverie has been pretty well represented and I enjoy hearing what other people pick up from it. There’s almost always a small detail or two that ends up getting twisted—a photograph not properly cited, an instrument I don’t play, an exaggeration of some past event… thankfully nothing too disastrous.
Thoughts on winning the “Best Soundtrack” at the 2018 Asheville Music Video award for you and Nathan? I assume you were present – did you think your name was going to be called?
Oh my gosh. I didn’t know “Best Soundtrack” was a category until they started announcing the nominees. We were actually nominated for that and Best Cinematography. I am so thrilled to have won, especially after having no expectations whatsoever. It was an honor to work with Nathan Rivers Chesky, and to see all the work he put into that video and my band put into that song, getting recognition was a really rewarding and humbling experience.
I was actually sitting way up on the balcony wearing heels and hoping I didn’t win anything because I didn’t know how to get down to the stage! All the winners were making speeches, too. I didn’t have anything prepared. By the time I got down there, I don’t even know what I said. Michael Selverne, a beloved producer and mentor (Welcome To Mars is his production company) who was one of the judges at the Brown Bag the year I won, also happened to be the announcer for that award. Midnight Snack [also] won Judge’s Choice for their amazing animation, “Magic.” It was a magical, full-circle night.
And then shortly after that, you won producer Gar Ragland’s NewSong LEAF festival competition…
I love Gar! Yeah, the LEAF competition was crazy. I was just blown away at winning. I’m stoked to play LEAF with my band next month as part of the prize, and now have Bonnaroo, which we played for the first time in June, on my resume. A lot has happened this year. It encourages me. These people I admire and respect are telling me I’m doing something right. That makes it easier to keep going.
Tell us about “My Own Stages.” Was that done at the Reverie sessions or completely new? (Above: an earlier live performance of “My Own Stages.”)
I wrote it before releasing, but after recording, Reverie. It seemed to stand on its own, stylistically, hence why I’m putting it out as a single. But I also feel like it is an extension of Reverie. More of that daydreaming… Mike Johnson drafted up a MIDI arrangement of it as an example of how he would implement country-western vibes into an indie-pop song, but then the overall reaction was, “Can we use that?”
I am truly pleased with the way this one turned out. Longing for a simpler time then questioning if that time ever really existed. That’s me in the French voicemail, expressing sentiments like, “It’s been a long time since we last talked, I hope you’re doing well…”
Photos credits: Cameron Smith (live), Shonie Joy Kuykendall