What do you get when you mix a Celtic-Americana-indie-rock band, a garage studio in the suburbs of Richmond, and Maymont Park? Turns out, it’s Carbon Leaf. The local band, whose career has spanned almost 25 years, is due to play at Maymont Park this weekend.
The band hasn’t played at Maymont since 2010, but the quintet is excited to return to the venue.
“It’s such a family friendly and oriented show, that’s why the Maymont show in particular is so much fun,” said Terry Clark, guitarist for Carbon Leaf.
Clark sat down with RVA Mag recently at his house in Henrico, his kids running around the yard and house just outside, while we chatted about their old days, latest work and what’s next for them.
Barry Privett, the band’s leading vocalist and multi instrumentalist ( penny whistle, bagpipes, and guitar), mentioned how much the band loves playing in Richmond, their hometown and starting point of their career.
“It’s cool because you have such a deep history of fans still in the area,” he said. “The fans that were coming to see us when we were young, they still come out, but they also have kids of their own or maybe even teenagers that are into the music.”
After meeting together while attending Randolph-Macon College, Carbon Leaf grew their fan base in and around the Richmond area. With 24 years of performing and 16 albums under their belts, the band’s sound has understandably changed, but not dramatically.
“It took a while to figure out what we were doing,” said Privett. “Through time, you start to figure out what works for you, what doesn’t. You hone down into the things that each person really likes. I think it breaks up a lot of artists because they don’t know how to communicate that. You really just learn how to communicate creatively, you learn how to collaborate creatively through that struggle of figuring out what’s best for the song.”
The band has a catalog of instrumentation that Privett works with to develop lyrics that form songs. Rather than creating an album that has a mixture of vibes or genres, they try to compile songs that have similar sounds and create an album that is primarily one cohesive sound.
For right now, the band is not focusing on the vibe of their new album, but rather revisiting their older material.
Carbon Leaf was formerly a part of Vanguard Records, (Flogging Molly, Barenaked Ladies, Switchfoot), but the rights to songs and money became a concern.
“The last couple of albums sold over 80 percent at shows and online,” said Clark. “Do you need to pay them a whole lot of money to get you on a record store shelf in Des Moines when you’re not selling any product anyhow? You’re paying these exorbitant fees to them.”
The shift from physical record to digital was making its move, and the band was noticing.
“The main thing for a label is can you get some really good licensing deals or some really good radio coverage. We did get some of that with the first album, Indian Summer, but then the subsequent albums, that business wasn’t there,” added Privett.
The label also owned the rights to the master recordings. While Carbon Leaf owned the intellectual property, the label owned the digital media.
“They basically don’t own the songs, but they do own the songs,” said Privett. Despite all of this, the band found a clause within the contract that would work to their advantage.
“There was a term of five years after you’ve left the label that you could re-record. In other words, if you wanted the rights to revert back, you’d have to re-record so that you have an alternate master recordings of the songs that you own. And that’s what we did,” said Privett.
Since leaving the label, the band has re-recorded three of their albums, Indian Summer Revisited, Love Loss Hope Repeat Reneaux, and Nothing Rhymes with Woman (2016 Re-Recorded Version), which was released just in December of last year.
“We can take those [re-recorded songs] and we can put them out into the world,” said Privett. “If an opportunity comes up where we can license the song to something, we have a version that we own.”
In terms of the fan response to the re-done albums, the feedback has been positive.
“I think we improved on all the albums and the songs,” said Privett. “They still sound like they should. We weren’t changing things just to change things. The fans have been supportive about the reason why we’re doing it.”
With campaigns backed by fans to support the endeavor, the band has seen great success in regaining the rights to their songs.
For the re-recordings, Carbon Leaf set up a studio in the unattached garage at Clark’s house in Henrico. Complete with a soundproof room donated by a local radio station, the group was able to bring their production right into their own backyards, on their own dime, for a fraction of the cost of recording with a record company.
“We’ve done the last six projects up here [in the studio], self-engineered and produced and literally shipped from the studio directly to pre-order fans and all that,” said Privett.
For the upcoming Maymont show, the band is looking forward to sharing their large repertoire with fans new and returning.
Privett said that they won’t be highlighting their re-recorded version of Nothing Rhymes with Woman, even though it’s their most recent album, a move most bands use to their advantage to promote newer material. “
What you really want to do is make the live shows great as you can,” he said. “People are seeing you only once a year. People are paying for that anticipation. We’ve got a deep enough catalog where we can keep it fresh.”
Because the last few years have been spent re-recording older material, the band is ready for something new.
“We’re working on some new material and are shooting for a new release this September,” said Privett.
Although their career has spanned for almost 25 years, Carbon Leaf is still kicking. After transitioning from a label to working on their own, they haven’t missed a beat and are making major strides with their music.
Carbon Leaf will perform this Sat., June 24 from 6 to 11 pm at Maymont. Tickets are $15-20 and can be purchased here.