The music of Carswell and Hope is a masterclass in classic chamber pop. Lovingly orchestrated and produced, with an emphasis on hushed melodies and inventive arrangements that recall everything from Wilco in their quieter moments to 1970s influences like Todd Rundgren and even Pink Floyd at their most pastoral, Carswell and Hope are cultivators of the timeless sounds of pop. We are extremely lucky to share an interview the band's lyricist, singer and guitarist Nick Carswell about the band and his creative process, as well as his book, music and movie recommendations.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
I'm Nick Carswell, lead singer and guitarist with Carswell & Hope. I also play bass with the band Pink Royal, run an independent music collective called Silly Goose Records, and work for KU Audio Reader in Lawrence. Though I now live in Lawrence, I'm originally from Ireland.
Describe your creative process with songwriting, especially in light of your work with both Carswell and Hope and the Elective Orchestra. What songs are you most proud of?
My creative process is usually slow and quite long. I like to have many ideas of melodies, chord progressions or lyrics stewing over months or sometimes years before I tease it into a song or a piece of music. In some ways it's like having a 'back-catalog' (as I call it) that I can dip into, whenever I want to explore or revisit a 'new' idea. In another way, it's like keeping a little garden of ideas or melodies well-watered and watching for what might flourish, and when. Then, giving it the appropriate attention to help it blossom.
Tell us about a song that you really struggled to get right. How did you break through the creative block?
The Long Goodbye of the Profiteer, the closing track on A Hunger took a long time to come together, lyrically. The song is about the greed of property developers, bankers and others who did such damage to the economy and to so many people's lives in the economic crash, particularly in Ireland. And it's more about the feelings that it created for those people who were cheated and whose futures were really destroyed by the selfish actions of a few. The song plays like the end of a jilted love affair, which is probably an apt sentiment, but I wanted to convey that more precise meaning too. In the end, my approach was the same: just give it a little more time. Let the ideas, the melody and eventually the mood of the recording filter through until the lyrics and tone felt right. Arguably, those things are what really create the meaning for the listener - moreso than any single troublesome lyric. So, a little time, a little more attention, and trusting that something would emerge was my approach.
What have you learned from your recent recording experiences that you'll take to future ones?
The nicest thing about recording your own music [both Jason Slote (drums) and myself are experienced engineers/producers] is the freedom to experiment with processes. For example, in contrast to The Long Goodbye, the final song we added to that record was 'Song for Today', which we wrote, recorded and mixed in maybe 2-3 studio sessions. We even added one last electronic element after the track came back from the mastering engineer, so that was literally the last thing we did on the entire album (which took the guts of 2 years to make). It's pretty liberating to be able to give some recordings a lot more time, and to also enjoy a fresh and in some ways more exciting approach. In general, the latter is something that we might be pursuing more in future.
Can you point to one time in your life where you knew you wanted to be a songwriter? Who or what inspired you early on to create music?
I discovered songwriting at the same time that I picked up the guitar, when I was 15 or 16. I had been a piano player for years, but only upon teaching myself to play guitar did the idea of crafting songs really appeal to me. It was also the same time that I discovered Neil Young, Tom Waits and others like Eric Clapton, as well as Brit pop of 1990s UK/Ireland. It was a pretty good time for songsters really, with Oasis, Blur and a few others crafting good songs that were commercially successful. I think that combination of old and new, as well as the discovery of a new instrument was inspiring, and probably influenced how I would go on to write.
What excites you the most about the Kansas City-area music scene?
Aside from the excellent pool of artists in the Kansas City region, I also find it very encouraging that there are so many diverse audiences. If you look just a little bit, you can find people who will enjoy whatever kind of music that you like to make, and people who are open to experiencing music and performance in different venues and settings. That excites me not just for the music that I am involved in now, but in imagining what kind of things we might be compelled - or encouraged - to make in the future! For an artist, that's a really good place to be.
Nick's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog: