Carry The Storm
Exit 73 Bar, Spring TX, on 11/05/2012
by Andrew C Schlett
If you get down with local Houston music at all, and for the sake of this article I’m presuming that most readers probably do, then chances are pretty good that you’ve at least heard the name ‘Carry The Storm’ before once or twice. This is a north-side band who have been making a lot of noise around this town for a couple of years now; their shows are getting bigger and more well-attended, and their debut CD release FromNothing is well received by all who hear it. Things are really starting to happen for Carry The Storm these days, and it was both my pleasure and my honor to be able to sit down with them at Exit 73, a shithole little bar right off of I-45 and do an hour-long in-depth band interview out on the front patio over a couple of pitchers and shots. It was lead guitar player Kelly FitzSimons’ birthday that night, by total coincidence, so maybe there were a couple more rounds of shots than there otherwise might have been, but either way the interview was a blast to do. This band takes itself seriously about music and about very little else, and that came across clearly in the conversation.
This was not my first encounter with Carry The Storm. I first came across them way back in 2011 (yes, way back then) while I was still living up in Denver and had only recently gotten back involved with Rivethead via the Internet and Facebook. I was cruising through Reverbnation looking to re-familiarize myself with Houston music, and I found this band from Spring, TX, where I myself had grown up, and so I listened to the music they had posted there. What struck me at first about them was the unexpected soaring excellence of the guitar work, and then it was the far-reaching composition of the music, and then it was their overall heaviness, but ultimately, these guys are from Spring. Call it supporting the home team if you want to, but Carry The Storm is a band destined to be known as one of the most talented in these parts. Their sound speaks for itself.
Besides releasing From Nothing, Carry The Storm has also been featured in the recently-released documentary film Heavy In Houston, a subject that became one of the livelier moments of our interview. They also have a full calendar of show dates, so anybody who wants to see them play live - and trust me they will blow you away playing live - will be able to catch them somewhere, sometime, on some stage, around Houston.
Absent from this interview was lead vocalist Nick Koumbis, but the other three members, Alex, Kelly, and Darren filled the time nicely. Truly, they had much to say.
Kelly FitzSimmons lighting it up
Next, I wanted to know which, out of the many venues offering stage time to local musicians and bands, were CTS’ favorites to play at. This opened up a bit of lively banter as the pros and cons of various places were laughingly discussed.
RHM: What are some of your favorite local venues to play at?
Kelly: I like 19th Hole, personally. They always pay well, they’re fair, we can draw a lot of people there, and it’s nice and small and dingy. It’s not like I’m playing in a museum where I have to watch what I fucking do all the time. But I like the Hole. They’re always square dealers over there.
Alex: Yeah, the Hole is kinda one of those little hole-in-the-wall places where you want to play, it’s small, it’s cool.
Kelly: And Acadia’s pretty cool too. Tommy, who runs sound over there, is a really good guy, always a square-dealer too.
Alex: Great sound guy!
Kelly: Of course, the House of Blues…
Darren: That’s what I was gonna say, House of Blues…
Kelly: Oh yeah. We had our own dressing room and everything! It was a trip, cause we didn’t have to do a damned thing!
Darren: They got guys who are unloading your shit, people setting it up for you. It makes it so much more relaxing, cause you can actually just prepare for your performance, instead of just being rushed onstage. Fitzgerald’s too. I love the sound at Fitzgerald’s.
Kelly: Fitzgerald’s is cool, but I don’t know, after playing House of Blues you get spoiled and it’s hard to go back anywhere else.
Alex: One of the best things about the House of Blues is, like Darren was saying, is that they do help you out, they don’t rush you for anything, and they actually go out of their way to make sure that you’re doing okay. They’re like “Man, if you need anything, if we can do anything for you, just let us know”. It’s cool, because in the grand scheme of things we’re still a pretty small band, but then we go play someplace like the House of Blues and they don’t care if you’re a small band or a big band, they’re treating everyone the same cause they have a job to do.
Kelly: And the sound guy isn’t fuckin’ tanked by 11:30…
Darren: Yeah, it’s all very professional and well organized.
Kelly: It was really cool, when we opened for Yngwie Malmsteen at House of Blues, they even gave us a bigger dressing room than Yngwie’s! Of course, they had a lot of trouble fitting his head into one dressing room, so they had to give him two, but we got the biggest one and we were like “Wow, this place is awesome!!” We brought him donuts, though, so it was okay. So, House of Blues, the 19th Hole, and Acadia. Those are the best places to play around Houston.
RHM: Well, let’s turn that around. What are some of the worst places to play at around here? Is there anywhere would you rather never play again?
Carry The Storm (pretty much in one voice): Oh man! Are you sure we want to answer that? That could turn out badly for us!
Alex: I don’t want to be a jerk, man, but White Swan, yikes! It’s fun for a hole-in-the-wall, but eeerghh…
Darren: Okay, the problem that I have with small clubs, of which the White Swan is included, is that the last time I played there, and I haven’t been there in awhile, but when their stage and their sound system and their drum risers are undersized, and they can’t hold the band on the stage, it affects what I do, the attitude…
Kelly: Yeah, and Darren’s kit takes up half the stage anyway! Of course, I have a lot of gear too…
Darren: Come on, it’s not like I’m Neal Peart up there or anything!
Kelly: I don’t know if we should name names or not, but that’s the main reason, the sound and the way it’s designed, it has a really big effect. Greens Theater was terrible, and we can say that cause that place isn’t open anymore. We can trash them. What was that other place we played at that one time, it’s not there anymore either, but when we got there to set up the drum riser hadn’t even been built yet!
Alex: That place never even existed! Cain’s Ashes, I think it was called.
Darren: It was like all-ages, no alcohol kind of place.
Kelly: There were couches everywhere, and I don’t know. The whole thing about playing in places that cater to underage crowds, the high-schoolers and them, the younger crowds, it turns into a social thing. They’re all there to visit with their friends, not to see the band play. But whenever you hit someplace where there’s alcohol being sold, it makes it a lot better. It’s a real venue. It’s more non-partisan.
Darren: They’re there to see the music, not just their friends. And, since it’s not so clique-ish, people tend to stay around for the whole show instead of just seeing their friends play and then bam, 30 people get up and leave.
RHM: There are a lot of people who say that happens at regular shows these days anyway, people come out to support only the band that they like and then they leave. They don’t stay for the whole bill.
Alex: It happens, but it’s not as bad. People start drinking, you know, they tend to stay around for awhile.
Darren: Yes, it does happen, but I think it’s multiplied at under-age places like that.
RHM: Might that be because it kind of more fractilized these days? Like, in the old days, everybody was playing inside the loop, everybody knew each other, everybody practiced at the same Maggot Colony, (Francisco Studios –ed.) so if I came to see your band, your band, and your band, well, I’m friends with all of you anyway, so of course I’m gonna stay for the whole show. Nowadays it might be different. Nowadays, you might live here, the second band might be from Clear Lake, and the third from, I don’t know, Pasadena.
Alex: Also, back then, it was more united because everyone just played metal, or some variation of metal. Now you have like thirty different sub-genres, all the various “-cores”. And nobody gets along with the other person, it’s like, if your not ‘grindcore’ for example, then you suck.
Darren: I like to slam-dance, and you like to mosh, so you’re not my type.
Kelly: Do you remember back in the day when we were in high school, and metal wasn’t cool? It was like, you were the outcast, and now it’s cool to be metal. The outcasts from like five or six different schools would all come out to the same shows, and it became a sort of brotherhood. Like “everybody beats you up at your school, everybody beats me up at my school. Chicks won’t go out with you at your school, chicks won’t go out with me at my school, cause I like metal, so let’s hang out.” Now, metal’s cool again and its the cool thing to do. To a lot of people, it seems like it’s a fashion, like, they all show up to the show but its still very clique-oriented because of that.
Darren: Well, fashionable metal isn’t really new, it existed back when Poison and all the hair bands were doing their thing too.
Alex: I don’t know if that’s really a problem here in Houston, though, I mean, yeah there’s different genres, but it’s not like it probably is in California, where there’s a bunch of kids with beautiful hair and tight tight pants. But I don’t know, I’m old. I don’t know what the kids are doing anymore.
Darren: At least its not Spandex anymore. Now it’s, what do they call them, ‘skinny jeans”. Or gym shorts.
Rivethead Magazine: I first got turned on to Carry The Storm almost two years ago, through reverbnation, while I was still living up in Denver and had just gotten back involved with Rivethead. Since then, you’re released a full-length CD and have headlined shows all over town. Back in the old days, bands from the Spring TX area had to go downtown, inside the loop, to get any exposure or stage time. To what do you credit the fact that you’ve been able to reach so many fans in such a relatively short period of time?
Kelly FitzSimons: (lead guitar) Promoting! Like, physical promoting and going to shows, instead of just relying on Facebook. Do it old-school, because nobody does that anymore. For a while, I was burning 2-song demos, and then I’d take these to the big shows, the Slayers and Megadeths, and I’d just stand outside and hand them out. Of every ten CD’s I handed out, eight of them would go in the trash, but one or two of them would get listened to, and that person would share it with two or four other people. From all that, maybe half the people that listened to the disc would come to the shows, and it just kind of went from there. But yeah, I credit it to just simple physical promoting.
Darren Robertson: (drums) I think it’s just putting something in somebody’s hand, you know? The younger generation may be texting and twittering, and doing all this, and that’s good, that’s a tool and you should use it. But there’s nothing like having a CD and you’re walking out to your car, you’re gonna at least pop it in and give it a listen. It’s face time. You’re gonna at least give it a shot, and I guess a lot of people have liked what they heard.
Kelly: And it never ceases to amaze me how when somebody big comes to town, Slayer, Megadeth, whoever, and out of the thousands of people in this town who are in bands, and of the hundreds of bands there are, I’m usually the only motherfucker out there handing shit out. Nobody else ‘flyers’ anymore. It’s kind of a dying art.
Darren: And it is kind of a big thing. That, and just getting around, you know? You play the Scout Bar, you play 19th Hole, you play Fitzgerald’s. You play the bigger venues as well, but you have to spread it out. You play Acadia. You’ve got so many people in the Houston metropolitan area that you can reach, and I think the trick of doing that is getting out to those places. You’ve got to get out there, you can’t just post something on Facebook and hope that everybody’s gonna see it and they’re all just gonna show up.
Kelly: Do the Facebook thing in conjunction with that, and it works. It’s no secret that I’d like to see more people flyering. It would make the whole scene better. I remember the day back before the Internet, you would come out to a show and there’d be like 12 motherfuckers out there handing out flyers, and now it’s just me, and maybe one other person from somewhere else.
Alex Lorenzana: (bass guitar): A lot of that goes in hand with making an impression on people too. Like, there is somebody actually out here, this guy is cool, and he just gave me a CD! I go out a lot of times and when I give stuff out, people are like “is this free?” and I tell ‘em “yeah, it’s free” and they’re stoked about it. They come out after a show, they’re still in the zone, they’ve had some drinks, if you give them a CD they’re gonna go ahead and listen to it.
Kelly: So that’s why we’ve been able to play bigger place, bigger shows.
RHM: And I expected just the opposite. I thought you were going to credit it all to the expanded reach of the Internet.
Alex: It makes it easier to reach people outside of the Houston area, yeah, but when it comes to Houston, you gotta actually make that impression, you gotta talk to people face to face. If there’s any bands, you talk to them, set up stuff with them, and try to do things within the bands themselves, as opposed to just going “hey, man, you got a show for us?” That doesn’t do anything. You’ll get some promoter who’s like “yeah, and I’ll pay y’all fucking bullshit”.
Darren: And playing other places like Austin. You know, getting out of Houston. We’ve had some success in Austin. That’s accredited to hooking up with other bands and making relationships, and from there you get the shows, you get with a band over there who you like, who has a good draw, and who fits well with your music, and you start trading shows. You bring them down here for a couple shows; you go up there for a couple shows. You make a weekend out of it. It’s networking, basically.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s all in who you know. So get off your ass and flyer!!
Now, on the topic of other local bands, here is what Carry The Storm thinks of our current local scene and some of the talent playing in it.
RHM: I asked Charles Sepulveda, from Burn The Boats, what other local bands he likes to see play live, and his first answer without hesitation was Carry The Storm. Why do you think that is? What is it about Carry The Storm’s music that sets you apart from other bands working in the same field?
Kelly: Oh, I like Charles!
Alex: I think, in terms of a live show, that we actually put on a show. You can tell that we’re having fun with it. We’re playing something that isn’t regularly done by a lot of other people, making it more like rock-n-roll. It’s not just being brutal, it’s actually having a hook, and a melody, and maybe a tasteful solo to kind of spread things out. We’re doing all that while just having fun onstage, you know.
Kelly: It could also be because we were really nice to Charles, too. We paid Charles to say that, actually! (much laughter from the band)
CTS, all as one: Yeah, thanks Charles!!!
Kelly: But yeah, like Alex was saying, we try to have more of a party atmosphere. There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on in the world, and the last thing we really want to do is write about it. It should be an escape. Music should be a sort of sanctuary. Instead, they get up there and go “We are so-and-so, and this song is called ‘Brutal Death Fuck’”, and you know, they play and everybody’s frowning and so angry, and blah-blah, taking themselves so seriously, when at the end of the day you’re a fucking entertainer. So entertain somebody! It’s like, get other people in with it, smile, have a good time, and people are more susceptible to that, I think, than being alienated by like ‘Oh shit, those guys are angry! I don’t wanna go talk to them!’ If you see us up onstage, we’re smiling, having a good time, and usually after the show people will come up and be like ‘hey, man, how’s it going?’ They’ll drink a beer with you or whatever. It’s like a party.
RHM: I’ve seen you all play onstage, and yes, it is like a party!
Alex: We want people to leave not thinking ‘dude, those guys are so brutal and arrgghh,’ all that fucking shit. We want them to walk away thinking ‘man that was fun!’
Kelly: Yeah, because we’re not brutal. We grew up in fucking Spring-suburb-Texas!
Darren: Two of us are from the Woodlands, so give us a fucking break!
Alex: There are a lot of bands who are doing exactly that same shit, though, and it’s stupid. It’s like, mommy bought your amp, mommy bought your guitar, she probably paid for the first few years of guitar lessons, whatever. You ain’t hard, man.
Kelly: Yeah. If you’re from like, Turkey, or Angola Africa, well then yeah, you’re probably pretty brutal, but you have reason to be.
Alex: And we’re just a bunch of faggots. We’re not that tough.
RHM: I don’t know if I should print that!
Darren: No, I wouldn’t print that.
Kelly: We’re all a bunch of sissies! Nancies! Softy-girls!
RHM: Well, Kelly, how would you answer the same question? What local bands would you want to see play live?
Kelly: I always liked Decimation Theory. Decimation Theory was always my favorite band to see live because they had a good show, their singer had a sense of humor in between the songs, they were clean, Aaron’s a great drummer, and they wrote really good songs. I like Charles’ band, Burn The Boats, I like them a lot. I also like Venomous Maximus, they always put on a good show. Carrion Sun is good friends of ours, they put on a good show as well, and there’s more.
Alex: There are a lot of bands that we’ve become friends with just through doing random shows, like Witness To The Fallen, Fallacy, a few more.
Kelly: Chronophage I like too, because they have a really sort of Venom-like old school punk/thrash thing going on, and it’s usually only three guys. The singer, the guitar player, and the drummer, but they sound to me reminiscent of early Kreator, and they have a really good sense of humor while onstage. They don’t take themselves so seriously, it’s almost like they’re mocking the whole thing, which is cool! So I like those guys a lot. There are a handful of them out there that I really, really enjoy seeing, and they’re really cool people.
Carry The mothafuckin' Storm
Alex Lorenzana thumps the 5-string CTS bass
BECAUSE THE MUSIC MATTERS!!!
CTS debut album cover "From Nothing"
one example of a CTS flyer
And now back to the band itself:
RHM: Okay then! So what’s next for Carry The Storm? Are you writing music for a follow-up disc (you already said you are) or do you have any big shows coming up anytime soon you want to tell us about? Any tour plans?
Kelly: We just finished up writing the songs for our next EP which we’ll be going in to record the first week of December, and it should be out, we’re hoping, in February at the very latest. It’s gonna be an EP of all new material written by us, as opposed to the first album which was written with another drummer and another guitar player in addition to me. This is the first material that I’ve written by myself for one guitar, so it’s gonna be different in the fact that it’s written for one guitar not two, there’s not gonna be any crazy harmony work or counterpoint stuff. Writing for one guitar I think is more challenging, because you don’t have that other guitar to fall back on.
RHM: Is it tougher to play songs live now that you have to fill both guitar parts?
Kelly: No, it’s all about the arrangement. It’s tougher to write, because you have to make every riff count.
Alex: You’re making it sound easy! (more laughter)
Kelly: Well it is easy. Just everything has to count, the song structures are a lot more precise and to the point, and they’re all I think a little bit more high-energy and dynamic.
Darren: The new album is a lot more in our new direction. Like they were saying, on the first album I didn’t write most of those songs, I just came in a changed a little bit of the drum stuff. But the songs we did write had something of a different vibe to them, and I think that was the direction that it was all kind of stepping towards. These five songs that we’re going to record, everyone had to step up their game a little bit because the sound got a little thinner. You know what I mean? We lost a guitar player and have basically a different drummer. I drummed on the last album, but like I said I didn’t write over half the stuff. It’s a little bit of a different vibe, it’s a little more raw, more rock-n-roll vibe, but it’s still very metal. It’s still very technical in parts. It’s still Carry The Storm. It’s a little bit more song-oriented though, all about the songs, laying back and playing something simple because it sounds fuckin’ cool, not because ‘oh I want everyone to look at me’ and ‘here’s my spotlight’ or anything like that.
Kelly: As far as shows go, we got a few coming up. On November 17th we’re opening up for Shadows Fall and God Forbid at the Scout Bar, we’re selling tickets for that, and then the next day we’re playing in College Station for a showcase, and then on the 24th we’re doing the Vasectomy Benefit.
Darren: The Kelly FitzSimons Vasectomy benefit! Come out and pay some money to get his nuts cut off!
Kelly: But it’s really not going to go towards the vasectomy, we’re gonna keep your money! It’s funny, there are benefits for everything and everybody, and we just thought to take it a little tongue-in-cheek and try to stage a different benefit. Then next year we have some shows lined up for January and February, we’re possibly going to San Antonio and definitely Corpus Christi.
RHM: Any other tour plans? Gonna get outside of Texas, ever?
Kelly: We want to. We’re working on that right now. We’re trying to expand, but not just all of the sudden go play in Colorado or wherever. We’re trying to just get out of town first, get established out there, and then just work our way out. That way we can have connections, we won’t just go out and play a show in like Milwaukee. We can play in other places on the way to Milwaukee, build a fan base as we go, and then come back. We don’t just wanna go jet up there, then turn back around and come home, and have new fans 2,000 miles away and nothing in between. So we’re working on it.
Finally, I started to run out of questions, but just when you thought it was over, there’s more! The beer-drinking, rollicking, shot-slamming interview continues!
RHM: Well that really is about all the questions I have, but I seriously feel like I’m leaving quite a bit out, here. Is there anything that you all want to touch on that I haven’t asked about or mentioned?
Kelly: No, not really. Is there anything that you want to touch on? (with a slight little seductive hint of a smile)
RHM: I don’t think so. We’ve covered much more than I originally expected; we’ve gone way beyond the parameters of my original little questions.
(all as one): Sorry!
RHM: No, it’s fine. The more the better!
Kelly: Well then I guess that’s pretty much it. Album, shows….
Darren: Hopefully doing a big CD release party probably in something like March.
Alex: It’s yet to be determined, but we’re gonna go big. We’re not gonna do it at some little teeny-tiny place, we’ll work something out that will be worthwhile for everyone to come out to and have a good time. Of course we’ll bring some of the other local bands out with us and, you know, just have a good fuckin’ time.
RHM: There’s another thing, now that I’m thinking about it. Back in the old days, the bands that were on top, your deadhorse, your Academy Black, your Pain Teens, would purposefully schedule other lesser-known bands with them to get those guys exposure. Do you all try to do that too?
Kelly: Oh yeah!
Alex: Yes, that’s part of the networking. We are good friends with a band out of Austin called Critical Assembly. Like Kelly was saying earlier, they brought us out there for shows, we’d bring them back here, and it’s like a trade-off. We’re friends with a lot of the bands here in Houston as well. Just recently we started playing with Fallacy out of Clear Lake, on the south side of Houston.
Kelly: They work really hard!
Alex: Exactly. And it’s the mutual benefit between our fans digging them, and their fans digging us, and everyone goes home happy.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean for awhile we were playing the same line-up, us with like the same two or three other bands, and it was really cool, but lately its been our mission to kind of try to reach out to other bands and give them a shot. But, you know, the thing that I worry about a lot is, are these new bands gonna work hard? Are they gonna go out and are they gonna promote? That’s the main concern. Are they gonna go out and promote their own show, or are they just gonna ride our coat-tails, and just expect to play to our people, to whoever we bring, or are they gonna make the effort to bring their own people, and that’s the main thing that I’m kinda worried about. I’d like to see everybody work as hard as we do, I’d like to see more people from more bands at big shows standing outside, getting in people’s faces and handing them flyers and demos and whatever the hell else. That’s what I’d like to see.
Alex: That goes back to the original question: what’s gonna make Houston bigger and greater?
Kelly: People getting up off their fucking asses!
Darren: And if you give somebody a shot, somebody that’s never played a show, or only played one or two shows, whatever. If you know them or know them through a friend or something, then you give them a shot, but they have to work for it. We do, we have to work for it very hard, and I think you give that opportunity, but I don’t know how many times before you stop if they’re not doing their job. To me, you get one shot, and if we’re putting on a big show, or if someone else was putting on a big show and we were on it, we would work hard. Do you know what I’m saying? If we’re doing it, if we’re working hard, then we expect and like to see them work hard too.
RHM: Who gave you your shot? Who was the first band you ever opened for?
Kelly: Well, our first show was at Java Jazz, and it was opening for Raven In Ruins, and it was pretty much the same thing. They liked us, they heard our stuff, and a couple of those guys had been in bands with a couple of our members at the time, and they were already playing shows so they were like ‘hey, yeah, you guys wanna open for us?’ and they talked to the powers that be, and made it happen. We opened for them and it was good. But that was just one show. The other shows, the other earliest shows, were got strictly just by us being total pains in the ass. I got the booking agent from 19th Hole’s number and email address, and I sent that guy an email once a week for like a year. I texted him all the time, I went up there all the time. I knew he was gonna hate me, but I didn’t care, and finally he was like ‘all right, shut up, we’ll give you a chance, Jesus Christ! And then we brought some people in and he was like ‘allright, these guys are good.” Then we played another show there and almost broke their attendance records. So they were like ‘okay, you’re legit now,” but mainly our first shows were gotten by us being just really insanely persistent and obnoxious pains in the asses.
RHM: It had nothing to do with being a guitar god?
Kelly: No, because club owners don’t give a fuck about that, they want numbers.
Alex: The whole point to them is that you get people in there. You get up, put on a good show, everybody’s having a good time, they’re buying more beer and that’s what the club owners make money off of.
RHM: What is the biggest show you’d say you’ve ever done? What’s the biggest name you’ve ever been involved with?
Kelly: Probably the Yngwie one. Very big show.
Alex: Totally not in the vein that you’d expect us to be in, but that was probably one of the biggest shows we’ve ever played with someone else.
Kelly: It was legit. It was large. Actually the show that we headlined at House of Blues for Christmas actually drew more people, I think.
Alex: Yes, for our own show, we had like over a thousand heads in through the door, total. That was back in, what, 2010?
Kelly: Yes, and at the time it was the biggest local metal show that they’d ever had at House of Blues. It was really good, and we sold a lot of tickets. It was in the big room, too. We had Outlaw Dave there, we had a couple of other people out there doing their thing and ….
Alex: Big Dave, not Outlaw Dave. Big Dave. He was the Emcee for that.
Kelly: What other big shows have we had? We played for Symphony X once, that was very cool.
Alex: That was one of our very first shows.
Kelly: And I don’t even remember where that was, it was so long ago. But yes, we played with Symphony X, we opened for Chimera at Fitzgerald’s, that was awesome.
Alex: We got to play opening up for Shadows Fall at Warehouse Live, which was another solid show….
Kelly: Helstar was good!
Alex: Yes, Helstar, their 30th Anniversary. Helstar is one of the old school Houston bands, from around here, and they’re still doing it!
Kelly: Three Inches of Blood?
Alex: Yeah, Three Inches of Blood, they were good. And Helstar is doing really good over in Europe, but here, I don’t know, it’s just like ‘eeh..’ Anybody need some more beer? Shots again?
RHM: I’m pretty much done here, officially, but I wouldn’t mind drinking some beer, maybe watching some football. Sure! Shots are good!
Alex: It looks like the Saints are beating the Eagles … 14-3.
Features - Carry The Storm
Finally it was time to bring the interview back around to Carry The Storm itself, and their recently-released full-length CD.
RHM: Moving on, then, y’alls debut CD From Nothing completely shreds. Songs like “False Reality”, “Fear”, “Mouth of Madness”, “Pigs”, and all the rest just keep you banging your fucking head. How does the music all come together and get written, and how smooth was the recording process for this disc?
Darren: From my point of view, and Kelly can tell you from the beginning, but when I joined the band over half of the album was written. In the process of me joining the band, me agreeing to play with them and them agreeing to play with me, it was this album that was the goal. They wanted to keep seven songs, keep them the same, but with me coming into it, it was like I wanted my own voice, you know, but they wanted the same song. Which I think helped us, and put us in the position that we are now writing-wise, because I was able to come in and keep beats the same, keep all moments in the song pretty much identical. I just use my flavor when it comes to fills and things like that, the fancy stuff. There were three songs that we wrote after I joined the band, “False Reality”, “Fear”, and “We All Fall”.
Kelly: All true! But generally, the way the songs come together it’s usually me coming up with a concept, or like a melody or a riff, or a couple of riffs that go together. I’ll work out a basic song structure, a basic, basic song structure, and then I’ll show Alex and Darren and we’ll work it out, and then we all learn the structure that I had originally, and then there’s everybody else. Nick (Koumbis, singer) is really good at standing on the sidelines saying “hey, why don’t you do this,” or “why don’t you link the verse like this so it will let me sing what I have to sing”, or “why don’t you shorten the chorus” or whatever, he’s really good at arranging, at seeing the big picture. And then Alex will come in and I’ll show him what I’m playing on guitar, and he’ll throw something in sometimes that’s really cool and that I never would have thought of. Then that’ll change something and then Darren will change it. I can throw a riff at Darren and he can play like three different time signatures over it, and then be like well what do you like best? Then I’ll be like ‘well I like this one best’ and he’ll say ‘I don’t like that!’
Darren (laughing): That’s where over half the changes come from!
Kelly: Yeah, and we’ll usually compromise, and play it my way first, and then his way second, and then before you know it we’ve played the song two different ways and it sounds like it … evolved. But yeah, it’s usually that I come up with the basic structure and then we all learn that, and then we all kinda take it apart and put our own shit in it. It goes through the machine like that.
RHM: Because you can’t be a guitar god all by yourself?
Kelly (amid much general laughter): No. And thank you, man. I have no life.
RHM: This wasn’t on my original list of questions, but isn’t that the case for many musicians? You sit in your room alone from like, age 8 to 16, and practice all the time and never have any life?
Darren: Well some people pick up on it quicker than others. I was in drum lines and did a bunch of that stuff, I was in a community of musicians where it was everybody challenging each other and everybody going ‘oh, I can do this faster than you,’ or whatever. I think that helped me a lot. Like you say, from the time I was 8 years old till the time I was … 22?, 23? … I mean, I was even teaching by that point, but I was still learning too. Always learning. Just having that many people around that you can play with, and figure out new things, and stuff that you would have never thought of, I think that’s what helped me.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s kind of like a friendly competition where everybody’s trying to raise the bar. I think the thing that helped me was getting into a bunch of different kinds of music. Like a LOT of different kinds of music. I envision music as like a house, and when you’re writing music and you’re trying to have like a vision, or whatever, it’s like building a house, and in your house, if you want to have a little bitty window, you can only see that much of what’s outside. But by listening to and taking in different types of music you’re enlarging your window and you can see more of the outside. So it’s just a question of what, do you want a bunch of little bitty small windows, or do you want big fucking windows? I like the big window, personally.
RHM: It gives you the chance to incorporate more elements of music into the music that you eventually end up making.
Kelly: Exactly. And that’s where the learning begins. At first you’re like, trying to copy someone that you like, and you learn it note for note, and then you’re gonna take what you learned note for note and you’re gonna imitate them for awhile, but then you take that and integrate it into your own stuff, and you use it basically like they did but in your own stuff, and then you add onto it even more later on. That’s what it is, like a multi-stage kind of thing.
RHM: That very much parallels my experience in writing. I had to learn to read first, then I had to learn to write, and then I would write like other writers, and then finally I learned to write like myself.
Alex: Yeah, you have to draw on different influences. That’s the best way to do it.
Darren: Going off of what you were saying about the technicality of playing, I’ve never looked at it, I mean, you know, some people look down upon it. Some people think that you shouldn’t keep learning, and getting faster and better or whatever. I’ve always looked at it as, like you say you’re a writer, so you want to study as much as you can about writing, learn as much as you can about vocabulary, and about literature and all that stuff so you have all of the tools that you need to make a masterpiece. Know what I mean? I’ve always looked at that the same way as a musician. I need to learn how to play jazz. And I need to learn how to play rock. I need to learn how to play country, and blues, and all this shit. And then when I go and sit down with the band, when we go and sit down to write music, it becomes like you have so many different colors to paint with. Do you know what I mean? You’re not limited to ‘this is the way it is, I’m only painting in black and drawing straight lines because that’s what sells albums.’ It’s so much more fun to broaden your horizons, and expand.
Kelly: Oh hell yeah, man. I agree. Shots?
(all as one, this journalist included): Shots!
(drink order taken here, and Alex dispatched over to the bar to bring round of shots back. Much toasting to Kelly’s birthday, and then draining of shots, then back to the interview!)
Kelly: The speed thing. That bugs me.
Darren: What’s that?
Kelly: Speed. Speed, and being super-uber technical all the time. Forsaking feeling and substance for the sake of speed. Speed and technical precision should just be a tool, it shouldn’t be the only reason you write a song.
Darren: I agree, and that’s what I’m saying too. That’s why, like you were talking about the window, you’ve simply got more. Technique is not only about speed, it’s not only about how fast you can play, it’s about what you can play. Can you do anything that you can imagine? Can you play anything that you can hear in your head? Do you know what I’m saying? Speed is a tool, and as a drummer, you want to reach the highest speed you can. Not so you can use it in a song, but so that you can do it, raise that threshold higher, so that when there’s that one moment on an album out of your whole career that you need to play 280 beats a minute you know you can do it. Just be better prepared for the job and there’s nothing that limits you. Just talking about drumming, you listen to guys like Carter Beauford and Dennis Chambers, and guys that aren’t known for speed, necessarily, they’re jazz players, they’re fusion players. But they can still, in a solo, rip out the fastest notes you ever heard in your life. Because they practice that, so they have it in their toolbox and they can use it anytime they want.
RHM: Speed never even used to be an issue in music until 25 years or so ago. Prior to that, speed was never even a factor in terms of how fast can you play.
Darren: It should be about how does the song sound? What’s the product that you’re producing?
Kelly: Because 9 out of 10 people aren’t going to give a shit how fast you can play. (to Darren) And man I know you hate Nirvana, but I love Nirvana, and it’s not because Kurt Cobain was a fantastic guitar player or anything, but because he could write a fucking song. Listen to his hooks, and the way that he filled up the sound with only three guys and he designed his playing to be able to fill in the sound. His songs were good! I mean, you can’t get some of that stuff out of your head once you listen to it.
Darren: Yeah, that’s what it’s all about. In the end, it’s all about good sounds. I think people lose point of that, lose sight of that. Like Kelly was saying, if you concentrate on speed, if you’re like ‘now that I can do it I want to use it on every song’, well, no you probably shouldn’t because it probably won’t sound good.
Alex: And you’re going to get bored with it, other people are going to get bored with it too.
RHM: Coming back to the disc, how much public reaction have you all received from the release of “From Nothing”? What sort of interest has it generated?
Kelly: Well, none. (amidst general laughter) I mean, locally its done well. People have been like ‘hey, I bought your album, and it’s awesome!’ Every once in a while we’ll get somebody else who’s from another state, or another country, or whatever, and they’re all ‘hey, I heard your album, its great, its awesome, blah blah blah, but I think the main thing we fucked up on the first album was not in the recording process but in sending it out, trying to reach the people that really need to be reached.
Alex: That’s one thing we’re working on now, sending it out to the people with ears that matter. Of course the fans always matter, but we got to get it into the right ears to make it happen.
Darren: Getting reviews….
RHM: I’m workin’ on it….
Kelly: Yeah, getting reviews and attention. That’s the goal for the next album, the next CD, is to send it out to people who have connections, to people that have businesses that might benefit us, and vice versa.
Darren: There’s a lot of people, too, who will say (and we’ve gotten this response before) okay, well bring me your second album. Do you know what I mean? We’ve heard that. ‘Oh, this is just your first album? Let me know when you release another one.’
Kelly: That’s one thing that might work for us, that when we do send this new one out, they’ll be like ‘okay what else you got?’ and we’ll have this whole full-length album and they’ll say ‘well okay, these guys are legit. They have a product line, technically, instead of one CD.’ Generally it’s a slow process, but it’s good.
Next we ventured forth into the territory of the movie, "Heavy In Houston". CTS is excited to have been included!
RHM: Carry The Storm was recently featured in Derek Norman’s documentary film Heavy In Houston. How cool was it to see yourselves on the big screen?
Kelly: It was cool.
Darren: It was very cool!
Alex: It was cool, especially seeing how we blend into the mix of everyone else that’s playing. There’s so many different genres represented, I mean, its not even metal now, so I just like to call it rock-n-roll.
Kelly: Yeah, it was real flattering that he thought of us, you know. It felt good that he devoted a little bit of time in his film, out of all the people and all the bands in this town, it felt good that he devoted a little bit of time for us.
RHM: As far as I can tell, y’all are one of the leading bands in the scene. When you say ‘Carry The Storm’ most everybody knows who you’re talking about.
Kelly: I hope so!
Alex: Seeing it from the inside, I never feel like that’s how it is, but then somebody will walk up and say ‘hey, y’all are Carry The Storm? Wow, that’s cool!’ and that’s always nice. It solidifies us. Me personally, I don’t feel that we’re like that. We’re just a bunch of dudes who like to play fuckin’ metal.
Kelly: Not me. I want to be King Shit! I want to be number 1! (more laughter)
Alex: I’d like to be too, but I’m saying that for just right now we’re just a band out of Houston. If you go anywhere else, nobody’s heard of us. But in Houston, slowly but surely, it’s time to reach out and branch out.
RHM: And that leads to the second part of the question. What do you think the overall impact or effect that the movie will have on the Houston music scene, in terms of putting Houston music out there to the world?
Kelly: Well, I hope it gets somebody’s attention.
Alex: That actually is yet to be determined, because there’s so much shit out of Houston. Not bad shit, I’m just saying that there’s so many bands out of Houston it’s barely even scratching the surface compared to what’s actually out there. There’s other bands who are probably great, and magnificent, but we’ve never heard of them cause they’ve only been playing for like six months or so.
RHM: It seems to me that what the movie does is take a group of shall we say like-minded bands and almost creates a little enclave of a sub-scene within it, and the bands that are in the movie, because they’re in the movie if the movie hits, the bands will rise and those that aren’t in the movie might just get kind of ignored.
Kelly: There’ll be another movie with those bands in it! That’d be awesome!
RHM: Derek did say he was already working on part 2, and if need be, part 3.
Kelly: Yeah? That’s cool. More power to him! I hope it really does good things for the scene!
Darren: I think it’s great to do something like that, you know. Doing this, and committing so much of your time and effort. We all still have day jobs, we all still gotta pay fuckin’ mortgages and shit. Doing this, being in a band, takes a lot out of us and we do it because we love it. I wouldn’t still be doing this if I didn’t love it. Obviously, I’m not a rock star making a million dollars right now, but I think what Derek is doing is great. Anything like that, anything that’s about Houston and brings attention to it, and to wake people up in the city and let them know that hey, there’s good music, good fuckin’ shows every fuckin’ night within 20 minutes of you. Let’s take a shot, you know? Come party with us.
RHM: Staying on the subject of the Derek’s film, I personally enjoyed the movie, I thought it was groundbreaking and it’s gonna put the spotlight on a lot of local talent. But a friend of mine, from the old-school Houston music scene, watched the movie. He’s not terribly involved with the current scene, but he suggested that even though all the bands featured in the movie are very talented, he said they all sound to him more or less the same. He wonders where is the originality and attitude that was reflected in earlier bands like deadhorse, Pain Teens, Bayou Pigs, Sugar Shack, etc., and he asks if this is the proper evolution of the old scene to this one. I just wonder how you all, as artists and again as one of the leading bands working this scene, would respond to that?
Alex: We didn’t have enough time in the movie! (laughter) No, but touching on what I was saying earlier, there’s such a wide area, and everyone’s doing their own thing. Houston’s so big, and everyone’s doing like a sub-genre of something, and sometimes it kinda seem to turn into like a clique. Everyone’s trying to better the next person, or that person, but they’re not really doing anything. They end up playing the same shows with the same bands at the same place. Sometime I don’t think there’s that motivation, or that drive, to want to like get the fuck out of town. Put something out, work with it. Sometimes I feel that as good as the bands are, and I don’t have any specific one in mind so I’m not bashing anyone, but sometimes I just feel that they’re doing it because its cool to be up in a band and to be onstage. If they get a show, cool. If not, no big deal, they don’t have that drive to really wanna fuckin’ do it.
Kelly: My thing is, on the whole originality thing, it seems like today especially in the metal scene, that everybody’s always trying to reinvent the wheel. Everybody’s always trying to be the next real original thing, and come out of left field, but I just don’t give a shit about that, I just want to write really good music. I mean, how original can you get before you start not making sense to human ears? Anybody can take riffs and fucked up stuff and sandwich it together into a song that doesn’t make sense, but it has interesting parts, so they’re like ‘oh wow, that sounds really good, that sounds really different’ but I don’t want to listen to that cause it’s not a good song, it’s noise. So I don’t really care. I want to be original, of course, but I want to stay to where I can still be accessible, and our music can still, you know, just rock. There was a lot of bands like Whitesnake – I don’t know if you guys like them – but Whitesnake was essentially a Led Zepplin rip-off band, but I love Whitesnake because they fuckin’ rock. Even contemporary bands like Ghost. They’re not original by any means. They sound to me like Blue Oyster Cult meets Mercyful Fate meets Black Sabbath. It’s not original, but its well written and it rocks. Same thing with The Sword, and a lot of the stoner bands coming out right now, their stuff sounds like Black Sabbath.
Alex: I love stoner rock!
Kelly: It rocks. Who gives a fuck if its original or not, it fuckin’ rocks.
Darren: Bringing it back locally, I just completely disagree with your statement. I think that if you look at the local scene, you look at Carry The Storm, you look at Venomous Maximus, you look at Carrion Sun or Decimation Theory, and it is all very different. Whether or not you are involved with metal, or whether or not you pay attention to the national or worldwide metal scene, I think Houston is a pretty good cross-section of that. I don’t think there’s a lot of copycatting going on. I just disagree with the statement. I mean, I don’t know what movie your friend saw, but I didn’t see it.
Kelly: There are all types here. There’s black metal bands, there’s death metal bands, there’s tech metal bands, there’s hardcore bands, there’s thrash metal bands….
Darren: He may not like any of them, and he might not like us at all, I don’t know, I just disagree. I think if you come out to a show and you watch five of the bands that I just mentioned, and you can walk away and tell me that they all sounded the same then you’re not hearing what I’m hearing. You weren’t paying attention.
Kelly: It means you’re too fuckin’ old!