If you don’t know who this guy is, you’ve been missing out on a lot. He gave us The Remus Lupins, makes youtube videos with his wolfpack, and just released a new album of songs about The Hunger Games! Presenting the latest musician profile, Alex Carpenter!
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Alex to chat about everything from his new album to his favourite spots to eat while touring the globe.
LeakyNews: Alright, so interview! The basics first: How did you get started in music? How long have you been performing?
Alex Carpenter: I got started in High School. My way in was through lyrics. I was writing things for a friend’s band and I didn’t like the idea of other people singing my words, so I sort of stepped up and became the singer for this band. I was pretty bad. I love music a lot, but the way in for me has always been through writing.
LN: Besides your talents as a vocalist, what instruments do you play?
AC: Haha I don’t think I am much of a vocalist, but thanks. I play Guitar and am passable at Bass. I like to play Drums, but I am still just getting the hang of those.
LN: So how did you get involved with the online music community?
AC: It is sort of inevitable at this point that you distribute your music online as an independent artist. Access to online distribution is so easy now that it a no brainer. At the time that I started putting music out, Myspace was a big website, and posting songs on there exposed me to a whole lot of people, and it sort of grew from there. Since then, I found the Wizard Rock community that was just figuring out what it was going to be, and a while later was introduced to a number of other musicians who made their names online. It feels great, to be part of a community that has members spread across the globe, but are all just as close and interconnected as if we were all in the same town.
LN: Tell us about the Dial Up Tour. What was it like being involved in a tour of such epic proportions?
AC: In scale , Dial Up Tour was larger than anything I had been involved in before. It was a step up in almost every way. The venues we were playing were larger, the crowds were larger, and we even had a tour bus. A tour bus!! Pretty insane. I definitely felt like we had stepped into something new, but at the same time, it was just a tour. I was essentially doing what I have been doing for 5 years on my own, just with more people watching. It was a lot of fun though, not having to worry about anything but going out onstage and putting on a great show for 30 minutes every night, instead of having to work through all the logistics that I normally have to when I am acting as tour manager as well as a performer. I hope to get to do all that again. With a few tweaks, I think that a sequel to the Dial Up Tour would be even bigger and better.
LN: Awesome! Now your latest album, Fire Is Catching, came out just last month. What can you tell us about it?
AC: I am really proud of it. Fire is Catching is my second EP of songs about one of my favorite book series – The Hunger Games. I wrote an EP called Freedom in Panem in 2010, which I was very happy with. I decided to take the songs that had been swimming around in my head since then, and record them and Fire is Catching was the result. I took a bit more time on it, and put a bit more production work into Fire is Catching, and people have been really positive in their response to it. I tried to do some things that I had never done before on this album. My favorite song to record was “President Snow”, which I modeled on a Disney villain song. I liked getting to step into the shoes of a bad guy, since it is something I very very rarely do. I liked the turns of phrase I was able to use, but it still makes me feel a little weird to sing it. It feels weird to be the bad guy. Order of the Phoenix Foreva.
LN: “President Snow” is quite different from the rest of the album, and one of my favourite vocal performances of yours to date. Who performs on the track?
AC: I think the entire album is sort of a hodgepodge of styles, just like the books. I tried to give each song its own sort of feel, corresponding to the character who is singing. I wrote the music for “President Snow”, and my good friend Pam Schaffer played the part beautifully on piano, and Toby Karlin lends a bit of saxophone to the end of the tune. I wanted something to sonically emulate the idea of the menacing dictator walking away, so I had Toby record just a little lick as a tag to the song.
LN: Longtime fans will surely recognize Toby’s signature sax snazz from his work in The Remus Lupins. When writing songs, do you have a formula you typically follow?
AC: Haha you say that , but TK almost never played Sax in the Lupins. It is funny that he is so well known for that. I usually will start with an idea. That will usually be the heart of the verse – a structure or conceit and then work the words and melody out at the same time. A lot of songwriters start with a tune, but that is always secondary to lyrics to the idea of a song when I am writing. The melody gets tweaked in the writing process, as do the words, but my process usually starts with a phrase or idea that I want to get across.
LN: He rarely did, but anyone who has ever witnessed him rip through Remember Cedric live has the experience burned into their brain forever! Besides your fulltime efforts, you’ve worked in quite a few side projects and one-off collaborations. Which has been your favourite, so far?
AC: I think my favorite collaboration would have to be the Oceanic Six. It was an album I did of songs about the TV show LOST, with Jason Munday and Luke Conard. The process of creating the songs was really based in everyone focusing on their strengths. I spent a lot of my time writing the music and lyrics, I think I had my hands in the lyrics of every song on that record. Jason and Luke focused on production, and those guys really know what they are doing, so everyone was focusing on their best traits and we came out with a record that I am still very proud of.
LN: I had a sneaking suspicion you’d say that! It’s truly a fantastic record. This is definitely a hard one, but what’s your favourite song to perform?
AC: My favorite song to perform will always be Looking for Trouble. I have had so many great onstage experiences with that song. The chorus has morphed from this anthem of defiance and strength (We’re going looking for trouble, We’re going to finish this once and for all) – to the most nonsensical party song (Bah bah etc) – but I love it. It is always great to play because even if the crowd has been asleep for the entire show, they always wake up for that song. I really miss playing it. There are others though, songs that mean a lot to me and I like to play for their cathartic power. Lovely Lily, I love playing that song. I love the words and getting to sing them. They always hit me. Lately, I have really liked singing songs where I get to be free of my guitar though, and just run around with a mic like a front man. Songs like Mr Eko, Start of Something, Wonderland. Those are a lot of fun, because I can get out into the audience’s face
LN: Absolutely. Well you know, someone will have to find you an acoustic guitar and the Common Room at Leakycon this August, and Looking For Trouble can come to life again.
AC: Fear not. Leaky will be epic.
LN: Common Room strictly optional, even. You’ve been known to perform in hallways, parks, and hotel lobbies as well.
AC: It is kind of a tradition at this point. The first HP con I went to, Lumos in 2006, I had the honor of getting to open for a LeakyMug podcast. And a lot of people could not get into that. So I decided to do another show in the common room the next day, and a ton of people showed up for it. It was pretty neat. Since then, I have played an acoustic impromptu show at every con. It is a great way to just connect with people and interact in a way that you can’t when you are separated by amps and a stage and huge speakers. I like the idea of there almost being a campfire feeling to a show, where everyone is singing along and being part of the performance and the music.
LN: I can say from experience that it’s a blast to participate in. Now you’ve played all over the continent (and abroad) in your years of touring. Where are some of your favourite places to perform?
AC: This is always a hard question to answer. People always get mad when you don’t say their city! Haha My favorite places to play change all the time, but I have always enjoyed shows in Orlando, Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. I just enjoy a city where the crowd isn’t afraid to give over to the moment and just enjoy the show with you. If you are at a show and your arms are crossed and you aren’t dancing or singing along, you are doing it wrong.
LN: Toronto has always been consistently included in this answer, to my great pride. A fun part of touring is all of the great and unique places to eat you encounter as you travel the country. What’s your favourite so far?
AC: Oh gosh. So many great restaurants. In Phoenix, I never miss eating at Chino Bandito – which is a Mexican/Chinese food fusion restaurant. I suggested that Pottercast check it out once on their tour. Melissa hated it. We almost stopped being friends cos she hated it so much. It was so sad. John liked it. One place I never miss in Washington DC is the legendary Ben’s Chili Bowl. It is a great chili and hot dog place. So good. Obama went there on his first day in DC. It is that good.
LN: Wow, a presidential recommendation. You’ve got this down. Have you ever had any major setbacks on tour? Any horror stories to share?
AC: There are always a ton of setbacks on any tour. Things come up and get solved more than once a day. Touring is kind of like tripping over a ton of cracks in the road for an entire summer. You are constantly moving forward, though sometimes it feels a bit out of control. My favorite setbacks always happen in situations where people do not know what they are getting into with a show. This has happened at cons before, when the planners did not know what sort of equipment they would need. My favorite of these was at Prophecy in 2007. We were setting up for what turned out to be one of the best Wizard Rock shows ever, and we were informed that about half of the people lined up outside were going to get turned away because the room and sound system were not big enough. Paul DeGeorge and I were pretty upset about this and insisted that they expand the ballroom to its full size and that we would figure out a way to get enough sound to fill the space. So we went out to our vans and brought out the Remus Lupins PA system and the Harry and the Potters PA system, frankensteined them together, and were able to fix the problem and fill the huge room with sound. Actually, there have been a few cons since where something like this has happened. It is the errors and setbacks that memorable though. A perfect show isn’t memorable.
LN: Okay, favourite band. Go. Don’t even think about it.
AC: Phantom Planet.
LN: Excellent choice. Going with that thread, what’s on your bookshelf/in your Netflix queue/getting heavy rotation in your iTunes/etc right now?
AC: I have been rewatching a lot of Star Trek Deep Space 9. Which I really like. I recently finished watching Battlestar Galactica. I like science fiction. In terms of music, I have been listening to a lot of fun. and Of Monsters and Men this week. But I am always listening to new things. Always trying to remain inspired.
LN: That’s the way to do it. What can we expect from you in the future?
AC: More music. A lot more videos. I have some pretty exciting stuff in the offing, and hopefully this year, I will be able to put out a bit more music that is not themed, as well as follow up on making music about some of the universes I have toyed with in the past.
Thank you so much to Alex for taking the time to speak with us! You can keep up with Alex on his youtube channels, as well as on twitter. Alex will be performing at LeakyCon this year, on Thursday night, and is always available for hugs.