It’s 10 o’clock in the morning, and Carbon Tigers have shown up exactly on time to meet me. We start driving south, in a giant forest-green van that still bears the writing from the Baptist church that sold it to them. (The writing has since been painted over.) Drummer Jeff Simonelli has Pixies on the radio, and the glovebox is stuffed with Beatles albums. It’s not what I expected from a band like Carbon Tigers, whose sound is anything but minimalist or pop.
“We like to sort of merge the instruments together, so you hear less of the individual instruments and more of this force of sound,” explained Matt Irizarry, the lead guitarist. If there’s anything I learn from a day with the band, it’s to expect the unexpected.
Chris Wienke, the newest Carbon Tiger, breaks from casual chatter to wax on the band’s love of playing live. Not only does Wienke sing, he also knows his way around a keyboard. This helps with the fact that the Carbon Tiger approach to sound is, for lack of better words, huge. Layered. Wienke said the group is constantly experimenting and that the energy they bring to the table is only one of several things they enjoy about being a band.
It’s this devotion to tinkering that resulted in one of the great surprises in the band’s rapidly expanding catalog—such as recently released The Dover Sessions, Vol. 1: What I Say and What I Mean. And despite being “recorded at [their] house for little or no budget,” What I Say and What I Mean sounds technically on par with anything you’ll hear from a major label. It’s more focused than The Burrows, the band’s uneven 2010 debut. Granted, this was recorded when Carbon Tigers were mere cubs in terms of musical prowess. “We did learn to trim a lot of the fat,” Wienke said. “If you cross a certain line, [the song] gets too busy.”
When Carbon Tigers released The Burrows, comparisons to Minus the Bear were everywhere, but the group couldn’t be more eager to shed this comparison. They’ve since turned toward Arcade Fire and Young the Giant records for inspiration. In other words, they’ve progressed.
Once we arrive at the practice space, I’m struck by how professional everything becomes. Five minutes ago, I was listening to a story about how Wienke went to a party where people were getting tricked into eating dog food. Now it’s all business. Each member of the band hops out of the van, eager to work. I learn that the experimentation Wienke alluded to earlier isn’t taken lightly; everyone has been constantly recording and refining their own audio tracks. While the band performs an impromptu number, Wienke plays notes on a keyboard, guitarist Nick Cudone throws in a riff, and Aaron Sweatt and Simonelli introduce the bass and drum sections, respectively. Suddenly, it’s a song.
The energy in the room can only be described as atomic. It makes sense how a band this dedicated to their craft would be irresistible on stage. Audiences are taking notice apparently; Carbon Tigers won college Battle of the Bands competitions in 2010 and 2011, and they’ve opened for several notable acts, including Biffy Clyro and The Cool Kids.
“We never really stop playing with songs,” Cudone said in reference to the tune I just heard. “Some of them are instantaneous; this one we’ve been working on for a year.” The finished album, it seems, isn’t necessarily the end of this band’s creative process. “We should probably finish this one before we overthink it, huh?” contemplated Cudone, laughing.
Carbon Tigers’ hard work doesn’t stop in the studio. In addition to having an official website, they also have the following: a Facebook page, a Bandcamp page, a Flickr account, a YouTube channel, a Twitter handle, and a MySpace. While anyone can digitize themselves via social media, Carbon Tigers takes the time to create a series of webisodes.
To call Carbon Tigers “vigorous” would be an understatement. Not only do they painstakingly fit as much as possible into each individual note, they also encourage criticism. “None of us really get upset about input,” Wienke said. “I write lyrics, but lots of times [Irizarry] will tell me, ‘Maybe use this word instead?’ or, ‘Is this what you’re getting at with this line?’ and that pushes me into a lot of places that I wouldn’t normally go. That’s good for everybody.”
Carbon Tigers will play the first ‘Stache Bash at Subterranean. The first 30 people to buy pre-sale tickets will receive an exclusive invitation to a house show where the band will perform an acoustic set.
Both The Burrows and The Dover Sessions, Vol. 1: What I Say and What I Mean, are available for download on their Bandcamp page.