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May/June 2018

by Erica McQueen

Carb On Carb: Dietary Supplement

by Erica McQueen

Carb On Carb: Dietary Supplement

Indie rock/emo act Carb On Carb came together in 2012. Listing the achievements of Nicole Gaffney (vox, guitar) and James Stuteley (vox, drums) since the duo’s conception would make for a long list. They frequently play across the ditch and have toured the States, South East Asia and China. Their DIY ethos is also strong with a new self-released album due to follow their 2015 self-titled album in May. Erica McQueen caught up with James ahead of the release.

Carb On Carb is emo on pop-punk. James Stuteley and Nicole Gaffney form the duo that has toured extensively, notably opening for Mac DeMarco in Singapore in 2013.

Released in early May their sophomore album ‘For Ages’ is a sonically and lyrically tied album that addresses themes of resilience, growing up in NZ, and pursuing music despite pressures to conform to society’s expectations.

“For the second album, we wanted to make it more hi-fi. And also wanted to work with the mix engineer, Chris Teti.” [Of Silver Bullet Studios, CT, USA.]

Their 2015 self-titled debut album was engineered and mixed by James Goldsmith in Wellington. By contrast ‘For Ages’ is a largely international release, recorded by Dylan Adams in Sydney and mastered by Dan Courtant at Sun Room Audio in New York. 

Stuteley says he and Gaffney had a clear structural vision from the beginning.

“We started off with the length of the album we wanted and how many songs, so it was always going to be about half an hour, 10 or 11 songs. Because that’s what our favourite is. You want it to be able to fit into realistic spaces of time, like a commute. There’s a bunch of albums that I would always listen to and have the last song playing as I walked into work. It makes it more consumable as a whole.”

In terms of the writing process, lyrics were in many cases added after the music.

“We’d written maybe half the songs and then we spent some time talking about it with a friend of ours, Miles [Sutton] from the band Prizegiving in Wellington. We spent a couple of days talking it over and talking about ideas. So we sort of had like the skeleton of an album. We actually wrote a lot of the lyrics afterwards. We had almost the whole album done, but still half the lyrics not done. That also helped with the cohesiveness.”

The album’s sense of cohesion is further enhanced by the artwork which was created by Gaffney. Having studied art at Massey University in Wellington she does all the design for the band.

Before moving to Wellington himself to study politics, James cut his teeth in the Whanganui music scene.

“There was this house venue called the Eye of the Night which was run by this guy. I don’t know how but he used to get these crazy lineups in a lounge… bands touring from Canada and France. We were underage and we would just go to everything. We went to really extreme experimental noise shows and classic rock music. It was a really exciting and inspiring place. And so I’ve always had that in my head as the ultimate venue.”

Talking about the opening track, Fake Meat/Real Friends, Stuteley explains that he thinks a lot about the future, as in, ‘Do we need meat from a lab to survive or do we just not need meat?’ A vegetarian, he sees the song as opening a conversation which is the album, but it’s light-hearted stuff.

“It’s a joke because among our friends we’re known for liking fake meat!”

Home Again 2 gives a nod to Shihad’s rather famous track. The song captures the idea that home is not a place, rather about communities as Carb On Carb sing, ‘What do I call home, where do I call home?’

Stutely explains that Man Says is written from the perspective of Gaffney as a teenager when she started playing in bands.

Man Says is a personal joke, it was the name of her first band.”

It has strong currency as it’s about finding her feet in the male-dominated music scene. Gaffney sings, ‘Anything but ordinary, I’m not like the others, Blend in, but stand out, Be tough, but stay soft, Be one of the boys, Get hurt playing guitar, I’ll assimilate…’

It’s Been A Rough Year is also about resilience – ‘You’re in control, you’re not alone… give yourself credit, you’re still here, it’s been a rough year…’

It’s Been A Rough Year was sort of the one we picked as the most, like fun accessible entry to the album, so that was the one we picked. Nicole’s Express was the one picked by people we showed it to early on. People just kept coming back saying, ‘That’s my favourite.’ We didn’t really think of it as a single.

“That one’s sort of about when she was deciding whether or not to do Girls Rock! Camp NZ. She’d done one in Canberra and then people in NZ were starting it up and she was deciding whether she wanted to be one of the organisers, or whether she wasn’t ready.”

She was, and they are. Carb On Carb have produced an album that acknowledges life’s real challenges but encourages listeners to hang in, to be resilient, to believe in a brighter future. With that in the bag (out on Stuteley’s own Papaiti Records) they’re ready to take the album’s songs to Kiwi audiences before getting back to Australia for more shows there.