The duo comprising Carptree talk collaborative composition, the profoundly human mayfly, and the future of physical music media.
Carl, Niclas, thanks for taking the time to chat tonight.
Niclas: Happy to.
Y’all have been playing together as Carptree all throughout the growing popularity of progressive music over the last 20 years. What has changed for the band between 1997 and 2019?
C: Oohh… not much really. The principles for our writing is the same, we do it together… OK the technique has changed, we have changed musicians and ways to record, but emotionally for me it’s the same.
N: Well, I guess a lot and not much… Life has happened, that’s for sure. Who we have worked with has had some minor changes (from start to now) and our modus operandi has changed a bit as well, probably. But I have the feeling it has been very slowly and organic in any case.
C: And as you’ve noticed, we live far away from each other, which has made new solutions necessary: writing together over videolink for example…Honestly I think the musical environment has change more than me and Niclas.
I was wondering about the writing process. Do y’all prepare individual bits to start with, or is a call to say “hey, time to write” and then you work from scratch?
C: No, we don’t start from scratch. Most often me or Niclas has some short piece to start with and we send it over to the other to digest and recreate…then we listen together to the result.
N: We have known each other for a very long time…that helps I think…and the differences between us is something that makes Carptree. We have different roles, me being hopeless. It varies with the impulses but clearly Carl is waaaayyy more organised and a better workhorse. But it is something going back and forth. It is a sort of communication, making the music.
C: I do the recording and arranging. And yes, I am more organized than Niclas in that sense, but still, when Niclas takes his time to really digest my (sometimes) poor ideas it can end up with a new song.
So, Niclas, do you find yourself usually immediately in sync with what Carl is sending you, or is there a lot of back-and-forth before you are both happy with the direction new music is taking?
N: Come to think of it…it is like we both have a feeling of what we are looking for, but we still have to find it to know what it is.
C: Actually, the first song on Subimago is kind of making a reference to that. Kind of…
C: Yep, the many years helps a lot, we have a language for things we like, which can be a bit abstract for other people of course. Niclas might say “we need GOOD mellotrons” and I know what he means directly. “Welcome” is a very good example, yes! And not to mention…the second song! Niclas gave me a quite silly recording made on some iPad or so… it’s not much left BUT the nice melody is left.
Interesting; “Welcome” is as much the band addressing itself as it an invitation to the audience?
C: Yes! I actually said to myself, “Now I am going to write the opening for the album.” Just called it welcome… and then Niclas added a lot, and kept the title. Yes, “Welcome” is an invitation. And a description of what is. And about the creative process as something deeply human.
I’ve always enjoyed when artists offer a clear opening statement to an album. Was “Welcome” written toward the end of the process, or did it help to set the direction early on?
C: Hmm, I cannot remember really? Somewhere in the middle perhaps?
N: That is a messy bit, as I seem to remember. We very often work simultaneously and to me chronology is lost…
“By Your Own Device” [the aforementioned second song] does feature a lovely melody in the chorus that contrasts with the sounds elsewhere in the song.
C: Yep, just that melody is the remnant of Niclas’ initial recording, the ending part we wrote later on I think? But still Niclas’ nice melody.
Really, throughout Subimago you feature relatively bright keys & vocals versus sludgier elements in the rhythm section. What do y’all like about the contrast of light and dark in choosing sounds for your songs?
N: To me, the song is something we must do right by, we have to find what it deserves—or leave it. And have respect for each other’s different ideas. This is hard to get a clear view of.
C: Of course I like the contrasts…That’s what symphonic rock is to me, not to be sure about what will happen next. But still, it needs to be compositions, we don’t emphasize the contrasts until the most of the song is written.
N: Yes. It must be a composition. Naked first and dressed at the end.
C: There are parts where I was planning for huge arrangements, just bring in everything! And then Niclas sings something just the contrary, which turns everything upside down…
N: The writing process kind of moves us to where it is finished and there is sometimes no way of predicting, as indicated by Carl, what it will be.
That approach to composition stands out with Carptree—many progressive bands are flash first, song later (if at all), but y’all’s tracks feel fully composed and the arrangements simultaneously bombastic and restrained.
C: “Bombastic and restrained,” I liked that.
It’s that contrast…
N: Thank you, personality and process combined I guess.
C: We actually don’t let ourselves arrange the songs until they are written.
Speaking of contrasts, in our review of Subimago, MusicTAP described the music as “retro and futurist at the same time,” and reaching for light in a dark world. What do you see as you look to the future—personally, musically, societally?
C: We made two albums in a short time, musically I can see that we won’t record a new album the nearest year, but after that we’ll start again and record our best album ever!
N: I liked that, retro and futurist, without knowing exactly what it means. The “light” part also hits something right…Getting back to the writing process, that too was an indicator to that, in how that felt.
C: You see, my problem is that the world around me always spin a bit too slow, which gives me time to think about things like that…
N: And to me the world spins fast as I try to understand it. If we use the names of the albums as a lead… Carl is right. Hopefully!
C: And yes, there are retro elements, of course, I live to play organ nowadays, and mellotrons…but still I hope the songs are not that retro, perhaps they actually are from the future? (sorry, I just had two beers) Or perhaps, even the songs are retro? As we never focus on technical skills or licks, but more on the compositions.
N: Absolutely! The future isn’t what it used to be so maybe it needs to be both to become at all what it should be? Yes. Composition as the most important instead of everything else. Finding the song.
Yeah, what is your interest in the life cycles of insects (going back to Niclas’ comment on the album names)?
C: Oh finally! Please let me know!
Niclas, I take it the album titles are of your choosing?
C: You mean the album and not the song titles?
N: Well yes… but not without Carl liking it.
C: Yes, with the two last albums that is a clear fact, you just gave me your proposed titles and I liked and approved! With the earlier albums I don’t really remember?
N: I like aquatic insects best, and there is nothing like mayflies! The metamorphosis is astounding! And every word that is used about them are profoundly human to me. As metaphors, symbols, etc.
Do you have in mind the brevity of the mayfly’s life?
N: The brevity is one thing, but the two final stages makes them unique. Emerger is a theme as well, Nymf. Insects are in a lot of the song in the lyrics. They are a very good way of thinking about humans.
Continuing the theme of retro and future: with the revived popularity of vinyl, many progressive bands who “came of age” during the time of the CD (i.e., the 90’s) and got used to recording 60+ minute albums are now having to choose between releasing double-LPs, no vinyl at all, or different versions of an album for vinyl and CD. Y’all have released several albums on vinyl and tend to stick to that 40-50 minute run-time. Do you compose your music with an eventual vinyl release in mind, or has it just turned out that way?
C: Actually I got tired of all the long CDs, even our own. We have a quite short attention span as humans, 35-40 minutes is perfect for a school lecture, as an example, if it lasts longer you don’t remember the last ten minutes…The LP gives us that limit automatically, and that is good!
N: First, I prefer to think in terms of albums. As songs are composed they are in relation to the others and make a whole that is not arbitrarily put together. And I agree with Carl.
C: But I know this is old-fashioned thinking… my daughters don’t even know what an album is?! But they still love music. I for one, though, I love the “album concept,” I hate to listen to a song from a good album in a different order than the one on the album, and so, I don’t like compilation or “best of” albums.
That sequencing, cohesion, and time limit is so important for an album’s impact.
Even a lot of the classic double albums from the 70’s are shorter than a typical CD from, say, 1998.
N: Hmmmm…There is something important that I can’t put my finger on in this…
C: Yep. But one funny thing! Nowadays the factories say that anything longer than 18 minutes on each side is too long…it won’t sound good. BUT please listen to Selling England By The Pound, it’s well over 50 minutes! Today no one can manufacture vinyl as back in the day.
N: Ah, there it is…Disappearing crafts…
C: Oh yes, sad, but give it some more years and they’ll get it back, hopefully.
It matters where the records are made. I’ve noticed that new records coming out of Germany look and sound fantastic, whereas a lot of the US and Czech pressings are pretty messy. I have high hopes that things will improve, if vinyl continues to grow in popularity as a listening format and not just as a collector’s item.
C: Your observation is right! We nowadays stay away from Czech pressings…German or Dutch is way better. BUT I have no big hopes in vinyl, I like it yes (I actually right now have two gramophones) and listen to only vinyl at home. But still…Do younger people buy vinyl? Let’s see what happens these next years.
It’s funny that you brought up SEBTP, as I was just thinking about that album in relation to Subimago. The clarity of the production, the song length, and the sequencing brings them together in my mind.
N: That is probably the nicest thing I’ve heard in a very long time!
C: Yes, that’s a nice thing to hear.
I don’t like always comparing new music to classic examples, but there’s a sonic mood to Subimago that is reminiscent.
N: Perhaps we are in the area of immaterial cultural heritage here? Listen to “Welcome” as it refers to that as well…
So, the songs are composed, the music arranged, we can listen on vinyl, CD, or download…any plans to tour the new music?
N: No tour for the moment.
C: I am from time to time a touring musician, but we have not toured with Carptree for long…A bit sad, we are in different places in life with different demands from the rest of the world.
As new technologies make recording and distributing music easier for independent artists, the logistics of touring seem to get more and more difficult.
C: Please let me disagree? Distribution is easier yes, but it’s really hard to even break even nowadays compared to 10 years ago. You can never sell as many LPs as you sold CDs 10 years ago, and Spotify is no money at all.
Ah, yes, that’s a fair point. I meant to to do it *at all,* not to financially benefit from it. Seems like most musicians have to treat that profession as a full-time side project to other work.
C: And please don’t misunderstand, we don’t do Carptree for the money, for obvious reasons…But it was easier a few years ago when we at least could buy new cables and stuff from the income from CDs.
Are y’all working on musical project other than Carptree?
N. No musical project other than Carptree for me…
C: Yes I am. Not any established acts at this time, but I have a new project coming…
I’m curious; between vinyl LPs, CDs, and downloads (from Bandcamp or otherwise), what does Carptree sell the most units of?
N: Carl has the best brain for that question…not sure, might still be CDs. Reingold Records have the CD and digital distribution and CDs are still much more than vinyl. Bandcamp is OK, but less than CDs or vinyl.
C: In Sweden you cannot sell more than a few copies of CDs, but in other countries you still can. But give it a year or two and the CD is out, sad to say.
It does seem to be going that way, though I wonder whether CDs will now be what vinyl was for 20 years—a collector’s item in general, but a mainstay in certain genres.
C: Yep, it might be so? I still like CDs, as well. But even if the LP is growing it is not near the figures as CDs were earlier, and perhaps it’ll stay as a curiosity collector’s item. I don’t know! I have, though, decided not to be bitter about it, the world changes, it’s just to adapt or go under. And perhaps there will be another cool thing coming.
N. Ahhh, the future…Carl mentioned the music consumption of his daughters earlier…An indicator?
Carptree’s exploration of metamorphosis tells me that y’all will be ready, whatever that new cool thing may be.
N: You’re too kind—but thank you.
Taylor Swift (and similar artists) sells the most downloads and gets the most streams, but also sells the most vinyl LPs worldwide.
C: Yep, let’s not be too negative. Something has to happen, some kind of regulation just from people’s minds.
N: Yes, it is still there for the the great masses. The multilayered undergrowth of music “industry” is another thing…
C: What I can say is that this is not a big issue for me, I will still be recording and writing music no matter in what form it will be released.
That’s the progressive spirit.
C: He he…don’t be too sure about that…I think there are some middle-aged men in outwashed Rush T-shirts swearing about “how things change.”
That’s the *regressive* prog fan.
N. Brilliant! Ahh! Nice! Let’s record some regressive rock songs!
Interestingly, I’ve never heard those sentiments from artists like Rush…only from the fans.
C: I agree, it’s only the fans, but please note, I was not too serious.
Understood. Is your Facebook page the best way for people to keep up with the latest Carptree news?
C: Yes, for now! We don’t post news any other place, actually.
N: Facebook page, I would say so.
Carl, Niclas, thank you again for your time and the insight into Carptree’s music. I’m already looking forward to the next album!
N: A pleasure! So do we!
C: Thanks! A pleasure!
Subimago is available via Bandcamp