Brian Carpenter On Avoiding Fast Food and Why He Makes Music On His Own Terms

March 1, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

With bands doing multiple consecutive dates, I think it makes more sense to rent a van to avoid repair costs, etc. You have enough stress just trying to make it to the venues in each city on time without having to worry about whether your vehicle is going to make it there or not. The Confessions, being a new band of 7 people, have done one-offs and we’ll just car pool with two vehicles. I did rent a truck for the trip we did to Philly since it was a longer trip for two nights and we were able to fit our gear plus 4 people in it. If it is a one-off, I think it’s important to try to make it a worthwhile trip…record on the radio in the town you’re in or try to line up some press so you get more for your travel expenses.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Avoid fast food at all costs. If you’re going on a tour longer than a week, I’ve tried to hit the supermarket at least once to try to cut down on costs. But if it’s less than a week, part of the fun of traveling is eating out at places people recommend and get an idea of the local cuisine. One of the bands I was in (Ghost Train Orchestra) recently toured through Washington DC and we hit this Ethopian place Dukem that was out of sight…one of the highlights of the trip. DC has a big Ethopian population so we took advantage of that.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I don’t play guitar enough in this band to warrant replacing strings that frequently. I almost never change my strings…it’s bad…they’re really dirty. But I think our lead guitarist Andrew Stern probably changes his strings several times a year as he’s playing all the time.

Where do you rehearse?

We use this place The Sound Museum in Allston where a lot of Boston bands rehearse. We’ve been using space for a long time. We used to rehearse in our drummer Gavin’s basement but once he had kids that became kind of impossible. Then we started getting used to just having all of the amps there and ready to go. The room we use is in a separate space than the other rooms in the complex so there’s almost no bleed. One thing that bothers me more now than it used to is hearing bleed from other bands when you’re trying to rehearse…to me it just defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to do.

Describe your first gig.

First gig ever must have been in Gainesville Florida at this little jazz club called the High Note. I played trumpet back then in this jazz group and this place was part of the Florida Theater, which is probably gone now. But it was this 1500-capacity place, really vile, filthy, huge room where bands like Skinny Puppy would come through and just destroy the place. It was great. The High Note was kind of the quaint little mafia hangout out of a David Lynch film right above the place which had a piano. It had a separate winding stairwell up to the top of it so clientele wouldn’t have to mix with the goths or metalheads downstairs. So anyone playing in the High Note would hear this dull roar from the theater below. I remember having fun with that band but I was just starting out and I’m sure it was laughably bad.  This would have been over 20 years ago.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I work for an engineering company now. I’ve been hopping around between different engineering firms since I went to college in the 90s. One of the best decisions I made early on was not to become a full-time professional musician. It’s not a decision I would advise for everyone…BUT for me it worked because I’m able to perform and record only the music I want to be involved with and nothing more. I don’t have to resort to playing weddings and funerals and God knows what else…I’m not well suited to do that in the first place. I would never be hired again. Also, working as both an engineer and musician allows me to work different parts of my brain. The two careers are fulfilling in different ways.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

I’m breaking even…and sometimes I do better than that. I’m making a little more now with some of the other bands because they’ve been around longer. But I never relied on music income to support myself so my perspective is going to be different than someone who needs to do music for a living. In 2016, I think there are better ways to make money than making music, unless you are going to be touring non-stop.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

The one thing I learned is that a whole lot of people, and I would include myself in this group, are able to work across many different areas and genres. I didn’t branch out very much early in my career. I was stuck in the jazz and classical world for many years before ever turning to songwriting. It’s best to throw a lot of ideas against the wall and see what sticks, and you want to try these experiments as early as you can in your career. You might surprise yourself.

The Far End of the World is the debut full-length album from Brian Carpenter & the Confessions, a Boston-based band led by Brian Carpenter (Beat Circus, Ghost Train Orchestra). The album transports the listener into another world filled with haunting imagery, reverb-drenched guitar, and Carpenter’s dry baritone evoking desire, loss, loneliness, and separation. The album was recorded by Rafi Sofer at Q Division in the winter in Boston and mixed by Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Neko Case) in the deserts of Tucson, Arizona.

The album turns a corner in Capenter’s songwriting to dig deeper into a place of vulnerability and intimacy to create a bond with the listener. While “Savior of Love” explores the anxieties of forbidden love, the romantic unraveling begins with the next song “Lost at Sea.” The rest of the album further explores the complexities of desire, separation, feeling lost, memory, and rumination.

Carpenter has collaborated with members of the Decemberists, Neutral Milk Hotel, Arcade Fire, Marc Ribot; comic book writer Harvey Pekar and Carla Kihlstedt (who appears on the new record). Others on the album include Gavin McCarthy (Karate), David Michael Curry (Thalia Zedek), Larkin Grimm, and others.

Connect with Carpenter online and view his latest video here.