Tim Carbone is a busy, busy man. His band Railroad Earth is embarking on one of the busiest summer tour schedules they’ve seen. As one of the main producers for the LoHI record label, he’s constantly turning out stellar work on the knobs from established acts like Great American Taxi. Add to that his recent travels abroad, and it’s a wonder he ever has a chance to sit down, much less add anything else to his work slate. That said, Tim Carbone is diving right into the newest material from his all-star side band The Contribution. With members of The String Cheese Incident, Everyone Orchestra, New Monsoon, and more. The Contribution is readying their new album and releasing a new single “Passengers Of Darkness.” They are living up to their name by contributing to society, with all proceeds from the new single going to the voter registration non-profit HeadCount!
With all these exciting things on the docket, we thought it might be a good time for our own Rex Thomson to sit down with Mr. Carbone and go in depth about his thoughts and designs. Check out the debut of The Contribution’s new single below, then read on for our chat with the prolific musician and producer, Tim Carbone, below.
“Passengers Of Darkness”
Live For Live Music: Railroad Earth just moved past their fifteenth anniversary. You guys not only survived, you seem to be thriving. When did you start to realize this was gonna be a thing that could very well be your life’s work?
Tim Carbone: I kinda knew pretty much from the get go. I always saw that it was a good band, and after the first couple of tours it was obvious that people were enjoying it too, that we were going over. Once we had that, we started honing it. I guess I knew pretty much right away. Not instantly, but right away.
L4LM: From those early days to now, Railroad Earth has developed a rather rabid and dedicated fan base. Does it make it easier playing for uber fans, as they may be more forgiving, or harder, as you really want to be sure and give them the best show?
TC: For me, it has never been a problem. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have much of a choice about that. As a player, you, know . . . personally . . . I only have one gear that I am stuck in. I just play my ass off. Sure, I may have better days because of how I physically feel. I’m blessed though in that, even if I do feel sick or am fighting something off, when I play, all that seems to go away until I stop playing. For me, it’s all about letting go of everything. I have a pretty good facility with my instrument, so I just kinda let go and something kinda steps in. I’m never 100% sure that its all me. I never take full responsibility or credit for what I do. It’s like riding a third rail.
L4LM: So if you encountered some sort of cosmic entity that could prove it was your muse, would you feel liable to kick part of your royalties their way?
TC: “Hey, how much of no money would you like?” (Laughter)
Tim Carbone: I’ve never heard it called that, but I am definitely aware of it. I’ve experienced it.
L4LM: We just had a chat with Andrew Altman, and he mentioned there was some new Railroad Earth material on the way. Anything you want to share there?
Tim Carbone: We’ve got six new songs, which is cool. One of them is mine, which is kinda cool, because I rarely get one in there. We’re going to be doing a video, which looks like it is gonna be interesting to a song Todd (Shaeffer) wrote called “Add My Voice.” It will have footage from some of the marches that have been happening since the election. We’re psyched about it, it looks like it is gonna be cool. That’s gonna be coming out sooner than I thought. Sometime in the next couple weeks actually. We also have one last song that we haven’t even played live yet. It’s called “Captain Nowhere,” and it’s pretty cool. The song has a very interesting melodic shape to it and hopefully people will dig it. We’re stoked.
L4LM: Altman also mentioned that you folks were embracing the newer “single song at a time” constant-content way of doing things. How do you like this method?
Tim Carbone: I’m torn a little bit. I’m such an old school guy. I still appreciate the concept of making a whole record that serves as a statement from the band. Maybe we need to find some combination of methods. I love the idea of putting out singles and eventually an LP of ten songs on it. Say an album is ten songs, so you set it up so you release five singles—every other song, basically. When you get done with that, you release the ten-song collection and say “Hey, if you liked those songs, here’s ten more.” Another cool concept would be to put out two EPs—five songs each, like a ten-inch record instead of a twelve. You could do two of those in a year, then put them out as a little box set with a cool package with some unique art work. Maybe there is more than one way to skin a cat.
L4LM: Your touring schedule for the summer is jam packed. Are you looking forward to hitting the road so intensely?
Tim Carbone: I always love to play. This upcoming summer is going to be maybe the busiest we ever have had. I prefer to work than to not work, but that’s just me.
L4LM: You’re involved with a couple of really interesting side projects, like the LoHi record label. How is that going?
Tim Carbone: Yeah, I’m still working with LoHi. We just put out a record from Great American Taxi, which is a fantastic record that’s doing well and high on the Americana charts.
L4LM: You’ve had plenty of experience on the other side of the console. The list of artists you’ve had a hand in bringing to life in the studio is awe inspiring.
Tim Carbone: I’m really lucky, blessed actually. I get to work with a lot of really talented people, and I love it. I get a lot of energy from it. It is a great pleasure to be in the room with so many creative minds. And to have them allow someone to have creative input, and they’re not actually in the band. . . That’s amazing. When you’re a producer, you have to wear a lot of different creative hats, and not the same ones all the time. With that Great American Taxi one, I almost felt like I was a member of the band.
L4LM: Do you try and predetermine what sort of input you are going to have, or is it all on the fly?
Tim Carbone: I’ve developed a sixth sense in my own way. I get the songs, and when I start on my production notes, I focus on how it sounds to me as a listener. I try and detach myself from my work role and focus on how the song makes me feel as a listener. I take notes on those kinds of things. Sometimes when you’re a songwriter, it’s easy to get caught up in things that may be similar thematically, that you have done before. Like say, come out of a verse and go into a chorus, or tend to accent a note after this point or that.
I open myself to shaping a song so that it gets to the point a little bit faster, if that makes any sense. Not to take away from it, but to try and help make everything clearer. How could you utilize the instrumentation to make things more expressive? What could you strip away to make the message clearer? These are the things I think about.
I am a big fan of reductive production, reductive mixing. I am not about adding more. I want to distill it to what is the most unique and good, and find ways to make the point be heard. And sometimes that means taking something away that might be distracting from that. I’ve found that eight times out of ten, I am going with my original production notes. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, and I’ve found that those seem to resonate with the artists the most as well.
Tim Carbone: I haven’t produced a hip-hop album, but I just finished recording an album with a woman named Daniella Katzir, and she used some really interesting material. I really enjoyed working with a keyboard player named Borham Lee, who is part of Break Science. He brought a whole new skill set to the mix. I’m getting some opportunities to bring some other sonic and tonal elements to the project. Borham has been a real pleasure to work with there. He is so creative beyond just the actual keys. And I am working with some different horn arrangers and getting different feels to the songs. Daniella kinda reminds me of Sia, and some of it has an EDM edge. Some of it is even kinda singer-songwriter-y, kinda girly. Her diversity is actually one of the things that is easy to struggle with, bringing all the things she can do together cohesively.
Actually, I have recorded a lot of different stuff over the course of my career. The Americana and other “jam band-y” stuff is the reality I live in now, but before I joined Railroad Earth, I recorded blues albums, jazz albums, Christian music, lot of folk and singer-songwriter stuff, even a classical orchestra. I’ve been doing this a while now. Daniella’s record is my sixtieth album production wise.
L4LM: Most impressive! How much more difficult would working as a producer for RRE be than working for a band you aren’t in?
TC: I would never do that. I “co-produce” in that I will always want to have some say, but there isn’t enough money. There would need to be a dump truck full of money to do it. Mostly it’s because the band already has enough producers.
L4LM: Makes sense that everyone would want a say in it. Besides, how tempting would it be to just go “I think the fiddle should be turned up here…”
TC: Exactly. The fiddle always should be louder. Self-interest is only natural, and it is better, I think, to come at it from the outside. When I mix a record and the band wants to be there, I always say, “Just one or two people. Preferably one.”
L4LM: Let’s talk about your newest work with your side project The Contribution? Who have you got working with you in this iteration of the band?
TC: Originally we had Jeff Miller and Phil Ferino from New Monsoon. Our bass and drums were Keith Mosely and Jason Haan from The String Cheese Incident. I used the vocal trio The Black Swan Singers, and they joined a few of the limited amount of live shows we did in promotion of the first record, Which Way World. During those shows, one of the Swans, Sheryl Renee, and the band hit it off, and she asked about joining. I started writing songs with her in mind, and here we are five years later.
We’ve had to switch out drummers a couple of times. We used two different ones on this one. On seven of them we have Matt Butler from the Everyone Orchestra, and the other three have Duane Trucks from Widespread Panic. The Monsoon guys, Sheryl, and I are the core that will be going out on the road, but for the live shows, we will probably be using the rhythm section from a band called Fruition. Jeff Leonard and Tyler Thompson are great guys, and I love that band.
L4LM: When I was looking at the instrument attribution, I noticed that the entire band was listed as “The clappers.” I’ve always been a huge fan of the hand clap, and it has always bugged me not knowing who was responsible. So thanks for that.
Tim Carbone: I have a way of recording claps where I have folks clap on their finger, then I get them switch to the meaty part of their hands. I want the full range of claps!
L4LM: You’re partnering up with HeadCount to release the first single from The Contribution with the sales going towards that organization. Can we assume the current political tumult was behind this decision?
TC: People have been assuming that, but we started working on this record seriously at the start of last year, way before the election. Besides, I have been working with HeadCount for like thirteen or fourteen years now. It was always on my mind that we wanted to work with this charitable group first. We want to continue to work with groups and causes like this that we believe in. The song itself is one about truth and transparency. Our publicist Erin Scholze, however, pointed out how perfectly the song worked well as a metaphor for the recent election.
L4LM: HeadCount does a lot of good work in the area of getting folks involved with politics. Their work, out of necessity, is non-partisan. Do you worry about possibly alienating a segment of your fan base by picking a side?
TC: In my comments about “Passengers Of Darkness,” I try to focus on the general, things like lack of transparency and such, which can lead to chaos wherever it is. I tried not to be specific, but it isn’t to hard for people to know exactly what the hell I am talking about. As far as being concerned about it, I suppose I am the most likely person in Railroad Earth to just bluntly speak my mind. Not sure who reads my various social media posts, but I try and keep my discussions and opinions wide open. I won’t ban anyone or anything like that unless they get too out there or just nasty.
In Railroad Earth, we try and keep things a bit more general. We are a band, and as humans, we generally agree, but people come to the table with different thoughts. With The Contribution, things are a bit more lyrically based in a Buddhist vibe, so they are even a bit more opaque. But on my social media accounts, that is all me. I like to say what I feel and mean what I say.
L4LM: Sounds like you have ten thousand plates spinning at once right now between the new album, new music and tour with Railroad Earth, and all the production work. Thanks for squeezing in a few minutes to talk to us about all you impressive doings!
Tim Carbone: Hey man, thanks for spreading the word. Much appreciated!