This "5 and Dime" interview was conducted long-distance via telephone with Carbon 9's vocalist Stacey Quinealty when he phoned me from sunny and warm southern California on February 4, 2009.
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Stacey. Best of luck to you and your Carbon 9 band mates on the release of your latest record, "The Bull." Please start off by introducing your band's members, tell my readers how Carbon 9 got started, and describe your band's sound.
I'm Stacey Quinealty and I'm the lead vocalist. I program all of the music and I write the music, lyrics, and melodies. Our guitar player, Darwin DeVitis, writes all of the guitar stuff with me. Matty Milani is on drums and Omar Brancato plays bass guitar. We do a live theatrical show, so all of our performance art and backing vocals are handled by Danny Cistone.
We were all performers at Universal Studios in Hollywood in various theatrical shows that they have as singers and musicians. We met there and decided to put a band together that would stay true to ourselves and be a little different and unique than what everybody else was doing in Los Angeles. It all began from that point, we've had a few changes over the years, but we've stayed a real tight-knit family.
We have a unique sound, but we've finally been able to be classified. We fit real well in the alternative extreme rock/hard rock category. We're really heavy guitars, tuning down to B and C on some stuff, but with melodic vocals. There's also a little bit of an industrial influence and tribal influence within the songs. All of the band members have different backgrounds and musical tastes. We've always been adamant about everybody bringing their own style to the table. That's given us our different sound and we evolved from Day One till now.
How would you describe us Dave?
I'm not familiar with your earlier records but I would say "The Bull" is industrial and at the same time melodic. I think your songs on this record pound the head, but they also touch the soul. I highly recommend that any music fans reading this interview check out Carbon 9's unique sound at your website (www.carbon9.com) and MySpace page (www.myspace.com/carbon9). They won't be disappointed.
Our first album, "Systemaddict," was very industrial but it was still musical. The lyrical content was a little hard to grasp; it was too deep. Our second album, "COTM, Renewed Beginnings," shifted to more of a basic rock tone and the lyrics were more heart-felt, as if we were going through some tough times. It was all about moving forward. With our latest, "The Bull," we tried to combine the two elements. It was very challenging to sound like the band was really playing the album while keeping all of the industrial sequencing. The first time it was mostly sequencing with the band being placed on top. The second time it was the band with the sequencing being placed after. This time, on our third album, we wanted a marriage of the two.
More than one writer in the southern California music press has dubbed Carbon 9 "the hardest working band in Los Angeles." What was Carbon 9's approach trying to stand out and get noticed in a very crowded L.A. music scene?
Most bands get out and play live, try to get people to come see them, and then they cut a record. Our first approach was just the opposite. We put a whole package together before we ever played out. We had a CD in our hand and a live show constructed with theatrics before we played our first show. We started right away with a package, an idea, with a branding of the band and what we really were. We've stayed true to that ever since. Then what we did was where most bands play once a month in Los Angeles to not over-play, we wanted to play a minimum of four times a week. We did that constantly to blast our name out there and to get a fan base. Our live show is about the decline of humanity due to the advances of technology. It's a soul-searching show. We get real deep. We use a synchronized video and theatrics to explain our story. Because we use so much technology in our live show, we also created an acoustic version. It's stripped down to acoustic guitars and tribal drums. No electronic anything! If you see the band with all of the electronics and all of the computers on stage, then you go see our acoustic show, it's two completely different things. But they're both awesome. Everybody is crazy, has a good time, and loves the band at our regular live show. At the acoustic show everybody walks out in tears. Yet the lyrics are all the same. Another approach is that we never stop. We're constantly recreating shows. We're constantly recording. We have three albums and two EPs that we've produced and recorded on our own. Because we never stop, several people have labeled us "L.A.'s hardest working band."
When you sell out a club, all of the clubs talk, and that helps get you booked into a bigger room. After selling out The Roxy and the Whiskey A Go-Go, we can now play anywhere in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, when we started, was a pay-to-play city. That dissipated, but now it's back with a vengeance. But our thing is that we refuse to pay to play. We never ever have paid to play and we never will. That theory doesn't make sense to me. We've created something that people want to come out and see. Once they get there, they are spending money buying drinks. We started out at the smaller clubs where you didn't need to pay, and we started building a fan base. Within a year, we were headlining The Whiskey. It can really happen that fast if you start small, start drawing crowds, and get your name in all of the papers. You can get around paying to play that way.
Playing in front of our L.A. fan base, and using the Internet to get our name bombarded out there has helped us sell so many CDs. We managed to reach listeners all around the world who want to have a copy of the CD or download all of the songs. You have to also hit up the Internet radio stations. If you're cool, they're likely to play your album. If you're an asshole, they probably won't, even if the music is good. Internet radio play leads to satellite radio. Once you get on the bigger stations, you can really move your product. We appreciate the support from everyone. The biggest thing for Carbon 9 period is that we're laid-back. We're a bunch of cool guys playing music trying to get our point across as opposed to pretending to live in this pretentious world.
The L.A. music press has been wonderful to us. They've been tremendous. Yet it's a give- and-take situation. They are all businesses trying to succeed and survive. If you have things to offer them, they help you, and it becomes a really positive environment. We're just lucky that our band is a phenomenal band live. When the music magazines come out to review us, we always hear that they've never seen anything like this, especially in the club scene. Our live show kicked it all off for us. If you hear the record, then see us live, it's the same if not better.
We've also been able to place our music in films like "The Calling," "The Killer Ants," and a couple others. I produced two songs for "Scoobey Doo 2 - Monsters Unleashed." The whole band wrote and played on those songs. I do corporate stuff for McDonald's and Mitsubishi. It helps that we're Los Angeles-based, but placing songs in film and on television is still possible no matter where you are if you have a good management team.
The Los Angeles cultural environment has definitely had a role in the evolution of Carbon 9. Yet couldn't we reverse that premise and say that the environment is shaped by the individual?
By the way, Dave, that's an excellent question. I believe that I'm 100% in control of my personal environment. We all are in control other than having some natural disaster occur. Cities evolve, people evolve, and we as a band have evolved. Instead of sitting still and fighting change, in our case the music industry, the best thing is always to try to evolve with it, and at the same pace. If I'm in a situation that I don't like to be in, or one that makes me feel a certain way, staying there will change me and force me to evolve in a different direction. All I have to do is leave. I can walk away from that situation and stay true to myself. Major labels approached us and wanted us to change this and change that. We said no. Changing Carbon 9 wasn't the right evolutionary process for me. We knew what we were doing, and we believed in ourselves, and we wanted to stay true. Adding horns in my music is not Carbon 9! I like to think that I can control my own destiny. You have to have a real positive outlook on life and you have to respect people, even if you don't like them. There's good in almost everything; all you have to do is find it. That's the start to understanding life.
The same southern California music press that I mentioned earlier has also called Carbon 9 "Los Angeles' best-kept secret." As your band pursues national and international success, isn't that a title that your band is anxious to shed? If so, what's Carbon 9's game plan?
Absolutely Dave. We are ready to leave the "best-kept secret" title behind. We want the whole planet to know who we are, and we want to play our music everywhere. What we do is a little advanced for the club scene. A lot of people didn't know what to do with us. We had our own sound that wasn't easily classified. Now the Internet lets all of the different styles of music get heard. Our huge live show, with synchronized video talking about technology destroying humanity, is fascinating. It built us a huge fan base yet it scared away the big labels who always want to take the safe route. They look to see what's selling right now and sign three bands just like them.
Out of all the labels that have approached us and all of the major distribution deals that Carbon 9 has been offered, none of them felt right. The deal we just signed with WorldSound Music allows us 100% creative control. Everything we do has a reason. Our albums, from "Systemaddict" to "COTM" to "The Bull," have a storyline. They all follow an original story that we wrote years ago. Our whole live show follows the technological aspects of that story. It was really important to us to stay on the path that we are on. Changing any of the elements would change the concept and would change the whole band. WorldSound is letting us create our own artwork and they are letting us self-produce our songs. We're experienced and we know what we're doing. It's great that they'll give us the freedom to stay who we are.
Our deal with WorldSound is similar to a 360 deal. They handle the business side and we handle the creative side. We retain the rights to all of the stuff that we own and create. They don't take our music and our publishing. They don't own our masters. We're a true partnership. We deliver everything they need immediately, and they deliver everything we need. Their main thing is to get they album out. All of the printing and pressing was handled by them. We have Koch distribution and their distribution is worldwide. It's a great working relationship.
Touring outside Southern California will also help us lose the "best-kept secret" title. We can leave right now and do a headlining club tour around the U.S. but we'd really like to get on a bigger tour. We should know something real soon. I mentioned before that we would never pay to play on the club scene, but if we were opening for another band in front of 15,000 people night after night, I'll leave the decision of buying on to a tour in the hands of our label. They can decide if that's the right thing to do or not. It's against my belief system but if it comes down to getting major exposure, with a band that we gel with stylistically, then those fans might go out and buy our album. That might be worth it.
Playing the shorter set will still let us get our message across. But I'll have to sit down and very carefully choose the set. All three albums do tie in message-wise. The songs will have to flow and the message will need continuity. Carbon 9 is not a band that talks or tunes guitars between songs. There are segue ways that happen that tell the story and explain the information that's going on. That's a big part of our set. I definitely will have to re-design our entire live show and re-construct those segue ways before certain songs to shorten down the details and get to the point quicker.
Stacey, you've been quoted that the only rule you live by is to constantly move forward. Give me the 4-1-1 on "The Bull" and tell me how this record pushes Carbon 9 forward.
"The Bull" was released digitally on February 24. Physical retailers like Best Buy had copies on their shelves by March 10. I produced, recorded, and edited "The Bull." We recorded it in two facilities. One is a studio in Van Nuys, California, where we do all of our live recordings. The other is a production room I have in Burbank where I do all of the mixing and editing. Frank Gryner, who's worked on records by Rob Zombie and Tommy Lee, mixed it.
Naming a favorite cut is tough because there's quite a variety of songs. "Crawling Over Me" and "This Life" are the two songs that really nail my style. The band goes lighter on some songs, heavier on some, and more industrial on others. If it was a sphere or circle, those two songs would sit right in the middle stylistically, even though they are quite different songs. "This Life" is a twisted song. It states that life is wonderful only if you make it wonderful. It could also be miserable.
What's your favorite cut Dave?
"Crawling Over Me." It has the right musical direction for me. Plus, I read the song synopses that were part of the press release I received from your publicist. The song's message, about how most people can't muster the inner strength to change direction, hit home. I recently attained four years of total sobriety after two decades of daily drug use. But I'm enjoying the whole record. Your press release also states that the "songs were inspired by society as a whole." I feel you touch on the good, the bad, and the ugly of our world. But you also touch upon the beautiful.
Congratulations Dave. That's huge. "Crawling Over Me" was written about a friend of mine who has yet to make the big decision you did to get help. My songwriting themes are due to the fact that I've traveled the world. There is so much turmoil going on globally. Yet it's fascinating that no matter where you're at in the world, human beings want the same thing. They want to survive; they want to try to enjoy life as much as possible. That's it. We procreate, we eat, we sleep, we work, and we buy things. But it's just about survival. When we find all of the negative things between countries, and worlds, and cultures, and cities, and areas of the same city, we tend to overlook the fact that human nature really is a simple element. We are the ones that make things so complex. That's how societies in general have really inspired me.
"The Bull" as a record pushes us forward because even though the songs are basically like a diary of me, the lyrical content is directed to different members of the band. "Butterflies in My Head" is really about the death of Darwin's mother, which he took very hard when it happened a year or two ago. The songs are directed to be about general elements, but they are dedicated to specific events in our lives. That united us as a band. When I write a great song and you love it when you first hear it and start to play it, then you realize it's about your mom and you're the guitar player in the band, it takes you to a different level. When a band starts to care about each other, it takes the band to a different place. Plus, releasing "The Bull," getting signed to a record deal, and getting airplay are general steps of moving forward. Going out on the road will be another step. We've only done little stints in and out to cities like Phoenix and Minneapolis then back to Los Angeles. That's nothing like we really want to do. We really want to hit the road and we're dying to play on the East Coast. We're one of the bands that can all stay in the same hotel room without anybody arguing. That's kind of strange. We're really like a family. Everybody in the band was friends for years before they joined the band, except for Darwin, who was the only member to actually audition.
Just a few days before his death, Dimebag Darrell and his band Damageplan played near my home in New Jersey. Meeting him for the first time and chatting with him had a big impact on me. How did Dimebag Darrell and his legacy impact you?
Dimebag Darrell was a gigantic influence on the hard rock industry as a whole. He took it to another level. We're going to see it during the new resurgence of heavy metal that is coming. Being from Louisiana, I was a big fan of Pantera because of Phil Anselmo. I knew Phil when he played with Razor White. Darwin, our lead guitarist, would tell you Dimebag is his end all, be all. When I was younger, I worked in a music store in Louisiana. Pantera was playing a huge show in Baton Rouge and in the middle of the day, Dimebag and his brother Vinnie Paul walked in. We were ecstatic; we could not believe it. They sat down in front of the guitar section and Dimebag picked up a guitar. He sat there and talked with me for four hours about nothing man, just life. I was so excited that he was in the music store, but after about ten minutes, I felt like I was just talking to another guy. I completely forgot who he was. That's something that I'll never forget. I have worked with so many artists in a multitude of levels and they are not normal people. Dimebag had a bleeding heart of just "hey man, life is great, and I'm thrilled to be here." Dimebag made me feel that there are real people out there who are celebrities. That day changed my life. I felt like I connected with him because I'm a real person with a big heart. He taught me that I don't have to be an asshole singer guy to do this; I don't have to do hardcore drugs to do this. Dimebag, in four short hours, taught me that I could be a normal person and still do what I want to do with my music.