An Interview with Justin & Carrie of Rosin Coven
Thank goodness for technology. If it hadn’t been for Garage Band and the speaker function on my phone, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with these amazing musicians on the West Coast while I was in Jersey.
I got the chance to sit down for a half hour with Justin and Carrie, two members of Rosin Coven. You may remember them from the album review we posted a few weeks ago. These are folks dedicated to their art and their music. Let’s learn a little bit more about this awesome band of performers.
Janelle: So, first off, can you just tell people who wouldn’t be familiar with you guys, who are you? Tell us what’s the band’s all about.
Carrie: Well we are Rosin Coven and we are… 8? It’s hard to tell how many of us there are.
Justin: We’re between 8 and 10.
Carrie: Between 8 and 10 musicians and we bring together strings, cellos, viola, violins, bass, horns, vibraphones, and a lot of vocals into a mixture of what we like to call Pagan Lounge Music – and most people have no idea what that is.
Justin: Because we made it up.
Carrie: It really blends a lot of different types of music as you probably heard from the album. A lot of different pieces that we kind of bring together. Hopefully the alchemy of all those things creates something new that people enjoy!
Janelle: Cool. I have noticed that you guys definitely have unique sound musically as well as, at least in pictures, your live shows seem very artistic as well. Can you tell me about some of your influences both musically and artistically.
Justin: One of the strengths of this projects is that we’re a collection of very strong-minded and a wide range of wonderful individuals. So I think we’ve been fortunate over the years – and we’ve been together quite a long time now, this is our solid 16th year as a band. Which, as anyone knows, that’s forever for a band. You know, that’s like the beginning of time. And I think we’ve all brought such different elements to the table. We have some players that are professional and classically trained musicians in vocals, in touring symphonies, orchestras. We have some people who have degrees in jazz music and composition. We have people with theatre background that do sound design and directing. Carrie here has a big background in art and fine art. And then, like myself, I started and am a self-taught punk rock and roller and then learned jazz later on and still sort of blend some spontaneity and bring the raw side of composition being self-taught. There’s just such a pallet to work with that we never really run out of colors.
Carrie: It’s really nice because everyone can bring their own unique perspective in collaborating and arranging. Some people that have more of the theoretical training and can bring in a solidity, you know, like, “let’s take this chord apart here or let’s take this ninth.” Other people can say “what’s the feeling here?” Or some people might say “hey, how about we do this choreography right here?” It’s all ideas from a lot of different backgrounds.
My background really started with Broadway music as a kid. My parents gave my sister and I all of the musicals that they could, so I had all of the records that I could. I have this theatrical background, that kind of narrative story comes form musicals, and there’s also a cabaret kind of feel to our music. A lot of that influence for me came from the Broadway side of things. It comes into our music, but also, well, we can get kind of campy sometimes with that overly-dramaticness. That’s really fun to do and draw from.
Janelle: Very cool! Yeah, I can definitely see that influence in your music.
What led to the desire to start this project?
Carrie: I started the band back in ’97 and prior to that I had kind of taken a turn away from my musical roots and media, as Justin would say, but always kept that thread.
Actually, I met a guy in a karaoke bar… all right, I’ll tell you the truth. (laughs) He was totally flaming gay and I had a big crush on him. I learned that he was in a music group that toured around the world and I just thought, ‘wow, this guy wakes up every morning and he just gets to sing music!’ and I was totally inspired by that. So that for me was the impetus to really dive back in to music.
I kind of looked around for bands and tried out for bands to sing with, but I never found the right fit. So finally I said, you know what? I want to just create something and pull people together, you know, write my own music and work with other people with the writing. And that was kind of how it started.
Justin: Strange, but beautiful. A newspaper ad.
Carrie: Yeah, it was back in the pre-Internet days really. Yeah, I took out a newspaper ad. (laughs) Found our cellist and first violinist through that. Worked out pretty well.
Janelle: I spent some time surfing on the website and came across the Edwardian Ball. So, tell me about that. At least, it sounded like on the website that you guys had a really big hand in creating that?
Justin: We did! It’s an event that Rosin Coven founded. We’re very proud to have started that and getting that ball rolling.
It was in ’99, and I think, like any artist, you never really know what you’re going to do that will catch on. Unless you’re like a pop artist and you’re just trying to write music that’s exactly what people will want to hear, that’s one thing. But I think if you continually put out your own art that you believe in, the hope is that something will catch.
The Edwardian Ball began as a very small, very low-tech, low-budget event.
Justin: No-budget. (laughs) No budget event honoring the artwork and illustrations of Edward Gorey.
So it turns out a lot of people are [into his work] so we did a little party in his honor and used a slide projector to show pages of a book and we read it out loud and played some music to accompany it. And that was the beginning of the Edwardian Ball.
We obviously were aware that we took the name Edwardian and played off Edward Gorey, but that we were also referencing an history time in the Edwardian Era.
Carrie: And for those people that don’t know who Edward Gorey was, he was an illustrator. So we were really drawing off of his artwork. He does these black and white line drawings that are really dark and morose and have very dark humor. A twisted sense of humor.
Justin: We began this celebration for the twisted, dark, macabre, wonderful work, with sort of an Edwardian turn of the century setting. And with this event, people were just immediately into it. And we’re really proud of the fact that this event has grown year after year from a very small club, over the years now (we just finished out 13th year) with three nights in two cities with over 5,000 people from all over the world – every continent, all over the U.S. – people traveling to participate in this, what is now become really a festival of art, music, and theatre and circus and oddities. The growth of this dark, humorous, beautiful, wonderful art has now become its own festival.
Carrie: And it’s all getting into the Edwardian Era and the Victorian Era, the turn of the century. It gives people the opportunity to get really dressed up. So there’s this kind of civilized feeling to the ball, but it’s also kind of wild at the same time!
I think what’s drawn people to it is the ability to participate in the event. Some people work for months and months on their costumes, it’s just incredible. It’s a very participatory event. The people who come, they’re not just coming to look at things or listen to music, but they help create the ball – all the dancing, it’s very interactive.
Justin: What Carrie just said, the sort of elegant and civilized, yet wild, I think drives back to the root of what Rosin Coven really goes for and what we mean by Pagan Lounge. Sort of this basic primal, spiritual, sort of deep desires of humans, but also dressed up in a beautiful gown with a top hat and a martini.
Janelle: Well on that note, I did want to ask: where do your outfits come from? ‘Cause I absolutely love them!
Justin & Carrie: Thank you!!
Justin: We’ve been so fortunate over the years and we’ve had some time to play with it.
There’s sort of two sides to it. One is that early on, way way back in the beginning, we came up with the idea of red and black.
Carrie: That’s our idea.
Justin: It’s become our joke. (laughs) Like, “what do we want to wear tonight?” “Well let’s go red… and black. Or how about black… with some red??”
But beyond that, we’ve been really fortunate to work with local artists and designers that have helped us create costumes. I’d say there’ve been 3 or 4 really wonderful people that’ve helped us over the years. They’ll start us out with great design ideas and then, as Carrie was mentioning earlier, we’ll all sort of add our individual flair.
Carrie: We have a unified look, but definitely each personality comes out as everybody adds their own little touch that’s just them.
Janelle: (laughs) So, the new album’s finally out. I’m sure you guys are really excited.
Justin: We’re excited and amazed!
Janelle: How have you guys grown as a brand during this process of bringing it about?
Carrie: Well, Justin and I both agree that we’ve grown in patience. (laughs) There were times that we just thought that this album was not gonna get done. It took a long time, what, 5 years? 5 years.
All of us have really full lives now. We have kids. A lot of us have other work that we do. But we’ve kept this commitment to the group, so it’s been really a challenge but an inspiration to be able to have kept this going for the album, seeing it through to the end. It’s really been inspiring to us, I think, that we’ve been able to keep this commitment to the music, even with the rest of life that goes on.
Making an album is always really a tough concept as a band because everything gets stripped down to kind of these reactions of “wait, what are you playing there?” It’ll be like “well I’ve played that for 10 years!” But “whoa, wait, that’s not working!” There’s all these things that you just don’t know until you strip it all down and really listen to every single part, and we have a LOT of voices, as I’m sure you noticed. So between all the instruments and the vocals there could be between, well around 20 actual voices at once. And in recording, you can’t lie – you can’t hide anything. It’s an opportunity to really re-find your music and that’s always really interesting. This dynamic between people working together, it’s a great concept.
Justin: I think that the fact that this took 5 years has allowed us all to understand that creative process is not linear. It’s not necessarily where… you can set out thinking “oh, we can just make an album,” and then life happens. You realize that there’s an ebb and flow to creativity and the creative process. We had a pretty slow year… slow couple of years. 2011, 2012, didn’t see much happening, but now the album is done, and suddenly we are finding ourselves back in action. We’re touring the country and doing some projects and there’s just like a whole new renewal of energy in the band.
Carrie: If I could piggyback on that, if I can wax philosophical for a moment (laughs)… You know, we live in such a culture of immediate gratification, yah know? More and more, as technology grows, so to have the experience of putting a lot of energy and time and effort and struggle into something that, 5 years later, you have this thing that’s completed. For me it helps to look at that long term and the big picture of life that, you know, even if you don’t get something right away, really, if you persevere at it, you can turn out with something really beautiful, something where you take more time and it’s not immediate. That doesn’t fit with a lot of how culture goes.
Carrie: Yeah! (laughs) So it’s nice to step outside of that and go at a different pace.
Janelle: Yeah, for sure.
Where can folks see you guys performing in the next month or so? Where can they hear all of this new music live and experience this whole thing?
Justin: Well that you for asking! We are absolutely delighted to be heading to New York in just a couple of weeks! We will be performing at the Lincoln Center as part fo the Lincoln Center Outdoors Series on Friday, August 9th. We’ll be playing in the plaza at 7:30, followed but Ashley Palmer.
Carrie: And that’s a FREE concert!
Justin: Yeah, it’s part of the Lincoln Center Outdoors Free Concert Series.
And then the next night, on August 10th, we will be performing at a place called an old historic church that turned into a venue in Brooklyn. For one night, with us and Vau de Vire Society our friends and co-hosts of the Edwardian Ball. We’ll be turning it into a crazy circus!
So those are our next performances, and then we’ll be coming back and doing some shows in the Bay Area in September.
Janelle: Other than live shows, what’s up next for your guys?
Justin: Well, we’re on a roll, so a lot of things that have been discussed are actually getting some momentum. We’re looking into a new video project to bring one or possibly two videos from “Sing Me Malaise.” And – also very exciting – we’re looking into expanding the Edwardian Ball. In September we’ll be premiering what we call “The Edwardian Ball Road Show.” That will be the traveling circus version of the Edwardian Ball. It will be testing out at Symbiosis [Festival in the Bay Area] and hopefully carry on to take on the read next year for festivals. If everything continues as it’s going for us, with a good amount of unexpected surprises, we will be doing quite a bit more traveling and bring the Edwardian Ball and our live show to more places.
Janelle: So I just have one final question, just because it’s interesting to me: what’s the first album you each ever owned?
Carrie: When I… how old was I…? Well, I’m not going to give THAT away…
I remember one Christmas my Dad and sister asked me what I wanted, and I really wanted the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, and they gave me this gift and I unwrapped it. They said “Oh, well they didn’t have that at the record store, so we got you this “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” But it wasn’t the Beatles! It was this 70’s version with like, Peter Frampton and… I don’t even know.
Janelle & Justin: Wow!
Carrie: Yeah, so I think that was the first album I ever got. It was quite an experience.
Justin: I have two answers. The first record I ever had in my possession, in my room, was The Beatles’ “White Album.” I attribute much of the strangeness of my musical taste to being left in a room with that record.
So that one I’m proud of. The one that I’m not so proud of was the first tape that I went out and bought with my own money. That was Def Leppard’s “Pyromania.” (lots of laughs)
And how about yours?
Janelle: My cousin gave me this awesome CD players when I was about… 6 or 7. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. The first CD he gave me for it was the soundtrack for “Space Jam.”
- moment of silence –
Carrie: Space Jam. Okay!
Janelle: And I still have that CD.
(more laughter from all)
Janelle: Well, thank you guys so much for taking the time out to talk to me tonight, it has been really great!
Carrie: Our pleasure. Thanks so much for speaking with us!
Justin: Thank you!
So there you have it, folks. Great people with a great story and devotion. The more we talked, the more comfortable we got and I think we found ourselves laughing a lot by the end – even if it was just because of my sillier questions. I look forward to hopefully catching these guys soon at one of their shows, and hope you do too!
Check out Rosin Coven’s site for all of the latest news and tour dates!