Joe Carnall Jnr
“Yeah, I remember spending a fair bit of time rehearsing down here back in the day,” muses Joe Carnall, “but it looked nowt like it does now.”
He’s sitting inside the recently revamped Yellow Arch Studios, this month’s Exposed In Session venue, now serving as an exotically decorated recording studio/live venue hybrid tucked away inside the industrial pocket of Sheffield centre. The addition of a bar, fashioned by wood salvaged from damage caused by the 2007 Sheffield flood, also gives it the accolade of the first fully-licensed recording studio in the UK.
We can safely assume “back in the day” to be an allusion to his period as the front man of Milburn, a band still held dear to many Sheffielders, which laid the foundations of support for further musical ventures with The Book Club, Reverend & The Makers, and the near-legendary Christmas gigs which swiftly sell-out each year.
And it was during the last festive season when he provided a sign of things to come: releasing his debut solo single ‘Three Things (Only A Fool)’ and promising more material in 2015. After a brief hiatus spent writing songs and ironing out some creases, he’s itching to step into the breach once more – kicking things off in grandiose style with a headline slot on this year’s Exposed In Session Stage at Tramlines. We collared him for a chat before the film started rolling on his live session.
What tracks are you playing for us today?
The first one’s called ‘Times New Roman’.
Solid font. It’s kind of generic, but solid and dependable at the same time, and that’s the metaphor I’m going for. One person in the song is Times New Roman – steady, reliable, consistent – and I compare this person to someone who is Comic Sans – a bit silly, kind of pathetic, immature. Are you following me with this?
Got it. What is your favourite font?
Century Gothic – that’s a pretty smart one. I always tell my sixth formers that I have a penchant for it.
You’re pretty much confirming a long-held conviction of mine that a good font could be the difference between a D and a C grade…
Put it this way: if I had a sixth former hand in an essay written in Comic Sans, I’d automatically be thinking, ‘Oh, they’re gonna be struggling a bit with this one’. Which is wrong because I should read the essay first; I’m just saying it doesn’t make for the best first impression.
And nobody uses Word Art anymore. Is that a bit of a shame?
No, because Word Art never looked good. Not even in PowerPoint presentations. Seriously, don’t get me started on this subject!
Clipart is redundant nowadays an’all.
Copy and paste killed it off – gone for good. Good riddance.
Shame. What about the other song then?
The other track is called The Boy Who Was Struck By Lightning; I suppose it’s basically about me and my experiences in, well, life really.
Do you write about yourself often?
*Pauses* Yeah. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though, is it?
Is it something you’ve found yourself doing more as you get older and perhaps a bit more pensive?
As you get older I think you start looking at things differently, which naturally gives you more to write about. Even though I do write about myself a lot, there are always stories about other people but I’ll still sing the songs in first person. I am sometimes capable of being less egotistical.
It’s clear to see that over the years, as tends to be the case with most musicians, your style and sound has shifted and changed. I’d add that you’re probably the furthest away on that spectrum than you’ve ever been. Is it a case of changing influences? Do you still listen to the bands you were listening to 10 years ago?
That’s the plan – the change is a conscious thing. No, I wouldn’t say I listen to the same bands as I used to. Or at least not as often.
I’d suggest an Oasis to Simon & Garfunkel type of shift?
Don’t ‘Oasis’ me. I mean, yeah, I liked Oasis and I had a moment which plenty of young lads go through with one of their albums. The biggest records for me growing up – and I was lucky to be at the right age when these came out – were Is This It and The Coral. Throw in Up The Bracket and some Kings of Leon for good measure and you were pretty sorted. Those first two albums from The Strokes are still incredible in my eyes. The thing is, there are only so many times you can imitate that style, and then you start looking around for other inspiration. So, yeah, Simon & Garfunkel – why not? I like the vocal harmonies from bands like Fleet Foxes, so everyone in Joe Carnall Jnr sings, and it provides another dimension. I appreciate – I don’t love – Damon Albarn’s solo stuff; I think I mostly respect his evolution as an artist.
As a northerner it’s tough, almost shameful, to prefer Blur to Oasis.
Yeah, it’s a bit like admitting you vote Tory. I think the latest Blur album was a mixed bag, but I appreciate the way he experiments with the sonic feel of the album – it’s like there are no restrictions.
Going back to Art Garfunkel, do you know he was also a teacher for a bit?
Really? You’re going to tell me that he didn’t teach art now, aren’t you?
Sorry, it was maths. Gene Simmons was a teacher, too.
Just shows it can be done. At least I’ve got Gene’s path to follow now…
Speaking of which, you’re heading out on a solo journey with your music. Is it a bit strange considering you’ve spent most of your time in bands? More pressure perhaps?
Erm, not really. When you’re the lead singer in a band it’s kind of a case of ‘on your head be it’ anyway. I think going solo keeps it easier; you’re basically saying ‘this is me’ – and it keeps things a bit more consistent and maybe easier for people to keep up with. I love Gaz Coombes’ latest album, and I really respect the way he’s moved on with his solo career.
Great album, that. What else have you been listening to recently?
I’ve been listening to Jungle quite a bit. I like how they blend the acoustic sounds with a bit of a dancey vibe.
So, around Christmas time you announced that you were going under the name Joe Carnall Jnr and gave us a little teaser with ‘Three Things (Only A Fool)’. What have you been working on since?
I’ve spent pretty much a year writing and spending time in the studio to find the right sound to fit those songs. I’ve loved being back in the studio and now the songs are done I’m excited to get them out there.
And the Exposed Stage at Tramlines is a perfect opportunity for that. What can people expect?
It’s perfect timing for me; it’s given me something to work towards. For me, it’s also important that the first big gig is in Sheffield. In terms of what people can expect, I’ve tried to reinforce that I’m very passionate about this new project, and I wouldn’t have taken this gig if I was planning on just churning out old tunes. That said, because it’s home, it’s Sheffield, there might be a few moments where I mix it up with a few old songs.
Who’s playing at your dream festival?
Headlining is Prince. No question about that. I’d probably ask Lost Brothers, my Irish pals, to open the folk stage in the late afternoon as the sun goes down. After their set, it’s time for Bill Withers – I’ve been listening to his Live at Carnegie Hall album and it’s incredible. I’d definitely chuck in The Coral at some point, too. Lastly, simply for my dad and my brother, I’d have to put Thin Lizzy on the main stage.
Finally, since you’re a bit of a history buff, I’m going to list some historical characters and you need to tell me which band they’d fit in with.
First up: Napoleon Bonaparte
Small with a massive ego, so I’d go for U2.
Perfect. Oscar Wilde?
Morrissey, surely? Smiths all the way with that one.
Naturally. What about Henry VIII?
If you take into account all of his wives and various escapades, he had a bit of a rockstar lifestyle. I’m going to go for one of the massive American rock bands like Kiss.
You’ve compared Churchill to a crooner before. Are you sticking with that?
Churchill was a man of few words, but those words were powerful. If Frank Sinatra was quintessentially British then he’d be a perfect match.
Finally, what are the plans for Joe Carnall Jnr after Tramlines?
‘Times New Roman’ will be fronting an EP which will be coming out around that time. There will be an album happening at some point, too. First and foremost, I just want to get the music out there because I feel like it’s some of the strongest stuff I’ve done in a while.