Carry Illinois is an indie-folk band from Austin, Texas composed of Lizzy Lehman, Nick Droz, Darwin Smith, and Rudy Villarreal. The quartet specializes in re-imagining Lehman’s campfire folk compositions with adventurous musicality and spacey textures. The band’s roster is made up of accomplished musicians with a command of the Americana heritage and a bold approach to furthering its scope. Says Lehman: “I write about my life and my perspective of the world surrounding me. My songs are more local than global, but the themes are universal”. Enjoy our review of Carry Illinois’ self-titled release (which was engineered and produced by Daniel Barrett at Rubicon Recording), as well as an interview with the band, below.
‘Weakest Limb’ opens Carry Illinois’ self-titled EP in a captivating and well-produced manner, immediately showcasing an electronic drum tone that fits well with the song’s nature. Lizzy Lehman’s strong vocal prowess is instantly recognizable, as is a powerful synth bass that provides foundation. The orchestral stringed instruments that are included also fit the song well, and the verse melody was very appealing. An a cappella vocal section, backed only by drums, was impressive, as were the vocals overall; this flowing piece with outstanding orchestral work was a strong opener with lots of thought put into it. The lyrical content was determined and strong, and the song was daring instrumentally, making for an excellent all-around opener. ‘Siren’ featured an interesting and haunting electronic opening; the song was soulful and very unique. The orchestral strings are again included as well, with electronic percussion holding everything together. The distortion on the vocals makes for a nice vintage effect, this track being one of the most impressive tracks on the EP lyrically and performance-wise. ‘Siren’ could have used added instrumentation or a new melody during the second half of the song, as for the most, it is instrumentally-isolated.
The lyrics of ‘Jackson Square’ were very thought-provoking, different, and unique. The percussion is acoustic and more in the background than on previous tracks, silent until one minute in. This works well as the initial percussion is accounted for by the stand-up bass play. A banjo also has a prominent role, carrying the melody during isolated instrumental breaks, and an organ enters before the track hits two minutes. The vocals are more deft here, but still impressive; the track’s looser feel and more relaxed take does compromise a bit on recording quality. The song’s close is space-like, especially in regards to the electric guitar’s performance. A banjo again leads in on ‘Nothing to Despise’, with other orchestral stringed instruments following right away. The bass play is somewhat staccato over distorted vocals, which would have been better left alone in the verses, especially the first verse. The vocal distortion works in the choruses, big and powerful choruses with strong melodies reminiscent of artists such as Florence & the Machine and Adele. There’s no time wasted in this track; it’s first chorus and then right into the second verse. Lehman is an excellent story-teller, this track composed of more serious and somber lyrical content/subject matter. The lyrical content throughout the album has been very strong, this song song with familiar chord progressions no exception. The bridge’s change-up is a nice departure from the rest of the song; although it has a similar feel, a different set of chords and a different progression, along with a final chorus that begins with just vocals and percussion, diversifies the song. ‘A Good Farewell’ closed the EP with an opening by acoustic guitar and banjo. A clean vocal allows the vocals to shine even brighter than before; this is one of Lehman’s better performances, complete with honesty and soul. Lehman, again speaking of death and her eventual demise, is more metaphorical and abstract, before delay-saturated, inspiring, and flowing choral melodies add to the song’s depth. This track features the inclusion of some dissonant notes here and there in the verses to change things up, and an alternate melody in the final chorus that sticks true to the original melody yet strategically jumps between higher pitches. I’m thoroughly impressed by Carry Illinois’ debut album. I didn’t know what to expect; Carry Illinois’ sound is unexpected, in the best way possible. If I was expecting anything beforehand, this would not be it, and that’s a very positive thing. Their self-titled EP features very solid performances throughout, excellent writing and story-telling qualities, and there is not much left to be desired here, a unique and impressive effort overall. Carry Illinois’ somewhat unorthodox sound has elements of many different styles and is very likable, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagreed.
Could you give us some insight into your musical background? How did the band meet and begin performing together?
“I began performing at a very young age. I joined my first choir at age 9 and sang in choirs until I was 21. I also participated in musical theater at my middle and high schools. I began playing guitar at the end of high school and took guitar lessons in college, which led to writing my own songs in 2005. I began performing in coffee houses and bars in college, released my first album “Old Reminders” in 2009, and moved to Austin in 2011. Since moving to Austin, I have released a second solo album “A Place I Know You’ll Love” (in 2013), an EP as Carry Illinois called “Siren” (in March 2014), and am currently working on releasing a new solo album. I met Darwin Smith (electric guitar) through my friend John Winsor, who I played with in The Blackwells, an Austin Americana/Bluegrass band I sang in. I met Rudy Villarreal (Drummer) through a mutual friend drummer Andrew Stevens. I have known our bass player Nick Droz for three years; as a whole, we have been performing together for over 4 months now.”
How has the Austin music scene influenced and encouraged the band creatively? What are some of your favorite venues to perform at in Austin?
“The Austin music scene has influenced and encouraged the band creatively, as it is an incredibly welcoming, supportive, and inspiring community. All of us come from different musical backgrounds and most of us play in other projects around town. We constantly find inspiration from our other musical counterparts, their distinct and wonderful writing and playing styles, and the amazing sounds that are made when Austin musicians come together to express themselves through their art. Some of our favorite Austin venues to perform at are: The Mohawk, The Parish, Holy Mountain, Cheer Up Charlie’s, The Cactus Cafe, Frank, Hole in the Wall, Empire Control Room & Garage, Antone’s, and The Buzzmill.”
“Everyday life events, frightening plane rides in the Colorado mountains, friends’ hardships and triumphs, strange dreams of what the end of the world might be like, a trip to New Orleans, and documentaries have influenced the writing of “Siren”. The recording process was mostly an experiment, recorded prior to putting the band together; it was my vision of how I wanted folk and electronic music to come together, with distorted vocals, strange booming sounds, beautiful organic sounds, and dramatic aural landscapes. We had live and electronic instruments involved in the recording and I played both electric and acoustic guitar. I wanted to explore the many sides of modern folk music. It was a blast to record this EP and see what came out on the other side.”
What does 2014 hold in store for Carry Illinois?
“We are excited to play around Austin the next several months with some of our favorite groups like Grace Park and The Deer, Devon Sproule, and Unfaithful Servants. We are a new band so we are getting our feet wet and finding our sound; we’ll be adding a keys player to the band soon as well. Lizzy will be releasing a new full-length solo record later this summer (recorded at Bunker Studios in Brooklyn, NY in April 2014) of songs that will be added to our show.”