Big Hassle Media
There’s no way to know what’s next when you lose a loved one. The most important, but also most challenging, thing you can do is keep on living. For Austin by way of Illinois singer/songwriter Lizzy Lehman and her surviving band mates in lo-fi indie-pop quintet Carry Illinois, that also meant finding the will to write and record after original bassist John Winsor took his own life in March 2016. As Lizzy’s lyrics to future album closer “Goodnight” laid bare, she and everyone in Carry Illinois were grieving and left asking, “Why is it so hard to restart? Why is it so hard to put the parts back together?”
By November, she and guitarist Darwin Smith, drummer Rudy Villarreal, keyboardist Derek Morris*, and new bassist Andrew Pressman were ready to confront those unanswerable questions by joining forces with reputed musician/producer John Vanderslice to record the six-song Garage Sale, their first proper follow-up to 2015’s Alabaster. The end result evolved into, as Lehman puts it, a meditation on mourning and recovery.
“There was a break of a couple of months where I was pretty paralyzed by his loss,” Lehman shares of the days and weeks following Winsor’s suicide. So when she started putting pen to paper again, “It was the subject matter that came up naturally.” That’s evident from the confessional first verse of the opening title track, as Lehman communicates to and through Winsor, her quaking-but-not-breaking alto longing to “bring you everywhere I go/Your force electrical no sound.”
But her words remain open to interpretation, consistent with Lehman’s view of lyrics as poetry, and of music as the ultimate platform for shared meaning. “I used to do a lot of fictionalized writing, and then I took some songwriting workshops about using songwriting as truth-telling,” she recalls. “That flipped the switch, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s really important to write about what you know and the things you see.’ That’s the stuff that people really connect to, and that was when I realized what songwriting for me was about.”
Garage Sale’s most magnanimous feat is that—despite the tragic surrounding circumstances, it never feels like an expression of helplessness or lack of hope. The band’s melody-forward arrangements, articulated as they are by Lehman and the band’s threading of influences (a little lush AOR here, some vintage college-rock mettle there), betray uplift, a sound to rally around. Take “Years to Come,” which comes midway through and catches a current of ringing new-wave guitars, marching choral drums and Brill Building harmonies. It’s a defiant gesture, relatively unadorned as the track may be. Lehman credits not only her band members for their performance and coming together, but also producer Vanderslice, who she says encouraged an approach that was both raw in emotion and rich in instrumental nuance.
“In the past, when I was messing around with different ways of expressing the actual music, it got buried under different effects and processing,” Lehman acknowledges. “I think John, immediately when he heard the music, knew making sure the vocals were right up front and the lyrics could be heard was top priority, and made me super confident recording with him. All the instruments were really present, but the vocals were also super-present. I’ve had people, in previous recordings, be like, ‘I liked it, but I couldn’t hear your words,’ and what I’ve heard from folks who I’ve shared [Garage Sale] with was, ‘Wow, he treated everything really well and made sure that your voice was heard. He did it right.’ And that made me really happy.”
Vanderslice, for his part, defers credit to his collaborators for what emerged, having admired how all five members “communicate well and know how to make adjustments and support a narrative.” And while confirming that Lehman’s vocals were emphatically projected, he adds that doing so also helped to “clear out dynamic space for [the band]. I tried to stay out of the way and just capture the energy. The band was so good I didn’t want to impose a production style.”
However one spreads out superlatives, the sum total of Garage Sale is—without putting too fine a point on it—Carry Illinois reaching for how to carry on after Winsor’s passing. “John was one of the people who I considered a surrogate sibling; I think about him every day,” Lehman reflects. “I’ve been writing in order to repair my brain, or begin to repair it. It’s been through a lot.”
And, through their band’s music, hopefully getting one step closer to—as Lehman pines in the aforementioned, closing ballad “Goodnight”—being able to “look at all my friends, my dearest family, wishing happiness to call and take the place of agony.”
*New keyboard player Benjamin Rowe Violet has joined the band as of September 2017.
After their bandmate’s suicide, Carry Illinois went on to craft songs about survival and acceptance. “‘Shameful Feeling’ is “about the journey of coming out of hiding, rising above painful adolescent memories, and learning to shut out fears and self-doubt (all within a queer context). The video depicts the journey of a strong but struggling heart seeking to relieve other hearts of the weight of daily mental and physical battles.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2nd, 2018
CARRY ILLINOIS UNVEIL NEW SINGLE, “RUNAWAY,” WITH GLIDE
ANNOUNCE SXSW DATES: 3.17 – Butterfly Bar | 3.18 – Sahara Lounge
LISTEN TO “RUNAWAY” HERE:
“A soulful confessional indie anthem that speaks to all of those living a life crippled by fears… Carry Illinois serves as a voice and musical vehicle for all that grapple with anxiety and tragedy to revel in.” – Glide
“Celebrates honesty and self-love.” – New Now Next
“Beautiful music that is as moving as it is accessible.” – The Deli”
(New York, NY) Carry Illinois, the Austin-based indie-pop band founded and fronted by Lizzy Lehman, has released the new single, “Runaway,” from the forthcoming EP, Work In Progress, due out later this spring. The song was produced by the band and Grant Johnson, and Lehman explains, “‘Runaway’ is about my life-long struggle with my body: how I view it, how I feel in it and how I have always hated it. The song is ultimately about facing my fears, my demons, my truths and painful memories in order to move forward, grow stronger and connect to others who have dealt with similar trials and tribulations in their lives.”
Work In Progress is the follow up to Carry Illinois’ second record, Garage Sale, produced by John Vanderslice and released in May of 2017. “With top-tier production, raw emotion, and exciting nuanced tracks, Garage Sale is a memorable album about love and loss,” (No Depression) reflecting the band’s struggle to find the will to write and record after Carry Illinois’ original bassist, John Winsor, took his own life. Lehman explains, “After John committed suicide in March of 2016, I decided that I no longer needed to shy away from the real struggles that I face. I decided that writing about it, singing about it, and performing with utmost strength and courage is what I need to do.” After its release, Garage Sale gained critical acclaim, earning Carry Illinois the title of Austin Monthly‘s Artist of The Month, May 2017.
Lehman and her bandmates, guitarist Darwin Smith, drummer Rudy Villarreal, new bassist Andrew Pressman and keyboardist Benjamin Rowe Violet have spent the first part of 2018 writing and recording Work In Progress. James Parker of KUTX 98.9 has declared, “Carry Illinois is making music for the right reasons, and that sort of honesty and transparency makes its way into the band’s sound, to great effect” and if “Runaway” is any indication, those themes will continue to be evident in the forthcoming release.
Carry Illinois can next be seen during SXSW 2018: 3.17 at Butterfly Bar and 3.18 at Sahara Lounge.
More information: www.CarryIllinoisBand.com