The following interview took place over email with Will and Joseph from Cartel. The band's new album, Collider, is now available. Huge thank you to the band for spending some time answering questions for us.
First, love the new album. It's also getting a really good reaction from fans around the interwebs. Now that it's out and has been heard, how are you feeling about it?
W: It's really a best case scenario at this point. We had a very solid first week when you take into consideration that this entire project is being helmed by 5 people. We hired a promotion/publicity company to fill in where a label would traditionally take the reins. We self-produced, self-engineered, self-released. That's a huge undertaking for a band that has had a lot of recognition and a lot of music released. There are expectations beyond our own that we had to meet. Sitting where we are at the moment, I couldn't be more pleased.
What were the biggest challenges in self-releasing an album? Was that always the goal from the start?
J: Yeah. We tested the waters with "In Stereo" and figured out exactly what we needed to make a full length record. We went in to the Collider sessions knowing that we had to make it happen all by ourselves. I'd say the biggest challenge was making sure people knew about the release. We knew how to record and knew what we wanted to record, but other than Tweeting about it, I wasn't sure how to promote the album.
W: When you release a record without a label you automatically make certain conciliations. We're not going to have retail distribution. We're not going to have every outlet available to us that we would had we released this on a label. That being said, it's really about energizing our fan base. Our fans have stuck with us through all the bullshit and have spread the word about this album to a level that I couldn't have anticipated a few months ago. I'm truly humbled and honored to have the fans that we do. I see on our social media sites all the time that we're "underrated" and "people need to hear this". That's a big deal to me. Whether or not it's true, to have people taking the time to write that and stick their necks out for us is awe inspiring.
Cartel have been on small labels, major labels, and now self-releasing … you've seen it all. Would you guys sign to a label again?
J: I'm not completely opposed to the idea. It just depends what they have to offer and what they want from us in return.
W: I think we'd be very careful to sign something traditional again. It's not all about getting a big advance. We've gotten paid in the past and that's cool but had we self-released and achieved the same results, the difference in payout would be very significant. In the age of downloading, every single album sale counts. Especially when we're self-releasing. The fans can take solace that their money goes directly to supporting our efforts as musicians. So, for us to get involved with a label again it would take a non-traditional deal that allowed us freedom to do what we do uninhibited while maintaining the profit margin we see now. I'm not sure a lot of labels would fancy that nowadays. And for the record, we shopped this album to labels to see what was out there. The fact that we still self-released is evidence that the music industry is not tilted in the artists favor.
What lessons have you learned that you would share with younger musicians today?
J: Do what you love and stick to your guns. There are a lot of people out there that want a slice of your pie. Don't let them eat for free, and above all, serve yourself.
W: Ditto. Learn as much as you can about the process of song idea to release, and try to be a self-sufficient as possible. Labels will appreciate that greatly.
If you could pick favorite "parts" of the album -- not songs, but specific parts - what would they be?
J: Anything I did. Haha!
W: I'm a big fan of Joseph's work. We work really well in that we don't get in each others way. There's a mutual respect that allows creativity to flow without restrictions. I think the instrumentation in Sympathy and Collider are evidence of that. Favorite part on the record? Mmmmmm...probably the chorus in Sympathy. The musical structures going on there are a lot of fun. I wish I could record that again and again.
One of my favorite parts of the album is when songs start in one direction, then shift and end up somewhere else entirely … how does
the band decide when to do something like that?
J: Hmm. I'm not sure. Maybe it's because so many bands are on "10" the entire time. Some kids like that I guess. I think it's annoying, personally. I really enjoy the idea of letting music breathe. It's something Will and I take in to consideration all the time. But everything in moderation. Sometimes you just gotta thrash for 3 or 4 minutes.
W: I think it's just letting experience guide you. Sometimes you need to rip from start to finish. Sometimes you need to let off a little from time to time. After 4 LPs and 2 EPs I hope we've found the balance to understand when it's necessary and when it's not.
Has Will thought about doing producing more full time?
W: Hell yes. Haha. I've always loved standing over the shoulders of the engineers and producers we've worked with. Specifically, Zack and Kenneth have been integral in my education. They're the nicest people on the planet and put up with me asking them questions all the time - even now. Being in the studio is the pinnacle of adrenaline for me so I would absolutely love to turn that into a career and put my mark on things. Joe Chicarelli, Rob Schnapf, Brian Eno, and Andy Wallace are huge influences sound-wise for me. If I can aspire to even a fraction of what they've done then I'll consider that success.
Do you have a personal feeling on how artists should handle the "we want you to sound like your old material, but you better not just release the same album again" dilemma?
J: It's best not to let it influence the writing process. I wish Weezer sounded like they did on "The Blue Album". But they won't ever sound like that again for one simple reason - I'm not 13 years old anymore. I'm older and they're older. But whenever I want to hear that sound, I will always have that record and it will always be good. Bands grow and you can either grow with them or out grow them. Modest Mouse is a great example. They sound way different now than they did when I first started listening to them. But I really like Modest Mouse so I really like their albums. People say all sorts of things no matter what you do. You can't please everyone so it's best to stay focused on whether or not I'm satisfied with the songs. By the way, look at the iTunes reviews for "The Blue Album". It's absurd. Some people wish they sounded like "Beverly Hills" all the time.
W: I couldn't put that any better. We've always tried to push the envelope and expand our sound. We haven't always delivered what our fans were wanting/expecting but we've always been proud of our records and the songs we've produced. So, in the end, we're satisfied and that's all that matters.
Life changes -- we grow older, get married, maybe have some kids …where does the lyrical inspiration come from? Does it come in waves
all at once, or small doses?
W: You know, it is hard trying to relate with our listeners given our life experiences. It's hard to write about unrequited love when I'm married so that's off the table. I've had to pull back and synthesize what I want to write about and how to relate that to people who might not completely understand where I'm coming from. It's never all at once. It's always song by song. I just try to maintain honesty and truth to what I'm writing about and let the rest be the rest.
What's next for the band? Some have worried this would be the band's swan song, you're not going away are you?
J: These days, we're taking it one step at a time. Truth be told, if people don't buy the album or buy tickets to our shows, we might be forced to call it quits. We'll continue to write, record and tour as long as we can afford it. Gas is outrageous these days.
W: Thats it. We put our career in the hands of our fan base. If people want to hear more, they'll buy the record and/or buy a ticket to a show. Beyond that, we have no control. I'd love to continue this as long as possible. Hopefully, a great enough percentage of the folks who have bought our records in the past will do so again and we'll continue on. I don't think we've said everything we have to say or written the songs that would allow us to walk away with no letdown.
What are you listening to now? Any recommendations for new music to check out?
J: I'm nuts about the new Telekinesis album, "Dormarion". The dude plays all the instruments and I love the song writing. I've also been jamming Cartel's "Collider" pretty frequently. Not kidding.
W: I jam our record quite frequently. Haha. Other than that, I'm going back to my personal classics like Jeff Buckley's Grace and Radiohead. Anything to be inspired.
Great interview. I love this album, and continue to jam to it constantly. I would hate to see them have to call it quits. They're too talented to have all of it go to waste. They really need to get a big break.
"You're gonna miss us when we're not around." Word.