A chat with the singer/songwriter the week of her debut album release!
If you were a frequent client of Green Apple Books in the Inner Richmond, and especially if you attended their live music series, then perhaps you’re already familiar with singer/songwriter Ronnie Carrier. Though she moved to Portland last year, her guitar twangin’, foot stompin’ music, filled with literary depths, can now flood your home/phone/computer speakers via her full-length album debut, Lost In The Eclectic, which comes out Friday, April 7th (with an upcoming SF show on 4/14). I had the fantastic opportunity to ask her a few questions after listening to the new album:
First of all, it’s so great to see (and hear) your first full length album, “Lost In The Eclectic”, come to fruition. How do you feel now that it’s completed?
Thank you! The first word that comes to mind is “relieved”, but also there’s a side of nervous excitement. I’m very proud of this album – now that I’m presenting it, I get to find out how the story translates to the people who listen to my music. I’m excited to hear what listeners get out of this, and I hope it is something worthwhile.
The album’s opening track, “Wrong Turn at the Mad Sun”, launches the listener into the album’s themes and, really, jumpstarts an emotional journey — one full of discoveries, troubles, and heartaches. What tone did you want to set with “Wrong Turn”?
Well really, “Wrong Turn” sets the stage for the listener to get lost in The Eclectic through the eyes of the protagonist. It’s really just the first story in a string of tales about the journey. There’s something about getting lost that is equally as thrilling as it is scary, and “Wrong Turn” illustrates that best.
I also wanted to create a more concrete setting: the time of day. I imagined this taking place at the time of day right before sunset when the sun is so low and bright in the sky that its blinding. Its that bright, invasive light that sends our hero down the wrong path. Following is “Dusk Walk”, which is an even more disorienting time of day since dusk is neither dark nor light.
As with your previous EP, “The Story Goes…”, there are a handful of Alice in Wonderland references across the album, none more apparent than in “Off with my Head!!!” Talk a bit about how the Lewis Carroll classic inspired you. I’m a huge fan of the Cheshire Cat, so I’m genuinely interested in this.
Lewis Carroll taught me wordplay, first and foremost. Words can clarify or confuse. As a songwriter, I try to keep perfecting using lyrics for both purposes.
But really, my relationship is with Alice and the characters she meets, more than anything. She’s a young girl who’s tangled up in a lot of troubling, wacky shit/stuff, but rather fearlessly. She keeps going AND she enjoys the ride. That’s what I wanted to illustrate in this album.
When choosing the songs to put on this album, I saw my own Wonderland come retrospectively to fruition in the form of The Eclectic. “Off With My Head!!!” kind of sums the whole ordeal up, but each song has its own stop on the map of The Eclectic, and each stop has its own cast of characters: new friends, old friends, the machines, the Devil…
There are a lot of references to the Devil in the album. What’s up with that? Or, more conceptually, how does the Devil play a role in the journey within “Lost In The Eclectic”?
In short: he just kinda showed up in my writing. He shows up mostly in “Dusk Walk” and “Reap What You Sow”, which were both written around a time when I was giving into a lot of temptation, for better or for worse.
But just as much as Alice and Carroll have influenced my writing, so have tales from folklore, mythology, biblical stories and the archetypes that span across those tales. The Devil is most certainly a common character. Obviously, the character is predominant in biblical reference, but I also associate the “Devil” with the underworld and the paranormal afterlife, as well as the face of temptation, deceit, and consequence. Not to mention phrases like ‘Devil’s Advocate’, ‘Handsome Devil’, ‘Deal with Devil’, ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia’, the devil and the angel on your shoulders.
In a lot of ways, the Devil is like the Cheshire Cat. Cunning – sly. Friend and foe. In my story, the Devil is a guide through and (hopefully) out of The Eclectic. He runs that town, really. But can you really count on the Devil to take you to safety? Or will he just lead you back to the beginning?
Expanding on the topic of literary references, I’ve had the pleasure of being familiar with your experience working in bookstores and being, overall, an avid fan of literature. How have these bookstore experiences influenced your songwriting?
My relationship with books dates back as far as my relationship with music. From a very early age, I was fascinated with words and books. Later in life, I was lucky enough to land a job at the SFSU Bookstore, which really paired well with my major, which was English Literature. I’ve worked in two other beloved bookstores since (Green Apple, SF; Powell’s Books, Portland), so I’ve been saturated in books for years. A wealth of knowledge is always at my fingertips. Like any bookstore, but especially shops located in a cityscape like the ones I’ve worked for, it also means that I encounter people from all walks of life. A whole cast of characters interested in vast amounts of subjects. Learning is one of my biggest inspirations.
There is, indeed, an eclectic nature to your album — a bit country, some rock, definitely some blues, especially in “Reap What You Sow”. Yet it all flows together nicely. How did you approach the album’s instrumentation, and what genre would you say you like to riff in the most?
I wish I could say that I planned on crossing genres as much as it did, but really that wasn’t the plan. Discovering The Eclectic really was in hindsight. I think the eclectic crossovers is mainly a result of my taste in music. I love rock, roots, blues, classical, soul, choral, dance, afrobeat, old country western music (like “Home On The Range”) – it’s a really wide spectrum. I can’t pick!
Because I want our readers to get to know you a little more, here’s a quick-fire question — which musicians inspire you most?
Vocally? Sarah McLachlan. More broadly, mainly inspired by Regina Spektor, Feist, Metric, Bon Iver, Rilo Kiley, The Kills, Muse, Jack White, Sheryl Crow – but this is just the tip of a very large, deep iceberg.
Another quick-fire question — what are a few of your favorite albums?
“The Shepherd’s Dog” by Iron & Wine, “Machine Dreams” by Little Dragon, “Archandroid” by Janelle Monae, “Hideway” by The Weepies, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” by Spoon, “The Moon and Antarctica” by Modest Mouse, “Strange Tales” by Lord Huron
One more quick-fire question — Orange County or San Francisco or Portland?
Let’s bring this interview full circle, since that’s what the album does with the same opening and closing lyric, “I see.” The end of the album seems like either a somber realization, or maybe a serene moment of understanding. Or I’m completely wrong. Can you set the record straight? What is the significance of returning back to the beginning?
It’s a reflection – a come down. It’s both somber and serene. The “I see . . .” could be a restart of the same journey through The Eclectic, or it could be the clarity of making it out of there alive. I tried to write words for it and give a solid conclusion to the story, but the music really concludes itself. In the end, all that’s said is: “Where the Mad Moon sets, over and over again, I see.”
Since you as the listener are the protagonist in this story, it’s really up to you to decide what you see. So how did it end for you, Chad? What did you see?
For me, it ended with a desire to journey back through it to see what I would discover a second time round. I think the album interestingly challenges the perception of life operating in dangerous cycles…or something. That’s a deeper conversation we can have at some point! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions and congratulations again on “Lost In The Eclectic”! And, when’s the next time Bay Area fans can see you live?
Thanks Chad! It was great diving into the little pieces of the story with you. You’ll find me in San Francisco on April 14th for a solo album release show at The Lost Church with David Colon. I can’t tell you how excited I am to return to my home.
Tickets to Ronnie’s 4/14 show here.