Crowd funding is really booming at the moment and many painters, designers, writers and musicians try to persuade a worldwide audience to invest in their projects. I absolutely love that and in the past few months I’ve been funding several art and, strangely enough, only a few music projects. One of my favorite is Julie Carpenter's new ‘Princess Pangolin’ project. Not only great music, but wonderful cover art as well. This made me more than curious and I just had to contact her to hear the story behind the project.
What is your personal musical background as a child? Was there any music around?
‘I grew up in a fairly isolated west Texas town. My parents had a large country/western & bluegrass record collection; I remember listening to these with much enthusiasm as a small child. Buck Owens, Bob Wills, Patsy Cline… these were the sounds I heard before anything else. I wasn't really allowed to listen to modern pop/rock radio as a child so I was culturally quite isolated from my 1980s peers. I was a huge bookworm as well, especially loving sci-fi and fantasy books. I began violin lessons when I was six, and by luck it happened to be something I took to easily.’
And how did you go from listening and reading to the first steps of being an artist?
‘Well, I suppose my first steps were sort of forced in that my achievements as a young violinist were more about fulfilling my parents' dreams than my own. My dream, at that age, was the same as every girl… to be perceived as normal by other people my age. Looking back, it was a laughable and unattainable goal. I wasn't normal, and I frankly wouldn't want to be the kind of normal that those kids were.’
‘In high school and college I began the bumpy, painful and embarrassing journey of the young artist trying to find their "voice." My first band in college was a weird Goth band, and I also dabbled around on the edge of the space rock scene in Denton, Texas where I went to school. I was never the songwriter in these early acts. I lacked the confidence. After college I came to Los Angeles, and found myself playing violin as a professional position for various rock bands like The Eels, Love with Arthur Lee and Spiritualized. I also played in local bands for fun, and had the great fortune to fall in with an indie folk outfit called Listing Ship. They were amazing songwriters, and I learned a lot from them. They even played a couple of songs that I wrote; that was the gateway to me becoming an artist in my own right. I had accumulated a lot of experience watching how all the acts I'd played with functioned. And finally, I had the confidence to do something with my own ideas. When Listing Ship parted ways, I was ready to launch.’
Only a year ago the first ‘Princess Pangolin’ album was released, what is the story behind this project?
‘The first self-titled album was recorded entirely in our basement. We have a pretty interesting home studio set-up, my partner Dain and I; we record music for TV & commercials as our main employment. We have to be ready for anything, so I had at my fingertips guitars, basses, keyboards, all kinds of synths and toy instruments, percussion--not to mention all the mics, effects and computer equipment. So I just sat down like a kid in a candy store and went nuts. Since it was our own studio, I had no limits on the amount of harmony vocals I could lay down, or the amount of odd little overdubs. I had just begun playing with the band I play with now, so it was mostly from the record that they learned the material. The first album was purely a digital release. I don't really know how people reacted to it. In most cases it seems like they either really love it or they don't get it at all and they hate it. I'm pretty sure that no one noticed it, actually. I'm a really terrible self-promoter.’
And now, a year later you are on Kickstarter trying to fund for a new album, can you tell about the ideas you have for this new album?
‘The new record is very different from the last in several ways. First of all, these songs were all written after the band was assembled, so they're much more of an organic outgrowth of the way we play together. Because we recorded most of it at an outside studio, and all of the basic tracks recorded to tape, it's by necessity a much tighter record. It's quality over quantity, sonically. We were very well-rehearsed when we went in to the studio. On the first record, many of the songs were being written while they were being recorded. I still like the first record, but I feel like with this record I was able to say what I wanted to say much more clearly. There is no meandering, no wasted time. That's not to say there's not a lot of sonic lushness, but it's all placed with great care. Putting out this new record on vinyl seems like the natural culmination of all that care. Music has been greatly devalued in the shift towards digital media, and the art of making a real "album" as opposed to a loose collection of singles is a dying art. I'd like to show that it can still be done.’
And you choose to combine the music with art work, why this combination? Does it really add something necessary?
‘I like to think of it like a fine meal. A great meal isn't just about the isolated taste of the food… it's the smell, the appearance, and even the lovely porcelain dishes and the people that you share it with. For me, and a great many people I think, listening to music is already a very visual experience. Sounds and chord progressions often summon up imagery for me. In fact, sometimes when I'm learning new music this is part of how I memorize it. It seems perfectly natural to me to provide some extra dimensions for people to explore. I think as time goes on that's going to be not only accepted but expected of musicians.’
Why choose to use Kickstarter for the project?
‘Well, as someone who doesn't have label backing, if that even exists these days, there's a limited number of ways to get something done. I'm hoping that it will help people feel involved with the process, sort of like they own stock in Princess Pangolin. It gives people a really direct way to support music that they like. In a way, it may be a bad fit for us because I'm not very comfortable asking people for help. In any arena. But the truth is, we can't really finish this on our own, not any time soon. Of course, if the kickstarter fails we will still put out the record, but it will probably be next year and by then our momentum will be lost. I've seen that happen to many bands I've known over the years; you take too long to put something out, and by the time you do no one cares.’
A bit strange to ask while you are in the middle of a project, but somehow I got the idea you have dreams that go beyond this project, would you like to share them?
‘Long term, I want to keep making things. Music, photography, writing… it's all the same to me as long as it resonates with people. I'll probably do an electronic album soon. I'm learning a lot about synthesizers and the history of electronic music, and I'm beginning to see the beauty in these "new" instruments. I like the extreme plasticity of electronic instruments, but I've always been a bit turned off by how cold and impersonal they can be. However, I've had the opportunity to play with some older analog equipment, and I can testify that it's every bit as quirky as a violin or even a voice. Short term, I would really love to tour with the band I have now, especially in Europe. I think that we would find a wider audience there. Appreciation for live music performance is definitely on the decline in the US. And these folks I'm playing with now are really wonderful, as people and musicians. I feel like they deserve to be heard.’
Hopefully the project is already funded when you read this
but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of the wonderful world of Princess Pangolin,
so just go there and feel if this is the right vibe for you.
Want to start supporting musician or other artists? Try www.kickstarter.com or www.pledgemusic.com amongst others.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Princess Pangolin (unknown).