The Best Part of Breaking Up
Retro pop sixpiece the Carrots calls it quits with debut LP
By Andy Bianculli, 3:19PM, Mon. Jul. 1
Good news/bad news for fans of bubblegum popsters the Carrots: the local sextet called it quits last week following the release of its first and final full-length, New Romance.
For those lucky enough to see the band perform over the past eight years, the debut/swan song serves less as an epitaph and more as a reminder that you truly don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
A lot can happen to a musical group in such a time span, especially a band whose emergence warranted the attention and praise the Carrots initially received. Under Spanish pop label Elefant Records, the locals busted out the gate, releasing a string of 7-inch singles in 2008. Since then, it’s been hard to catch all the Carrots in one place, mostly due to the fact that its lineup has invested time in countless other projects, including Yellow Fever, Deep Time, and Party Girl.
The rally to release New Romance, despite lineup and studio changes and the juggling of schedules over an eight-year span, wasn’t a burial, but rather a cause for celebration.
Last week, on the eve of the Carrots’ destruction, I sat down with band members Veronica Ortuno, Rose Russo, and Chris Lyons to discuss songwriting, making records in prison with Phil Spector, and becoming the next Rodriguez.
Austin Chronicle: Tell me how New Romance came together.
Veronica Ortuno: The majority of songs we recorded with Mike Vasquez at Sweatbox Studios in East Austin.
Chris Lyons: Except for “Beverly,” which we re-recorded with a guy named Tim Bond. But we did the vocals at Sweatbox.
AC: And that goes back a while doesn’t it, to old home recordings and Cacophony Studios?
CL: Cacophony was [the home of] our first two real releases, and our first seven-inch.
VO: We recorded over a two-year period with a lot of people.
AC: I was really struck by the sound of the drums on this album.
VO: Yeah, that’s Chef [Jason Pittman, the band’s drummer]. He’s great, and he’s drummed in a lot of amazing bands like the Pataphysics and Party Girl with Rose [Russo] and Jason [Pearson, fellow Carrots].
AC: There really isn’t any waste or filler on the disc. Everything seems deliberate.
VO: We honed in on the craft of the songs and were really conscious of the timing on them and the reverb we used. Everything, really. We were just more conscious about what we were doing with each song.
There really aren’t too many effects. At the time we released the seven-inch, there were bands doing a similar style of music that were really drowned in reverb – where you couldn’t hear the lyrics. I feel like lyrics for this kind of music are really important. It sucks when you hear a bunch of reverb and you can’t really understand what the singer is saying at all.
AC: Have you noticed a spike in bands playing a similar style of music since 2008, when you originally started working on the album?
CL: Quite a few. I think it peaked midway through. I kind of feel now like we’re out of vogue again, but halfway through, it was like everybody was doing it.
VO: Yeah, there were a lot of pop-up girl groups or rehash bands.
AC: Which girl groups in particular were an influence for this album?
CL: Our influences for this particular band were really all over the place, but at the same time stereotypical of what you would think, like the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las.
VO: Irma Thomas.
AC: I know you all have other musical projects. How is your approach to songwriting different for this group?
CL: The whole genre is kind of teenage, so the aspects that are concerning about these songs that we love, like “My Boyfriend’s Back,” are very tongue-in-cheek. If it’s delivered with sincerity, which is all upon the singer to convey, then it can resonate.
Rose Russo: We went with timeless themes that work for everybody.
CL: Jennifer Moore [Deep Time] and Jason Pearson had a lot to do with the songwriting on this record, and they’re really good.
AC: You released a record and announced that you were breaking up. How does that affect your hopes for New Romance?
VO: First and foremost, we made these records so that people could have them, and we hope that people enjoy it. It’s just an artifact and something that we created and put so much hard work into for eight years.
RR: I’m really proud of it. I’m not bummed out that we’re not a band anymore.
CL: We’re kind of planning to do a Searching for Sugar Man, where we get really big in South Africa and in 25 years it will be huge.
AC: How about in the time between now and your Searching for Sugar Man moment?
RR: Everybody in the band is still playing music. Veronica has her solo stuff; Chris has his bands and me, Jason [Pittman], and Jason [Pearson] have Party Girl.
AC: I have an idea that someone should build a studio where Phil Spector is imprisoned and make a record. What do you think of that?
CL: Yeah, but you can only record if you’re actually in prison. So if your band would love to record with Phil Spector, you actually have to commit a crime and be committed.
RR: We’re gonna have a massive petition that says there’s more harm done to the world with him being in jail.
AC: I agree. I think based on Death of a Ladies Man and “Be My Baby,” he should be able to kill whoever he wants.
RR: That’s fair, at least one person.
New Romance and the Carrots’ new 7-inch can be found at Las Cruxes, 913 E. Cesar Chavez.