Since The Carps are a two-piece drum and bass band from Toronto, the comparisons to Death From Above 1979 were immeasurable when they first started blowing up, but theyâ€™ve clearly paved their own way, holding their own on the international circuit.
Their first EP, The Young & Passionate Days of Carpedia, was a searing piece of garage and post-punk with a good dose of rhythm and blues. Their latest EP, Waves and Shambles, takes a more chilled out route and flows by on a synthetically fabricated tip.
Format was lucky enough to be granted this interview with the often-reclusive frontman, Jahmal P. Tonge.
“I donâ€™t think that fashion is inspired by music, and I donâ€™t think music is inspired by fashion. I think that culture inspires everything.”
Format: Whatâ€™s in the name?
Jahmal Tonge: The Carps comes from the Latin expression, carpe diem, â€œseize the dayâ€. Thereâ€™s nothing more to it. Thatâ€™s the beginning and the end; I wish I could tell you something more. I hate the name; I wish we could change it now, but itâ€™s stuck.
Format: Tell me about the new album, Waves and Shambles. Itâ€™s a bit different from the first one, a little more electronic.
Jahmal Tonge: Yeah, definitely. We spent time putting it on computers. Technology is incredible these days; the fact that I can make an album from start to scratch all in my bedroom blows my mind. The only time I went to the studio was to record vocals. We used the MSTRKRFT studios and some other stuff at XM Satellite Radio Studios with Steve Major, who was super nice. He loved what we had and invited us to come by any time to record at this world class studio. They had all these crazy monitors and consoles. You can just mix it there from top to bottom, and then send some tracks off to L.A. to get mixed!
Format: So did you feel like you got any breaks with your music?
Jahmal Tonge: Iâ€™d like to think that it was talent alone that got us out there. I feel like we rocked out harder than most bands we know. Not to be completely arrogant, but most bands play a few shows per year and then theyâ€™re the next buzz band according to Spin magazine. But weâ€™ve been playing for three years, hammering shit out, playing the same damn songs over and over. But I like it; I feel that the harder we work at it, the more weâ€™re going to get ahead.
I love the fact that wherever we go–like in Europe–they know of some bands from Toronto, but they donâ€™t really know. Theyâ€™re always impressed when we tell them weâ€™re from Canada. But I love playing small shows back home still. I miss that. Weâ€™re not big enough by far that we canâ€™t do those shows any more.
Format: How has the overseas response been?
Jahmal Tonge: Amazing. Canada sucks, North America sucks. People say it all the time, but Europeans are way more natural with their music. The structure, the art, is less rigid. Your hip-hop here–the lines become lines. They donâ€™t have the same racial issues. Not that they donâ€™t have racial issues, but theyâ€™re just different. On another note, we were in Amsterdam opening for the Cool Kids, and they have some serious hip-hop heads there. No matter how hard I sang–I tried to get all R&B on them, or more hip-hop, they were not having it. They were just like, whatever, and politely clapped at the end of the set. We also played a hip-hop night in Oslo, Norway, the capital of black metal. There were a surprising lot of hip-hoppers but they were into the metal too, so there we kind of met them halfway with our music. They totally loved it. It was our best show ever.
Format: Did you have any goals with the new album?
Jahmal Tonge: Yeah. To sell thousands! Hahaha! But stylistically, we didnâ€™t have any thing specific. It was more just the sound that was in our heads at the time. The first album was a lot more punk influenced. We were listening to a lot of Black Flag, Bad Brains, New Jack Swing–stuff like that; you can see that on the record. But this record is a lot more electronic, a lot more nightclub stuff. Jo Jo Johansen, lots of hardcore, a lot of metal, a lot of electronic, and of course R&B. So, stylistically the album came out like that but we didnâ€™t really go for it.
Format: Letâ€™s say you were Death From Above 1979, and you guys split up. Which of you would be Jesse Keeler and who would be Sebastian Grainger?
Jahmal Tonge: Hahaha. I canâ€™t answer that question. That would get me into a whole lot of trouble. We never set out to be Death From Above. I wish I could say it happened by accident, but we do get a lot of comparisons because we are a two-piece band with drums and a vocalist. We were really worried about that for a while but we just kept on playing. Eventually, they heard our music. They were really cool cats, really encouraging and they liked what we were doing, so that was that. I even have a live bootleg of Sebastianâ€™s last show; I listen to it all the time.
Format: How about the album cover?
Jahmal Tonge: It was designed by an artist named Justin who goes by We Kill You. Itâ€™s dope. We were hoping he could do something completely original but then we werenâ€™t able to because of time constraints, so we chose one of the skins he did for a company called Gelaskins (www.gelaskins.com). He just inverted the colours and slapped that on, but we still love it.
Format: There are a lot of girlsâ€™ names in your song titles for this album.
Jahmal Tonge: Yeah, the first one is called â€œVeronica Belmontâ€– thatâ€™s the lead track. Sheâ€™s a technology blogger in SF. I had her site open one day while I was wrapping up a track and I just put the name in because it was the first thing that I saw on my screen. Every day you go out and you encounter some kind of technology. I was talking about this with my girlfriend; when you read a newspaper you donâ€™t get a connection to the writer, you donâ€™t feel anything when you watch a newscast. But with blogs, people feel like they know the people writing them. People think they know Perez Hilton–it feels like youâ€™re reading a diary; itâ€™s this new, weird thing we have in our society, so thatâ€™s what the song is about.
Format: And Porgie and Bess (â€œBig Booty Girlsâ€)?
Jahmal Tonge: That was always called â€œBig Booty Girls,â€ but just before we finished and wrote it, I had just read the screenplay for Porgie and Bess, but I had always wanted to write a song called â€œBig Booty Girls.â€ We wrote a lot of our songs before the first record (along with â€œAll The Damn Kidsâ€) but we never thought we would have this two-piece drum and bass combo to play them with, so it kind of started as a joke, but it became a real song now that we gave it some more substance. On the other hand, itâ€™s still a song about girls with fat asses. I love that ish.
The third song is called â€œGretta Edris.â€ Thatâ€™s my grandmotherâ€™s name.
Format: How did you link up with the Cool Kids?
Jahmal Tonge: MySpace, MySpace, MySpace. They hit us up and I was a bit skeptical at first; I didnâ€™t respond right away, but I listened to it and I could tell it was dope. It had that same New Jack Swing and sounded really fresh. Like, I love hip-hop, really love it, but Iâ€™ve hated hip-hop for a long time too. I used to be the guy who thought that hip-hop needed a name change. I canâ€™t stand the fact that Young Jeezy is running the world acting like Wu-Tang never existed.
Format: Do you feel that there is a relationship between music and fashion?
Jahmal Tonge: I think that the connection is there with the creativity, but people who are unrelated to the two are always trying to draw parallels that donâ€™t exist. I donâ€™t think that fashion is inspired by music, and I donâ€™t think music is inspired by fashion. I think that culture inspires everything.