Sharing the bond of attending high school in New Jersey, Dina Carpenito and Carlo Dean together make simple yet exquisite music. Like watching icicles form on the edge of a stream or walking through a mossy forest misted with a light rain, the songs on their self-released album "Permafrost" are beautiful without being too precious or pretentious. Indeed, Dina and Carlo themselves are such warm and genuine people, it would be hard to imagine them making anything different. Not only were they fun to interview, but they are generous as well, announcing that they will donate all of the profits from sales of their CD to the American Red Cross for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Since you should buy this album anyway, you now have twice as many reasons! This interview was conducted via email July through September of 2005.
CARLO: The simple answer (addressing what we want to accomplish artistically) would be to create a deliberate, varied and large body of work (not necessarily in that order), while avoiding creating a jerseyturnpike paradigm. One of my biggest fears is that after permafrost, people will think of us as a polite, inoffensive ensemble.
Right now, we’re writing some music for string quartet, percussion, guitar, and voice (possibly some other instruments as we gauge the interest of musician friends), which we hope to perform and record this Fall for an album. Although this instrumentation may seem rather benign, we’re aiming to create a harsh, dissonant album in stark contrast to permafrost. We're also in the planning stages of collaborating with our good friend Greg Burns (Red Sparowes) on another album. As both of these projects are in the beginning stages, we're not 100% sure exactly what form these projects will take.
Although we perform frequently as a duo, it is also a goal of ours to continue to perform and record with a bunch of different musicians, and not to give ourselves restrictions whatsoever. We’re looking to find a bass player and drummer to work with in San Francisco, but it’s not so easy to find good players that are available.
Otherwise, we'd like to tour Europe and Asia - maybe even have a label put out a CD of ours - not have to work day jobs, etc...
DINA: I second what Carlo said, although I’d like to elaborate on what I personally would like to accomplish. For several years before jerseyturnpike, I was involved in bands that masked my voice with distortion/noise and volume. I’m not saying anything negative about those bands because I think the music was great and I had an amazing time playing with all of my friends. But, those experiences led me to lose confidence in my vocal abilities. I spent several years training my voice to do some pretty amazing things and when I was in a situation where my voice was drowned out 90% of the time I began to question whether or not I could even still do them. Playing in jerseyturnpike has been humbling for me because there is no chance of hiding myself behind another instrument. Performing live is challenging because I’m forced to examine my voice and make choices that fit with the music and the tone of the performance. Each show is a learning experience for me and a chance to examine what I’m doing with my voice and what I would like to be doing. So, I guess what I would most like to accomplish with jerseyturnpike is a vocal and musical growth.
DINA: Aside from jerseyturnpike, I have a solo project called supergrip. It began in 2002 while I was living in a sleepy New England town and playing music with some friends in the band, Mariner. I was happy living there and playing music, but my thoughts were of someone and someplace far away. So, to combat my restless feelings I started playing around late at night on my roommate’s computer, combining live instruments with environmental noise and sampled drum beats. The project represents the place I was during long winter months in New England. I was inspired to create those songs to fill the void left by a very special person, with whom I now play in jerseyturnpike.
As a side note, supergrip’s debut ep was just released on the UK label “state of distress.” Sarat, who runs the label, did an amazing job on the artwork and it’s available at www.stateofdistress.com [see link at bottom]. But, hurry up and get it because it’s a limited release.
Ok, that’s the end of my plug.
CARLO: In my solo work, I’m primarily interested in experimental classical composition, or new music. For that work, and also for jerseyturnpike to a degree, I’m constantly inspired by so many great composers (Webern, Shostakovich, Varèse, Crumb, etc.), the music of my friends and peers (both from Cal Arts and beyond), and by anyone creating new and interesting things. If anyone is interested, check out www.carlodean.com [see link at bottom].
DINA: The fact that we went to high school together is part of the reason we play music together today. I wouldn’t say that it had an effect on the direction that we took, because I think we took two very distinct and differing paths. Somewhere along the line we seemed to acquire similar musical tastes and we began to form ideas of how we wanted to make music.
CARLO: In the case of permafrost (and in the case of some sketches that may become future albums), we set up a series of rules before we began forming the content of the album. These rules dictated album form on a large scale as well as on the detailed level. One of the rules was to create six "songs" with vocals (marked by Roman numerals) which were linked together with instrumental improvisations without vocals (marked by letters).
DINA: As of this moment, I write the lyrics, but I’m not opposed to sing something Carlo wrote. I think the whole of the song is more important than who writes what parts. One of the reasons we formed jerseyturnpike is to allow for unconventional ideas of song composition and performance.
DINA: There is a certain intimacy involved in making music with Carlo that isn't achieved when working with other people. I've been fortunate in the past to play music with good friends, but there's a difference that I can't put into words. Playing together definitely gives our relationship a unique depth. I think we have the advantage of living together and being able to write and practice whenever we choose; it's difficult to get four or five people with conflicting schedules together for a band practice. But, because we live together sometimes the boundaries between the band and every day life are blurred and we're not as productive as we could be – especially when working a day job. But, we’re hoping to fix that little nuisance soon.
CARLO: Our friend, musician Laura Watling, told me there was this new harp player in town who was interested in playing with some people. My original thought wasn’t necessarily to play with Jessica in the context of jerseyturnpike, but just to get together and see what happened. Anyway, I called up Jessica, and what could potentially be an awkward cold call turned out to be a great conversation and we instantly clicked. A few days later, Jessica came over with her double-strung harp. The nature of the instrument worked very well with the open-tuning finger-style stuff on permafrost, so we started improvising on those ideas. Again, we clicked, so it was only natural that we ask Jessica to come into the studio with us. Right now, Jessica is in Bolivia and we miss her. I hope she comes back someday so we can do some more stuff together.
CARLO: We both spent a large part of our formative years in New Jersey. I guess it was the inescapable Jersey influence. I don't think we even discussed it - we just woke up one day and had a name. I couldn't even tell you which one of us said it first. If you were from Jersey, you wouldn’t have had to ask that question…
DINA: I've got a mean right hook.
CARLO: I've got the bruises to prove it.
CARLO: What Dina failed to mention above is that she and I played together in a kick-ass funk band in High School (didn’t we all?). Maybe I’ll send you a CD to review…
DINA: Um, I don’t think that’ll happen. I’ve got one copy of it and I’ll sooner burn it than let anyone listen. Yeah, it’s really that bad.
DINA: Tension can be very motivating. I tend to write very personal lyrics, so if there is tension in my life the music – at least lyrically – will reflect that.
CARLO: Tension, as a harmonic device, was utilized very subtly in permafrost. In our next project, tension (and occasional release) is/will be more of an overt and defining term.
DINA: Ever since I was a child I have been interested in music. I vividly remember giving my friends impromptu performances on the front steps of my childhood home. Making up songs is something that most kids do, but I was fortunate to have parents that encouraged and nurtured my musical interests.
CARLO: I’ll give you the super short version… As a young kid, I was encouraged by my parents to take organ lessons. A few years later, around 5th grade, my father bought me an Amiga computer with this music notation program called Musicraft. As I entered the tons of organ music into this program coupled with reading, I began to gather a basic understanding of music theory. At around 7th grade, I started to pick up my father’s bass, and in 8th grade I got my first guitar. My parents encouraged me to start jazz guitar lessons… from there I went to college for jazz guitar and grad school for composition.
CARLO: As far as playing and writing, all of the great teachers I’ve had continue to inspire and motivate me. I am inspired just by the possibility of creating something new and interesting. I am also inspired by the great music I hear from my friends and from others, by some of the things that I watch, and some of the things I read (lately, some of the essays in John Zorn’s compilation, Arcana, have been quite an inspiration). I am amazed by science, particularly Astronomy and Cosmology, and aspire to generate the type of excitement in a new composition as one might feel as they discovered another key to the universe. As far as motivation and moral support, I would have to say Dina would be my biggest inspiration.
DINA: I am inspired by the search to discover what kind of person I truly am and identifying those things that I – and everyone - hide from other people. I’m fascinated by love and lust and jealousy and perversion and people and religion and the cosmos and my deepest, darkest secrets. But, mostly I’m inspired by Carlo and his amazing talent.
CARLO: While we were living in Los Angeles, our friend Greg Burns asked us if we wanted to play a show in San Francisco with some of the members of his former band, Halifax Pier. The show was a 30+ minute score to a slideshow by Cara Gurney, and part of a larger show by a San Francisco photo collective called Point Blank. Since I’m name-dropping, I should probably give you the entire ensemble: Greg Burns – Bass, Charles Sommer - Guitar, Claire Monty – Cello, Rich Douthit – drums. Anyway, we had thoughts of starting a group together because the chemistry at the beginning was excellent. Although we couldn’t really capture that initial chemistry after that show, I think our visits to San Francisco (or at least the idea of San Francisco) breathed a bit more life into Dina and I, so we decided it was time for a change. Greg Burns said he was going to move up to San Francisco as well and play in a group with us, but instead he stayed in Los Angeles and formed Red Sparowes. What a jerk!
DINA: Again, I second that (just kidding, G). But seriously, San Francisco is such a unique place to live. The city population is incredibly diverse and there’s more tolerance of people’s differences than any other place I’ve lived. Besides, where else can you walk across one of the seven wonders of the modern world?
CARLO and DINA: Thanks Eden for the interview! When are you coming to San Francisco?
dina's solo project
carlo's composition site
to purchase permafrost
all photos by Christina Carpenito
-- Eden Hemming Rose (5 September, 2005)