Editor's note: This is the last of our series of profiles on Vita.mn's Are You Local finalists, including Bad Bad Hats on Monday and Audio Perm on Tuesday.
The members of Carroll don’t need to spend much time thinking about whom they would like to collaborate with. Talent seems to find them.
Frontman Brian Hurlow and his fellow Macalaster College alumni have been nurturing their brand of dream-pop on Twin Cities stages since late 2011. The road to their debut release, the new “Needs” EP, has been paved in opportunity — some serendipitous, some earned. But with the springy EP cuts “Billionaire” and “Lead Balloon” already in rotation at 89.3 the Current, Carroll doesn’t notice that new-band smell as much as others.
“It’s funny. We just put out our EP, so we’re a new band for a lot of people,” said drummer Charlie Rudoy, “but we’ve played like anywhere between 40 or 50 shows in the last year. And for most of the early ones, we hadn’t been good.”
The compositional honing that Carroll achieved on stage found its way to record when the group won a songwriting competition held by the Minneapolis recording studio Humans Win! Producer Lance Conrad left the studio door open for Carroll around the schedules of paying artists, and the spoils can be heard throughout “Needs.” Advancing the songs past their demoed versions would end up being one of Carroll’s more daunting tasks.
“The demo can be a hard thing to navigate and a killer for bands,” Hurlow said. “You generate attachments to things that you couldn’t possibly reproduce in another context.”
The group’s out-of-state roots (Hurlow is a Seattle native, Rudoy is from New York, guitarist Max Kulicke is from Philadelphia and bassist Charles McClung hails from Nebraska) have also been invaluable. Hurlow tapped longtime friend and filmmaker Sean Leonard to develop a video for the standout track “Billionaire,” shot at Hurlow’s family home in Washington state. The clip portrays the trappings of decadent youth veiled by dark expressionism. Amid a sensual atmosphere, Hurlow sings, “You’re a billionaire with a shotgun, and you feel it in the back of your throat / Maybe it’s the lonely nights or the days gone by / You know where you gotta go.” Even while sitting above haughty guitar shimmers, the group gravitates toward this sort of macabre subject matter.
“Contrast is key to pop music,” Hurlow said. “You turn on the radio to Top 40 and there’s always an amelodic verse followed a slammer of a chorus. You can’t have too much sugar, and you can’t have too much salt.”
The craftsmanship on this handful of firsts for Carroll can seem somewhat un-Minneapolis. Little things like unrecognizable landmarks in the “Billionaire” video can give the four-piece an imported feel, especially when executed so fashionably.
The band members have settled into their post-collegiate lot as Twin Cities working artists. Hurlow holds a day job as computer programmer (his freelance clients include the Star Tribune, which is Vita.mn’s parent company). But this group of Twin Cities transplants continues to look outward, beyond Minnesota.
“We’ve been pretty conscious for the last six months of the idea that it would be really great to have a huge support system here, but if we set our sights higher, that will follow,” Kulicke said. “People around here will react to a band that’s getting attention elsewhere in a very positive way, but the transverse of that is not necessarily true.”
Who: Brian Hurlow (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Max Kulicke (guitar), Charles McClung (bass), Charlie Rudoy (drums).
Music: Self-released “Needs” EP.