November 1, 2011 Interviews , Music , MUSIC/FILM/TV




Dave Carroll is what one might call a rennaisance man. He is a songwriter, accomplished performer, consumer activist and indie artist.  His song “United Breaks Guitars” is well known for its tongue in cheek take on the unsatisfied customer standing up to the big business Goliath, but as you will read, his life and career are evolving into something fascinating and rewarding.




TM: My family roots are in the province of Nova Scotia where you live and perform; consequently I’ve been a fan since the emergence of the band ‘Sons of Maxwell’ and many people are of course be familiar with your consumer activism with its origins in  ‘United Breaks Guitars.’ That one song resonated deeply with the dissatisfaction many people have been feeling for a long time with regard to being treated shabbily by big business. The immense popularity of your melodic delivery of its message via youtube was tantamount to a breakthrough for you and it certainly expanded the audience for your music. But it also altered the course of your career, taking you down another avenue of exploration professionally as an advocate on behalf of the often forgotten and anonymous consumer. Did the success of ‘United Breaks Guitars’ take you by surprise or do you feel in retrospect that the hand of fate was at work and that one way or another you would have been participating in some form of activism


DC: Yes the success of UBG took me totally by surprise.  I was convinced that I could reach a million views on YouTube with all three videos combined in one year. Because I found  plenty of forgettable content on YouTube with several million hits when I did my research, I realized that I might not be able to control who would watch my video, but I could certainly influence the experience for those who chose to watch by creating quality content (a song/video that looked good, sounded good and made people want to tell their friends about it).

So yes, I knew the potential for a lot of people to watch existed, but I had no idea that reaction after viewing it would be so strong.  The power of UBG lies in what happens after people watch the videos.  It sparks long conversations of people sharing their own experiences, or it inspires others to believe they have a voice too.  It shows that getting angry isn’t the only way to achieve positive outcomes.  That is what I didn’t foresee.  That being said my entire career has been a series of one thing leading to another and the right thing happening at just the right time.  I’ve learned not question things so much anymore and to follow my instincts. I feel I was very much lead to this and was supposed to have this experience.


TM: In the purest sense songwriters are musical memoirists, sharing the important events in their lives with their listeners. Artists such as Harry Chapin, John Denver Jim Groce, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have bared their souls in this way, essentially kicking the skeletons right out of their proverbial closets. Your own body of work both solo and with ‘Sons of Maxwell is also somewhat autobiographical, which can be tricky emotional territory for any artist to navigate, whether they are a songwriter, poet or novelist. In fact, it is probably the greatest inhibition to overcome for those in this business, to expose themselves to others. Has baring your own soul in music ever given you that moment of doubt about being so open lyrically?


DC: Exposing your own vulnerabilities in your songs is a leap and a risk that I’ve learned is worth taking.  Songwriters are communicators and a well-written song is one that shares a unique expression of a universal truth (not my saying but I wish I’d thought of it).  I believe we are all connected and my favourite songs are the ones that seem to be able to reach old and young alike simultaneously.  Baring your own soul in a song is therapeutic to the writer but often there are people in your audience who can identify with your message as well. That connection to your message may be therapeutic to the listener too. I love when I experience that because it proves this notion of connection to me again and again.


TM: Many people would be surprised to learn that you are a firefighter as is your brother Don who appears in the video for ‘Everyday Heroes,’ a tribute song to first responders and the vital role they play in society. Obviously this has become an anthem for those who risk their lives to save others and I wonder if  this work has coloured the emotional tone of your writing. There is a thread of intensity evident in many of your songs that could be construed as the result of seeing suffering first hand.  Do you feel this is true, that such profound interpersonal experiences had an impact on your song writing?


DC: Both Don and I were volunteer Fire Fighters inWaverleyNS, where I live.  Don has since become a full time FF and I have taken a leave of absence because I couldn’t commit myself consistently after UBG was released.  I’ll return again sometime soon I hope. Rather than say the job has affected my writing (outside of Everyday Heroes) I would say that my writing influenced my decision to volunteer in the first place.  I had written a lot about the concept of “home” and connection and when my wife and I bought a house inWaverleyI decided to do something for my community on a more permament basis.  As a musician I had traveled extensively and impacted people one show at a time hopefully, but I had no real roots where I lived.  Volunteering in this way establishes roots.  I’ve always valued being of service to others and you get an immediate sense of that volunteering as a first responder.  The people who call often need serious and  immediate assistance and I enjoyed the feeling of knowing that the other Fire Fighters and I were lucky enough to be able to help them when they needed it most.


TM: You are a great example of the power and freedom of being an indie artist and you display perfectly the stamina and optimism, self belief actually, required to endure over the long haul.  For a lot of indie artists you carry the torch and watching the evolution of your career is inspiring. Do you have any advice for those of us toiling away, publishing independently and finding the struggle toward success daunting and frustrating?


DC: I’ve experienced every manner of frustration in the music business and all the self doubt that goes with it. I realized at some point though that when I was most frustrated or doubted myself the most it was when I was focusing on things that didn’t matter (awards, nominations, accolades and the good opinion of critics). I finally decided that a successful career is a long career ; the gift of being able to do what you love as your sole job (or your “soul job”) for as long as you decide it makes you happy.  When I was happiest in the music business it was experiencing a good performance or hearing from fans who’d say “you’re music is making a difference in my life”.  That’s what drove me 20 years ago and still does today.  Crafting a good song and knowing you’ve exceeded your own expectations in writing it is more than gratifying.  The truth is that if you focus on enjoying each performance as the once in a lifetime experience that it is and approach each song as possibly the best thing you’ll ever write, good things will happen.  It’s only a matter of time.  Do it for yourself and for your audience and your audience will grow with you.  Most importantly if you’re doing what you love, the notion of giving up never presents itself because the alternative is always a step down.  “Never give up” is the obvious message to struggling artists but the more meaningful message is to never get distracted from doing what you love and success will find you.



TM: Writers of poetry and stories need only concern themselves with the placement of words on the page or screen, grammar, syntax etc but for a songwriter there is the added challenge of musical composition. When you are writing a song how do you approach the process? What comes first, the melody, idea, lyrics or is it different each time?


DC: For better or worse I hear the music first and am always attracted to melody in other people’s song more than the lyric.  Great lyrics blow me away but my brain is wired to pick up rhythm and melody first so that is how I write.  When I have a framework for a song laid out I let the feel of the music deliver images that turn into phrases or single words and I build it from there.  I really work on my lyrics and care about the overall message so I envy people who can write beautiful lyrics effortlessly.


TM: You recently touredRussia with your band. This must have been an enormously fulfilling trip for you creatively and naturally this leads me to ask, if at some point in the future, will your fans hear some Russian musical influence weaving its way through the songs on your next CD?


DC: I was asked at a Russian press conference if I would like to take on something akin to a UBG project about problems in that country.  I joked, “maybe when I get back home but not while I’m here”! The trip to Russia was extremely cool.  We played in St Petersburg and Moscow but started in Siberia in a city called Norilsk. Norilsk is closed to foreigners so we were privileged to perform in a place few musicians ever will.  Every experience offers an opportunity worth writing about and I met some interesting people there for sure.  Again, what I liked most was discovering that the Russian people are just like the rest of us and I was struck that my music reached them even though they may not have understood the lyrics.  That trip will present itself somewhere in a future song(s).


TM: Naturally, as a poet I have to ask if you will travel the path of many song writers and publish a book of poetry? I know Joni Mitchell and others have and the leap from Lyrics to poetry is not that great therefore it seems to be a natural progression for many.


DC: I have tried my hand at some poetry but, as I said, I struggle with lyrics so if I do manage to write anything half decent I take that as a sign to not look a gift horse in the mouth and get those lyrics in a song ASAP!  One day I would maybe like to create a collection of thoughts without the music but for now I hear both the words and music as a package.  Maybe that’s my commitment to good  service coming out; both words and music for the price of one.


*Dave would like you to visit the 911 song  area of his website, to read some wonderful stories about first responders and  perhaps share one of your own experiences relating to the brave women and men who dedicate their lives to our well being. While there, take a peek at the rest of Dave’s place on the web and enjoy the work of a very inspiring artist. You can also follow Dave on Twitter or friend him on  Facebook





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