Marc Carroll, born 1972, has travelled from his native Dublin to London and back and then onto Los Angeles to pursue his musical vision. “I’ve always travelled. I’ll go anywhere that is purposeful to me. The music comes first. It always has and always will. People have suffered because of that, probably me too, but I just can’t help that. I left my family - everything – behind, and I live with that. It isn’t always easy but that’s just the way it is.”
Carroll has experienced the frustration that comes with folding labels, collapsing deals, misguided marketing gambits, wrongheaded artist development. “I don’t mull over it, there’s been a reason for any mishaps or misfortune. I care about the music, not the business behind it.” And yet, refusing to be moulded according to marketeers whim, each album Marc has recorded – ‘Ten Of Swords’, ‘World On A Wire’, ‘All Wrongs Reversed’ , ‘Dust Of Rumour’ , last years retrospective collection, 'In Silence' and the new album and first for Bjork's One Little Indian Label, 'Stone Beads And Silver', have rightfully been accorded across the board critical acclaim.
Growing up in 1980s Dublin shadowed by the all pervasive shadow of a certain messianic world conquering 4 piece (you know who), Marc felt a closer connection to the rawer sounds from the north of Ireland and America - Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers, Derry’s The Undertones. “I was listening to folk and punk records and went off on my own way, those band’s music spoke much more directly to me, they were true. They were singing about truth, frustration, violence and girls…that other stuff just didn’t ring true for me…Whited sepulchers.” he insists. “I heard Johnny Rotten and thought my word, I heard Hank Williams and I thought good lord and I heard Bob Dylan and I picked up a guitar. You can’t go back or aspire to any logical or idyllic way of life after that.”
A period back home at the start of 90s once again found him out of step with the contemporary Dublin scene. “Well, from a young age I always felt some sort of gravitational pull to be somewhere else and I can’t really explain that…. but I needed to be elsewhere so I went to London for a while, and then I travelled to America…and stayed. There is a relative openness in America, not so many approval tests or limits to character.” Signed to Rough Trade Marc earned a support slot with Bob Mould’s Sugar. A live duet with Mould on ‘Ticket To Ride’ provided a boost (as well as shows with Husker Du drummer/Songwriter, Grant Hart) - but around the same time Rough Trade folded.
His next band were subsequently signed to V2 and though similarly fated (album released and deleted almost immediately), Marc was offered a lifeline when a short traditional sounding instrumental piece he had composed was picked up for inclusion on Friends. Strange days indeed. “Just one of those things you know. I don’t watch TV. Never heard of the program actually. I asked around and people said it was popular.”
Carroll was persuaded to take the plunge and go solo signing to Universal Music this time around but “left hanging for two years” before his first solo album Ten of Swords – recorded in 1999 - was finally released on Evangeline Records in 2003. “They tried to get me to go over to Ireland and become some sort of, I don’t know, troubadour, is that the word? ...I don’t make records like that. I’d spent most of my adult life away from Ireland, so to be dropped back in just seemed false, wrong. Cheating myself almost.”
The follow up 'World On A Wire' appeared in 2005. “That’s quite a raw record. I wrote it late at night and into the early hours, ate goats cheese and drank this sweetened fortified wine that I picked up in Nashville from this woman, a waitress called Flossie, an incredible guitar player, a great great musician. I never heard anything like this woman in all my life. I wrote the record after that and did the songs in one take, maybe two but no more than two.” Carroll’s formative Folk roots and punk blend has antecedents: The Pogues, Van Morrison, Dexys Midnight Runners were also sprung in various ways from such a union. Does he feel part of that tradition? “Only in the way that you do what you do, regardless of consequence or opinion.”
That approach calls to mind Bob Dylan - an influence obvious from the grim fatalism that peppers Carroll’s own compositions and the fact that he’s covered several of the maestro’s songs. One of Marc’s Dylan covers, ‘Gates Of Eden’, was featured on Dylan’s official webpage. (“I don’t know how that happened… glad it did though.”) Carroll subsequently got to meet the man and watch him from the stage at London’s Dockland Arena. “I sat on the side of the stage 10 feet from him. His commitment to his music and craft is just something to be respected. He’s great, you know. People still walk out of his shows in disbelief. Isn’t that something? They still don’t get it. I don’t understand the constant need to look back to the 1960’s. His Christmas record is up there with his best records in my mind.”
‘Mr. Wilson’ a heartfelt tribute to Beach Boys presiding genius Brian Wilson recorded in 1998 came to the Beach Boy’s legend attention. In LA Wilson’s band helped put together a live group for some dates. “I found some people in Los Angeles who were in some way familiar with what I do. That was interesting. I flew over, never met them previously, did a few rehearsals and then some shows. Very instinctive, slightly unorganized and shambolic but I need that sometimes. I don’t know structure of any kind.”
‘Dust Of Rumour’ showed a keen new maturity, hardened by raw experience but finding new levels of dreamy release in the gossamer magic of songs such as ‘Illusion And I’ and ‘A Dark And Lucky Night.’ Now after a period that has seen him absent from the live stage for 5 years, making ends meet with a series of jobs like cleaning up in LA Zoo (“I looked after the Bonobos. I didn’t want to work anywhere else, just with them. I felt a kinship, they really left a strong impression on me.”)
In 2010 a fresh deal was struck with One Little Indian - “Derek (Birkett) asked me what I wanted to do, just straight up ‘what do you want to do’, that’s not something you hear everyday from record labels. Apart from anything, I know the history of the label very well. Flux Of Pink Indians, Crass, Subhumans, Conflict, that whole thing…those were bands that mattered to me, and still do.
The first release was the retrospective compilation, ‘In Silence’ (2011) which refocused attention on Marc and paved the way for new album ‘Stone Beads & Silver’ - Carroll’s best yet. Recorded in Los Angeles and Woodstock during the summer of 2012, the it marks yet another turning point in his long and often varied career. Previously playing all instruments on his solo recordings, for the new record, Carroll drafted in a host of high ranking musicians to play on the songs - some of the best working in American music today, including Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), Nelson Bragg & Probyn Gregory (Brian Wilson), McKenzie Smith (Midlake) as well as former Bob Dylan sideman and Levon Helm band leader, Larry Campbell.
“I didn’t want to play it all myself this time,” explains Carroll. “I wanted to bring a different feel to some of the songs. These weren’t a bunch of 3-minute guitar songs. I knew who I wanted to play on the songs as I was writing them and the record benefits from that approach. These people are all great at what they do, have an ethos, a way of life that puts music first or makes music an intimate part of their lives. They come from different musical environments but the ethic is the same, they understand the depth and variety and history of American music in particular, which is important to me.”
And for the first time Marc drafted in a defacto producer - Grammy Award winner Chris Testa (Jimmy Eat World, Band Of Horses, Dixie Chicks) to work alongside him on the sessions in Los Angeles.
“There is no particular style to the new record. My records have never been like that. You can’t really pigeonhole life and I certainly can’t do that to my songs. They have a life of their own and they are what they are. I never have a set plan. I only care about the songs and they will dictate how they should sound.”