Music preview: Pittsburgh band Carousel takes a spin through the classic-rock landscape
September 3, 2015 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh band Carousel includes Jim Wilson, Matt Goldsborough, Dave Wheeler and Jake Leger.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Carousel is that rare band you can slot with the heavy ones at a metal fest like Vultures of Volume in Hagerstown, Md., this weekend or, and this has not happened yet, you could throw it on a rib festival and people would flip out about how it much it can sound like Thin Lizzy.
The Pittsburgh band, which debuted in 2012, arrived at its hard rock sound through a variety of channels. Singer-guitarist Dave Wheeler played in the sludgier rock bands 70,000 BC and Magic Wolf, the latter with drummer Jake Leger, also known for his work in indie rock band The Karl Hendricks Trio, and punk band The 53rd State. Bassist Jim Wilson comes from Mary Celeste, among others.
The band’s latest addition is Matt Goldsborough, a member of ’70s metal pioneers Pentagram. They met the Philly-based guitarist at a festival in Germany, where Carousel was doing shows with Pentagram. Just to add a few more layers, Pentagram also tours with Bang, a Philly metal band that was around briefly in the early ’70s and then reformed over the past decade with Mr. Leger on drums.
With: Cruces, Mansion.
Where: Spirit, 51st and Butler Sts., Lawrenceville.
“One of the amazing things is, I’m in this band that influenced Pentagram and also influenced Carousel,” the drummer says, trying to the explain the triangle.
“When Twiz [Chris Tritschler] left Carousel,” he explains, “Matt contacted us immediately, and we knew he was a great player, and despite the hassle of him not living in Pittsburgh, we were like, ‘Yeah, we gotta get Matt in the band.’ It’s great because he’s been contributing a lot of writing. Dave and Matt really respect each other and they can go toe-to-toe, guitar wise.”
That is exactly what they do on the new sophomore album “2113.”
“People think it’s a Rush reference,” Mr. Leger says of the numbers. “It’s really just the street address for the apartment where Dave and Jim live” in Squirrel Hill.
Rush is not the go-to comparison, as Carousel’s sound revolves around a sizzling twin-guitar attack fueling a hard rock album with tons of swagger and a touch of Southern boogie. For some bands, the goal is to get heavier with each record. Going for a sound that has echoes of classic Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith and even Kiss, Carousel backed off on the sludge.
“There’s enough of that in the world,” Mr. Wheeler says. “I don’t think the world needs another one of those bands. We play a lot of stoner-rock fests and there are a lot of bands that do that really well. That’s already covered. We’ll stick to rock ’n’ roll.”
The 37-year-old singer-guitarist from Sewickley has been a classic rock fan since his father turned him on to Aerosmith when he was a kid. “The first song I remember hearing and feeling that that was what rock was, was ‘Walk This Way.’ I got it immediately. Nirvana came out when I was 13, and I liked it, but there weren’t many current bands that I related to. They were always older bands. I had Steppenwolf tapes that I would listen to on the bus on the way to basketball games.”
His high school band was a Zeppelin cover band (which he thought was pretty good until he saw a video of their performance). Later, he got into Black Sabbath and punk rock, and his playing, he says, got more aggressive.
Part of the magic of “2113” is the way he and Mr. Goldsborough grind through riffs and weave around each other on the scorching solos. (One of the highlights is the bonus track of Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone.”) The chemistry came from the two guitarists jamming together on their own, which included Mr. Wheeler taking a few trips to Philly.
“He was trying to feel out how megalomaniacal I am about the songwriting,” he says, “but I was really open. I think the thing that makes it work is both of us are really open to new ideas but know when to fight for what we like. And he can improvise, so he can bring something new to the table.”
Carousel has some metallic tendencies, but it’s a rock ’n’ roll band. “Metal bands have a precision and virtuosity that goes along with it. I’ve always been a cruder player,” the frontman says.
To help capture a classic sound, “2113” was recorded on two-inch analog tape at Machine Age studio in Polish Hill.
“For a drummer, it means I can’t [mess] up,” Mr. Leger says. “You can’t edit it like you can digital tracks. This was the only record I made where I wasn’t even wearing headphones. Usually, you have all this isolation: The drummer’s over here, the guitarists over there. For basic tracks, we were all in one room banging it out. It was a very honest recording. It was a lot more live.”
Along with the influences that spin through Carousel comes a passion and sincerity for what they’re playing. No irony here even when Mr. Wheeler is singing a line like “Highway strut, playing in a traveling band ... time to turn the page again.”
“You don’t want to fall into the trap of sounding disingenuous,” Mr. Leger says. “There are a lot of revivalist bands, and sometimes it comes off a little coy. We genuinely love the music we play, or we wouldn’t play it.”
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.
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