Tim Carbone and Railroad Earth Serve The Songs
How do you draw inspiration in your music from people that aren’t musicians?
For me, lyrically—I don’t really write a whole lot of songs for Railroad Earth, but I have a whole side project that I write music for called The Contribution, and lyrically I’ll be influenced by the people I mentioned. I’ll get influence from people like Thich Nhat Hanh, or the Dalai Lama or Buddhist thought in general. It’s more so in how I think about things with Leonardo da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, people like that, not so much with what my music is. It’s all involved, it’s all involved; it’s all a piece.
I love The Contribution. Are you guys going to be playing any shows this year?
We’re actually playing a show coming up this April in Denver. We’re also going to be working on a new record; we have two songs that are ready for it and we’re going record another three songs out in Denver when we are there.
You’ve said before the bands that influenced you the most are The Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and The Band. In Railroad Earth would you say that the influence of these bands, apart from covers, is apparent? In what ways?
I would say yes, and it would be mostly in the way we approach our arrangement, instrumentation and our melodicism, and not all from the same source. Our melodicism has a lot to do with the Beatles, not that we’re copying the Beatles or anything like that. You can see evidence of the melodic; just the idea that our music is pretty melodic, it’s basically music based on melody. You know “Americana”—there would be no Railroad Earth, more than likely, if it wasn’t for The Band. That’s pretty much it, flat out, simple as that. With the way we approach improvisation and the way that we treat each song live, as if we were trying to create it anew, that has a lot to do with the Grateful Dead.
You’ve travelled extensively in India, and I know that the way the country approaches music is completely different. I know you’re also writing a book about your travels there…
[Laughs] Still working on it.
How has being exposed to that culture has affected you as a musician.
Well, it changed my life in its total. As a violinist it’s changed how I approach the instrument, because of my note selection and how I approach the notes above or below. In places, not all the time and not everywhere, but there’s a special connection to my playing in India. Many people who have been to India and know a little bit about Indian music have come up to me and said, “Hey, I noticed that.”
Do your travels in general, even outside of India, influence your music?
I would say yes, but not as profound as that.
Anywhere particular in America?
Yes, the South. Obviously.
When did you realize that you were going to be a musician and that was going to be your life path?
I think the very moment was when I first saw The Beatles perform on Ed Sullivan. I even remember the song, it was “All My Lovin’.”
You just knew?
Were you playing violin then?
At that point I was playing drums, I was in a Drum and Bugle Corps and I had my little drum set.
How old were you?
I think I was probably seven years old.
You’ve know a long time.
You’ve said before the idea of a jamband is more in the audience than in the band. What does the idea of a musical family mean to you and Railroad Earth?
Well it’s part of our scene. The people that come to see us feel as if they are part of our family, so it’s part of the reason why they come. It’s a huge part of the whole deal I think.
Do you ever choose songs or places with this family in mind?
We try not to repeat the same set in the same place. If we’ve been there before, we’ll look at that set and say, “Okay, let’s not do that.” So that kind of stuff, we also try not to repeat night to night.
Who writes the bands setlists each night?
Setlists these days are being put together by John Skehan and we come back and we all tweak it together.
The Hangtown Halloween Ball in Placerville, CA is going on its third year and the first Camp Railroad is set for this summer in the Catskills, NY. Can you talk about these two Railroad Earth festivals?
Well, Hangtown is freaking awesome and we love that. We’ve had a great time putting that together. The thing we’re doing up in the Catskills is pretty new, so we’re not exactly sure how that’s going to go.
What’s the idea so far?
It’s kind of like a teaching experience for people and we’ll also do a bunch of performances. We’re still designing a situation where we’ll have master classes for people to come play or learn their instruments, and other things that we can offer. I would say, “Stay tuned!”
If I don’t play an instrument am I still going to have a great time?
I think that you will have a great time if you don’t play an instrument, but I think that your will learn more if you are a musician and you were looking for direction. It’s going to be a learning experience as well. You’re not going to get a greater opportunity to have an intimate look at the band.
I heard a couple of the members were affected by Hurricane Sandy?
Well, everybody lost power. The biggest extent was that people lost power, nobody in the band had property damage or anything really awful happen to them. I was without power for eight days; our multi-instrumentalist Andy [Goessling] was without power for almost a little more than two-weeks. It was not a great time, but we didn’t lose anything compared to those people that lost everything.
I also know the band takes a clear stance on climate change. On your website you have the environmental section called ‘The Forecast.’ As public figures what role do you and Railroad Earth play involving social or political issues?
The band, as you can tell from our website—we do something with what we have. As a band we try to find various causes or organizations that we can work with or work for. I myself have been advocating for the Delaware River for thirty years. I’m on the board of directors of a nonprofit that I helped start. Basically it’s more of a local thing for me to help keeping where I live serene and as undeveloped as possible without preventing people as much as possible from doing with their property what they want. There’s a fine line. As far as the band, we’re probably as much as you imagine a band would be—we’re not like Radiohead or anything. There are varying opinions or causes in the band. In other words, I’m not going to get up on stage and start making speeches or anything like that. We approach our activism in a subtle way.
The band has said repeatedly in past interviews that Railroad Earth is not a bluegrass band but rather uses bluegrass elements. What would you say to people who simply “don’t like bluegrass”?
Well, saying that you don’t like bluegrass is saying that you don’t like people, so I don’t know what the hell that’s all about. There’s no way getting around the fact that part of what we do is bluegrass. But I would encourage them to come [see us] anyways because of all the other cool stuff we do. [Laughter]
One more. People are dying to know—is your bow made out of unicorn hair?
[Laughter] Yes, definitely.