A son of Brooklyn, Tavo Carbone grew up in Carroll Gardens, before that name commanded millions of dollars in property sales. Since 2007, he has independently released two studio albums – 2/3 Skeleton and Ear Training – as well as a live album titled Forward recorded with a seventeen-piece orchestra. At the end of the month, Tavo will embark on an East Coast and Midwest tour, landing back in Brooklyn for a Tuesday night residency at Pete’s Candy Store in July. His new release titled Horse’s Mouth is slated for August. BTB checked in with Tavo to get it straight from – you guessed it – the Horse’s Mouth.
Brooklyn The Borough: How would you describe your sound?
Tavo Carbone: Mr. Rogers on a bad day, post speedy-delivery. Folk/vaudeville/rock. My music has been called “old-timey” and compared to early Andrew Bird, too – although I’m not familiar enough with his catalog so I can’t say I know what that means. My music owes a lot to those old Choose Your Own Adventure books.
BTB: What are your musical influences?
TC: Al Bowly, Frank Zappa. I was raised on Michael Hurley and old blues people like Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf and other turn of the century orator folks, like Lord Buckley. He told stories, revamped folklore and translated them into the jazz ‘hip speak’ of the 1940s. He wasn’t considered a musician, but I think it’s musical. Also, Tom Waits, sometimes.
BTB: How many instruments do you play?
TC: I don’t know. Singing and guitar are what I know most, with piano sometimes – I kind of pretend to play everything else. Luckily my band mates play all the instruments I’d ever dream of playing – drums, bass, cello, violin – and they do it in their own unique ways. That way I can stick to voice and guitar, which is honestly better for all involved.
BTB: What projects are you working on right now?
TC: I’m recording a new studio album with my band mates. It’s going to be called Horse’s Mouth and we’re all very excited for it to crown. Last week we pulled a 48-hour tracking session and slept on the floors, which was fun. Many of the songs in our recent live repertoire will be on the album, including others. I’m hoping that this new record will be more cohesive and cyclical. My friend Ben Mayock is helping to engineer the project with myself and the band and we hope to release it in August.
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BTB: Are you signed to a label or have you released songs independently?
TC: Independently! To whomever is interested, plus my grandmother.
BTB: Has growing up in Brooklyn influenced your musical taste or sound?
TC: Probably. Carroll Gardens used to be very different than it is now. I don’t really associate it with the place I spent my childhood, because there wasn’t a hip spot in sight then. No one, regardless of their age, would go out of their way to be on Smith Street even in broad daylight, unless they were part of something underhanded. It was full of old people who’d been there for what seemed like a hundred years and their no-neck descendants, who generally didn’t have much going on outside encouraging optimum homophobia, domestic abuse and grandiose expenses to overcompensate for their innate ignorance. Which is, I guess, in the latter, partly like present day Brooklyn.
Growing up in Carroll Gardens taught me a lot about the interplay that goes on between people when times are hard, financially or otherwise. I was fortunate to go to school with kids who came from varied ethnic backgrounds, households, infrastructures and sacrifices. Crime existed more prominently and must have affected me in a significant way. There’s something invaluable about street smarts and the heightened adrenaline that someone must carry with them in their skin because of the area they were raised in. It’s a kind of instinctual currency between people that can’t be replicated by someone who hasn’t grown up with it. I still apply that mindset when I walk around in Carroll Gardens now out of habit, but I realize its no longer as necessary because of significantly decreased crime. I probably appear paranoid as hell too, because if it’s 3am and I hear footsteps one block behind me, its not going to be someone with a knife, it’ll be a yuppie dad on his cell phone. I believe that particular feeling of anticipation-with-caution for better or worse is a big part of my musical environment, directly imprinted on the songs I write.
BTB: Where and when can we see you play live?
TC: I’m about to leave for tour through the east coast and mid-west from April 29 to May 24. We’ll have shows scheduled in New York City in June for certain – but we’re proud to announce a residency at Pete’s Candy Store every Tuesday in July. We play at 9pm each Tuesday and each of the four sets every week will be widely different.
Full disclosure: Tavo and Nicole went to high school together.