Horse’s Mouth Won’t Be Pigeonholed

Horse's Mouth at Public Assembly
Horse’s Mouth at Public Assembly

>>> about the band
Members: Tavo Carbone, 27 (voice, guitar); J.J. Beck, 25 (drums, glockenspiel, keys); Matthew Scott, 24 (bass, voice); Heather Sommerlad, 26 (violin, voice); Michael Chinworth, 24 (voice, keys, accordion)

Carbone, Beck and Chinworth performed in Vermont under the name Tavo Carbone starting in 2005. In 2007, Carbone released “2/3 Skeleton,” 14 songs with pump organ, glockenspiel, ukulele, percussion and cello. In 2008, Carbone released “Forward,” a live album featuring an orchestra of 17. Carbone toured both releases for 1.5 years and returned to Brooklyn, eventually forming Horse’s Mouth. The band released its first EP, “In the woods,” in the fall and performs regularly in Brooklyn. Their new album is slated for release in March 2010.

Hours before his bandmates were due to arrive at Public Assembly, Tavo Carbone shared his musical influences, his affinity for the glockenspiel and just what Mister Rogers and Horse’s Mouth have in common. (Note: the revelation left me so befuddled I found it unnecessary to have it further explained.)

What’s the story behind the glockenspiel? What element does this add to your sound?
We always, for some reason, every time we were playing music together in some incarnation, there’s a glockenspiel. We all have one, and we really like the sound of it, and I guess we’ve always, whatever ensemble we’re in together, are either around the music or use it once in a while. We’re trying to get better about using it like all the time. There was a record I recorded in 2007 (“2/3 Skeleton”) that some of these guys played with me on, and there was a glockenspiel on every song. It was like 14 tracks, and maybe that was a little too much. We got it out of our system for a while. We’ve only got like two with glockenspiel right now. It’s really hard to fight the urge.

How did you come up with your name?
We liked the combination of the words. Theres a song that we started working on, which is like the first one that we all came together and started writing parts for together. This song is from 2003. It’s really old, but Matt he bassist dug it up and said we should try it. It’s called “As I climb in the horse’s mouth.” We just came up with the name out of the title. It’s not really supposed to be anything mysterious. It’s just a silly name.

When did you move to Brooklyn and what drew you here?
We graduated in ’07 (from Bennington College in Vermont). I was kind of touring around and recording albums under my name, and some of us in the band would play together. I came back here and landed back here because I had nowhere else to be, and it was home for me. But we all ended up here together about a year and a half ago, and that’s when we started doing this thing named the Horse’s Mouth.

Where have you performed?
We haven’t toured together at all. I’ve toured with different friends. Since I got out of college, I basically toured for two years and didn’t really live anywhere, but we’re recording a full-length record right now.  It’s 12 songs, and we’re really excited about it. That should be coming up in March, and we’re just shopping it around to labels right now. When it does come out, we’ll be going on tour together for as long as we can.

“I guess we just try to write and not pigeonhole ourselves. I think if we can keep doing that, we’ll accomplish something for ourselves.

Who are your biggest influences and why?
There’s an old folk singer named Michael Hurley — He’s a big influence. Tom Waits, Frank Zappa. A lot of the folks in my band, we all come from different backgrounds. Our violinist is a classical player. J.J. the drummer is actually a pianist and composer first, as is Michael the keyboardist. They write their own things, and it’s jazz-, classical-oriented. I guess when you put that all together, you get something. We show each other different stuff, have polar tastes sometimes, but I think it’s working.

How would you describe your sound?
I would describe it as Mister Rogers on a compromising day. His records are great, by the way.

What separates you from what’s out there? Do you think you sound like anyone else?
I guess what separates us from other bands is that we’re definitely not trying to do a particular thing. We just try to write as much as we can. We know about other groups out there, but I don’t think any of us are drastically influenced by a lot of the new music that’s coming out. I’m not positive that our music lends itself to one category or anything like that. I guess that’s always a tricky thing for listeners to try to pin down for a band. I guess we just try to write and not pigeonhole ourselves. I think if we can keep doing that, we’ll accomplish something for ourselves.

What’s your creative process like?
I bring the songs in. I guess you could say I’m the songwriter. We all flesh out the music and the arrangements together. That’s, I guess, one of those eclectic influences coming to play. If we want to use a string quartet, we will. Matt the bassist comes up with an idea for like a slap funk-based idea, we’ll try it. It’s nothing any of us is closed off to the idea of. The process is kind of like throw it in the corner and yell at it and see how it wants to grow kind of feel.

How has your music evolved from when you first began playing together?
I think it’s always changing. Those are kind of surprises for us, that there are things that come out of our process that we wouldn’t expect, and thats the most exciting thing about working with people that you trust so much. I feel like inadvertently our sound has gotten more rock, and sometimes we’ll play shows and it’s overwhelmingly loud. We’ve been playing together so long that depending on how many of us are feeling, we’ll kind of like stumble on things organically. It’s been unexpected and will continue to be a pleasant surprise as we keep going.

What’s next for the band?
Listen to our EP. It’s online at tavocarbone.bandcamp.com, and yeah look for the record in March.

(Photo by Aaron Cansler)

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