7 Questions with Dan Carter of The Blue Man Group

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by Ryan Meehan

Actor/Musician/Vocalist and Part-time cowboy Dan Carter is from London, England and very happy to be working on this side of the pond.  His London West End credits include Les MiserableTaboo and We Will Rock You, and his film credits include ‘Closer’ (Mike Nichols) as well as ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ (Woody Allen)  As well as being a singer/songwriter Dan has worked as a backing and session vocalist London and the United States. Dan has performed as a Blue Man all over the world and is now touring North America with the show, and he is my guest today in 7 questions.

RM:  What was the first instrument each of you became enamored with; and what eventually led you to want to learn how to play other instruments which peaked your interest?

DC:  As strange as it sounds, the first instrument I became enamored with was my voice!  I started singing at school in choirs and assemblies from the age of around 7 or 8 and my voice has always been my first instrument.  Latterly I studied music and my voice was my first instrument for my recitals.   Around the time I started singing I started learning the trumpet, although that only lasted for a few years before I switched to the drums, that gave me a introduction to reading music and music theory for which I have always been grateful.  I was lucky enough that from the age of eleven or so I had a group of friends who were all into music.  We all played in bands, choirs and orchestras together.  In my late teens I was playing every weekend in rock bands, jazz bands any kind of outfit I could find and I was hooked.

RM:  The Blue Man Group is a very sensory experience for the audience…Do you at times find yourself a little distracted by all that is going on during that show, or have you trained your own focus to avoid all of the sensory overload occurring around you and just focus on the music itself?

DC:  Actually, I don’t become distracted that often.  The character is based in a childlike fascination with the world which is amped up to this intense level so that we focus intensely on anything we are doing.  I have done a lot of shows and you become used to where everything happens, be it moving scenery or bright lights for instance.  The biggest danger for distraction comes from the audience and what they do.  We thrive on the interaction with the people that come to see the show but even then I wouldn’t say that we get distracted, just drawn in.  What keeps our performances fresh and exciting is the prospect that anything could happen and the fun part for us is dealing with the different directions the show takes on any given night.

RM:  How did the two of you come to be friends; and with all of the musicians in the world why do you think that this became such an ideal musical companionship for you both?

DC: Tony and I met a few years ago while working on another Blue Man Group show.  We have not had the opportunity to work together physically since then but have worked on another project called SOS Studio (www.SOSstudio.co).  We are part of a group of musicians who write and record a new song each week by collaborating across the internet.  When we got to actually work in the same room together again at the start of this tour, it became apparent very quickly that we shared similar ideas about making music and our approach to building a song.  When we came to record for Daytrotter, Tony and I sat together and went over the songs I had written that we were going to record and he brought some really good ideas to the table about arrangement and the actual musical content.  There was something missing in one of them so Tony came up with the bridge.  It was an easy collaborative process.  The fact that we have worked on Blue Man for so long means that we are used to collaborating and offering up ideas as well as taking time to listen to other people’s contributions and supporting them.

RM:  Let’s talk about The Ridgebacks for a second…What was the reason for creating this project; and how would you best describe the music that you make under that name?

DC:  The Ridgebacks were actually born the day of our Daytrotter session!  Although we all play music together for the show, and some of us have played music together before outside Blue Man, we did not have an official band until the afternoon of our session.  It was like all the stars perfectly aligned.  We turned up for a tour of the studio and remarked how much we would love to record there and Mike and Sean said to come on by after our show that night.  I happened to have a couple of tunes I had written that were ready to go so we went back to the hotel and worked them up.  Since then, however, we have been jamming together and plan on recording some more before the end of the tour.  The music we made that night may have been written in the main by me but the sound comes from the fact that the guys that went in the studio all have good ears.  Little did we know when we went to look around that unassuming studio in Rock Island, IL that we would be making music history that evening……

RM:  You guys recently did a Daytrotter session…How did that turn out; and with your busy schedule how often are you able to get into a studio to create new ideas and get them to tape?

DC:  It turned out great.  We loved every minute of it. I found it quite challenging after a long day and then performing a Blue Man show.  By the time it was nearly 2am and I want to try one more take my voice was kind of tired but that is one of the things I love about the session.  They are real, they are live, you hear the dirt and the gold.  The fact that you can’t go back and drop in and overdub and stuff like that makes the sessions so much more special as you really get the character of the band.  As far as getting in the studio goes…not that often these days and rarely ever directly to tape.  I used to do a lot of vocal sessions for people in London but being on the road limits your access to studio time.  I do however, have a home studio I travel with and I record demos and contribute to SOS Studio and write collaboratively with other people.  I am also able to record voiceover work as well.   The last time I recorded to tape was a few years ago when I had the pleasure of recording with my old band in Chicago at Electrical Audio.

RM:  What sounds have you experimented with that you haven’t had the chance to fully maximize their potential?  Are you more into discovering organic sounds, or the digital manipulation of those sounds you can edit in programs such as ProTools?

DC: I am very much unto capturing the sound of my voice and my guitar as simply as possible.  I think that is why I appreciate the Daytrotter sessions so much.  What you hear, is what was played, live by a bunch of people in a room.  I have not spent a lot of time digitally manipulating very much of the music I have made although it is something I have become in interested lately.  I like to manipulate the way my recordings sound by using the room I am recording in and the way I use the microphone.  I am living out of hotels at the moment so i have to find ingenious way to create vocal booths in closets or I will record my guitar in the bathroom or a quiet corridor to organically create a different sound.

RM:  If we could flash forward twenty years from now, what do you think is going to be different about the way people produce and listen to music in the future?

DC:  Wow.  This is tough.  Over 20 years ago when I was in high school I saw my first 4 track tape recorder and me and all my friends freaked out.  I think I still have some of the recordings we made then back in London somewhere.  The accessibility of home recording and the quality of what you can do yourself has increased almost exponentially since then.  Pretty much every musician I know now has some way to record themselves or their instrument at home.  It makes it less and less necessary for smaller bands or singer songwriters to go into a legit studio.  However I do think it presents the danger of being lazy.  Why spend time practicing to nail a track when you can just click undo and start over.  The people I play with these days and the bands and artists I like to listen to are tending to move away from that.  Digital has become much less cool and analogue recording and vinyl are continuing to become popular.  I think we are going to continue to see a shift towards that.  It is like we will have gone full circle.

RM:  If you had to condense your musical career down to one paragraph, how would that passage read?

DC:  My musical tastes and my career in music and the theatre are all the product of the seeds planted by my Father and his record collection when I was a boy.  My favourite music to sing is soul music because I love Motown and early Elton John.  My sense of harmony was influenced by the fact that I listened to the Beach Boys and ELO’s ‘Out of the Blue’.  And my approach to songwriting and song craft is born of an intimacy with a stack of Beatles LPs.   My Dad himself taught me always to work hard and to be a kind and generous person.  It turns out that those people nearly always get the gig.  So I thank my Dad.

RM:  What’s up next for you guys in the remainder of 2015 and beyond?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?

DC:  I am touring with Blue Man until May and then I am out of a regular show for a while.  I recently got a new visa to be able to live and work in the States again so I have the world, or at least the United States of America at my feet.  I am doing some writing with a friend of mine from the band I had back in Chicago on a project for  which TV we are hopeful will come off.  Musically, I will be continuing to work with SOS Studio and writing my own stuff.  I want to have an EP finished by the end of the year and in particular I am chomping at the bit to get back and record another Daytrotter session!

Official Website of The Blue Man Group:  http://www.blueman.com/

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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