When John Carroll takes the stage at Bluesfest on Sunday, he’ll be a long way from his roots as a street busker. Now a seasoned veteran, playing gigs for the CBC and holding down a long-term residence at the Laff in the Byward Market, John Carroll and his Epic Proportion offer a study in real blues. If you want to take a break from the big name acts this weekend, these guys would be a good bet.
Read our mini interview with John below to get a feel for how things will roll out on Sunday at 1:45pm.
How would you describe your sound?
I would describe our sound as being gritty and bluesy without the 12 bar cliche, but with a genuine under-smattering of something that can only be characterized as post apocalyptic optimism. With the band, which is a four piece including electric and upright bass, drums, and electric and acoustic slide and conventional guitars, we tend to explore stuff from a textural point , all lot of that owing to the musicians and the harmonic and melodic simplicity of the songs. A lot of groove oriented arrangement, with the lead guitarist Fred Guignon using effects in a very musical way. This seems to leave a lot of room for the narrative in the lyrics to shine, and creates a lot of really interesting ear candy without being obtrusive. Layered in there somewhere is my exclusively fingerstyle approach to guitar and slide guitar, and my less than angelic vocal approach.
How long have you been playing music, and how has your sound evolved over that time?
I have been playing music in one form or another, with some kind of commitment and intent, for around 25 years now.I think it has evolved from an often unsuccessful struggle to mimic artists I have admired, into a confident expression, firmly rooted in a well researched sense of my personal limitations. I started with popular folk and Beatles, got into rock, studied jazz full time in college as a bassist, played some more rock, rediscovered popular American and Canadian folk ,met lots of great original songwriters who inspired me, delved into more obscure traditional blues and folk, became obsessed with songwriting. I busked , played in bars, performed on a cruise ship, did some musical theatre. Gradually my main focus became performing and recording my own music, I feel like I am still growing as a musician, singer and songwriter and performer.
What are you hoping to get out of your Bluesfest performance? Fans, adoration, festival experience?
I hope our show at Bluesfest will help to contribute to the general emotional and spiritual elevation of everyone involved, and help them to leave being really glad they were able to hear us. Hopefully we can win some new fans, and give the existing ones the experience of hearing us in a really favourable environment. My goal with any live performance with this band is to remain present enough throughout it to savour the excitement and sound, so that we , and in turn the audience have a really great time.
Are there any other bands on the bill you’re excited to see?
I do look forward to seeing Monkeyjunk live, as I never have, and they are playing right after us, and I also hope to see Los Lobos, as I am a fan of those guys. David Hidalgo is great. I think Neko Case is a great singer and have had the pleasure of backing her up once in Lethbridge. A Tribe Called Red has done something pretty original and profoundly unifying with their idiom. Got to hear LP at last years folk fest and she is a stellar vocalist, her music sounds great. Brock Zeman is ridiculously prolific, and I think Still Native is a really exciting band. Her Harbour is also great, I think Bluesfest has really done an excellent job of getting a massive amount of local artists on the bill, it is really commendable, and goes a long way towards encouraging and fortifying the local scene. Hats off.
Bonus silly question: Who’s your favourite Laff personality? (can be a regular, performer, bar staff…)
My favourite Laff personality is Yvette, an elderly french woman from Manawaki who has been drinking there for over 35 years. She is hyper animated at most times, and watching people react to her is inevitably entertaining. In fact she is probably one of the most entertaining people I have met in my life. Her heart is full of love. You really have to meet her for yourself.