Behind the cool, calm demeanour of local singer-songwriter John Carroll lies a man whose musical artistry displays contrasts between sharp-tongued wit and deep-hearted sentiment. He can send the listener into a laughing spell one moment, then leave them suddenly watery-eyed the next.
By the end of a John Carroll performance, one is left having fully exercised a river of emotions. His signature smoky vocals, slide lap guitar work, and foot-propelled beat box produce a rustic mix of blues-laden rootsy folk fare, that ranges from swaying infectiousness to foot-stomping rhythms. Whether it’s the dark tongue-in-cheek humour of “Everybody Smokes In Hell,” the nostalgic embrace of “Lost Radio,” or his childhood aspirations in “Kung Fu Man,” every lyric gets into the cracks of life and connects with the audience. In a career spanning over 30 years with 4 full length albums under his belt, Carroll’s next set of recorded treasures are beginning their slow simmer towards album number 5.
For the past 15 years, Carroll has enjoyed a weekly Wednesday night residency at the Byward Market’s historical pub, Chateau Lafayette. Since 2004, when he replaced fellow Laff resident performer, Lucky Ron, who had moved to Saturday afternoons, he has enjoyed his permanent fixture status. His solo shows begin at 8:00pm, and usually run until closing time at 2:00am. Throughout the course of an evening, waves of patrons come and go, creating a fresh audience at every turn. Along with his band, The Primary Colours, he will now also be performing in residency at Irene’s Pub each Sunday in January.
Apt613 caught up to John Carroll to ask him about his performing life:
Apt613: You have a very natural wit about you when you’re talking to the crowd that is relaxing and engaging. It can never be the same night twice on Wednesday nights.
JC: That’s what keeps it interesting for me. It’s the ability to be open to weird shit happening… just following the moment. Sometimes I rely on stuff that I’ve done before and suddenly you end up in a new place like some kind of happy accident.
It’s cool, spontaneous, fun, and people enjoy that. I look forward to each week and never get tired of it. It gives you something to work towards all the time and ways to keep it interesting. You can’t always change your set every week especially when you have that long of a night.
It’s cool, spontaneous, fun, and people enjoy that. I look forward to each week and never get tired of it.
So it’s really taught me a lot about how to approach the same songs in different ways and how to try to play to the energy of the room.
You must have a lot of interesting stories to tell about your experience there after all these years. Any you’d like to share?
Stories about the Laff? I have to think about that (laughs). It changes weekly. There’s always a general level of weirdness that comes from just being on the market.
It’s an interesting place to begin with, so I don’t have to do much. I see every walk of life. I’ve seen everything from the Prime Minister’s garden party to homeless people coming in to get a drink of water. There’s a very colourful woman in her 80s named Yvette who’s been going there since the early 1970s who is kind of like the queen of the place.
Colourful people like that certainly make for stories and atmosphere—much like the nature of your songs. Are some about your own personal experiences?
I try to write about stuff that’s interesting to me and worth writing about. Some are based on stories or things that have happened or it could be an idea that I like—a hook or a quote that I can build around. It’s just to find something that’s really worth saying, and you don’t have to limit yourself by sticking to facts, because there’s truth in everything. You can mix and match as long as you’re conveying one solid idea. I think you’re in a good space and something interesting can happen for an audience.
“I try to write about stuff that’s interesting to me and worth writing about. Some are based on stories or things that have happened or it could be an idea that I like—a hook or a quote that I can build around.”
Roughly 80% of Carroll’s shows are solo. The rest are sometimes with long-time fellow guitarist, Fred Guignion. Others are in full band format with his bands, Epic Proportions, or his latest 4-member ensemble, The Primary Colours, who are set to begin Sunday evening residencies at Irene’s on Bank St. for the entire month of January. This acoustic flavoured band consists of musicians, John Carroll (guitars), Fred Guignion (guitars/dobro), Phillipe Charbonneau (standup bass), and newest member Michael Ball (fiddle).
Looking forward to working with this band. These guys are all creative and well-established players and I think the exciting part of what’s going to happen is that there will be a lot of improvisation on the fly. I think that’s what’s going to make this next little chug of shows coming up at Irene’s exciting.
Catch John Carroll’s solo shows at The Laff (42 York St.) every Wed. night from 8pm-2am, and every Sunday night in January at Irene’s Pub (885 Bank St.) from 8:30pm-11pm with his full band, The Primary Colours.