by Ned Rust

(First appeared in The Rocket magazine, 2/11/98)

Carmine are optimistic about their prospects. Still riding high after a well-received, industry-attended performance at North by Northwest in Portland last fall, the young power-pop trio has been operating on the premise that not only is a record deal a likely prospect but that it's one which is near at hand.

No great surprise, therefore, that drummer Scott Hunt, bassist Darren Bain and vocalist Jeff Barnes are being a little cautious at this crucial juncture in their career and that they are carefully heeding the advice of the impressive array of record business personalities. From their local management company, Random Artists, to their recently hired, high-powered New York entertainment lawyer to friends like producer Tim Holbrook (R.E.M., Arrested Development, Smashing Pumpkins) and engineer Craig Montgomery (Nirvana, Presidents of the United States of America), these boys aren't aiming to let success pass them by.

Meeting the band in a designated smoking room within the office complex housing their management company, I am, at first, afraid that these three musicians are taking the process too seriously. Could the band behind 1994's eclectically charming Carpe Patio Flounder or its follow-up, El Ferocia, be willing to lower it's indie freak-flag to hoist a colorless major-label one?

My fears seem justified. Names are dropped, label prospects are discussed and conversation is occasionally steered by the band's baby-sitting manager. At one point a band member says, "I think the new [unreleased] songs are a lot more pop than what's on El Ferocia. We've really started focusing on 'how do we get on the radio?', not to sell out."

Of course not. But then they either decide they're comfortable with my presence or they simply can no longer contain their personalities. Bain launches into a detailed anecdote about looking for psychedelic mushrooms with the band's former drummer in a cow pasture in Georgia and having a furious farmer chase them with a shotgun.

Then Barnes relates how uncontrollably nervous he once got when he first began singing in addition to playing guitar, and how he prudently used alcohol to overcome fright. Hunt tells stories of the '80s hair metal bands he's played with and recounts a recent story in which a woman puked on his drum kit.

No, Carmine haven't become corporate rock in any pejorative sense yet and, just maybe, they simply can't. The proof, of course, will come when they do sign a deal and release a third album.

By the interview's end, my concerns for the band have nearly dissipated. After all, Carmine's recent shows haven't been any less aggressive and charming. And just because they're going to start targeting radio airplay doesn't mean they're going to sound like market-researched Entercom drivel. I pop the band's new demo into my car's cassette deck as I pull away from the curb. Even over my dinky system, the production seems pretty good, and after a moment's listen I decide it's fair to conclude Carmine are still indie at heart. Phew.

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