(First appeared in The Rocket magazine, 9/11/96)
"We're really cool," shrugs Jeff Barnes. That, for him, sums up his Seattle-based, hard-to-categorize band, Carmine. He is now being forced to go further than that simplistic statement, and that makes him very uneasy.
"I feel like I'm talking to someone else," he groans, twitching awkwardly before hurling himself into the task and giving the Carmine story--abbreviated version--in a couple of breaths. Carmine are: Jeffrey Barnes, vocals and guitar; Darren Bain vocals and bass; and latest member, Scott Hunt, drums and stick twiddling. "He's totally '80s," enthuses Barnes. "I love it. I told him he had to do it."
In 1992 Carmine were: Darren and Jeff, plus a different drummer, who would lead to the demise of the first incarnation of the band. That was in Atlanta, after the band built up a sizable local following and put out one album, Carpe Patio Flounder, on Intersound. "Darren and I got all burnt and disillusioned," Barnes explains about his move across country. "He came up to Idaho last summer, met Scott, and convinced me to come up here for a visit."
Once settled in Seattle, Carmine introduced a new move into their act: "We just schmoozed and schmoozed," he says, "and got some pretty cool shows. We did all the bullshit that we never did before."
Musically, Carmine are hard to pin down. Songwriting duties are shared between Barnes and Bain, whose contrasting fey sensitivity (Barnes) and perky silliness (Bain) somehow work. It's like Nirvana mixed with PotUSA--a whole new pop sound, yet, live, the band's music evens out into an intense, funky, fun affair. On their new, self-released CD, El Ferocia, Carmine's contrary characters interchange angst-laden, alt-rock in "Conversations Over You" with the romantic pop of "Hans Solo" and the fun in Darren's quirky ode to Steve Austin, "We Can Rebuild Him." One song, a metaphorical, power-pop ballad about a turtle called "Mitch," dates back to the first Carmine CD, but all flow beautifully into a string of characterful, simple pop songs that make your toes and mind dance. Oh, if life were so gorgeously carefree and we could just say: Carmine are cool, and leave it at that.