Now in her fifteenth year as a singer/songwriter/musician, Carol has graduated through an eclectic assortment of bands. Carol’s initial venture, Synko was formed in her native Cumbria in 1997. In 2003 she joined the Manchester punk/metal band Sadie Hawkins Dance, the dark synth ensemble Electra Glide became her next home from 2007 to 2009. In January 2011, Steve Ignorant of infamous anarcho-punk band Crass chose Carol to help him with vocal duties on the international dates of his very successful ‘Last Supper’ world tour. Carol is now firmly embedded in her most recent musical voyage with punk band WRECKS, plus a solo project in the guise of Crystal Grenade, which sees her moving in an entirely new and different direction.
It’s yet another rainy day in Manchester and we meet Carol at a high rise car park in the town centre just as the heavens decide to open. The three of us are soaked to the skin and decide to stay put and conduct the interview and photoshoot with our delightful chanteuse in the stairwell of the top floor.
MEL: Well where to start, you seem to have so many strings to your bow, what do you see yourself as primarily?
CAROL: I am a troubadour [laughs] no I am a singer primarily, that’s what I’d like to be known as and what I’d like to do with my life. At the moment I have to work a full time job so but I never define myself by what I do for a living because music is what I want to do. It’s my life, my passion.
MEL: And you write songs as well?
CAROL: Yes, I’ve written a lot of solo songs, with just me on the piano. I also write with WRECKS. I write all the lyrics and the vocal lines and have input on what we do musically, but it’s definitely a collaborative process. Bad Taste Barbies, that was a collaboration too.
PHIL: Do you see punk as your music of choice?
CAROL: Yeah, I keep coming back to it, but I’ve been in all kinds of different bands. It was the soundtrack to me growing up when I was a teenager, it gave me my sense of identity and it was really important to me. Whatever you were really into as a teenager in those formative years, it just stays with you, it feels really true to you.
MEL: What bands did you listen to when you were a teenager?
CAROL: When I was a teenager it would have been mid nineties, Green Day were one of my favourite bands, I liked a lot of American pop punk, like Epitaph and Fat Wreck bands. I was also into Nirvana….Therapy and The Wildhearts, I listened to them a lot….Soundgarden, Hole, Radiohead, all those sorts of bands.
PHIL: Its quite interesting ‘cos you got involved with Steve Ignorant who was as far into punk as it goes, as him and his band Crass created a completely new strand of punk – the Anarcho Punk. How did you get involved in that?
CAROL: Well a friend of mine who is really into Crass, sent me a message saying “Have you seen Steve Ignorant is looking for a new singer” and it was 50-50 if I was going to click on the link or not and I looked at it and thought I might as well. They said can you come down tomorrow for an audition, as that is when the auditions are. So I was like gulp...ok.
PHIL: Had you heard of Crass before that?
CAROL: Oh yeah, my ex boyfriends band ‘W.O.R.M’ did a cover of ‘Our Wedding’ for a Crass covers compilation, so he had introduced me to him. Luckily, I went down and got the job.
MEL: You sang on the ‘Last Supper world’ tour, how was this?
CAROL: Pretty amazing [laughs] we did America and Canada, Goldblade supported us for about 6 dates, a couple of months later we did Australia, New Zealand, and we had local bands supporting us. Then we did the final gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London in November, and that was it.
PHIL: Did that strengthen your ambition, and you thought this is the life?
CAROL: Yes, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, I think a lot of musicians have dreams of being on a tour bus in America or something like that, I just feel really lucky that I got to do that. I’ve been singing in bands for over 15 years, but that was the biggest thing I’ve ever done, I mean I’ve toured around a lot and released a lot of E.P’s and albums and played festivals, but it does give you affirmation, someone out there has said “I want you in my band”. It gave me a big self confidence boost, having been in loads of bands, you have this idea of what you want to do, you have a plan of where you want to progress to, but it never really happens that way, you never get to the level you want to. That tour gave me the confidence to perform and record my solo songs. I’ve just been down to Southern Studios and done a few demos of my solo songs, as ‘Crystal Grenade’.
MEL: So, what were the highlights of the tour for you?
CAROL: America was pretty amazing, we played two sold out shows in L.A. so that was the biggest venue I played, the Fox Theatre in Pomona. I think it was two and a half thousand people, I had a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment on stage, I was looking around thinking ‘yesss this is amazing!’. And then when we played San Francisco and I came off stage, I was going down to the dressing room and I heard this voice shouting “Hey, Hey, let me know if my services are required for the encore” I looked up and it was Jello Biafra. So that was another surreal moment, thinking ‘Jello Biafra has just asked to do the encore with my band’. Australia was amazing, I’ve never been there before, and New Zealand too. Great people.
MEL: Did you get any chances for sight seeing whilst you were there?
CAROL: A little bit, we went to the Steve Urwin Zoo near Brisbane, which was amazing. There was loads of life sized cardboard cut outs of him everywhere, which was slightly morbid. When we went to Perth we had a couple of days off there, so we went to the park and Pete and I saw Kookaburras in the wild, and there are parrots flying about everywhere. We have sparrows, and they have these amazing parakeets, green and red and yellow. It’s really funny when you’re in that situation, doing something you have really wanted to do for such a long time. You want to savour every second of it and you can’t because if you do that you’d put too much pressure on yourself. People were filming things and taking photos so I was just trying to live in the moment, absorb it and enjoy it.
PHIL: WRECKS is your new band, did they exist while you were on that tour?
CAROL: Yes, WRECKS is my new band, but we only started in February this year. It’s me and Pete Wilson, the bassist from Steve Ignorant’s band, we got together with Lucas, who I work with and Pierce, an old work friend of Pete’s.
PHIL: Is it very different from Steve’s?
CAROL: Yes, basically me and Pete decided it was going to be more like Queens Of The Stone Age, Soundgarden, definitely more grungy, stoner rock, there’s elements of quite poppy, straight up punk tunes, but we’ve only been together a few months and are still forming our sound and experimenting and seeing where it goes.
The lyrics I tend to write are obscure and ambiguous, and for me its about trying to paint a picture, capturing a mood and atmosphere and it comes from what the music is doing a lot of the time. I’ll listen to the songs…just the music and get this picture in my head, without sounding wanky, it’s sometimes like automatic writing, you hear something and you’re not even aware of where it comes from, it just flows out and you’ve just gotta get it down.
MEL: What sort of things have you wrote about?
CAROL: I tend to be quite dark lyrically, there are a couple that are basically about violence and misogyny, and there are some political ones, but the message is quite obscure, not like ‘I hate the government’ but ‘It’s time to take up arms’. I love ambiguity, in this case, either you’re going to embrace somebody or get a gun.
MEL: Can I just take you back to the last gig with Steve Ignorant, wasn’t he quite emotional on stage?
CAROL: Yes, well the very last song we did at all the gigs was ‘Bloody Revolutions’ which was originally a duet between Steve and Eve Libertine. It’s a very emotional song and particularly in America, people would be looking at you, and you know this is the last time they are gonna hear these songs by anyone from Crass, and we all knew that as well and the room was just really emotionally charged during the song. I just grabbed his hand, I’ve done it at other gigs, I had this thing where I’d keep him guessing, because every time I grabbed his hand he got really emotional. For him the whole touring thing was a real rollercoaster….he was getting people coming up to him every single night saying “you’ve changed my life, I’ve always wanted to meet you”. We had to support him in that because it was really exhausting and draining. He’s a very sincere person and didn’t take things like that lightly.
PHIL: Wasn’t there some controversy about the tour and the cost of the ticket, due to the nature of the way Crass was and £25 per gig, in some circles it wasn’t well received. People didn’t like it so much.
CAROL: I can understand that, but everybody is entitled to their opinion and I would say as for the price, I don’t know the finer details but I have a good gist of how much a tour like that costs to put on, and I can tell you now Steve didn’t really make much money out of it.
PHIL: I think from its history and what they were about. Even between the band there was some friction about it.
CAROL: When we played Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Penny (Rimbaud, original Crass founding member and drummer) came and he did some drumming on a couple of songs and Eve came on and sang a couple of songs. Gee Vaucher, who did the artwork was there so we did get support from some of the members of Crass, not all of them.
PHIL: Do you think as a band coming from Manchester is a hindrance or help? Although the punk scene is vibrant there doesn’t seem that big a market for it, at gigs, even when we watched UK Subs who are a massive band on the scene there wasn’t full.
CAROL: It’s the pros and cons of being in a city, there are an endless number of gigs on every night, but that means competition. I grew up in Barrow In Furness, quite a small town in Cumbria and moved to Manchester when I was 18. In Barrow, there was a small very self contained scene and even then you had one or two gigs on a night but you just had local people who liked live music and would go and see everything, It’s just a bit different in Manchester as there are so many other things to choose from. I’ve played with the UK Subs in Barnsley and it was rammed, it just depends when you’re playing.
PHIL: Have you been in touch with Stu Taylor? He usually has the punk STP gigs on
CAROL: Yes I know Stu, we are playing one of his Christmas gigs in December. I think it’s an all day thing. He’s a great guy, he sent one of my first bands, Sadie Hawkins Dance, on tour and used to book gigs for us. He’s a real gem of a man and I don’t see enough of him these days.
MEL: So talking about the Manchester music scene, what do you think of it?
CAROL: I feel really lucky living in a place where there is lots going on. I think it’s a very vibrant scene and whatever type of music you’re into you can go and see something live, which is pretty good quality, so that’s fantastic really. I have sort of felt out of touch with the punk scene in recent years, but now I feel I’m reconnecting with it, and it’s really nice. I went to see NOFX the other night on my own and I saw like 30 people that I knew so it’s nice having that sense of community at gigs.
PHIL: There is an argument that Rebellion probably sucked all the life out of the scene ‘cos people pay around £130 to go and see every band from the scene and then that’s it then, and just wait again until the next year.
CAROL: I’ve heard that. I’ve first went about 10 or 11 years ago when it was Holidays In The Sun, and I remember then there was a lot of people, but it was a lot smaller then it is now, it’s just exploded, but there were people there making comments about that, people on stage saying “we didn’t really want to play this ‘cos it means you won’t want to come to any of our gigs” but I think it just depends. Rebellion is great, there’s a real sense of community and it’s really cool to meet punk fans from all over the world. But there are so many other factors that affect whether you go to a gig. I mean going to a gig is like going to a church isn’t it, you get a top up and it makes you feel good about who you are, and it just depends on how busy you are. I would go and see a band at Rebellion but going to see a band at a festival is a completely different experience than seeing them in a smaller venue. I think people know that and I mean some people will be like “yeah, I’ve seen them this year” but other people “yeah, I saw them at Rebellion but I wanna see them at other venues”.
MEL: Did you see Buzzcocks in Manchester recently?
CAROL: No, I didn’t. I have never seen them actually, that’s terrible! When we played Shepherd’s Bush, Tony Barber who used to be in the Buzzcocks was there and he played a song with us, but I’ve never seen them. On the list…
MEL: Do you have any other interests apart from music, or causes close to your heart?
CAROL: I’ve got a radio show on Salford City Radio so I like doing that. It’s on Friday mornings from 10 til 11. I just play anything I like really but I am trying to play a bit more of new bands, or bands I’ve discovered, depends on what I am into at the time. It’s quite a selfish thing really, I get to play tracks I really like and inflict them on other people! So I do that and I also teach film making, I am interested in film as an art form, so I experiment with that. I’ve also been known to do a bit of alternative modelling, more creative, arty shoots rather than posing and pouting. I also act occasionally in short films.
What else do I do….well I am vegetarian, trying to be vegan, but not organized enough to be vegan which isn’t really a good enough excuse.
MEL: What made you turn vegetarian?
CAROL: My ex boyfriend who I started going out with at 18, he was vegan. He wasn’t pushy about it at all, but I got to know a lot of people who were vegetarian or vegan and I was curious and learnt more about it, and just would never go back.
MEL: Don’t you miss bacon butties? A few vegetarians tell me they miss them!
CAROL: No, actually I don’t. When I thought ‘oh what am I going to miss’, they were probably on the list, but actually if you like bacon butties with margarine, white bread and red sauce, that’s what you like about it. A lot of the times it’s the flavours and accompaniments you have with the meat, not the taste of the meat itself. If you had bacon on its own it wouldn’t be the experience that you’re used to, but I quite like substitutes like Quorn. I don’t see vegetarianism as depriving myself of meat, I could never eat flesh again!
PHIL: Do you think going to McDonalds and having a vegetarian option is wrong?
CAROL: I just wouldn’t go in McDonald's… it probably is wrong because they are possibly not actually vegetarian. For years they had animal fats in their fries.
MEL: So going back to the other interests you mention……films, what do you like to watch?
CAROL: I’m really into Werner Herzog at the moment. I’m trying to track down everything he has done. I’ve been watching quite a lot of Hitchcock recently as well, you now you can watch any film he’s made and it will be worthwhile. I’m into anything that’s well made and has some kind of intellectual or emotional engagement really. Action films can be fun for a bit of escapism though, and I am a big fan of Christopher Guest’s canon of comedies. The last film I went to see at the cinema was Prometheus.
PHIL: Do you work closely with The Cornerhouse?
CAROL: Not at the moment, but I’d really like to. I do love the Cornerhouse and really like going to see films there. Everything they put on, you just know you’re going to get something from it, its going to be good, I just trust their taste I think.
PHIL: So do you actually make films?
CAROL: Yes I have made a few short films and music videos. I am experimenting with one of my friends at work, he is an electro artist called Jashuan and he is amazingly talented. He used to be a professional editor, so he is a really good filmmaker as well. We are just messing about with all these little projects, none of them have fully come to fruition yet but we are working on music video type stuff, as well as video art.
MEL: How do you get on with your students, do they know what you do?
CAROL: I get on well with them. Some of them know what I do. I have shown some of the music students a clip of Shepherd’s Bush and stuff, when it has been relevant to what we are doing, but I don’t go in with “hi I’m Carol I used to tour with Steve Ignorant” [laughs] It’s a job and you have to have a slightly different personality when you are in work.
MEL: Have you ever been subjected to sexism in the music industry in any way?
CAROL: Yeah, I think I have. I think it has a lot to do with people not being overtly sexist, but about expectations like “oh right you’ve got a girl in the band”, so you’re not expected to be good, you’re not going to know how to put a mic stand up or understand what reverb is. I used to go into gigs with Bad Taste Barbies, we had a drum machine and a soundcard and I think people were genuinely surprised that I’d go set that up and operate it, and that I’d made some of the drum tracks. It’s just become so naturalized to me to be the only female on stage throughout the course of an evening. It’s really sad.
PHIL: It’s a shame that more women are not in the band but involved in the mechanism around, doing the sound desk and all that and I think things will change when that becomes the norm.
CAROL: I think things are getting better, but in order to get a whole new generation of women who are actually considering being a musician as a feasible option you need a lot of people who have been successful or who are just really active in an underground scene, to be a good role model for them. If you go to a gig and its 3 or out 10 times you see a woman behind the sound desk or you see a woman managing the band it starts ideas rolling in your head… “oh I could do that”, it suddenly becomes a realistic option. There are a few female sound engineers in Manchester who are very good at what they do.
MEL: Do you play a musical instrument and if so what?
CAROL: Yes, I play piano; I also play a bit of harmonica and very rudimentary guitar. I trained as a classical pianist when I was younger, not as a profession but I went to piano lessons and did all the grades and stuff. The harmonica and guitar are self taught. I play guitar in a really weird way, basically a right handed guitar flipped over so I am strumming/picking with my left hand. I have to play it this way because of my hand deformity, but I just couldn’t get my head around the way a guitar is normally strung. Maybe because I learned piano first, it just makes sense that the highest strings should be at the top!
MEL: What would you like to achieve in your career, how would you like to develop it further – would you be happy to go down a mainstream route for success for example?
CAROL: [laughs] Not really to be honest, but I’ve got past the whole stuff about being a teenager “I’m never gonna sell out, I’m never gonna play the venue that is sponsored by Carling” or whatever and you can get quite indignant and get a bit too caught up in that idea. For now what I am genuinely interested in is creating music that I am happy with, and that I am proud of and as anyone would, trying to get as many people to hear it as possible but I’m not gonna fuck someone to do that [laughs].
PHIL: It’s not a case of having sex with anyone but you can get instances of a company saying for example…sack the drummer.
CAROL: I’ve been through all that before; I’d never go there again. A previous band I was in, we got involved with a label and we’d got a new drummer at the time, they didn’t say it in as a many words but they inferred that our bassist was too old and we should get someone else, but no what the fuck has that got to do with it, I don’t care how old he is, he is a really good bass player and we really like him! I’m not interested in smiling and being perfect on Top of The Pops…is it still on?!
MEL: When you’re on stage, in any of your various line ups, do you adopt a different persona for each band – or are you just you?
CAROL: Yes, I mean like Bad Taste Barbies, we’d all been in different bands and we got together with Kurt Dirt and we wanted to be in a band which was as much fun as possible. We just wanted a break from trying to get somewhere, trying to get a record deal or whatever. It was complete unleashed mayhem, just fun, no boundaries, and no rules. I’m quite flamboyant and I do get quite into what I’m doing on stage and in previous bands it’s made people feel uncomfortable, for some people I suspect that’s not how they wanted their band to be put across and were maybe threatened by what I was doing.
MEL: So you’re quite physical on stage?
CAROL: Yeah, it all comes from the music and I write songs which are based on a certain emotional arc or journey, or a certain headspace than I need to get into to deliver them properly. I end up doing things and moving about, just absorbed in it. I’m not interested in standing there looking cool; I wouldn’t be able to do that if I tried anyway, I’d look like an idiot!
MEL: You mentioned earlier you’d supported Angie Bowie, when she played with The Glitter Band in Manchester a few years back.
CAROL: That was with the Bad Taste Barbies, she was nice, and we were chatting to her backstage and stuff. I think her first opening line was …she snapped her fingers at Kurt and said “hey baby go and get me some champagne”. She gave him £20 to get it from the shop, she seemed quite nice, and she was good fun.
MEL: Crystal Grenade, your most recent work, how would you describe the music as it sounds very different from the punk element?
CAROL: Its like Amanda Palmer, fighting Tori Amos and Shakesphere’s Sister in a dimly lit Victorian bar with hand deformities [laughs]. Somebody said it was like torch singer music, it’s a little bit jazzy, a bit sleazy, a bit music hall. I’ve only done a couple of solo gigs, I did a few tracks at a gig, and some with Pete from Bad Taste Barbies and WRECKS, and then I did an open mic at The Thirsty Scholar in Manchester and I’m playing there again in a couple of weeks.
MEL: Do you dress up in anyway particular way when you perform this?
CAROL: Well I’m still playing around with that, the first gig I did I wore a corset and I realised that was a really bad idea. It was sitting down at the piano trying to sing, and it was rather difficult, so I probably am not going to wear a corset again [laughs]. I’m quite interested in the whole Victoriana aesthetic and so I’m playing around with that. It’s a little bit Vaudeville.
MEL: Where did you come up with the name, is there a story behind this?
CAROL: Its just so stupid, when I was on tour with a previous band called Sadie Hawkins Dance, Pete was coming up with names for everyone, we were really drunk and bored one night, and he just came up with ‘Crystal Grenade’ in a silly American accent. Yeah, I quite liked that, I looked up on the internet and there was no one else using it. Why not.
PHIL: Do you feel driven to create?
CAROL: I realised when I was about fifteen, you know, obviously when you’re a teenager you have all sorts of hormones flying around your body, I realised at one point I felt really down and it suddenly made sense in my head “but I haven’t sung for ages, or written, or played”. Music is like a form of therapy, you have to have an outlet, and I am the type of person who certainly has to, but I think everybody does, but mine is music and creating and getting stuff out.
PHIL: Do you like the idea of people looking at you when you’re on stage?
CAROL: I like the idea of people being engaged in what I am doing or my band, if what I’m doing is attributing to that. If I am getting somebody in the audience to connect with what’s happening, that is my aim, that is what I want to do. I want to affect people, make them think and experience something, because to me, that’s what music is about.
PHIL: In your writing process do you put particular hats on for each group, or do you write a song and think …hmmm this could be?
CAROL: I write or get just get an idea first, its only afterwards I think …yeah I could do that on my own, that would be for me, or I could do that in WRECKS, or for another project.
PHIL: Where do you see WRECKS going now?
CAROL: Well at the moment we are working on getting a full set of songs, focusing on writing. We just have a couple of rehearsal demos, which you can check out here: www.soundcloud.com/wrecksmusic
We are aware we are in our infancy; we are not trying to run before we can walk, we just want to focus on the music at the moment. I’m also trying to book as many gigs as possible because obviously you develop further by playing live.
MEL What have you got coming up for the future?
CAROL: We want to record a decent sounding E.P because I think we need that. It’s a vicious circle, a catch 22 type thing. You need to have good songs to get gigs, but you can’t just do a demo, so we have something up there so people have an idea of what we sound like. Once we get these songs together I want to gig as much as possible. We have a few gigs booked; REC fest up in Ashington (near Newcastle) is the next one, on Sat 18thAugust. We’re also playing The Yorkshire House in Lancaster on 22nd September. Other than that, there are a few things in the pipeline for the rest of the year that have just about slotted into place.
Oh and I’m doing a new project with Steve Ignorant, we did our first gig on Saturday. He lives in Norfolk, he volunteers for the local independent lifeboat service, and we went down this weekend, they’ve got a brand new boat and it was blessed by a Bishop. It was so funny, Steve was one of the people on the boat, and he flinched when the Bishop flicked the holy water, as if it was burning him up [laughs]. We did a small gig in the village, played six songs. Some of them were new songs and some were re-workings of what Steve did with Schwarzenegger and Stratford Mercenaries. He talks between songs, so it’s definitely a spoken word type vibe. We didn’t really know what he was going to say, I don’t think he did either, but it was great. He talked about being in Crass and relived some old tour stories, and then the next thing you know, he’s talking about visiting Auschwitz. I’m really excited to see how this project will develop; it’s going to be good.
Oh and my solo project, Crystal Grenade. I’m planning on doing an Open Mic tour at the start of August, playing Open Mic nights around the North West and sleeping in a tent! You can hear my songs at www.soundcloud.com/misscrystalgrenade.
MEL: Ok, a silly questions to wind it down, I’ve never done an interview in a high rise car park before, so if we were to get stuck in the lift and you could have anyone with you who would you like to be with?
CAROL: I would say Stephen Fry, because he would probably be very calm and rational in the situation. He would probably also have a massive stash of sweets with him, he’d be really interesting company and I’d learn a lot. [laughs]
And after the interview Carol leads us through the pouring rain into one of her local vegetarian haunts the Earth Cafe for a meat free lunch. That chilli and rice was sure delicious!