Carina Round’s fourth full-length album, Tigermending, comes after a five-year hiatus that began when she left Interscope following her last LP, Slow-Motion Addict. In the meantime, Round kept plenty busy. Her primary gig was touring and recording with Puscifer, the side project of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, but she also wrote songs for film and TV, while still making time to release an EP, Things You Should Know, in 2009. With Tigermending, Round has shorn herself of the influence of a major label and is doing things her way. We were able to catch up with her in the midst of a West Coast tour to talk about her new approach to recording, finding humor in her songs and the joy of writing music for film and TV.
It’s been five years since your last full-length. How did you approach this one differently from what you’ve done in the past, now that you’re not on a major label anymore?
Carina Round: Well the approach was different in a lot of ways, but I think the main and most obvious difference is that I funded the whole thing myself. Everything from the musicians, to the producer, to the studio, to the manufacturing, to the touring. As a result of that, it obviously took a lot longer to make because I could only do it as funds were available. But also — I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a hippie — the spiritual approach was very different, too. I went through a huge transition personally after parting ways with Interscope. Not to say that the Interscope thing was an entirely bad experience, but I did have a certain feeling when I woke up every morning that I was fighting against something. I was traveling a different path than maybe what I should have been. I think when you wake up feeling that everyday, it really makes you think about what it is you do want out of what you’re doing. I think that during the making of this record I’ve really tried to meditate on that point and stay true to knowing that whatever I was doing with this record was basically just…
It was you.
Round: Yeah, and part of the path to growing as a musician and as an artist. It’s obviously not aimed at any kind monetary success [laughs].
You were able to work with Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics), Brian Eno, and Billy Corgan on this record. Was that your decision as well, to bring them in?
Round:I’ve known Dave for probably 10 years. After I made my very first record I met with Dave and right away he wanted to sign me to a label that he had in the UK. Unfortunately the label didn’t go through, but it was a big help for me to make The Disconnection. I made that record and put it out myself, and Dave pitched me as an idea to Interscope and we did the record together. During that time he had sent me a backing track of something that he’d done 10 years prior with Brian Eno. It is the beginning of “The Secret of Drowning,” just that little minute, the way it starts, that’s what he sent me. And he said ‘write something haunting and amazing for this by tomorrow,’ in true Dave form. In true Carina Round form, five years later I took it into him in the studio, finished, and said ‘Listen to this, it’s really good,’ and he was like ‘Wow, I forgot about that.’ That’s how that collaboration came about. I never actually worked in the studio with Eno.
With Billy, I met him through a mutual friend, Kristin Burns, who is his photographer and we became friends over a period of a year or so. He came to one of my shows and loved it and said he really like one of my songs an wanted to play on it. I thought he was kidding, so I didn’t really follow it up right away. Then I got a text from Kristin saying I think you should follow-up with Billy about that song. I did and he came into the studio and was like, ‘I’ve got this idea I’ll play for you,’ and of course, the second he put it down it was so clear. He put two guitar tracks down in like two takes without listening to either one of them at the time. It was perfect.
Were the songs on Tigermending written over a long period of time then?
Round: Yeah. Some of them I started writing five years ago, maybe, maybe even more. I don’t even want to think about that. And then some of them were written in practically the time it takes to play them. But they were all written in their own way over the last four or five years.
We featured an mp3 of “Girl and the Ghost” in this week’s Paste mPlayer. Like a lot of songs on the album, it has some rather dark lyrics, but a lot of the instrumentation and the way you sing is pretty uplifting. Would you say the song—and the album as a whole—can be taken to be about healing just as much as it is about struggle?
Round: Yeah, absolutely. I think I started doing it subconsciously, but I always try to insert a little bit of joy into whatever it is I’m talking about. I don’t see the point of just being totally defeated about everything. To be honest, if I’m at the point where I start writing a song about something, it probably means I’ve gathered some sort of insight into the situation. There’s a sense of humor in the darkest parts of this record that I hope people can hear and understand, and if they’re in the right mood, I think it can be really funny. Particularly the song, “Mother’s Pride,” I get a kick out of in a humorous way, but I can understand why people think it’s just weird, depressive goth music. My point being that if you hear a lyric and it makes you want to laugh out loud, then that’s totally fine because it probably made me laugh out loud at some point.
Your songs and your videos, especially the videos for this album, have a lot of vivid imagery and there’s always been a very theatrical and visual element to your music. Is this visual element something you’re thinking about during the writing process, or is it something that you come back to after the fact?
Round: Actually, when I was making this record I approached it differently. I decided that if anyone was going to be involved in any level I was going to give them the freedom to do what they wanted as much as possible, instead of trying to dictate to everybody what I thought it should be like. That got carried over to the videos so when Scott Rhea decided that he wanted to direct “The Last Time,” he actually wrote treatments for around six of the songs. We were going to try to make all of them, but obviously that gets expensive, so we chose “The Last Time” because that’s the one he really wanted to do. He sent me the treatment and I loved it. It ended up being the video with the highest production value I’d ever made. It was a two-day shoot, are there were 15 crew, make-up, styling and all that kind of stuff. It was weird for me because I basically just sat there and let it happen to me, which was kind of a freeing experience. I obviously brought my performance to it and did what I could in that way, but I really wanted to let go of trying to control what it became.
Just letting him see his own vision through.
Round: Yeah, I wanted it to be more of a coming together of the two sides of it and to see what that would create. Same with the “Pick Up The Phone” video with Rani [DeMuth]. She wrote a treatment and had a lot of ideas for it, and I just tried to get into that role and become that character and bring myself to it. She actually took a lot of scenes out after the shoot. There were three or four different set-ups and she decided when she saw it that she just loved that one. I was really happy with the result. I think it’s beautiful.
During your hiatus, you did a lot of writing songs for movies and TV. Was that something you were doing just to tide yourself over in between albums, or is it something you would like to do more of in the future?
Round: I would love to do more of that. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can’t imagine why any artist wouldn’t just want to be sat in front of a movie with a guitar or whatever and just write a score for it. It’s a fun thing to do. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but I’ve worked with a couple of composers. Working on the Valentine’s Day song was really exciting. I went to Soundstage and finalized with the orchestra. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life because there are 60 or 70 players looking at their watch at their watch going ‘Oh it’s another five minutes, another $500,’ so it’s a lot of pressure. The stuff for the TV shows were songs I had already written and that were taken from my EP or from my record and put into TV shows. But yeah, it is totally something that I’m interested in. I love movies, I love watching movies, and I love hearing my own music in movies and on TV.
So are we going to have to wait another five years for the next full-length, then?
Round: [Laughs] I hope not. I don’t think so. I’ve been pretty inspired and as long as I can afford to do it, I’ll do it. There was a period as well, though, where I just wanted to challenge myself as a person because I hadn’t done a lot of writing with other people and I hadn’t done anything for film or TV. I collaborated with Puscifer for the last four years too, which was a really great learning experience and also good for me creatively. I feel like I had closed a lot of doors to myself because before that I told myself I was just going to be a singer/songwriter and an artist and it was just fucking boring. When I do that, I don’t feel like I’ve progressed that much as an artist. I think it’s good for me to continue doing things that are inspired by other people.