Praise for EVERYBODY SMOKES IN HELL:
-Amanda Putz, CBC Radio Bandwidth & Canada Live Host (RE: Album Everybody Smokes in Hell)
"It was recorded live at Ottawa’s Little Bullhorn Studios with back up players Fred Guignon on lap slide, Olivier Fairfield on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on the stand up bass (AKA Epic Proportions). The project was recorded using “Dave Draves’ meticulous old-school process of recording to tape before converting tracks to digital”, which no doubt helped capture the raw and honest musicality of John Carroll and gave the album a warmth fitting of its title." – indieAndie (RE: Album Everybody Smokes in Hell)
"It’s bluesy in a narrative, visual way, with lyrics such as “they say the sinner suffers until he atones/ I don’t know a closet that ain’t full of bones/ even Jesus didn’t live all that clean/ go on and ask Mary Magdalene.” The words, and the vocal effects used on some songs, will be familiar to any fan of Tom Waits. (But) Carroll isn’t imitating Waits, or anybody else. He’s developing his own sound with clever and lyrical songs, and a band that’s well chosen. The sound is fuller, more expansive than heard on the earlier CDs, and that could be the result of the music having Carroll’s undivided attention. He’s been making music for 25 years or so, but eight years ago he began doing it full-time. It’s a leap that many musicians can’t, or won’t dare, make." -Peter Simpson, Ottawa Citizen (RE: Album Everybody Smokes in Hell)
"At 42 and one of the hardiest of Ottawa’s singer-songwriters he urges listeners to relax and enjoy life more on this rambling and deliciously dirty album of want-to-be-bad blues. It’s the musical equivalent of a noir crime novel."
- Denis Armstrong, Ottawa Sun (RE: Album Everybody Smokes in Hell)
“John Carroll’s songwriting skill comes through in his music.He is an assured performer who is memorable for his dry humour and relaxed stage presence”
-Patrick Langston, Ottawa Citizen (RE: Live Shows)
PENGUIN EGGS MAGAZINE REVIEW
Ottawa bluesman John Carroll has surely come up with the album title of the year: Everybody Smokes In Hell. The recording, too, rates as his best to date, reckons Pat Langston (click here for the direct link):
If Hades had a telephone line to Earth, a call from down there would sound like John Carroll’s voice on Everybody Smokes In Hell. He recorded the title track of his latest CD using a low-fi harmonica mic, and his voice sounds distant, a bit tinny, like an old-timey recording.
That’s appropriate since there’s something distinctly old-timey about the song’s pillorying of hypocrisy (“I don’t know a closet that ain’t full of bones,” he sings) even as the tune, in a very modern way, punctures our silly habit of flagellating ourselves for sins either imagined or that really aren’t such a big deal after all.
All of which sounds like a weighty burden for a funny, bluesy three and three-quarter-minute song.
But that’s what you get with Carroll, an astute songwriter whose delivery frequently mixes a straight face, dark humour and a moral core in equal measure.
As the one-time heavy smoker—it’s no surprise to learn he was raised a Roman Catholic—says of the title track, “It’s about how we’re always condemning each other publicly and ourselves privately.”
But those ideas came later, he adds. “The song started because I just liked its gritty sound.”
Sound is one of the chief pleasures of his third studio album, his best to date. That’s thanks in part to the more expansive soundscape he’s entered by using for the first time a full band throughout an album.
The Epic Proportions consists of guitarist/lap steel player Fred Guignon—a much-admired Ottawa musician who’s worked with the likes of Kathleen Edwards and whose lap steel lends the album its occasional country flavour—drummer Olivier Fairfield, and bassist Philippe Charbonneau.
Like his previous albums, this one was recorded in Little Bullhorn Studios. It’s owned by Ottawa’s very busy Dave Draves, who also co-produced Edwards’s first album.
“I’ve been with Dave since the start,” says Carroll. “He’s not one of these engineers who sits back and just tells you what to do; he’s totally involved.” Draves also sings backup on the album.
Having a full band meant “the whole recording process was a discovery of these songs. This time, I solicited more input because these guys devote as much attention to being colourists and shaping songs as I do to writing.”
In fact, had it not been for the band, Frontal Lobotomy Blues would never have made the album. The last song recorded for the disc, the wry commentary on television’s addictive nature was destined for the scrapheap because Carroll wasn’t happy with what he was getting in the studio. But the band pushed him to keep trying, and the song’s original bluesy form morphed into the more urgent shape that wound up on the record.
Carroll—a blocky man with a resonant voice, he’s wearing a baseball cap with a tattered bill the morning we meet at an Ottawa café and gelato shop—tells me all this with customary chatty enthusiasm.
He’s accompanied by his young son, Henry, and his wife/manager Tiah Akse. She’s expecting the couple’s second child in the early summer.
Carroll, 42, and his young family have driven in from their home in small-town Kemptville, south of Ottawa. The Saturday foray into the city is part of their weekend routine, as is Carroll’s jaunt into the Chateau Lafayette, better known as The Laff, for his regular Wednesday gig. While he has played across Ontario, Carroll restricts his touring so as not to compromise his shows at The Laff, an unpretentious spot built in 1849.
“It’s a good gig. I get to connect with people there. I’ve probably missed eight shows in 10 years.”
An Ottawa native who bounced from Bahrain to New Orleans during the 1990s, Carroll has outfitted his home with a studio where he writes and makes demo tapes.
Although an idea for a song can strike anywhere, he usually writes at his desk. “The most important thing about writing for me is just showing up. I can write a lot in a short period. Once when Tiah was away with Henry I wrote 10 songs a day for two weeks. I gave myself a half-hour for each one, recorded it, took a break, and did another.
“I have such a powerful [internal] critic, I have to sit on him and then come back and revive him later.”
Tiah, a poet and budding banjo player who sings backup on her husband’s new album, frequently serves as Carroll’s sounding board for new material.
“There’s lots of feedback; it’s exciting,” she says, taking a break from leafing through a small mountain of children’s books with Henry.
Carroll jumps in to say she also writes songs.
“I’ve written a few,” she says.
“A lot!” rejoins her husband.
The two are planning a future album of their own, although she’s quick to swing the conversation back to her husband’s album, mentioning how it has charted on Canadian college radio stations.
Tiah was also the one who selected the 19th-century engraving by Gustave Doré that is the CD’s attention-grabbing front cover. Doré illustrated Dante’s medieval Divine Comedy, and Tiah found the illustration in an old copy of the poem owned by her husband. At once funny and frightening, it shows Dante accompanied by Virgil in the third level of Hell where sinners are condemned to spend eternity upside down in flaming rock, only their legs and feet visible. Everybody smokes, indeed.
Elsewhere on the album, things are sunnier.
The jaunty Lemonade celebrates the illusive possibility of turning lemons into sweet stuff. Silver Lining is about the inside of those dark clouds. And while Piggy takes to task people like the one-per-centers targeted by the Occupy movement, Buddy When I Go looks forward to the ease that will come with finally shuffling off the mortal coil.
“For me, dark things are humorous,” says Carroll. “My intention is to give a balanced picture of what I see [around me]. The album is not meant to be cynical.”
Creating this way, he says, is enjoyable. “It feels like something I should be doing, like exercise. It’s a wholesome thing to do.”
Ottawa Citizen Feature - Peter Simpson
Would you smoke in Hell? I would. And why not? It is Hell, after all.
Though, now that I think about it, Hell is probably overrun with bylaw officers, keen to punish you for doing anything fun. It’s some solace, I suppose, to learn that their eternal damnation seems to be ineffectiveness for, as John Carroll sings, “when you find your soul in eternal night, you’re going to find an old familiar smell/ everybody smokes in Hell.”
It’s the title track on Everybody Smokes in Hell, Carroll’s new CD, recorded with his band the Epic Proportions while thinking about a much different (near) eternity, one that is not Hellish but heavenly. “I wanted us to sound like a band that had been playing together every night for 25 years,” Carroll says, during a post-rehearsal interview in the Ottawa home of guitarist Fred Guignon.
Guignon is a guitar player with a light touch and serious talent, as many Ottawa musicians (Kathleen Edwards among them) have long known. His work is a key part of the sound on Everybody Smokes in Hell, which is exactly how Carroll wanted it. The 12 songs on the disc were all written by Carroll but arranged by him with Guignon, drummer Olivier Fairfield and bassist Philippe Charbonneau, each of whom was involved for the entire production process. It’s a luxury Carroll didn’t have on his first two CDs, The Confessions of an Infamous Liar (2003) and Lost Radio(2008).
“It’s the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to have a full band for the whole record that can basically do what needs to be done,” he says. “My goal this time was to remove myself from the driver’s seat as much as possible and let things happen that could happen when you’re not trying to control things, and when you’re working with people who are really capable of doing their job really well.”
Those people include Dave Draves, the musician and producer and arranger who owns Little Bullhorn Studios in Ottawa and who was involved in both of Carroll’s prior discs. “I just like working with him,” Carroll says. “I just find him to be really inspired and involved in the process, and why change if it’s something good like that?”
The results of all this is a slate of laid-back and richly textured songs that are largely acoustic but also burble with Guignon’s electric guitar and lap steel – the latter giving it the occasional country air.
“There was no real conscious intention to do that in any way,” Carroll says. “If it sounds that way on some arrangements that’s just sort of what happened, you know. I’d say it is more country in a way. I’d same in some ways it’s even more bluesy than the other two.”
It’s bluesy in a narrative, visual way, with lyrics such as “they say the sinner suffers until he atones/ I don’t know a closet that ain’t full of bones/ even Jesus didn’t live all that clean/ go on and ask Mary Magdalene.” The words, and the vocal effects used on some songs, will be familiar to any fan of Tom Waits.
“It’s so hard to write songs and not sort of draw from the Tom Waits universe, because I love what he does, and I think as a songwriter he’s really great at taking a really simple thing and making it really powerful,” Carroll says. “I try to avoid imitating him, but you can’t help but be inspired by what he does.”
Carroll isn’t imitating Waits, or anybody else. He’s developing his own sound with clever and lyrical songs, and a band that’s well chosen. Charbonneau’s stand-up bass is especially well suited to producing the organic, spacious sound in the songs – all of them recorded directly to tape, not digital. The sound is fuller, more expansive than heard on the earlier CDs, and that could be the result of the music having Carroll’s undivided attention. He’s been making music for 25 years or so, but eight years ago he began doing it full-time. It’s a leap that many musicians can’t, or won’t dare, make.
“It’s hard to imagine, if you’re not doing this, how you could make that happen, but you definitely start to develop ways of doing it,” Carroll says. “You realize there’s not really a point of doing another job, because all that does is drain you of doing this, and if you’re going to do this, or anything really and do it somewhat good or great or whatever it is you’re trying to do, you pretty well have to do it all the time.”
It helps to have help. Carroll says his ability to do it full-time moved to “a different level” when his wife, Tiah Akse, “became, more or less, the manager.” Not all of Akse’s input is behind the scenes. Under her stage name, Birdie Whyte, she’ll be the opening act at the Black Sheep show. The family has gambled a lot on the often financially unforgiving music business, but, as Carroll sings on Milk River Rag, “sometimes you’ve got to race yourself right off a cliff.”
Ottawa Sun Review - Denis Armstrong
Even though he hasn’t smoked for years, singer and songwriter John Carroll makes an excellent case for enjoying life’s pleasures — in moderation, of course, — on his third album Everybody Smokes in Hell.
At 42 and one of the hardiest of Ottawa’s singer-songwriters he urges listeners to relax and enjoy life more on this rambling and deliciously dirty album of want-to-be-bad blues.
It’s the musical equivalent of a noir crime novel.
“I hope everybody smokes in hell, otherwise, it’ll be a pretty long, dull eternity,” Carroll jokes. “I’ve seen friends resolve to quit smoking, then beat themselves up when they fail. I wish they would enjoy it, or quit and stop giving themselves hard time. It’s so neurotic. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. So much energy goes into feeling bad about feeling good.”
That’s a theme that might have a sharp resonance for us ne-er-do-wells in the city that fun forgot.
In spirit, Carroll’s seedy blues and hard-luck stories get the same sense of resignation and gallows humour that marks Tom Waits’ songs — Funny How the Money Just Disappears, When the Robots Come, Frontal Lobotomy Blues, Buddy When I Go.
“As an artist and writer, I try to counter the promise of beer-ad culture,” Carroll explains.
“Pop music makes promises it can almost never keep, but I come from a different place. I’m a little bit older and have had more experience — good and bad. It all works out in the end.”
Recorded at Dave Draves’ Little Bullhorn studio, Carroll and his band of Ottawa’s most seasoned players Fred Guignon on lap and steel, Olivier Fairfield on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on bass, recorded the album live off the floor directly onto old-fashioned tape in order to catch that live vibe Carroll gets at the Chateau Lafayette, where he plays every Wednesday night.
After seven years of busking, Carroll recorded his first album The True Confessions of an Infamous Liar in 2003. Lost Radio followed in 2008.
“The idea is doing everything right and perfectly is a lonely place. Being in control is something we pretend to be, but we all struggle with our bad habits. Those are the interesting stories behind the album.”
“This album is more optimistic and lighter than my previous records,” he adds.
“I tend to write songs about intangible moral issues and the state of the human condition. People seem so dark on the outside, but full of comedy on the inside. We all deserve a little sympathy.”
OTTAWA CITIZEN REVIEW - PATRICK LANGSTON
EXCELLENT ALBUM PILLORIES THE GUILTY
Everybody Smoke in Hell
John Carroll & The Epic Proportions
The cover art - a Gustave Dore engraving for Dante's Inferno showing sinners condemned to spend eternity upside down in flaming rock - suggests that John Carroll may be annoyed with wrong-doers. Sure enough, the excellent third album by the Ottawa country blues/folk man, who sometimes sounds uncannily like Mississippi John Hurt, pillories the guilty.
On the title track, it's the religiously righteous. The wealthy one per-centers scorned by the Occupy movement get soundly scolded in the rattling Piggy. And our tendency to overrate the intellectural elite is skewered from the vantage point of a paid but ignored house party entertainer in The Party.
Carroll is a wry, observant musician who elsewhere tackles perennially favorite subjects like a free-spending gal and, in the driving Frontal Lobotomy Blues, the dangers of television addiction.
(In addition to the CD launch tonight at the Black Sheep Inn, Carroll plays the Chateau Lafayette in the ByWard Market every Wednesday.)
Apt. 613 Review - Francois
Last night after a beer at Chez Lucien, I headed to the Château Lafayette (better known to its patrons as the Laff) to meet with John Carroll. The Kemptville musician has had a residency at the Laff for the past seven years. I was there on my own when a spring chicken of about 70 named Roy accosted me. “Is it your first time here?,” he said. When I replied no, he announced “I’ve come here every Wednesday for some years now to hear John and I’ve never seen you before!” Well, that’s speaks volumes to John Carroll’s dedicated fans, old and young, and it also put me to shame for not having yet caught one of Ottawa’s most authentic musicians on his favourite stage of the city.
I was at the Laff to catch Carroll’s set and to discuss his new album Everyone Smokes in Hell, but I also wanted to talk about his Ottawa roots. Carroll grew up in the city but has lived in Kemptville for the last little while. Carroll’s gig at the Laff started when, after a few of the bartenders and regulars of the Laff had seen him busking around the Market, one of the staff offered him a Tuesday night slot to complimentLucky Ron. It was at a time where business for bars like the Laff, who where still feeling the effects of the smoking ban, was really slow, so Carroll said what the hell. Overtime, the gig became a Wednesday night residency and a few years on the crowds of people, young and old, still keep coming.
Carroll performs as a guitarist and singer and plays a mix of his songs and covers, doing whatever feels right at the time. “It leaves me lots of time to reinterpret things on the fly and tap into the mood of the crowd.” He’s well-known throughout the city and beyond but doesn’t feel like he’s outgrown the Laff. “Maybe when there’s a line-up outside every week, but that’s not the case right now!” He jokes. The place is just like a second home to him and he says that it makes it an interesting challenge to play the same room every week. It gets you to strengthen your performance skills.
Carroll had a big grin when telling the crowd that his CD release was almost sold out at the Blacksheep Inn (although he was quick to say they can always fit a few more in). His new album is a full band recording done as a group effort with his stage band – The Epic Proportions. Working with other musicians took the music in a slightly different direction for Carroll, whose two previous albums were solo efforts. “While there’s always a lot of deliberation, it’s nice to let people that devout to their skills do what they do well. We really tapped into the group energy.” he says. The album’s a combination of country blues, folk roots and rock n’ roll. You can listen to it in full here. When I suggest that some of the songs appear much lighter than the first cut on the album, also entitled Everyone Smokes in Hell, he grins and says: “If all the smokers end up in hell, they won’t be alone! You have to always look at the positive side of a story.”
Carroll’s has seen the music scene change quite a bit since his teens (he’s now 42). He says there’s more support now for original music than in his youth and names folks like Souljazz Orchestra, Meredith Luce and André Bluteau as people that are making a name for themselves in Ottawa and beyond.
While he’s thinking about a short tour outside of Ottawa for the spring, he and the Epic Proportions are focusing on the CD release. He’s looking forward to playing for a packed show at the Blacksheep and hopes to blow the roof off the building and party hard.
Birdie Whyte will be opening for John. And Roy, as always, will be there with his dancing shoes on.
indieAndie - Feature
Everybody Smokes In Hell - new release from Ottawa's John Carroll!
John Carroll is a seasoned songwriter from Canada's Capital with an indie track record to be proud of! His first two release The True Confessions of an Infamous Liar (2003) and Lost Radio (2008) sold a combined 5,000 copies (directly from artist to fans!!!) and paved the way for what is sure to be an epic release party/concert on January 14th in Ottawa for his latest album, Everybody Smokes in Hell. This newest addition to Carroll’s catalogue harmoniously combines influences from country blues, folk roots and rock n’ roll. It was recorded live at Ottawa’s Little Bullhorn Studios with back up players Fred Guignon on lap slide, Olivier Fairfield on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on the stand up bass (AKA Epic Proportions). The project was recorded using “Dave Draves’ meticulous old-school process of recording to tape before converting tracks to digital”, which no doubt helped capture the raw and honest musicality of John Carroll and gave the album a warmth fitting of its title.