Morgan D. Carson (bass guitar and vocals) was first introduced to her future bandmate Chad (vocals, guitar) when she was five and a half years old—he just so happened to be her baby brother. Morgan and Chad grew up together amidst Black Bayou and Calcasieu River and hail proudly from Lake Charles, Louisiana. Like true Cajuns, they were born with an inkling towards music, but it was their unique bond and musical duality that led them to embark together on a journey into the music world as the Kid Carsons. They beefed up their duo by adding longtime friend David Hart (drums, keys, banjo) and hunted down Josh Joseph (lead guitar) and Derek Duplessie (pedal steel guitar, harmony). With all their ducks in a row, the Kid Carsons have prevailed over hurricanes and sibling rivalry to build a recording studio, start a record label and take on one of the world’s most prestigious music festivals.
When did you two start playing music?
Morgan Carson: Since we were kids. Our dad used to play guitar with us. We sang “Groundhog” a lot and… [in unison with Chad] “Streets of Laredo.” [gesturing to an old 1987 custom-made Taylor acoustic guitar on the wall] That’s actually the guitar my dad gave me when I was 16.
Chad Carson: I remember that Morgan got a banjo when she went to Guilford College. That changed some stuff when she came home with a John Hartford record.
MC: We got more serious once we got bluegrass instruments.
CC: For a while, Morgan was in Atlanta and I was in North Carolina. She started playing upright bass and I started playing mandolin, but we were both in separate bands.
MC: And as for David, he’s from Lake Charles and we’ve played with him forever.
CC: Since I was 9 or 10. So yep. Forever.
How did that turn into the Kid Carsons?
MC: Chad was doing a songwriting project for Loyola University and we recorded a song of his called “I Try.” We weren’t the Kid Carsons yet because I remember we had to think of a name. I don’t think we ended up using it for that, but we had that name in mind. That was about three years ago.
CC: Then our friend Michael Krajicek joined us.
MC: When he moved here that’s when it became the Kid Carsons. It was a trio for a while.
CC: It was much more of a folk project then. Morgan played upright. We’ve changed members since then. Our current line up has Josh, who was originally playing pedal steel guitar for us. Then we found Derek on Craigslist, but we thought it was Josh playing a joke on us because he listed all of the same influences we had. Then we auditioned Derek for guitar, but Josh decided he was actually a guitar player because Derek was clearly an amazing pedal steel player. So we switched them… [laughs] which was a good decision.
MC: Derek’s from California and is a Philosophy Ph.D. student at Tulane. Josh is from Oklahoma and went to law school. He’s actually an attorney.
CC: Derek’s also got some albums that are pretty amazing from when he was a child. He’s a prodigy… If anyone wants to buy them, I think they still sell them on Amazon for $40 for physical copies. Steve Earle’s got a review on the back. He won’t give us a copy of it.
MC: It’s called Derek Duplessie and the Desert Poets… He’s gonna hate us for this.
MC: We played our first show with this lineup in March 2012.
So your full band anniversary just passed and now you’ve got something pretty exciting lined up this month. Tell me more…
MC: We’re playing Jazz Fest on Saturday,April 27th. It will also be the day after my birthday so that’s pretty cool.
CC: I’m excited about it. I definitely feel like it’s going to be a good show. We’re going to be playing some new songs as well as reworking some old ones. Pull out all the stops and whistles.
Kid Carsons has a very focused sound. Who influenced that?
MC: Our influences have been pretty similar. Even when we were in different places and playing different music.
CC: We’ve always shared some musical epiphany—
MC: Talking about bands we’ve discovered every afternoon. Specifically when we got serious with music, there was really one album that changed it all and that was John Hartford’s Aereo-plain.
CC: That was the beginning of it all.
MC: It’s actually a pretty hard album to find. We really got into bluegrass after. Then we got into country and then back out of all of that.
CC: [laughs] Well, I don’t know if we followed the exact same path in that respect. Townes Van Zandt is a big influence on me; so is Gram Parsons, Blaze Foley, etc. Another big influence is Eric Whitacre as far as composition goes—
MC: Especially vocals. He’s been a big influence on us. When we first heard “When David Heard” in a parking lot, we sat in the car for 20 minutes. We listened to it twice.
CC: This could be the whole interview.
I can’t help but stare at all the eye candy in this room. This is your bedroom?
CC: Well, this little corner is my bedroom and this is a mattress.
MC: Most of it is a control room for our studio in the other room.
CC: David, Morgan and I are in here probably 24 hours a day…
MC: and PJ!
CC: Yep and Percy [their energetic black labrador]. She’s always in here making these wonderful little messes [gestures to tiny remains of a chew toy].
MC: We live and work in this studio with our label, Bear America Records, and spend pretty much all of our time in this very small room.
CC: It’s a great room, by the way.
It is. You two are quite a sibling duo. Does your family have a history of playing music?
MC: Not at all really; our little brother is a diver. He’s the rebel in the family. However, some of our great-great aunts and uncles did perform in symphonies.
CC: But our dad kind of messed around with guitar. He knew a couple of chords.
MC: He’s a great bass singer, though.
What is Bear America Records?
MC: David and Max should come in for that.
[David Hart & Max McKenna step in from the living room]
MC: This is the team. Max McKenna, he’s our creative director and he lives upstairs. Also, David Hart, our drummer for Kid Carsons, long time friend—
CC: And as Woody Ledbetter calls him, the “beatmaster of time.”
MC: We make Bear America Records.
CC: We make sounds and we organize them. Then we try and make them sound nice together.
Max McKenna: And I make visuals for those sounds.
MC: Our idea is that we want people to have a very personal experience when they come in to record here. We really want to know what those songs are about and what they meant when they wrote them so that we can accurately portray that.
CC: We like to take our time with preproduction to make sure everything is perfect before we get it down. I think that the attention to detail and being able to have a personal experience is our strong suit. It’s kind of a new thing. Within the last year—
MC: We had some setbacks. We were out of the house after Hurricane Isaac for four months. That was crazy. We were very displaced and it was tough. We lived in a hotel downtown with two dogs. That was funny, but now we’re back to work at full speed.
CC: Full speed is kind of an understatement.
What have you been so busy working on?
CC: We are currently finishing up a record for a band from Little Rock, Arkansas called Swampbird. Then
we are producing an album for a folk singer from Monroe, Louisiana named Woody Ledbetter.
MC: We have a lot scheduled in the studio. We hope we can squeeze ourselves in at some point.
CC: Whenever that happens we’ll squeeze ourselves in and make a real record.
MC: [laughs] a full record.
CC: The last record [an EP titled Settle Down] we made was more a demo–– something to give to people. We have a lot of songs that we haven’t recorded, so we’ll see what that turns into.
MC: Then we will probably tour late summer, early fall.
How do you write songs for Kid Carsons?
CC: It’s different every time. I know people say that a lot, but it’s true. Some of them my sister and I wrote together; some I wrote with W.B. Givens from Nashville and some I wrote myself. For “Oh My God” [off of Settle Down], we were at a bluegrass festival outside of Syria, Virginia that we used to go to every year.
MC: We went for eight years in a row. I left a day early for some reason in a different car and drove back to New Orleans. They were trying to leave the next day.
CC: Morgan and I had our brother’s truck—
There’s something about being delirious and insane that makes music great
MC: —and a trailer with all of our gear. I realized when I was in Dollywood that I had the keys to the truck that was on top of a mountain in Virginia so they were very, very stuck.
CC: She stranded us there. We ended up staying with James Wilson from Sons of Bill.
MC: They were very mad at me at first.
CC: But then we had two days to sit and drink vodka and write songs. We wrote two songs then, one of which was “Oh My God” about some simultaneous romantic problems Warren [W.B. Givens] and I were having, which seems to happen a lot. The other one was “Me, Andrew Marvell” that we finished on the drive back. That one is a response to a poem that is a response to an Andrew Marvell poem called “To His Coy Mistress.” Sometimes things like that just happen. You get stuck somewhere and are randomly inspired; or sometimes you’ll sit down and meticulously craft a song for months. It just depends.
MC: My brother and I like to write in the car or in the van. We go to Nashville pretty often and we have this little amp in the van and Chad plugs in his Telecaster—
CC: Or the Danelectro—
MC: And we write it on the eight hour drive to Nashville, work on it while we’re there on Warren’s porch and usually finish it on the way back.
You don’t drive each other crazy?
MC: Sometimes we do, but we live together in this house with Max and we work here all day together and then we play shows together—
CC: Tour together, make records together, drink together—
MM: Get drunk together… party together.
MC: People are always kind of shocked how well we do together. We certainly,
certainly drive each other crazy sometimes.
CC: But we’ve dealt with that for a long time so we know how to.
MC: Also, what we’re doing is so important to us that we’re good at not letting it affect the rest of—
CC: how productive we are and what effort it is we’re trying to make.
MC: What we’re doing with the Kid Carsons and Bear America Records is more important to us than our fickle roommate/sibling fights.
CC: Our house is generally like that, too. We don’t have rules on noises or
MM: It’s fair game.
CC: As long as it’s productive.
MC: Music and art come first. It works surprisingly well.
CC: If anyone wants to know our office hours for Bear America Records, we usually work from 5 to 9. 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.
MC: There’s something about being delirious and insane that makes music great.
Speaking of partying together, fortunately I have the pleasure of knowing you outside of this and funny as it may seem, I can’t help but to associate you with a bar. As a band, you’ve essentially claimed a bar.
CC: [laughs] That is true.
MC: We do have a bar.
MM: I don’t know if we should disclose it…
CC: Yeah I think we’re going to have to keep that a secret.
MM: I mean if you find it, that’s cool I guess…
MC: Let’s just say that there are some people there that we really love…. Charlie, Liam and Mr. Johnny, the owner. Lots of great music happens there. Not in any professional way, but there’s a great guitar and many late nights after shows or after working in the studio all night.
CC: It’s got the best jukebox. #194 is Eddy Arnold “Make the World Go Away” and that’s my favorite country song of all time. That’s enough hints, though.
MC: They put our album in the jukebox. It was a rite of passage. If you want to be our friend, you have to hang out there. You have to be accepted.
Catch the Kid Carsons on Saturday, April 13th at One Eyed Jack’s with Coyotes and Rotary Downs, and at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Saturday, April 27th. For more info, check out thekidcarsons.com or bearamericarecords.com