21 QUESTIONS WITH ANDREW CARTER

Last August, Andrew Carter emerged from his basement with a record deal.

A year of recording had paid off. The former Mad Extras member— a 27-year-old English major with a disarmingly introspective aura and locks that would make Jim Morrison jealous— signed a deal with Egghunt Records.

Andrew proceeded to put together a band called Minor Poet and hit the road. One year later, Minor Poet is sitting on a new record and preparing for another out-of-town tour. For those who have not had the privilege of hearing the first record, …And How!, I would strongly recommend a Spotify search— and a ticket to the nearest show— and maybe a purchase on vinyl, before it becomes a collector’s item.

Minor Poet may not be selling out stadiums yet, but the band’s sound is fresh, clean, and, to the pleasure of this Garcia disciple, undeniably ‘Sixties. The recent show at Strange Matter came with a new guitarist— Erica Lashley— and a tri-horn section, which transformed the low-fi harmonies of …And How! into a driving electric funk.

On a rainy Tuesday in July, I caught up with Andrew at the VMFA Café. I may have mastered the art of the 5 W’s— at long last— but I could not divine a way to translate the genius of Andrew’s creative approach to pen and paper. He was philosophical, academic, and nonchalant all at once. He had a GOD IS LOVE tattoo and a pack of Marlboro Red 100s in his front pocket. He seemed more like a mystic than a rock star.

And so I pulled out a recorder and let Andrew do the talking. You know how it is when you’re starstruck— just a little bit of vertigo, welling up inside of me….

MinorPoet-JoeyWharton-9.jpg
(@Joey Wharton Photography)

DHR: Can you tell me a little more about your musical career prior to Minor Poet?

AC: Most of my musical career was me just recording music with the equipment I had. When I was a teenager, I played some local shows around town, but not very many. After college, I was in a band called the Mad Extras, and we played a couple out-of-town shows, but we broke up when Minor Poet started.

DHR: What kind of music did you play then?

AC: It was a little more collaborative as a band, and a little bit more rockin’. It was definitely more Strokes-y in its approach.

DHR: That brings me back to Minor Poet—is it a band, or is it your stage name?

AC: There’s always a lot of lines blurred, but I chiefly see it as my creative outlet for writing and recording. I played all the instruments on the first record. Especially when talking about the first record, it isn’t a band. Since we’ve incorporated new band members, it has moved in a direction where I still write the songs, and I record a lot of it, and play most of the instruments, but having band members that have more talent than you on their instruments has led to more participation.  On our latest record, our drummer drums, our bassist plays bass, and we had a lot of guest musicians.

DHR: I read on earbuddy that …And How! was recorded with vintage equipment and “off-the-wall recording techniques.” Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

AC: Essentially nobody heard …And How! until it was finished. I lived in this house with a basement where the Mad Extras practiced, and all of our equipment was down there. I would come home from work and just go down and record. A lot of times, I didn’t even have songs, I was just making things up as I went.

I had an old organ from the 1970s that’s on a lot of the tracks. I had a toy Casio keyboard that had a cheesy violin sound, and I’d play a melody line on that and run it through a million different effects. When Plot Devices kicks in and you hear a lot of weird noises, that’s what you’re hearing.

DHR: What’s your favorite instrument to play?

AC: Honestly, the recording process itself is my favorite instrument. I’m not very gifted at any particular instrument— I guess I see myself more as a producer. My ability to play all the instruments is just a necessary evil.

DHR: What kind of acts would you credit as an influence? I hear Beach Boys—Band of Horses—Of Montreal—maybe the Beatles. Who am I missing?

AC: There’s definitely that mid-late 2000s heyday of indie musicians, when bands were leaning into that poppy sound. A lot of people say they hear the first Shins record.

I’ve heard a million different bands that people compare us to. My theory is that a lot of people hear the music that they fell in love with, with very strong pop melodies. That ultimately can probably be traced back to the Beach Boys and those ’60s bands— especially 1966-68.

I didn’t necessarily have any specific people in mind that I referred to. I’ve listened to Pet Sounds maybe a million times, and it’s definitely informed what I do. There’s a lot of DIY recording techniques— a lot of the layered multi-tracked vocals, with very specific reverbs— treating all of the instruments as opportunities to have their own melodies— that’s all very Brian Wilson.

But at the same time, it has that low-fi indie feel.

DHR: It’s hard to talk about Pet Sounds and the 1960s without talking about psychedelic culture, and I hear some dog whistles to psychedelia on …And How!. “Disappear if I self-actualize any further”—“prehistoric holes in your brain”—“stare into the void until it stares back”—and one I noticed, “I’m distracted by the patterns on your dress,” which to me feels like a very specific psychedelic moment. Did that culture influence you at all?

AC: Ironically, no. I’ve never dabbled in psychedelics.

In college, I studied a lot of theory and philosophy. A lot of that ego-death, existential thinking is more along those lines. But those concepts bled into 1960s psychedelic culture— I just came at it from a more academic background.

I was definitely writing these songs at a period in my life where I needed to work through a lot of things. There were a lot of existential elements to that.

DHR: So you majored in English, you’ve got this sort of Eastern philosophy— and on …And How!, there’s plenty of references to classical art and classical literature. Are you looking to explore these concepts on the new EP?

AC: Those moments are always going to be there. When I’m writing, I feel like I have things to say. It’s always a process of working through whatever I’m going through. A lot of times, I’m looking to say something a million people have said about something they’re going through, and it’s about looking for a more interesting way to say it.

The mindset I had on the first record was that nobody was ever going to hear it. I was just trying to explore my sound. There are a lot of inside jokes that only I would find funny. There’s one line—“I called you Kafkaesque, and you just laughed and said I used the word wrong.” That is a real, very specific moment.

And, [referring to Judith Beheading Holofernes], Infinite Jest is very literally a book I tried to read three or four times.

DHR: Is it worth it?

AC: Yeah…a part of you is proud of yourself once you’ve read it, and a part of you is mad, like, “I can’t believe I just had to read this whole book.”

DHR: How much of that do we get on the next record?

AC: There will always be a part of me that remembers making the first record, when I was doing something very few people get to do. When you make art, usually you have to think about your audience. I never did that. I was my only audience. Now it’s gotten a lot of attention. I can no longer exist in that space.

Now I have to make something true to myself, but I have to deal with these other thoughts. And trying to work through that plays into the next record. There are also a lot more religious references. The first one was specifically art and literature.

My dad was a pastor, his dad was a pastor, my mom’s dad was a pastor— I did a lot of religious studies in college—I’ve read the Bible a hundred times, and that’s been something to lean on when looking for metaphors.

DHR: So you grew up with religion as a backdrop— where are you at now religiously? Are you a Christian, a Buddhist?

AC: I don’t know. Even the word agnostic has an explanation, and I don’t think I fit into that. There’s something there—I just don’t think I’m at a place in my life where I want to sit down and decide.

DHR: So you tried to read Infinite Jest three times—maybe you’ll read it again later.

AC: [Laughs] Exactly.

It’s something I’m going to have to confront at some point in my life. There’s always moments during the creative process when you tap into something so much bigger than yourself. I’ll stumble onto one of those moments, and I’ll think, “This is beyond me. I’m truly inspired.” It really is like staring into the void and letting it stare back, and there’s something that wasn’t there before.

I feel that way when I look at some of the lyrics on the first record. I can’t sit down and write those lines. Those lines just came, and I plucked them out of mid-air.

Bob Dylan said that about the period where he was writing those incredible songs—“I didn’t have anything to do with that. I was just there.”

At the very least, I think there’s a broader conscious—there’s a lot there that we just don’t know.

DHR: One of the lines that stuck out to me was “Separate what you want and what you need”—I assume that’s about following your subconscious instinct rather than your conscious desire?

AC: That song— Plot Devices— was the first one that started to form lyrically. It was the song I started writing and the lyrics started coming, and it set the tone for the rest of the album. It’s about the idea of plot devices—justifying your own actions in relationship to other people. When you realize that to some subconscious degree, you aren’t even aware of what you’re doing. You’re using literal plot devices.

It’s kind of funny—up until Minor Poet, lyrics were the one thing that I was terrible at. For so long. I’ve been making music since I was 13, and there was no depth. I was so obsessed with melody, with arrangement— I would try to write something, and all the words were like I was a character in something that wasn’t real.

When I went to college, I focused on English and creative writing. I thought about getting an MFA. That process made me much more cognizant of those things. Plot Devices was the first time the worlds started to overlap. I also wasn’t concerned with whether or not people got it, because they weren’t going to hear it anyway—and then ironically, people responded the most to that.

DHR: So Plot Devices is literally a plot device in the story you tell.

AC: Exactly.

DHR: How long did it take to record …And How!?

AC: At some point, it all started to come together, and there was roughly a month or two of recording, and a couple weeks of putting it together.

We actually found out we were getting kicked out of the house, and I was going to lose the studio. I realized that if I was ever going to finish the record, I had to do it right now. After it was done, I invited six or seven friends over to my apartment, and we listened to it from start to finish, and that was it. I thought that was the end.

DHR: How did that moment grow into Minor Poet?

AC: This was right around the time Lucy Dacus’s record was blowing up, and I was friends with her manager. I showed him my record, sort of just for fun, and I got this message back saying, “Hey…this is a lot better than I think you realize it is.” They were the ones that told me, “You should do this.” And Egghunt Records put it out. They were the same ones that put out Lucy’s first record. The process took about a year.

DHR: That sort of brings us back to the next record— I heard some instruments at the last show that I didn’t recognize. The rhythm guitar was meatier, and there was a tri-horn section, of all things. Do we hear that on the second record?

AC: Yes— the horns are on at least four of the songs. We got to go into a nice studio and had a horn section and some guest players.

DHR: Will the horn section be a staple of future live shows?

AC: When we can afford them. [Laughs].

We have added Erica Lashley as a permanent guitar player. After the second record, I realized I had written too many guitar parts, and we needed to add a talented guitar player. She’s only played two shows, but she’s a perfect fit.

DHR: Is there a release date for the new EP? And what’s next?

AC: The new EP will be coming out either very soon or not very soon. [Laughs].

We’re always trying to hit the road—I think we’re looking at 30-40 out of town shows in the next six months.

Our next show is going to be September 1 at Crowefest in Montrose, VA. Then we’re playing the Good Day RVA festival on September 15, right around Gallery 5. Both of those shows should be free.

DHR: Where can we buy the LP?

AC: Anywhere—it’s on everything. Amazon, Spotify, Egghunt Website, our Facebook, our website.

DHR: Alright, last question. Probably should have been the first question. How’d you come up with the name Minor Poet?

AC: Between me finishing the record and getting signed, there was no name. We kind of just had to pick a band name because—well, we just had to. [Laughs]. There’s a poet—Frank O’hara—he’s been a big influence on me, and in his lifetime, nobody really cared about him. He was just this minor poet. Now he’s considered an essential poet of his day.

I had this line that never made it into anything—“This is dedicated to the lost works of minor poets.” There are so many people out there that make such amazing things, and they will ever get the credit they’re due, and that’s what I figured my career was probably going to be like. We’re still in a relatively minor place, but….


It was around this time that a barista came and collected our coffee mugs. I never got to hear what came after the but; we decided that the collection of our mugs was a fitting Plot Device for the end of the interview. If I gleaned anything from our time together, though, I expect Andrew would have humbly undersold the band’s future, then used a Joycean metaphor to explain himself, only to subtly hint once more at the meticulous way at which he goes about writing.

If all of this fanboy-praise is making you nauseous, give …And How! a listen—you might be blown away. As for me, as Andrew disappeared into the rain, I remembered the words of a minor poet: enlightenment was my first real thought, at the bottom of a two-dollar coffee cup….

 

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