Artist: The Carolyn Sills Combo
Hometown: Santa Cruz, California
Latest album: Return to El Paso
Personal nicknames (or rejected band names): None that are fit to print
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc — inform your music?
Literature greatly influences my songwriting. I love the written word, love the endless possibilities of alliteration, puns, double entendres… it’s a thrill to craft a song that doesn’t give itself away on the first listen. I’ve written a few songs based on the work of authors that had an effect on me when I was younger. On our last album, Dime Stories, Vol. 2, we put e.e. cummings’ “Buffalo Bill’s” to music.
Our upcoming release, Return to El Paso, is a collection of songs written about the main characters of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” off his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album. I’ve always been fascinated with back stories and motivation… those characters that play a role in an event, but aren’t the main focus. Like where did the horse come from that Marty steals as he runs out the back of Rosa’s Cantina? And who was the ranger that shot him down at the end of the song?
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
I learned early on that the best ritual to have is no ritual. For a short time, I refused to eat before singing Patsy Cline, after enchilada-burping during “Sweet Dreams” one time… but then I learned if you don’t eat before the show, the kitchen will probably be closed after. In the past I’ve had some rituals like warming up, using the restroom, having a shot of whiskey, but life happens and each show is unique, so unless you’re willing to warm up while having a shot of whiskey on the can with two minutes until showtime, it’s best to just let it all happen, and not tie the success of your performance to any rituals.
Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?
Can we consider my dog, Cowboy, an element of nature? He is a force to be reckoned with. I spend the most time with him, and he’s definitely impacted my songwriting. A lot of melodies and lyrics were written on our walks along the Monterey Bay or in the redwoods. I think we’re all having trouble these days allowing ourselves to get lost from time to time. It’s hard to resist wanting to fill a free moment by checking your phone, as we’re getting more and more trained to need constant stimulus. The best ideas pop into my head when I’m not distracted, not doing anything but being receptive to what’s around me. I used to have more of this time when I lived in a city, and walked a ton or took trains every day. Now that time is harder to come by, and Cowboy is my sherpa to those needed moments.
Since food and music go so well together, what is your dream pairing of a meal and a musician?
If there are no limits to this question, my dream pairing would be eating pasta “fazool” followed by a banana split while being serenaded by Dean Martin and Louis Prima.
If you had to write a mission statement for your career, what would it be?
My mission is to write as many meaningful songs as possible, that provide a welcome soundtrack for people, and are genuine to who I am; to always experience the collective enthusiasm of playing in a band setting, bouncing off others’ ideas and interpretations; to see as much of the world as possible with my wonderful combo through touring; to end up, in my 80s, playing 1940s country music every taco Tuesday in some small town with my guitarist husband, Gerard Egan.
Photo credit: RR Jones