Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy’s Jarrod Starling Discusses Band’s Latest Release, ‘Gnosis’
The latest release by Wichita five-piece Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy is an exercise in expanding the mind and crossing musical borders. Titled Gnosis, this epic six-song EP clocks in at twenty-two minutes and accomplishes quite a bit in that short amount of time. From the layers of note play on “Rümpeltum” to the cinematic Southwestern-style vibe of “Bowels & Constants,” and from the propulsive and intricately crafted “All Men Created Equal” to the frenzy of picking, high-energy drumming, and great horn accompaniment on the title track, each song seems like a different musical chapter to the same story and is designed to flow into the next.
Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy aptly call their sound “brass n’ grass.” And while it is true that their sound is largely bluegrass with a horn section, this is perhaps an oversimplification. In fact, the band’s genre-defying sound resides in several different musical zip codes simultaneously, including those corresponding to folk, Dixieland jazz, and punk, among others. Regarding the band’s sound, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Jarrod Starling, with whom I was recently able to talk about the band’s latest release, had this to say: “It kinda came about organically. In the beginning, I was writing simple folk songs with my brothers. With Grubb joining on the trombone and eventually adding drums, it really opened up a lot of different musical feels for us. I grew up on Blue Meanies, Op Ivy, Selecter, English Beat, and a bunch of third-wave ska and skate punk, but my Southern family definitely influences my writing. We wanted to create a unique and American sound, but I like fast and loud. We’ve had a bunch of different members and always try to let each musician’s influence shine through. Each iteration of this band has created a different sound; however, we’ve recently become a bit more focused on recreating some of the magical moments we’ve had on stage, but for recordings. We’ve tried to inject more space into the writing and get a little ambient and weird, but still blast out some walls of noise.”
The band’s sound has evolved over the years – nearly a dozen, all told – and according to Starling: “The first two albums were pretty much collections of songs we had written to that point. Gnosis was definitely written as a conceptual piece and is meant to be listened to straight through. That’s why we decided to release it as an EP. We had a lot of fun recording Gnosis with our buddy Johnny Kenapaske at Dead Horse Sound Co. in Kansas City. Some of the ambient layered sounds on the album were all to his credit. We wanted to push what an acoustic album meant. There’s not the same horn section feel as on the other albums either – no trombone, and the trumpet provides more mood and color than any sort of horn lines.”
On Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy’s 2013 full-length, Hatchetations, many of the lyrics seemed to focus on working class struggles and societal observations, while for Gnosis the band seems to have set their sights to where the earthly and mystical intersect, and where the empirical stops and the unknown begins. This is all conveyed through Starling’s ashtray vocals, whose grit and gravel delivery is able to effectively land on both the intellectual and visceral. When I asked Starling about the lyrics on Gnosis, he said, “I was reading a bunch of old Hermetic philosophy and some other contextual stuff surrounding it – the Kyballion, Emerald Tablet, etc. I became fascinated with the idea of proto-truth and religions, or belief systems based on physical observations. There was a time when we realized that the gods we worshipped were created by ourselves and were only representative of our own observations. I enjoyed exploring the question of whether there is some proto-truth that we are slowly diluting/moving away from, or if through science we are actually moving toward some undiscovered truth. A lot of the tenets/premises of Hermetic philosophy have stood the test of time, many of them being either supported or proven by our modern religion of science. So, Gnosis explores some of those themes. Hatchetations was written during the 2008 recession when there was a bunch of economic anxiety. So, the social themes are much more prevalent in that one.”
Not only have Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy been doing their thing for over a decade, they have been doing it as a completely independent, DIY outfit. “Yeah, it’s been almost twelve years now,” explained Jarrod, “and I’m honestly not sure if we could still be doing it if it wasn’t a DIY outfit. We’ve always focused on our live show and seeing as many places as possible. It’s all about perspective. Nobody’s getting rich, but we are super grateful to have had these songs take us all around this country and others. We’ve met a lot of amazing people, made lifetime friends, and are able to carve out a modest living by doing what we love. I have no complaints with any of that. Artistically, we really appreciate the freedom that comes with doing it ourselves. It’s more work, for sure, but we get to write and release on our own schedule and run an egalitarian system where everyone shares in all profits and responsibilities. We play songs and we enjoy doing it. I don’t see any reason for a middle man.”
As far as what’s next for Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy, Jarrod revealed that “There is a second volume coming that I’ve written as a follow-up [to Gnosis]. Another EP exploring some of the same ideas. They will be released together on a single 12″ by the end of next year. The second volume will be similar in instrumentation, and complementary in content and delivery.”