Due to the starry, ethereal space that the music of Carousel inhabits, it only makes sense that half in-jest, I have to ask them their astrological signs. “I’m a virgo,” says Jackson Phillips, the synth-playing San Francisco native. “Scorpio,” replies Kevin Friedman, the duo’s guitarist from Ohio. Perhaps it’s happenstance, but the water-earth combination makes perfect sense for a group whose music soars with emotional splendidness, but stays grounded in musical theory.
As students at the Berklee College of Music, both Jackson and Kevin had been studying different genres of sound since youth. “Originally, we never intended to make this kind of music,” Kevin tells me. But with a sturdy history of pop and jazz, and after harnessing their proficiency in both drums and guitar, the two longed to bring a compositional complexity to their creations. Though mostly subconscious, the duo is well versed in the ways certain frequencies hit a listener, and the reactions these sounds elicit. It’s mostly a subliminal creation, but one that will occasionally seep into the actual songwriting process. The product of this yearning is a collection of tracks simultaneously layered and listenable in its pop sensibility.
Between Kevin’s mathematical propensities and Jackson’s flair for the cinematic, they’ve created a sound that is boundless in emotional evocation, but neatly structured in its production. It’s the kind of danceable composition that could find itself in a handful of movie soundtracks, including the ones we make for ourselves. Listening to Carousel, the sluggish moments of my life suddenly shimmer; songs like “Into The Night” allow me a brief moment of Molly Ringwald kitsch, whereas songs like “Wolf’s Awake” add a Tarantino-type suspense to nighttime Nashville car rides. “I watch a ton of movies. A movie a day,” says Jackson, “which has a lot of influence on my writing. Mostly lyrically.”
After Boston, the duo moved to Brooklyn, (“a difficult place to live”), and eventually made their way out to Los Angeles. After this tour, they’re not sure where they’ll be; they talk about the importance of isolation in harnessing their craft, and the ability to study and create music in any landscape. There is a sense of liberty in allowing different locations to affect their sound, and in their willingness to open up to these changes. “Isolation is necessary in bigger cities. If we lived in the middle of Vermont, it would probably always be there.” Immediately, I trust both of these men for the authenticity in their intelligence and their ability to remain unconstrained by imposing societal clauses. “I try to take things in steps,” says Jackson. A person’s discipline to remain grounded in the excitement of the present is a commendable characteristic, and I ask him if an uncertain future makes him anxious. It doesn’t. “What really gives me anxiety is setting up those plugs on stage,” he says. That makes me really anxious.”
Carousel, who is now on tour with Nashville’s own Cherub, finds the thrill of the stage unbeatable. “Sometimes we play to thousands of people, sometimes we play to ninety, but even some of those smaller shows stand out,” says Kevin. “I find shows in the south and the Midwest tend to feature the most receptive crowds.” “Maybe it’s a part of their openness as a culture, but they let us know what they think.” Nashville was certainly no exception this past Saturday; the audience bounced and swayed in synchronicity to the synth-pop charisma. In a wonderful conclusion to support their versatility, their covers of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” gained a roaring amount of support from the audience. The totality of their performance was as thrilling as our green-room conversation, both of which exposed the adeptness behind the duo rich in musical history, driven by the unconditional clauses of future sounds.