Shaking Off Rust and Perspiration, The Carbonas Are Back (For Now)
One of the greatest bands from Atlanta’s early century punk boom is back – for the time being, at least.
The Carbonas appeared at last September’s GonerFest in Memphis to celebrate the Goner-issued singles and rarities compilation Your Moral Superiors. Longtime Busy Signals drummer Frank Jensen, a former Atlanta musician filling in with the blessing of band co-founder and drummer Dave Rahn, performed in Memphis with Greg King (vocals), Jesse Smith (bass), Clay Kilbourne (guitar), and Josh Martin (guitar). That lineup either had a blast revisiting catchy hooks and dialed-in aggression, or they really wanted to travel to Spain. They play at least twice more in the coming months: a Jan. 11 appearance at The EARL and a trip to the Spanish festival Fuzzville on March 22-24 with Gentleman Jesse & His Men and Barreracudas.
Any Carbonas news is good Carbonas news, especially when an archival double LP is fresh on the ears of longtime fans. Some cuts left off the band’s piecemealed albums and EPs were thought to be lost forever after a hard drive crash, only to be discovered by Smith in a box of tapes. Scavenger of Death Records’ Ryan Bell helped put together the compilation using these unearthed treasures plus demos and 7-inch selections that track the band’s musical evolution.
As a comprehensive overview, featuring 2005’s definitive “Blackout (Waiting to Happen)” 7-inch and a demo of future G.G. King track “Witching Hour,” Your Moral Superiors proves that, despite lineup changes, delays between albums, and creative shifts, the Carbonas’ music somehow told a fairly coherent story from 2001-’08.
Shortly before the holidays, I swung by Smith’s home to chat with him and King about my bias toward “Blackout,” their prior positive experience with Goner, and more.
Chronologically, the compilation starts with the demos. That’s with B. Jay (Womack, guitarist), Jeremy (Thompson, bass), Dave, and you, Greg.
Greg: That was two months after we started playing together, in the fall of 2001 or so.
Do you remember the details? Where it was recorded, and who recorded it?
Greg: Yeah, it was recorded at the original Die Slaughterhaus, the Black Lips’ house. They had just met Lou (Galluch). He was doing sound at a place in Asheville. I actually met him there too, playing a show with a different band. He ended up making friends with the Black Lips, moving to Atlanta, and stealing all of the sound equipment from the club he was working at and bringing it and setting it up in their house. That’s what he recorded our demo on.
Was this the only thing by the Carbonas that Dave didn’t record?
Greg: No, it took a while for Dave to get interested in that and start doing it. There was a guy named Chris Bishop that Will Greene (guitarist on the Carbonas debut LP from 2003, Scene Killer) knew in Athens. So we went and recorded the first album in Athens. We did two other recording sessions with him there too. Then after that, Dave took over.
The earlier stuff is a little more rock, a little more Reatards-ish. Did that reflect Jeremy’s input for the band and the vision he had with B. Jay when you came on board?
Greg: Yeah, the demo for sure they wrote. I was the last person to join that original lineup. They already had some songs together, and it was definitely… Maybe The Reatards were a thing, but it was definitely Rip-Off Records and Teengenerate and stuff like that they were super going for. Actually, Jeremy gave me the Reatards’ Teenage Hate on CD right when we started, so you’re probably right.
I never thought of Teengenerate. That’s a better comparison.
Jesse: The longer we were around, Euro punk became the focus, you know, just raw stuff like that but hooky. But Teengenerate was always there for sure.
So you do that first album, then the “I’m Astray” 7-inch for Die Slaughterhaus. That’s a similar sound…
Greg: It was less than a year after (the first album). The “I’m Astray” single came from a whole session that was going to be another album, and we ended up not liking most of the songs. We just put three of the songs on a 7-inch. It would’ve been six months after recording the album, probably.
Jesse: That’s where some of the stuff on the C-side of [Your Moral Superiors] comes from. We cherry-picked a couple of them that wouldn’t make Dave blush quite as hard.
Your second LP was cobbled together around the time Jeremy moved and Jesse joined, right?
Greg: It was two sessions. We did eight songs with the lineup with Jeremy on bass. It was before Josh (Martin) had joined, so it was just Clay (Kilbourne) on guitar and me and Dave. We did the first eight songs for that, and it was floating around as a demo. Jesse joined, and we recorded four more songs.
Jesse: Rip-Off Records was interested in doing an LP with us, or at least that’s what we were told. They did The Lids LP first, and then they refused…
Greg: They wouldn’t use the cover we had, and we liked the cover.
Jesse: That was a deal-breaker for us.
Greg: They wanted a generic band picture on the cover.
Jesse: Us in sunglasses or something.
Was that the unspoken rule for the label?
Greg: It’s what they did on every one of their releases.
Jesse: Which we didn’t realize.
Greg: None of us were as infatuated with Rip-Off Records as past members…
Jesse: That’s why the “Frothing at the Mouth” single came out.
Greg: The songs had been sitting around, so let’s put something out because all of the other stuff wasn’t really representative of our sound anymore.
Jesse: That’s when Bryan (Rackley) came into the fold. Greg said he was just going to self-release it under Douchemaster Records. Bryan was like, “I got some money saved up. I’ll half it with you.” They pressed 200 copies so that we could do a tour and try to get some interest. So we cherry-picked stuff…
Greg: From three different sessions. “Walking Out on Love” is from the “I’m Astray” sessions.
Jesse: We just called it “bonus” because we didn’t want to get in trouble for having a cover on there. That’s when pressing plants were starting to crack down.
Then there’s the “Blackout” 7-inch, which is the best thing you guys ever did. It’s peak Carbonas sound, with the classic lineup hitting its stride.
Greg: That’s right when that lineup coalesced. We did what, six or seven songs beyond what was on the record?
Jesse: We also did the “Satisfy Me” session then, and there might’ve been something else. It felt like we were starting to get a groove at that point. Listening back, it was definitely a high point for us. “Inside Out” was pretty fucking rocking. I’d come to practice with a riff because I wouldn’t complete songs. I was like, “Here’s a riff I got.” And it’d be like, “Okay, here’s another riff to complement it.” Not the best thing always came out of that. With “Inside Out,” Greg had been working on this a dirge of a song that was really gnarly.
Greg: Yeah, I took the words from that and put them over his song.
Jesse: I never listened to any of those records at the time. After we did it, it was on to the next thing. Putting this compilation together, I am actually listening to it more than once, and I like it.
How did the self-titled Goner album come about?
Greg: We played the second GonerFest, and we’d started to work on an album. It seemed like an ideal label at the time for us. We just asked, “Can you put out our record?”
Jesse: It was nonchalant. They had made these really nice posters, and they’d forgot to put our name on it. They were selling these posters, and Eric (Friedl) was writing our name on them as people bought them. I thought, “That’s pretty cool. He must be down with it. He likes us!” Back in those days, there was so much punk posturing that no one would admit, “Hey, you did a good job.” Saying something nice to someone was nonexistent.
It was the Sunday night, and we’d stayed all the way. I think there was a closing ceremony at the Buccaneer. It was getting toward the end of it, and I literally went, “Hey Eric, do you want to put out our next LP?” as he was leaving, to the back of his head. He goes, “Sure!” without turning around and left.
Didn’t it come out around another GonerFest?
Jesse: Yeah, I think it was four. It took a while to narrow all the songs we recorded down to nine.
Greg: Down to a mini-LP (laughs).
Jesse: And then name it Carbonas. I remember The Spits guys. I was like, “Sorry we released another self-titled album with nine songs on it.” The guy from The Spits – I think it was Sean – was like, “Yeah, I noticed that!” It was coincidental. We were not biting your style!
Greg: No one could agree. We couldn’t get a 100 percent vote on album titles.
Jesse: That’s why the collection is named Your Moral Superiors.
Greg: That’s what we wanted to call it.
Jesse: Dave didn’t get the irony in the statement. Like, “It sounds cocky.” It’s not cocky (laughs).
Greg: We are no one’s moral superiors.
Jesse: We were definitely pretty depraved at that point.
Photo by Sarah Lareau.