Zane Carney is one of those souls who couldn’t be more born for the artistic realm if he tried. More than simply a singer/songwriter: he wields a guitar with the same precision and passion that a samurai does a sword but with less bloodshed. The gifts of music and performance run deep through Carney veins with brother, Reeve, and sister, Paris, in possession of creative aptitudes as equally bright and unique as Zane’s. A pretty rich gene pool there, and – once the pangs of annoyance at a singular family’s good fortune subside – one that music fans of all stripes can appreciate.
As part of the quartet CARNEY (Zane Carney, Reeve Carney, Aiden Moore, Jon Epcar), Zane was an accomplice to repeatedly transporting fans into rock’s shadows with occasional kaleidoscopic mind trips, having opened for the likes of U2 and The Black Crowes. Fact: CARNEY is probably one of the better bands you may not have heard (feel free to dig into them after this conversation). As John Mayer’s touring side arm, his exceptional guitar skills were showcased alongside Mayer nightly. Collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Alex da Kid, Bono and the Edge: check. And then there was that stint in the orchestra pit of the Broadway musical Spider-Man – Turn off The Dark (yes, Reeve held the starring role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man). Now as a solo artist, Zane has veered into paths that, while not 180 degrees from where he’s been, are fuller exemplars of who he is, musically. His two solo releases (Confluence and the instrumental jazz, Amalgam) were nods to his fondness for blues, jazz and pop but, above all else, his healthy guitar love. At the heart of the matter, that’s who Zane is: a guy in love with music and guitars.
If you weren’t already aware, what started as a 4-week residency for Zane and his guitars at Hotel Café in Los Angeles last fall turned into a 5-month stretch of weekly sold out shows due to sheer demand where half the fun (and excitement) was never knowing who would show up to sit in and perform (guests included, Natasha Bedingfield, Taylor Hanson, Nikka Costa, Jimmy Gnecco and many more). People like this guy. And just like the title of his two releases, this point in Zane’s life is all about fusion and where things converge. He’s jumping into the deep end of the pool with something of a “baby world tour” taking him to places like Germany, Denmark, France and London. But this tour will be a bit different than anything he’s done as a solo artist: he’s bringing his original music into the live arena with a full and fully plugged in band which includes Moore and Epcar. We’re talking a proper rock show, folks, where – once again – one never knows who’s going to show up. And it all kicks off on April 27th at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. His first proper tour, a historic venue, a potential CARNEY reunion, a signature guitar, new music…so much to talk about! And to say that Zane’s a little excited about this Troubadour show is like saying he has nice hair. Look at that photo, folks: understatement, much?
High Voltage: Does this tour have an actual name?
Zane Carney: Essentially, I am touring the first two records. So if anything it would be the Confluence/Amalgam tour, I guess.
HV: For the Troubadour show you’ve got Taylor Locke with you: you have a good history of playing with your friends.
Zane: That’s right. Taylor Locke opening…and he’s a friend of mine. We met playing together on the Carson Daly show in the house band. And then The Neverending are performing. Their lead singer, Debby Ryan, has crazy grooves and a rich, alto, smokey voice. Basically, my friends are playing that night! I would imagine there might be one or two special guests at the Troubadour show, as well. It’s going to be sort of like a CARNEY reunion show.
HV: That is very important!
Zane: That is kind of the main thing. Because if we as CARNEY, if all four of us were to say, “Hey we’re coming back to LA and we’re playing a show,” I think even after five years of not playing here and no record coming out in those five years, I’m still pretty confident we could probably play at the Wiltern because we sold out the El Rey and people in LA are really passionate about coming to our live shows.
So we might end up actually being a reunion show. But for now it’s the core rhythm section of the group which was Jon Epcar on drums, Aiden Moore on bass, and me on guitar. And it’s going to be a really, really fun night!
HV: So with this Troubadour show being live and electric and full band and who knows who will show up; how long do you think your set will be and what should we expect?
Zane: It will be at least 90 minutes. I don’t know when or if ever CARNEY will come back together, I just love playing with Jon and Aiden. I don’t know how to put my finger on it but there’s something really magical that happens when all three of us play together. There’s something in the brotherhood of just knowing guys since you were eight years old that just brings out – I don’t even know what! It’s really going to be like playing with my brothers. Yeah, it will be wild.
HV: What kind of ‘wild’ are we talking about?
Zane: Basically I will say this much: for people that are interested in seeing improvisational music and sort of flying by the seat of your pants, in the moment…and after all those things we’ve been in CARNEY, those will be 100% in my show at the Troubadour. I’ll definitely be playing my songs and I’m going to be singing songs straight through because there are going to be multiple moments of free-formed exploration.
HV: Now I’m not a gear head so you’ll have to bear with me. You’re a guy who now has his own signature guitar from Hofner. Will that be present at the Troubadour?
Zane: It will, absolutely! Yeah, we’re still talking about when the first prototype is going to be available…which soon will be called [the] “Zane Carney model,” which is freaking bizarre! I’ve actually been using that guitar before it was my signature pretty consistently at every CARNEY show and my solo shows, all over that guitar album of mine, Amalgam. The guitar solo on “Talk To Me Baby” on Confluence is that guitar. So I’ve been using that guitar like crazy for years.
HV: Now that’s not the blue one?
Zane: It’s actually the brown one. It looks like an old, vintage violin sort of shaped guitar. I’ll be using that for three or four full band songs and then there’s going to be a spot in the set where we’re going to bring it back to the Hotel Café vibe and I’ll do like two to four sort of “acoustic” songs. You know, it’s been really interesting the past three years developing my own solo material and what I’m finding is that a lot of what we did in CARNEY is really important to me.
HV: Why so?
Zane: I guess the elements that people were so passionate about with CARNEY, I think every single one of those elements is going to be in my solo shows. You know some of the details we pay attention to in CARNEY that other people might not put as much of a premium on are like the set list order. To us it’s really crucial and we go over it for, sometimes, days. And then elements of breaking free in terms of like a jazz sensibility way but with rock and roll tones. There’s going to be a lot of dynamics in the show. There will be moments where, hopefully, the room will be able to hear a pin drop and there will be moments where it’s just smacking you in the face.
HV: It sounds really exciting. Talking about dynamics and free form jazzy moments, I didn’t get to a lot of your Hotel Café shows but one that I did get to, you played with a couple of guys from John Daversa’s band. You launched into this expansive jam: I can’t really explain what it felt like but I was absolutely floored. It was the most amazing thing.
Zane: Thank you so much. Yeah that sort of stuff is definitely going to be showing up. I just know what I’m shooting for: extreme passion towards making the live show as excellent as possible and then sharing that with people. It’s going to be really crafted and I can’t freaking wait.
HV: Now LA is your home: you’ve been living here how long now?
Zane: About eight months since I’ve moved back from New York City.
HV: What made you decide to come back and stay?
Zane: God, a lot of things. The weather really is one of the main things, but there’s also space to make electric music. The blessing of living in New York was that I couldn’t play electrically in my apartment, so I got really deep into acoustic guitar and really deep into songwriting. So it was totally a blessing to have it that way but the first 15 years of my guitar playing were in garages with my amp turned up with different pedal combinations and different sound textures. And to have that back in my life again, now? I can only imagine it happening in LA where there’s space to make noise, you know? So I’m really excited about that.
The listeners in LA, they’re really phenomenal: there’s this sort of voracious appetite for something new and different. And speaking to people who play songs, sing songs, are in the popular genres – rock and roll or pop or soul – there is not an element of improv spaced in their shows. And so part of what we did with CARNEY, what I’m doing with my solo stuff is bringing that sort of flying by the seat of your pants thing to the performance.
HV: You’re very much a musical free bird, aren’t you?
Zane: Yeah. By not focusing on trying to be creative, but just focusing on what I like, I find that it ends up making it more unique than if I try to be unique. I don’t know how, if that makes sense. I really love music theory and I don’t feel a difference or hear a difference between that music and classical music.
I know they are different. I know they have different elements, but I more see a common thread between different styles. I just hear similarities and that’s why the sort of music that I like to write sort of blends classical melodies with jazz harmony, sometimes some blues elements. It all kind of feels like the same language to me. It’s just twelve notes, you know?
HV: I think my favorite track [on Confluence] is probably “Fade to Black” because it’s almost seven minutes of just going everywhere. And you’re not necessarily sure where it’ll go, but when it gets there you’re like, “Fuck yeah.”
Zane: That’s great. Well, that song is probably going to be 13 minutes at the Troubadour (laughs). For anyone who is a CARNEY fan, “Testify” was sort of our main closing song and…we definitely have 17-minute versions of that song. God, I just love that! And every night, you know, Reeve would look over at me and just say, “Go.” And I would do anything from two to seven minutes of just whatever harmonically was coming up and every night it was completely different. All I knew was that I had to land on the key of D minor, that’s it!
HV: Ninety minutes might not be enough.
Zane: Right? Well, the good news is maybe I’ll play again in LA this year at an even a bigger place. We’re just going to see how this one goes and see how it feels but it’s going to be a fun, fun Monday evening!
Tickets to this fun Monday evening with Zane Carney and friends can be found here.