Artist Spotlight Q & A
Frank Carter IIIThe following Q&A was conducted with Frank Carter III by Victor Stone (fourstones) in June 2008
Frank H Carter III (known as songboy3 on ccMixter) has been singing “You know… ‘bout as long as I can remember!”
Without formal vocal training, Frank picked up what he needed from the church choir, the radio, and the cassette tapes his father used to make for him as a child. His earliest influences were of Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross, and Sam Cooke. He has incorporated these influences into a distinctive style that has made him one of the most remixed vocalists on ccMixter. Frank says about those early years, “It was a lot of fun discovering that music was anything you wanted it to be. The only restrictions were the ones you imposed on yourself!”
Frank’s musical versatility is reflected in his songwriting work with groups such as the R&B group DIORE, Latin-Pop singer Kiomara, and the Contemporary Gospel group Malachi. As a performer, he’s also been featured on several independent releases including Kristi Martel’s “Brave Enough” (Sealed Lip Records, 2001) and Denise Barbarita’s “Beauty Lied” (MyShyTune Music, 2002).
In the summer of 2007, a friend referred Frank to ccMixter where his generous spirit and winning sense of fun and humor, along with those great a cappellas, has made him one of the site’s most cherished assets.
Most popular remixes of Frank Carter III. Listen while you read…
VS: There seems to be a direct line between your style of singing and soul singers of previous eras, is that due to any direct influences or just something that evolved as you discovered your voice?
Frank: Hmmm… good question. I’d have to say it was a combination of both. Those soul singers were the vocalists I grew up listening to so naturally, I emulated their sound and feel, somewhat. At that time, I really only sang because I enjoyed it. Never really performed for folks and whatnot. I have a father who is a music junkie. So I’ve heard so much music and so many singers from just about everywhere doing just about any given style. But Luther Vandross was the one person that made me think that I could do this because he didn’t sound like anyone else. I finally figured it out about him — he was a guy who sang with a female sensibility. That’s why he touched any one who loved soul music. He was about emotions, not histronics or vocal gymnastics. That connected with me. And the game was afoot!
VS: Fascinating what you say about Luther. Don’t you get the feeling that he could play the vocal gymnastics game but opts for the heightened emotional impact?
Frank: Of course, he could! He’d shown what he could do by the things he chose not to do. He was never one for doing gratuitous scale runs all over a song that now seems to be the rage in modern R&B. Instead, he’d save it for one of his particularly amazing live performances of “A House Is Not A Home,” showing you he could do it and at the same time, moving on, showing you that singing was more than vocal exercises and gymnastics. Some of the least technically proficient singers can touch you emotionally. When you think of great singers, you don’t really think of Elvis Costello but personally, he blew me away with his performance of “Alison.” There’s just something in his performance that is just so fragile, so vulnerable and so… hurt. I’d love to add my version to the over eight trillion versions out there. But I always wonder if I could bring something fresh and new to it. I dunno. That’s one of those wait and see joints.
VS: Shedding any pretense of objectivity, let me just say I would love to hear you sing any Elvis Costello. Speaking of material, how do you pick which songs you’re going to upload?
Frank: The only real criteria I have is whether I think it’s a good song and that I executed it well. I’ve got stuff that will never see the light of day because basically, I believe it sucks. The funny thing about that is that you’re always your own worst critic so sometimes, I ask for feedback from my lady, Kathy. I think she has a great ear and I trust her choices. She is one of the few people that if you ask her why she likes or dislikes something, she can actually give you a compelling reason to back up her opinion. She is invaluable at times!
VS: One neat thing about the way we share things on ccMixter is that the source material does not need to be a finished, stand-alone piece of art by itself. In other words, we all have material that say, if it’s a song, works in the chorus, but the verses never happened so the whole piece might not deserve the light of day, but the parts that work could be fodder for someone else to use. I’m not looking to make more work for you but have you considered posting just those parts?
Frank: It’s kind of funny you should bring that up because Loveshadow made a similar suggestion to me. Two unconnected folks making the same suggestion? Probably means I need to do it. How do they say it in the movies? Boy, God tryin’ to tell you something! (laughs) It’s kind of a new idea for me because in most, not all, situations, I was the only songwriter. Or at least, the most competent one at the time. That might sound a little arrogant but anybody in the biz will tell you - there are billions of producers, mixers and beatmakers. There are only about three halfway decent songwriters to go around. (laughs) The funny thing is I have lots of choruses or hooks, whatever you want to call it, sittin’ in my songbook diaries and I’ll have to start going through them. Thanks for the suggestion, Mr. Stones and you, too, Mr Shadow!
VS: You’ve been uploading some of your old material. As you know, ccMixter is sponsored by Creative Commons so let me just get this out there: Do you think the Creative Commons licenses has made a difference in the way you approach sharing your older work?
Frank: Actually, I never thought it was possible to do something like this because of copyrights and whatnot. But under the Creative Commons licenses, it seems like all things are possible! It’s just opened up so many possibilities. In a lot of ways, I am re-inspired and rejuvenated. It’s made me realize that I have to make some real changes in my personal life to go forward with this rediscovered enthusiasm.
VS: Does that mean you see yourself recording something new and posting it to the web before making it into a full production?
Frank: That’s something I’m working on now. My schedule is so filled with the day-to-day muckety-muck that I have to really put my back into it when trying to get things done. You see how it took a bit of time to get to this interview (laughs) God, how I’ve come to loathe my day job! It takes up time where I could be creating music, y’know? At least that’s the logic I’m working with.
VS: Calendar Girl and Brad Sucks are examples of artists who have used remixes collected from the web to release a commercial album with a CC license. Have you considered something like that?
Frank: Of course I have! So much has come because of my interactions here that that is always in my head. It’s really just a matter of what form it will take. I’m talking with folks up here already so maybe you’ll need a follow-up interview in the future. Arrgh! I’m a shameless attention whore! (laughs)
VS: You left a message to the community for “Magic In Your Eyes,” an older a cappella that you’ve “never been able to come up with something that does it justice.” Have you found justice for “Magic”?
Frank: You’re joking, right? Oh. My. God. Justice beyond my wildest imaginings! Thirty plus remixes! Styles ranging from standard R&B arrangements to techno thumps to adapted Aguinaldo stylings — shoutout to Sr. Privado — I listen to the mixes and I just feel truly blessed. But on the flip-side, it also reminds me that maybe I’m not the best arranger for my songs. (laughs) There are about five or six particular mixes of “Magic In Your Eyes” that I’d love to release as a collection and just see what kind of reaction it would get. I think they’re just fantabulous!
Listen to Sr. Privado’s remix if “Magic In Your Eyes”
VS: Let’s try opening things up a little: are there any parts of the process you’d like to change because they aren’t working for you? For example, are there any part of the creative process lacking when you interact with musicians online like at ccMixter?
Frank: Well, the most obvious thing is I’d like to be there when they do it. Ninety percent of what I’ve learned about anything, this includes walking and eating, is watching folks do whatever it is they do. It’s informative and it’s magical, simultaneously. That’s not really a lack, though — that’s more a wish fulfillment thing! When I think about whatever’s been lacking, at least in my eyes, has been covered by that Collaboration function you all created for the site, I believe. The next best thing would teleporters, in my most humble opinion. With all the great experiences I’ve had up here, face-to-face is the next best step!
VS: I can add teleporters to the feature request list for the site, but I can’t promise when it will be there. Let’s teleport to the past: What was your initial motivation to post your a cappellas on the World Wide Web?
Frank: Well, a majority of the songs posted on this site were songs I had written for other folks. But for whatever reason, nothing would ever become of them. And I have a lot of songs so I had a lot of frustrations. Frustration from where management loved the song but their artist wasn’t up to the task. Frustration from where artists would hear my demos, love them and then be immediately intimidated by my vocal performance. Hell, it got to the point where I didn’t sing for many people if it wasn’t necessary when I had to meet them. Between the fragile egos and the rampant politicking, I just kinda tuned out for a bit. I continued to write but it was more just to get better and more importantly, because I loved it. Still do. Then a music partner of mine by the name of Mr Jam gave me the heads up about ccMixter.org. He was very emphatic about the importance of the site and how I needed to be involved in it. He had posted some a cappellas of an artist/friend of ours by the name of Jeremy Carr and then let me hear the remixes. Needless to say, I was very impressed. That’s what initially led me to posting a cappellas at ccMixter.org.
VS: Did that motivation change over time?
Frank: Yes! I wasn’t ready for the very vocal compliments about my vocal performances. I mean, I think I can sing and you have to put yourself out there for public consumption but, the love I received and still do, completely blindsided me! This is gonna sound goofy, but I kinda feel like a minor celebrity on ccMixter.org. I get requests for new a cappellas, requests to perform other songwriters material, requests for where can folks see me perform. It’s amazing! But most importantly, my motivation now is just to see what the fantastic people of ccMixter.org will come up with if provided with new songs. Of course, I’ve got personal favorites (Loveshadow, Lasswell, DJ Lang), but at any given time, anyone can come up with something that totally blows me away. I remember when ROSSI did the techno thing with the “Magic In Your Eyes” a cappella - I was stupified! All I kept thinking was Man, I wish I had thought of something like that!
Listen to ROSSI’s remix if “Magic In Your Eyes”
VS: What were you expectations when you started uploading? For example, did you think you would be remixed 100 times?
Frank: I just hoped someone would notice my work. When you think of all the people who want to make a living in the music biz and all the folks who do music strictly as a personal hobby, the numbers shoot through the roof and beyond! That’s a lot of rappers, singers, vocalists, musicians, producers etc., etc., etc., to contend with. It is a competition of sorts. Not in any dangerous way, I don’t think, but just in the way that we’re all scrambling to get attention, to somehow separate ourselves from the pack. I’ve only posted 7 songs. Suddenly, you find you’ve been remixed 100 plus times? You’ve been attached to more than a few Editors’ picks on the site. You get requests for this, that and the other. I can’t begin to tell you how totally unexpected all the attention is. I only hoped that some folks would like what they heard and do something with the songs that connected with me. That was the alpha and omega of it for me. This is the best analogy I can think give you: hundreds of thousands records are released in a particular year and it’s the Gnarls Barkley who get noticed because of “Crazy.” I just thought of myself as one of the hundreds of thousands, not Gnarls! It’s been “Crazy,” just like the song, I can tell you that for sure.
VS: Many singers are hesitant to upload original material to the web for fear of it being “stolen.” You seem fearless in that regard, would you say your way has paid off?
Frank: You’re being funny, right? Let’s see, I’ve made connections with some of the most talented producers, remixers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I have the pleasure of hearing old songs receive new life on ccMixter.org. The new material has been instrumental in helping me in putting a new band together. It’s also been helpful in hopefully, renewing old ties with individuals who could be instrumental in helping me and my partners in the placing recent and future material with TV shows, movies, video games, etc., etc., etc.
VS: Well, OK, that one might have been a softball…
Frank: Again, I ask… You’re being funny, right? (laughs)
VS: Well, that wasn’t my intention (laughs) but I appreciate you dealing with it in such a gracious way as well as your time, insightful answers and most important those wonderful songs and a cappellas.