Testing the waters
Band Carbon Jam enters college with new sound and expanded opportunities
Halfway through his performance with fellow members of Carbon Jam, first-year Engineering student Carter Hall had a sudden thought: the sax rift from Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” would go perfectly with the band’s current song. With just a swift glance at the others, Hall’s plan was set in motion. While playing the keyboard, Hall added in the rift, and the rest of the band followed along.
This unexpected twist is the norm for Carbon Jam. Made up of Hall, first-year Engineering student Jay Windsor, first-year Engineering student Raymond Zhao, first-year College student Ben Laderberg and William & Mary student Haley Bauser. The groups counts improvisation as a defining characteristic of their music.
“We have this weird eye contact thing we’ve arranged over the years,” Windsor, the band’s drummer, said. “We just look at someone, and we know exactly what they are thinking and what they are about to do onstage. That’s really how our songs evolve. We don’t really talk to each other — we just go [with] eye contact, and then we laugh and then we do something.”
Carbon Jam was formed after a mutual teacher at the band members’ Virginia Beach school brought them together. They first performed at the Jewish Mother, a bar and restaurant known for its live music. As they graduated high school, all except Bauser ended up on Grounds.
“The hardest part [about going to a different school] would be getting practices in,” Bauser, the band’s vocalist, said. “If we do them, it has to be over Skype. The writing process is substantially more difficult.”
Still, the transition from high school to college has given the band new opportunities to expand. Carbon Jam is trying to get involved not only in the Charlottesville music scene but also in Richmond, which serves as a midpoint between William & Mary and the University. The band already has a small following in Charlottesville, having played at Boylan Heights on the Corner and opening for Jefferson Starship at the Jefferson Theater.
“We are really excited about Charlottesville, getting into the scene here and getting into a new sound,” Hall said.
With a new location comes a fresh sound for the band. Although its current set is a mix of covers and original songs, the band hopes to move toward more original songs as it tries to make songwriting a collaborative effort between all members. The band prides itself on its diversity, which it hopes will carry over to its new style.
“We’re trying to [become] more edgy, more innovative,” Hall said. “It’s not like we have a specific thing we are going for. We want to be a party band that works at parties, [but] also has interesting musical [creations].”
The band also wants to preserve the versatility and unpredictability of its music in its new sound. As part of this effort, the band maintains a rule that a song cannot be considered done until six shows later — often creating a final product completely unrecognizable from the initial performance.
“As soon as we get bored, we assume the audience gets bored,” Laderberg, the band’s guitarist, said. “We try to keep it fresh.”
Though college has brought new opportunities for the band to do just this, the difficulties with arranging practice times and transporting equipment to and from shows remains.
“Finishing a gig at 2:30 a.m. and getting home at 4:30 a.m. [is a problem],” Hall said. “We have a lot of equipment, and we don’t have cars. [Luckily], we have [a sound guy] who drives up with a van and he has some of our [equipment].”
No longer able to practice at Windsor’s house like they did in high school, Hall, Laderberg, Windsor and Zhao practice at a space downtown twice a week. There, they plan on making rough demos of songs and sending them to Bauser for lyric writing and editing.
Most members of Carbon Jam also pursue music outside of the band. Laderberg is a member of O. Records, a student-run record label, and Windsor participates in the Virginia Glee Club. Band members have also mixed music with their studies. Windsor takes “Basic Musical Skills” to improve his ability to read music, while Laderberg and Zhao are enrolled in “Technosonics.”
It’s with this dedication the members of Carbon Jam plan to establish their future.
“The only thing I really want to do is [have] a music career,” Laderberg said. “It’s kind of idealistic, but it’s what I want.”
College, the band hopes, will allow the group to develop new material and expand its reach. Already having traveled to Washington, D.C., the Outer Banks, Richmond and Memphis, the group is eager to continue traveling and performing at new venues.
“We are starting fresh in a new place,” Bauser said. “I think it will be a good thing, in that we will get to try new things.”
Ultimately, the band members’ connection has served as a welcome constant through the change and distance brought by college.
“When you’ve been playing with the same people for five years, you really become like a family to them,” Laderberg said. “We can read each other musically now. I look at [a band member], and we can just tell.”