Tigers talk ‘Burrows’

By Luke Wilusz

Local indie rockers Carbon Tigers made quite a name for themselves the past year. They won the Chicago Regional College Battle of the Bands in April and tied for third place at Columbia’s Biggest Mouth competition—four of the five band members are Columbia students. They played at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., on Dec. 11, to celebrate the release of their new EP, “The Burrows.” Bassist Aaron Sweatt, singer Chris Wienke and guitarists Nick Cudone and Matthew Irizarry sat down with The Chronicle to talk about their future plans.

The Chronicle: How and when did Carbon Tigers get started?

Aaron Sweatt: We started in May of 2009, basically just through mutual friends. We just got together and jammed, and it worked out.

Nick Cudone: That’s pretty much it. We just had two different bands that were kind of on their way out, I guess, and we just got together and played.

Matthew Irizarry: We also used to have an old singer who was a Columbia alumnus who moved back home, and we picked up Chris, who sings for us now and is about to graduate this year.

The Chronicle: Who writes the songs for the band?

MI: It’s a collaborative effort between all of us. Everybody puts in just about as much as the next.

NC: It depends, everybody brings in an idea or something like that. Most of the time it’s literally just one idea or one part, and there’s other parts fleshed out on top of it, but for the most part we jam on that one idea and see where it takes us from there as a collective experience.

The Chronicle: Do you have any bands or artists you consider to be influences on you?

NC: We have influences that are kind of similar, like we all like Minus the Bear, and we tend to get compared to them a lot, but I think the influences really fleshed out when we start playing as a band. We all have our individual influences, and they come together when we’re writing. I can’t say there are specific bands, but I know there’s stuff like Minus the Bear and As Tall As Lions that comes out.

AS: I think we’re all pretty influenced by [Pink] Floyd and some of those classic rock bands. We all, I think, grew up listening to that kind of music to some degree, and I think the way we play together as a group kind of shows that.

The Chronicle: What can you tell me about “The Burrows”? Is this your first EP?

MI: Yeah, as Carbon Tigers, this is our first official release. We did it as legit[imate] as possible, went the whole nine yards mixing and mastering.

The Chronicle: How long has that been in the works?

NC: We started entertaining the idea of putting out an EP back in March. Before that, we had a two-song winter demo we cut with some Columbia class at Rhythm Cafe, [62 W. Huron St.], and then at their friend’s home studio. Matt and Aaron were kind of like, “We need a release, we need something to promote ourselves, we need a product or whatever.” At first we were planning for April, then we were planning for June, then July, and then we finally came together in August, and throughout that whole time span we had been writing music. We finally went in at the end of August and decided we were going to put these five songs on the EP, and they were among seven other songs we all voted on.

AS: It was interesting because we got Chris on board as our new vocalist this past May, and he was in the studio with us like a month later cutting “To Carve Our Shapes,” a song on the EP and out now. We went into the studio and worked with Neil Strauch to see if we’d like him and want him to produce the EP, and it worked out pretty well. We had started recording the EP back in June, and went through the first week of September and spent a month mixing it. The CDs actually shipped out [on Dec. 7].

The Chronicle: How does it feel to finally get your EP shipped out?

AS: I’m glad we had a really hard time booking our CD release on a Saturday because it gave us the exact amount of time we actually needed. We were looking at a beginning of the semester release, if that goes to say anything.

The Chronicle: Do you know why it took so long?

AS: I think the mix took the longest because we sent it out to New York to get mixed, and there would be days where we would just sit on it and just think, “What can we possibly change to make this better?” And by the time we would get a list together from the five of us, all going to school and having a hard time getting together to practice, we would get these lists together, send them out, wait a few days, get a new revision of the mix, sit on that for another week or two and next thing you know a month’s passed, and it’s like, “Whoa, we’ve got to get this out to the master.”

The Chronicle: I know you guys won a battle of the bands in April and then you tied for third at Columbia’s Biggest Mouth. How have those achievements helped or affected the band?

AS: With the College Battle of the Bands from AT&T, that got us onto SESAC for publishing, and that’s going to help out with us getting royalties from radio play, when that comes. It helped us out with money. We won an iPod, which we’ll be giving away to [some]one who buys a presale ticket [to our EP release show]. [They will] be entered in a chance to win. Those kinds of tools are helpful for promotion, getting people incentives to buy presale.

NC: We won other things that helped us out with money. We pretty much hustled everything we won.

MI: We sold everything on Craigslist.

AS: Except for the trophy guitar.

NC: Yeah, except for [that]. We got a trophy guitar that says “College Battle of the Bands,” and I don’t think anyone would ever buy that. Putting out the EP was kind of a financial strain, so we were selling everything we won. About College Battle of the Bands, though, that was a real learning experience for me, personally. We got a considerable amount of attention from that. When we won that—first of all, I didn’t even expect to have the opportunity to play the Midwest regional competition, I don’t think any of us did. And then we heard the first two bands before us, and they were, like extraordinary. They were really good bands, and we didn’t expect to win that, and then we won that. We were like, “Whoa, we haven’t even been a band [for] a year yet, and we’re going to New York [City] to do this.”

MI: I think that also helped us get more recognized a little bit around Columbia and helped us out with connections and networking as well.

The Chronicle: What’s it like balancing the band with schoolwork, now that you’re getting better known and putting out your EP?

NC: I’ll say it downright: it sucks. It sucks a lot. Me and Chris and our drummer, [Jeff Simonelli], we’re in our senior year, so we’re doing senior capstones and bigger papers and we’re in the upper-division part of our coursework. And I work on the South Side, Chris works [and] Jeff works. So it’s like, you’ve got to go to work, you’ve got to do your schoolwork, you’ve got to get all those papers done, and then you’ve got to do well in school and work, and then you’ve got to do the band. It’s pretty exhausting. I’m really stoked that it’s almost all over so I can focus on music.

The Chronicle: So what are your plans for the future? What’s next for Carbon Tigers?

AS: We’re playing the Chompilation release show for AEMMP Records here at Stage Two [in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building] in February. We’re hoping to do South by Southwest this March, and we’re looking to do a nationwide tour come summer and maybe do a re-release of the EP.

Chris Wienke: I think we’ll try to work on some regional touring at the beginning of next year. We’re going to try to get a new van, and once we have a reliable van we can start trying to book little mini weekend tours and college tours while we’re still in classes next semester.

The Chronicle: I know you just finished this one, but are there any plans for a new EP or an album?

AS: We’ve already started that. We already have one song for a new album.

MI: We’re definitely keeping it going, consistently writing. There’s a lot of ideas we’re constantly working with.

AS: I think it’s easy for bands to get stuck in that routine of writing a ton, getting your set down, and then just rehearsing your set all the time. With us, it’s like we’re always writing, and we’re only playing the set if we have a show coming up.

NC: The writing keeps me going. I’m not going to lie, after sitting in the studio for a week and then two months going by, I listen to every mix and master of the songs. I get pretty sick of the songs, actually—when we play them in the live settings I get this energy rush from the crowd—but new material is always keeping me like, “Okay, this song’s better, this song’s better,” and I get stoked, you know? We just kind of write a lot.

CW: It’s an ongoing challenge we put on ourselves and each other, where we’re always trying to beat the last thing we did. I feel like so far, at least since I joined the band in May, I feel like every time we write something new it’s better than the one we wrote before that. I think it’s this ongoing process, and hopefully we never get tired of doing it that way, of always feeling like even if we think a song’s good, it’s not as good as something else we can write. I hope we never hit a point where we become completely satisfied with anything.

To listen to tracks from “The Burrows” or to watch webisodes of Carbon Tigers recording the EP, visit CarbonTigers.com.