Homegrown: An Interview with Ben Carr
Ben Carr, aka Carrtoons, is a bassist and producer who channels old-school vibes into modern grooves. Drawing from jazz, soul, hip-hop, and more, Carr creates soundscapes that capture your attention while also putting you at ease.
His wildly popular Instagram provides glimpses into his sound with short clips, but the bassist has now released a new solo album called Homegrown. Carr performed nearly all the instruments and programming for the 14-song effort, which has guest spots from vocalists like Rae Khalil and Tennishu.
We caught up with Carr to get the low down on Homegrown, his musical influences, and his tips for producing.
What kind of music was in your house growing up?
I’m the youngest of 3, and music was always around because our father is a jazz musician/music teacher. I really fell in love with music deeply through alternative rock stuff like Weezer, Green Day, Nirvana, and really anything that was on the radio at that time. I was getting a good mix of that, and some hip/hop through my neighbor who was really into that at a young age. My dad also put me on to some jazz and other headier stuff, but that wasn’t till a little later on.
Your sound is cohesive, but it draws from a lot of different genres coming together. What artists and bass players would you call your main influences?
As far as bass players, my top people are Jaco, Thundercat, Derrick Hodge, James Jamerson, and Pino Palladino. Some people I’ve been checking out heavily recently are Tyler the Creator, Lady Wray, Freddie Gibbs, Khruangbin, and Beastie Boys.
What does “Homegrown” mean to you as a concept for this album?
Well firstly I made it all in my apartment, and I did a good amount of it by myself, so it just seemed like the obvious name for whatever reason. The only “samples” I used for this new album were ripped from family VHS tapes while converting them to digital. To me, that made the theme of “homegrown” really work.
One of the other reasons for the “Homegrown” title is that my best friend from elementary school did all the artwork. It was the first time we ever really worked together and I’m so glad we did. My dad is also playing strings on three tracks, so I was really trying to keep this one wholesome despite the subtle cannabis reference.
What was your collaboration process like for each guest? Did you give them much direction?
I had the theme of “homegrown” from the beginning, and I gave each person some pretty loose direction. I like to let people do their thing for the most part though. I told everyone to write about whatever that theme meant to them, and we ended up in a really good place.
What tips do you have for bassists wanting to produce?
Record yourself often. Always be conscious of your dynamics, especially with your right hand. Start investigating drum production and how it coincides with the bass. Try to make drum loops that inspire you to pick up your instrument!
Do you think you get the dreamy feeling in your music more from effects and textures or the feel of playing laid back?
That’s probably more of a texture thing in this particular project. I was getting deep into 70’s string /synth texture during this time. I definitely gravitate towards dreamy/psychedelic sounds and always have. I’ve always liked a balance of trippy stuff that also has a pulse.
What basses and gear are you running?
I recorded most if not all of “Homegrown” on a Fender Mustang. I love short-scale instruments in general. Recently I’ve also been using a Kiesel 5-string that I love a lot too. It’s good to be back on a 5-string!
Honestly not using anything crazy gear-wise. Some MXR pedals, 3-leaf audio stuff, some basic audio interfaces, and a few different affordable mics (sm-7b, electro voice, warm audio u47 jr . Aston spirit ). Most of what I’m doing is in the box. I use a variety of tape machine plug-ins like RC-20, J37, reels, satin, etc to get different “retro” tones. Addictive drums by XLN Audio is kind of my secret sauce as well. I program a lot of stuff with that.
You’ve worked with Robert Glasper and some other amazing artists. Who is on your bucket list to collaborate with?
I’d love to work with Q-tip, Madlib, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Erykah Badu, just to name a few!