ANAHEED: How much did you have to practice to get as good as you are?
CARRIE: I didn’t practice as much as I should have. I think I spent more time writing songs than I did, like, learning scales. I sort of taught myself enough to play the songs that I wanted to write. I guess I played a couple hours a day, now that I think about it, which is probably enough.
ANAHEED: Did it feel weird to be in your room alone practicing while other people were out doing stuff together?
CARRIE: I hung out with a lot of other people who were playing music, and we all had moments where we were going away and practicing. So it didn’t feel weird to be practicing by myself. It felt good to take that space. It was a nice way of being in my house, to just feel creative in a way that wasn’t daunting.
ANAHEED: A lot of our readers who are interested in being in bands ask us how to find band mates. Do you have any advice for them?
CARRIE: I think the best way is to play music with your friends. If you have a friend that you love and you love spending time with and you think that they’re smart or cool or funny, or there’s just something about them that you want to be around, just ask. Ask them to learn how to play, if they don’t already know. Because there’s so much of [being in] a band that’s about being in a kind of relationship—people see the worst side of you and the best side of you. And it’s nice to go through that with someone that you care about.
But if your friends don’t want to play music and refuse to learn—which is, you know, fine—then it’s so easy to make recordings of your stuff, or go to shows in your town and figure out who lives around you whose music you like. That’s what happened with Corin [Tucker] and Sleater-Kinney. I loved her band [Heavens to Betsy], and when that band was ending I just said to her, “I love your music.” I think it’s nice to be a fan of the people you play music with. Figure out who you love music-wise, then go pursue them.
ANAHEED: How do you figure out a tour—how do you manage it, how do you find venues—if you don’t have a label or a manager doing that for you?
CARRIE: The main thing is to not put yourself in the hole financially with a tour—which is hard for a band of any size. It’s good to start small and start regional. Kind of practice contacting people; find out what it’s like contacting the club booking person. Do that in your hometown, then do it in nearby towns. So that before you leave your state, you kind of understand how it works.
I remember my first time getting onstage and realizing that there’s a monitor mix that’s different from the main mix—so that what you’re hearing onstage is different from what the audience is hearing. No one had told me about that. All I could hear on my first show was my own amp, whereas in a practice space you hear the whole band—you hear the drums, you hear the other people’s vocals. You can have as many monitor mixes as you want, depending on the size of the amp and the room. Some singers only want to hear themselves and their guitar; they’re not listening to anything else. The drummer needs to hear the bass, or everything. So it’s good to practice what it feels like to be onstage, and what it feels like to tour, before you set out.
Start regionally. Do short tours. Make a budget; make a plan. Think about it as a business, because it can be scary to go out and lose money, and there are ways to avoid that. If there’s a slightly bigger band that you’re friends with, ask for them to take you on tour, or to play a couple shows with them, because you’ll get a solid guarantee [of money]—even if it’s 150 or 250 dollars, that’s something viable and consistent. Don’t overreach or be too ambitious your first time out. I wouldn’t schedule a month-long tour as your first tour. I might schedule like three shows, and figure out, OK, this is how much money we would need to do this tour and not lose money. Only have the amount of crew that you really need. On your first tour you don’t need, like, a lighting director and a sound guy. If you can, load your own equipment, and just use the house sound guy—or bring one friend that can help you. If you get too big in terms of crew when it’s unnecessary, that’s how you lose money, too.
ANAHEED: Because basically on your first tours you don’t make money; you break even?
CARRIE: Ideally, you break even. Oh: bring merchandise! Again, you don’t want to overreach—go to thrift stores, buy a bunch of cheap T-shirts, and screen shirts. People will just listen to your music online, so bring something they can take away. That helps. If you sell five shirts, that’s gas money. Just figure out ways of getting to the next city. Figure out ways of staying in people’s houses—not in a dangerous way.
I will say, touring is the hardest thing. Even for bigger bands, breaking even on tour is very, very hard.