Guest Post: Nicholas Altobelli interviews Caitlin Cary!

Small Ponds

Today we have folkie Nicholas Altobelli giving us insight on Caitlin Cary via an interview he recently had with her.  Nicholas kindly allowed us to post it up as his contribution to Guest Post week (or “weeks”) for Slowcoustic.

The Prophet Bar - Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase (Dallas, TX) - October 15, 2011
The Prophet Bar - Dallas Observer Music Awards Showcase (Dallas, TX) - October 15, 2011 {click image to visit the Nicholas Altobelli website}

If you are unfamiliar with Altobelli’s work, you can find him right here on Slowcoustic in a favourite “Song of the Day” post we had for his excellent “The Regulator” album.  You can find the album at his web storealong with great prices on a couple of newer releases you should be checking out!  So let’s get on the interview with ex-Whiskeytowner Caitlin Cary;


Small Ponds

One of the biggest honors of my short career was having the overly talented and very underrated, Caitlin Cary, sing on my album and opening up for her new band in Denton, Texas called The Small Ponds.  Caitlin was kind enough to let me ask her some questions about the band, touring and the worst show she’s ever played…  Thanks Caitlin!


How and when did The Small Ponds begin?

Well, we really began in 2009, when I got brave and asked Matt to be my partner for Raleigh’s traditional post-Valentines duet show The Love Hangover.   I had been a fan of his band The Proclivities.  Loved his songs, loved his voice, loved his stage presence.

The concept of the Hangover is that boy-girl duos who don’t normally perform together unite to sing a few of their choice favorite covers on the subject of love.  I think I can remember our set:

Lucinda Williams: Prove My Love
Solomon Burke: If You Need Me
Tegan & Sara: Call it Off
Patience & Prudence (via “The Jerk”): Tonight You Belong to Me
Neil Young: Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash: If I Were a Carpenter

Because we loved the same songs (or could talk each other into loving them), because we got along like long-lost brother and sister or besties, because we had a great time singing together, because we had a great one-off show, we decided to try trusting each other with co-writing.  And we met up for the next six months or so until we’d arrived at enough songs to think about playing a show.  At which point we needed a name…

How did you come up with the name?

Oh, I wish there was a better story to it.  I also wish I had a better memory of what the other names in contention were.  I know one was “The Blowsies,” Which I still love, because I love the sound and the definition of the word “Blowsy.”  But since we worried people would think we meant that we thought we blew, we went with “The Small Ponds.”  It was really just: cocktails in hand, tossing around words and phrases until one felt right.  We’ve been challenged to say what we mean by the name, and we’ve managed, thus far, to be witty enough in our banter to deflect the question.

It seems people have trouble describing the band’s sound (that’s a good thing), how would you describe it?

Our local critic called it “chamber pop.”  That doesn’t hurt my feelings, so I’ve gone with it.

You have done many duet roles… Ryan Adams, Thad Cockrell and now The Small Ponds… is that something you prefer doing rather than being a solo artist?

I definitely find a lot of pleasure in collaboration, and I love the way it feels to duet with someone with whom I have some kind of “soul understanding.”  I know what it feels like to try singing with someone who I don’t have that connection with, but describing what it means to feel it takes better words than I have command of.  It’s like a tensile strength–that force that just barely holds up a drop of emotion without letting it fall down to the bottom of the puddle.  It’s not really comfort–that would just be boring.  But it can’t be too difficult, either.  It’s certainly not the same as romance or even friendship, but it shares some characteristics with those.

I guess for the time being I prefer collaboration to solo performing.  I sometimes felt the weight of being the “front guy” too heavy. I loved it sometimes, but I think I prefer to spread out the pressure. And I also somehow feel that music is inherently about collaboration and connection, so it seems very natural to me to work that way.

How does the songwriting process work in the band?

Every song is its own character and comes to being in its own way.  We’ve written in all kinds of ways: I come with most of a song and Matt helps me structure it and make it nuanced; he comes with a riff and we “blank page it”; one of us introduces a theme and a line or two and we work out from there.  I really think that just as soon as you think you understand process and start trying to work out from that convention, it flops.  You have to be open to every mode of working.  And you have to just keep putting dates on the calendar to write together.  And you have to have faith.  All of this is advice to myself, and to Matt, as well as to any other collaborating team that’s reading.  (Smiley face).

Is songwriting easy for you or is it a long process?

See above.  It’s both.  Mostly it’s not automatic.  But it sometimes is, and that’s just a gift.

What are plans for The Small Ponds in 2012?

We will launch a Kickstarter campaign soon, with the idea of raising the funds to record a full-length record with Sam Kassirer at Great North Recording Society in Maine.  We’ve been working up to this for a long time, and I think we’ve got a collection of songs that will really stretch the fabric of the duet suit!  Sam is an amazing producer, and we know that with him, in his space, and with our devotion, we’re going to make a really smashing record.

Any plans on releasing another solo album in the future?

Um, yes.  There are definitely songs that I’m working on that will not fit with any of the groups I’m part of.  So, someday, yes.

Ok, now on to touring… do you like to tour?

I like it and I hate it.  I’m sure just about everyone would say that.  There’s nothing harder, and there’s nothing more fun.  It’s definitely time out of time, a release.  And there’s the joy, every night, of performing, which is immeasurable, as is the gratitude that comes along with it for me.  There’s nothing easy about touring, but it’s most assuredly not “life,” and it makes a mockery of the passage of “normal” time.  Plus, if you’re going around with other people, there are always a thousand really funny jokes.  Which, without exception, are un-funny to everyone else who wasn’t there.  That’s also my touring advice: keep the band jokes to yourself, but never stop making them.

What was it like touring for the first time?

I had absolutely, positively no idea what to expect.  I had no rock n’ roll fantasy, and virtually no conception, romanticized or otherwise, what life on the road would be like.  To be honest, in Whiskeytown, it was often pretty lonely.  I was the only girl, and I felt quite at sea, probably a little like how a soldier feels when s/he’s drafted and sent to a foreign country.  That’s not complaining, though.  I would not trade the experiences I had for any other set of early-twenties memories.  I love what those years taught me, and I expect everyone has to scrabble over some loose rocks and get a little busted up in order to get to the life that fulfills them.

Touring can be really hard to deal with sometimes, are there any tricks of the trade that you’ve discovered over these years?

See above. Also, be really, really nice to people’s parents.  Parents have better beds, better food, better sheets, and they tend to stay where you left them so you can go back to their houses the next time through.  They also go to bed, so you’re not responsible for being the entertainment at the party after the show.

If you didn’t join Whiskeytown in the 1990s and never got into music, what do you think you would be doing now for a career?

I thought I’d be a professor of English.  Or a vet.

Any musical guilty pleasures you’ve been listening to lately?


If you could sing with anyone, who would it be?

Doc Watson.

If you could play at any venue, where would it be?

Oh, any place with red velvet curtains, a nice, competent sound crew, and the kind of acoustics that make that crew irrelevant.  This might be somewhere in Europe so that I could have a memorable meal afterwards, but that’s not essential.

If you could live in any city or state (other than your current residence) where would it be?

I’m honestly pretty excited about/content with where I live now.  But I’ve always entertained a fantasy of living in the American Southwest.  I’d probably feel really weird there, but I like to imagine it.  Alternatively, I’d love to escape our fucked up politics, so maybe I’d choose Switzerland or Sweden or Holland–somewhere where I could live in the comfortable idea of everyone having some kind of safety net.  Seems that’s slipping everywhere, though, maybe–hard to keep anyone or any place on a political pedestal these days!

What was the worse show you’ve played that you can remember?

It’s great to always have an easy answer to this question:  East Lansing, MI, with Whiskeytown.  We played poorly, Ryan had a fit, we walked off stage after a few songs, and as we were loading out, the crowd left and returned with rotten fruits and tomatoes and threw them at us.  That took admirable effort on their part.  Unforgettable.  A sick badge of honor.  Killer.

What was the best show you ever attended?

Redd Kross at the Cat’s Cradle, Chapel Hill, circa 2001.
Or, you know, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pretty much anywhere.
Or the time I saw James Taylor when I was 8.
Or The Cars in 1985.

Check out her band, The Small Ponds, on the interwebs at