Catholic Boy Jim Carroll Returns to Rock
After fourteen years, Jim Carroll dives back into rock and roll with Pools of
Mercury (Mercury), a brilliant hybrid album combining music-backed spoken-word and
song-structured rock and roll. Despite many attempts to get Jim back into the studio, it
took a collaboration with producer Anton Sanko to make it happen. With the completion of Void
of Course, a new collection of poetry, Carroll intended to record an album of
spoken-word performances set to music. Instead, the sessions evolved into Carroll's first
rock record since his three albums with the Jim Carroll Band in the 1980's. According to
Jim "The dam broke loose," and the result is the best of both Carroll worlds.
You once said you had no desire to do another rock album, so how did Pools of
Mercury come about?
A lot of the pieces in Void of Course were more lyrical, so I thought about doing a
spoken- word album with music. I'd already done one without music...
Yeah, and that was kind of a defiant thing to do with no music at all. But most guys just
want to jam on top of the stuff, you know. So, I'd worked with Anton Sanko on this Jack
Kerouac tribute album. I also knew him as Suzanne Vega's producer and keyboardist, and his
take on producing spoken-word was, well he'd never done it before but he wrote movie
music, and I just figured he'd be good for spoken-word. Anton's approach is different -
it's about the rhythm.
How did this approach work in setting your poems to music?
He wanted certain syllables to hit with the downbeat, so it was really very precise. And
you can do that now with a computer program that allows you to move words around. You can
get a longer pause if you need one or if you want to stretch out a syllable, you can. I
did a lot of readings and we chose the best one, the one that was the most heartfelt and
with the right tempo. Then we just used the computer to move the words a bit if it didn't
work with the beat. And that's the difference with Anton. He works on rhythm where other
guys just work on jamming out over it, you know.
So initially this was planned as an album of spoken-word set to music. How did the
rock songs come about?
I played the band "Falling Down Laughing," a song originally written for The
Basketball Diaries movie. I had these great musicians there, and I figured they were
just so good, we'd rerecord that song. Once we started, this whole rock and roll energy
fell into it. Then the guys in the band started giving me songs to write lyrics to, and it
was like the dam broke loose. Once that happened, it just became more of a rock and roll
flavored album than a spoken-word album. Actually, the spoken-word pieces are a good
counterpoint to the songs. It's like a strange hybrid.
How were the musicians assembled for the project?
Anton got them together... his brother Eric, who plays with John Cale, and Tristen
Avakian, who's really a great guitar player, and Frank Valardi the drummer is just an
amazing session drummer who's been around for years.
There's a lot of great percussion on this album.
Yeah, like on "Hairshirt Fracture." The original was very monotone, like a
dirge. We added a lot of drums. Somebody said bongos--it's not bongos. We did not use
bongos on this record!
How about a video?
I don't know. I've always had a weird thing about videos. I've always thought people could
make up better videos in their head.
Any plans to tour with the band?
No. The musicians are all in different bands. We might do another show in New York, maybe
Boston or Philly. But it's a big band, too, so it would be, like, a big production. We
enjoyed the two shows we did.
NYC and Seattle. How did it feel to be performing rock and roll after fourteen
It was fantastic. Everybody just stood up the whole time. Usually there are chairs or
people just sit on the floor for spoken-word, but they were just pressed up against the
stage the whole time like it was a rock concert. Yeah, we had a great time, and we would
love to do it again.
© 1998 Lisa Scott
This interview was supposed to appear in HITS . . .