Sunday 15 November 2020

10 from Carla J Easton

The 11th artist to feature in my series of 10 from ... blogs is ... my sister - Carla J Easton!

I decided not to write a blog on her latest album Weirdo (thankfully plenty of other people did) so I thought I'd look back over her back catalogue and see if I could select 10 of my favourite songs.

You'll find links to the previous artists to feature in this series at the foot of this blog.

Over the last 10-years my sister Carla J Easton has produced a pretty remarkable body of work with her bands Futuristic Retro Champions and TeenCanteen, under the guise of Ette and finally under her own name, not to mention collaborations with the likes of Belle & Sebastian and Kirsty Law.

5 albums (4 since 2016) and numerous EP's / non-album singles; scented cassettes, colour cd's, colour vinyl, glitter vinyl, artwork by Martin Creed (FRC's), Ross Sinclair (TeenCanteen) and Jim Lambie ... Carla always has something on the go.

And I know that she is working on some very exciting songs and projects at this very moment. As well as a documentary! Carla's personality, work ethic and creative nature has won her friends and fans and I'm excited to see what the next decade will bring.

I thought I'd take some time to review Carla's back catalogue and see if I could narrow it down to 10 favourites!

Sita, Carla, Harry & Ceal

2010-2020 started with Futuristic Retro Champions deciding to call it a day, 4-years after forming at Edinburgh College of Art. They had 4 fun packed years, releasing singles, EP's and then eventually the Love & Lemonade retrospective album in 2011 that also included unreleased songs.

One memorable review from the time described them as 'kids who have overdosed on Sunny D with fisher price instruments' while another described them as having 'an uncanny knack of making every song sound like the first strains of a summers Friday evening.'

Carla wrote all songs (apart from a few co-writes with fellow band members) but only sang lead vocals on a couple, with her friend Sita Pieraccini (who later went on to play bass with Carla in TeenCanteen) taking on vocals. 

Melodies and hooks come pouring out of these largely home-recorded songs of love, life, friends and nights out. There is a real natural innocent charm to them. One, Count To Ten, was when Carla and bassist Ceal got drunk and recorded an EP in a night under the guise of The Kevin's (named after Kevin from Home Alone!). I wonder what happened to the other songs, they did have a MySpace at one point?! I love how rough and raw the recording is, yet the melodies shine.

Strawberries & Vodka Shots is just pure sunshine. I think the DIY video (below) captures the mood perfectly. Pulling Box Shapes is 100 mph fun, Epic New Song is ... epic and euphoric, You Make My Heart is sublime girl meets boy pop, while Isn't It Lovely is all kinds of gorgeous and mellow, with the closing section being beautifully uplifting with soaring trumpet in a kind of Belle and Sebastian way.

I have so many memories of great nights out at The Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh, the 13th Note, Mono, an incredible performance at the Hidden Lane Festival Glasgow and I love the energy that leaps out of these songs to this day. 

Post FRC's Carla was busy writing songs but wasn't really sure what to do with them. Duglas T Stewart from the BMX Bandits had got to know of Carla's work and he encouraged her to form a new band. Indeed, Duglas recorded one of Carla's new songs Fireworks for the BMX Bandits In Space album and I know what a huge boost this was for Carla.

So Carla formed TeenCanteen, recruiting her best friend Debs on drums (her first time in a band), FRC's Sita P moved to bass (despite having never played it before) and her friend Emma (who usually played folk music) joined on guitar.

After only 5 rehearsals, the band booked a couple of weekends in 45-a-side studios in Calton. The recordings, coming out on vinyl next year via Hive/LNFG, really captured a moment. The innocence of Debs being in a band and recording studio for the first time, of Sita moving to bass, of the harmonies so central to the TeenCanteen sound and of a newly form band checking out what they've got, they are raw and soulful.

Carla, Sita, Emma & Debs 

Over limited edition singles (including cassette and vinyl) and a string of shows, festivals and amazing support from 6 Music's Marc Riley,  the band started to gain a real following, leading to sold out shows and also the incredible Girl Effect nights that Carla put on in Edinburgh and Glasgow for charity.

Carla was very clear that she didn't want to rush into recording and releasing an album. I think she made the right call, the singles and events let the band build a momentum that led to people calling for an album.

There is an issue with recording an album - the cost. So I helped Carla create a crowdfunding campaign for TeenCanteen to raise a few thousand pounds to add to their savings. Thanks to the support of fans they surpassed that total in just a few days!

The burst of activity led to Say It All With A Kiss being released on Last Night From Glasgow in 2016. Chloe Philip was now on guitar duties and the 4-piece described their sound as dynamic drums and glittering guitars fused with pulsing bass and a synth sheen on pure pop while Ion Magazine said ... part wall of sound, part Postcard Records The album was longlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year Award. 

By this point in time Carla had songs pouring out of her, leading to her almost simultaneously releasing Homemade Lemonade under the guise of Ette on Olive Grove Records. Recorded with the wonderful Joe Kane over 5-days in a homemade garage studio, there is a beautiful raw psychedelic tinge and a sense of freedom to this album that led to Bandcamp naming it their 4th best album of 2016. I'm particularly fond of this album. Heaven Knows is a lost summer single, the way Bones flows so effortlessly is beautiful, the Spector stomp on Attack of the Glam Soul Cheerleaders (Parts 1 & 2) always brings a smile to my face and the psychedelic pop of Bird In The Sky is just brilliant.

2017 saw TeenCanteen release the Millions EP and then saw Carla embark on a life changing trip to Banff Music Centre in Canada for a songwriting residency. It's difficult to describe what a confidence boost this was for my sister. The anxiety she felt before going was overwhelming, I'm so glad that she went and that Creative Scotland supported her. 

Whilst there she made amazing new friendships and got to play her songs to award winning songwriters, all of whom loved her songs and personality.

The visit led to Carla going back to record with producer Howard Billerman, resulting in the Impossible Stuff album that came out at the start of October 2018. Carla's friends from Canada play on the album and she pretty much used all of the instruments and musicians she could. Many of the takes were improvised or captured in 1 or 2 takes, resulting in a real organic feel.

Notably, Impossible Stuff was the first album Carla felt ready to release under her own name. The development is quite staggering, I think Carla was listening a lot to Carole King and George Harrison at the time and Howard Billerman really helped her go for that kind of sound along with Carla's playful melodies. You can read Carla's track-by-track guide via a feature with The Skinny.

2018 also saw Carla take lead vocals on a Belle and Sebastian song that she co-wrote with Stuart Murdoch. I loved hearing her tales of writing in Stuart's flat, rehearsing and then recording with the band. They were amazed she got the vocals in a couple of takes, Carla replied that her budget doesn't usually allow for any more than that! They all laughed :-) As someone who has followed the band from relatively early days I couldn't believe that my wee sister was writing and singing with them. 

Around the same time Carla became an official member of The Vaselines. I still remember a sense of pride when finding my missing Vaselines CD in Carla's bedroom many years ago. Eugene is a great friend of Carla's.)

So when the band were invited to play The Belles Boaty Weekender, Carla got to join Belle and Sebastian on stage to perform Best Friend. I so wish I had been there. Carla speaks so fondly of Stuart and The Belles and their ambition with the Boaty Weekender really left a mark on her - and everyone I know who went.

Carla fronting Belle & Sebastian!

2019 saw Carla invited back to Banff, this time a a resident! This incredible high was then shattered by heartbreak which led to Carla spending most of the year either back at our Mum's or sofa surfing with friends, leading to the writing of the album Weirdo that was released earlier this year.

Weirdo is very different from Impossible Stuff. It's rammed with synths and it's essentially therapy on record. Carla was very vocal about taking CBT to deal with a lot of the issues she was going through. I always admire my sisters openness about things like this.

The melodies and hooks are still there. They always will be. Get Lost is like Carly Rae Jepsen fronting New Order, while I urged Carla to send Never Knew You to Taylor Swift! The variety is incredible with pure pop on Heart It So Hard, indie garage pop on the title track, a total defiant pop banger like Over You, through to synth ballads like Signing It In Blood and Thorns.

Photo by Craig McIntosh

I think it is important for any artist to never stand still, probably more so than ever in today's digital age. There is absolutely no danger of that happening with my sister! She recently sent through 3 new demos for her next project and I fell for them instantly, they sound ready as they are.

So it wasn't easy to narrow things down, but at the time of writing, here are 10 of my favourites at the time of writing (in no particular order) from Carla J Easton

1. Jenna

Jenna was one of the first real pop songs that Carla wrote following a night out with her friend Jenna. Ridiculously catchy, it quickly became a favourite of the Retro Champs and their growing fanbase, the breakdown into handclaps encouraged participation and the chorus lodged itself in your brain almost instantaneously. 

The whole song tells stories about Carla and Jenna working in a shoe shop, hangovers, Jenna being tall and Carla being small, shouting out for more E L E C T R O at 3am.

I love the way the second verse begins so beautifully oh Jenna she is my best pal, always dressed the best, in her sequin dress and it leads on to just be an outpouring of friendship love over a furious drum machine and the brilliant line; if you OCD cause you feel ill, well just pop another panic pill.

I went out with Jenna last night

She looked alright, we danced all night

I went out with Jenna last night, she looked damn fine

2. Get Lost

When Carla first sent this to me I described it as Carly Rae Jepsen fronting New Order. It just feels so fresh and energetic, kind of exactly like how Carla must have felt when she escaped to the Highlands and was inspired to write it.

The melody is playful, there is a nice reference to Dreamers On The Run, the chorus is simple and easy to sing on first listen. Visit Scotland should totally pick up on this to advertise our beautiful country.

Get lost

Let me take you far away

We can turn the radio off

Let me take you far away

The second verse has one of my favourite lyrics;

Sipping on you from ice cold cans and kissing on a dream

And top marks for the lockdown video!

3. Sirens (piano mix)

The first time I heard this version was shortly after it was recorded at La Chunky Studio in the Hidden Lane in Glasgow. Carla and the band revisited a song from their album to strip it right back to piano and voices. It becomes all the more powerful and dramatic for it. We sat in the dark and played it loud through the speakers and I was gripped with emotion.

Carla's voice almost cracks as she pounds on the piano and her friends back her up with harmonies.

I wish I could still ride my bike with the confidence I had as a child, 

With the fearlessness I had as a child

My sister is very clever at creating imagery and feelings with her lyrics, that one above is one of my absolute favourites.

I wish I had time, I wish I had time

I'll always want more than your four leaf clover

I'll aim for the moon and hit the sun

The full version is available on the usual digital platforms, there is only this preview on YouTube.

4. Vagabond (TeenCanteen version)

Carla later re-recorded Vagabond for her Impossible Stuff album, but this original version, tucked away on the b-side of standalone TeenCanteen single You're Still Mine is my favourite version. Sunshine pours in the window of the Community Centre where the live video was filmed and heartache and harmonies pour out of Carla and her friends. It's Carla on vocals and keys, Debs on stand up drums like Moe Tucker and Amanda and Sita on harmonies. It's glorious, really beautiful.

An aching head

A heart that's burst

Out pour bruised words

5. Honey

TeenCanteen's debut single was released via the good people at Neu! Reekie on a limited run of 100 yellow cassette tapes with honey scented lino print and flowering garden. You could literally plant it! 

With Honey, Carla really drew a line under the FRC's and bounded over it. The feeling of the song is pure and soulful, the lyrics, melodies, structure, little pauses and the rush of the chorus are brilliant and infectious.

I'm a square trying to fit in a circle

I am red when I want to be purple

The false ending that leads to a build into one last burst of sugar energy sweetness and the rush of one final chorus is glorious.

We just talk about the weather

Not the fact that we're together

Cause he knows I'm so in love with him

That I'll stick around through thick and thin

Like honey

This is the original version of Honey, recorded at the Old Mill Studio in Strathaven.

I love the video, they just look like a real gang of friends. Amanda was on acoustic guitar and Malena on electric guitar. I love the goth punk vibe she brings to the video.

6. I'm Tired

I'm tired, thinking of you

Are you tired, of thinking of me too?

I'd love Carla to revisit this FRC's song in her own voice. (UPDATE - my sister has read the blog and won't be revisiting it and is surprised I chose it! But I love it). 

There's not much to it but it says so much. Written during 3-month art school exchange in Lithuania when Carla and Sita lived in a pink shack (honest - I visited!), this is a a beautiful song, really open and pure.

For a homemade production, I think this is pretty incredible. I love Harry's guitar, the synth sounds, Sita's voice and just the whole feel to it. There is no video so check it out on all the usual digital sites.

You're the one that makes me feel so pretty

There are positives a plenty

Damn your awful jokes they make me smile

7. Thorns

The closing track for Weirdo, this starts with a stunning vocal melody, builds dramatically, then slows down to the refrain over swirling synths and beats.

There was never sun in my blood

I wish there was, I wish there was, I wish there was

For 15 seconds the song just hangs beautifully before synths and beats come powering in, leading to Carla singing I'll be the thorn in your side. It's vivid, dramatic and widescreen.

I love the last 50 seconds or so of the song when it goes a little wonky in a kind of Beck style way.

Carla has performed a few online shows since lockdown/restrictions have prevented live performances and her stripped back version of this has been a real highlight for me.

8. Lights In The Dark

It's difficult to look at this final list of 10 and see so little from the Impossible Stuff album. I love so much of it; the flow of Dreamers On The Run, the playful title track, the romp through Milk & Honey, the delightful sounds of Meet Me In Paris ... but when faced with narrowing favourites down to 10 I had to include Lights In The Dark.

I love how the song builds, the beat only really kicks in at 2-minutes 5 seconds. There is extra power and urgency when this is played live. It also works beautifully when it is stripped back, as demonstrated in the Sofar Sounds video below the official one.

9. Best Friend

Another flowing melody with loving, funny and emotional lyrics. I love when the strings soar and the beat kicks in after 32 seconds.

I'm not saying that we will be best friends

But I'll take you dancing at the weekend

I admire the production and feel that Belle & Sebastian capture on a lot of their recordings, Stuart Murdoch has such a good ear for that kind of thing. It is special to hear Carla recording with a band who have travelled the world and achieved so much. Yet they remain so grounded that Stuart could walk into the shop where Carla works and they are also still fiercely ambitious as the Boaty Weekender displayed.

The melody and flow is joyfully constant throughout, only letting up for the final verse. Based on this evidence, I'd love Carla and Stuart to write together again, maybe with Stuart singing this time.

10. Impossible Stuff

It took me a while to choose the last few songs for my list of 10. I can't believe I haven't squeezed anything in from the Homemade Lemonade album!

Impossible Stuff, the title track from Carla's first album under her own name, always makes me smile, containing one of her most playful melodies and lyrics. 

And this video is one of my favourite performances, recorded only a few days after returning from Canada in a collaboration with the Scottish Opera. My very good friends Stephen and Craig play guitar and bass.

I love the feel on the recorded version and I have a nice vision of Carla playing the song to her friends in Canada and directing them on how to play. The break and then build from 1 minute 23 seconds is exhilarating, then everything gets thrown at it but in a glorious Polyphonic Spree kind of way. Double drums, strings, everyone singing, the last 90-seconds are beautifully pure, everyone in the zone.

Impossible stuff, just to feel your love

Oh I'd do anything for you


1. The Vaselines

2. The Lemonheads

3. The Pastels

4. Primal Scream

5. BMX Bandits

6. Belle and Sebastian

7. The Charlatans

8. Hope Sandoval 

9. Edwyn Collins

10. New Order

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