The Carrots dig up some ‘60s pop deep in the heart of Texas
Hailing from a state famous for its country music lineage and a city better known for setting the pace in the indie-rock scene, The Carrots sound more like a product of Detroit, Mich., than Austin, Texas.
Taking heavy influence from Motown and ‘60s girl groups like The Crystals, The Shangri-Las and Irma Thomas, the eight-piece revels in its vintage sound, right down to the matching outfits and sugary-sweet vocals.
“I didn’t grow up listening to this kind of music,” admits head Carrot Veronica Ortuño. “I just kind of absorbed it from my parents or wherever. It wasn’t until high school that I started to get really into it, listening to The Ronettes and Ronnie Spector specifically. It just sounded so new and refreshing to me.”
In the summer of 2005, Ortuño started working to create a band that would realize her passion for girl-group music. To piece together the rest of the band, Ortuño recruited two of her former bandmates (Erin Budd and Stephanie Chan) from Finally Punk, a project more closely tied to early Sleater-Kinney than to Ronnie Spector. Later, bassist Chris Lyons (Prima Donnas) responded to a MySpace bulletin Ortuño had posted, and the core of the band was set.
Now, with a full-blown lineup including keyboard, two guitars and three vocalists, Ortuño has seven other people to bounce ideas off of to help realize her vision—a scenario that can be simultaneously tricky and rewarding.
“It’s hard sometimes working with so many people,” Ortuño said. “There’d be nights when I’d just go over to [keyboardist Jennifer Moore’s] with some wine and I had this organ, and we’d sit and try to write with just two or three people. Then slowly, everyone else starts to add their input.”
The Carrots were essentially a cover band early on, performing songs like “The Best Part of Breaking Up” by The Ronettes and “Walking in the Sand” by The Shangri-Las. But it was understood all along that this was not to be some kitschy novelty project destined for county fairs and casino circuits.
“I don’t want people to think of us as a gimmick,” Ortuño said. “We definitely take a lot of influence from ‘60s stuff, but we also really try to give it a more modern feel and make it our own.”
Still, it’s hard to shake the visuals of some pastel tuxedo and beehive hairdo-ridden senior prom while listening to The Carrots’ songs. And as a result, their fan base is diverse and unpredictable from night to night.
“It’s awesome having both younger and older fans,” Ortuño said. “We’ll get kids coming out who never even knew about this style of music and then we’ll see parents who are excited to see it coming back.”
The band just signed with Elefant Records, the label that helped launch the career of Scottish twee-pop group Camera Obscura, as well as putting out the only album by Spain’s cult synth-pop legends Family. Keeping in line with the ‘60s influence, Elefant proposed that The Carrots bypass the common EP format and instead release a series of singles and a 12-inch vinyl full-length, which all will be available this summer.
The band is playing 28 dates in the next month. After that, The Carrots will be facing some big changes. As if organizing eight-member band practices wasn’t challenging enough, Ortuño will be moving to Portland to attend school (one member already lives full-time in Los Angeles). She insists that a new address won’t impact The Carrots. In fact, the group is already in the midst of planning a European tour for the end of this year.
Ortuño’s soft spot for ‘60s pop is obvious, and it carries over to her genuine affection for the group. It’s surely a combination of the music, the costumes and, perhaps how The Carrots reflect a more innocent time. When asked if there was one song in particular that opened the door, Ortuño giddily wracked her brain for what seemed like ages before responding simply: “I don’t have an answer for that.”