CARLA GENEVE The X-Press Interview

Carla Geneve is riding a wave of productive momentum. The Fremantle-based singer-songwriter has maintained a busy schedule of gigs, polished off a soon-to-be-released self-titled EP (listen to first single 2001 below), shot a music video, and is gearing up to play
RTRFM’s In The Pines festival this Sunday, April 14. Geneve caught up with KAVI GUPPTA to chat about the flurry of activity surrounding her inevitable rise and growth as a sought after muso. 

The plan was to take Carla Geneve through the Kylie On Stage exhibition currently on display at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle. I thought strolling through the collection of Kylie Minogue’s costumes might spark some reflection for Carla as she carves out her pathway to performance greatness. I thought it would be a fitting juxtaposition to chat with Carla, a young and promising up-start, against the backdrop of a long-standing pop icon. I also thought the excursion would make for some great photographs during our conversation.

Turns out museums have some strict guidelines on what you can and cannot do. Fair enough. Instead, we huddled into a small table at the museum’s cafe and sat down to chat. It’s an exciting time for Carla. After winning the Mojo Rising band competition, she has sustained a productive momentum of gigs, touring, and single releases. I was keen to know how she’s managing, and how she’s looking toward the future for her career.

You’ve had a pretty busy week: you played at Camp Doogs, shot a music video, and now you’re going to play In The Pines. How are you managing the schedule? How are you keeping yourself motivated and alert?

I think I have a way easier time being motivated and alert when I have tasks to complete constantly. I prefer that than being idle a lot of the time. You can say “I’m so busy, I have so much to do,” but really it feels so lucky to be able to say that, and it’s been really cool and really fun.

With the EP now done, you’ve already moved into new songs. How are you maintaining the ability to sit down and force yourself to keep writing?

I wouldn’t say that I sit down and force myself to do it because I know that’s not really how it works for me. I suppose recently I’ve been making more of a considerate effort of writing, which is a change in the way I’ve gone about it in the past. I think it’s really good for me to start to look at it from a different perspective. I think the EP songs, and when I’ve been writing in the past, were sort of moments where I said “I’m going to write this song, I feel this way, and I’m going to tell that story”, but something I’ve been trying to do recently is to have a lot of different music ideas, word ideas, melody ideas. It’s cool to draw them together from different times and focus a bit more on the narrative of a song as well. I’m just trying to put more effort into it.

Are you looking deeper and deeper into different types of topics?

Yeah I’m trying. I really think songwriting is a skill and not a magical talent that just comes out of the air. It’s nice to think about it that way. I guess for some people it can be something so in the moment, but I think it’s also really cool to work for it. I think that’s where the best stuff comes out.

How would you describe some of the anxiety or pressures that come with having to constantly think about what’s coming next and where you’re going to go next; and how do you work through it as well?

It’s something I have been thinking about. When you sign to a label you have to have things done and do it well and on time. I have been trying to look at it as a challenge more than anything and growing up a little bit. Not just to get it done, but to do a really good job of something. I’m actually really excited for that.

Can you elaborate on the idea of growing up. What does growing up mean to you?

Talking about an album instead of just gigging and not really recording anything. Not just “I’ll write that song and I’ll write this song.” But I’d really like to try and have it flow and make sense within itself a little bit more, and just hopefully the quality of the songs and songwriting. I’ll be more happy with what I’ve put out if that makes sense. More recordings, too. I’m pretty inexperienced and I’m excited to challenge myself and get better at that and think of new ways as well.

Who do you have around you that also helps you through that journey and that thinking or do you keep it to yourself?

I think for me songwriting has been incredibly private. Mostly because of my shyness and lack of confidence. If I write something, no one will hear it unless it is absolutely finished, and I get really nervous if it’s not finished or perfect and I can’t play it for anybody.

I guess playing new songs at shows, you see how people react. That’s pretty hard though. It’s so hard to find someone who really tells you what they think. I guess Jeremy my sound guy and my dad are really honest. People that I can trust to say they don’t like it are the people I appreciate the most. Especially if you’re just playing at shows, no one’s going to be like “yeah, I hated that song,” so it’s really good to have that input. I love it.

I’ve also seen you be sort of a role model or an inspiration to young women here in WA and you’ve also carried a lot of them at shows, you bring on other ladies to come play. Do you see a duty there or is it something natural for you?

I think first and foremost it’s natural just because of the talent. The young female songwriters which we have supporting us, not only are they my friends, but it’s also something always vulnerable in their storytelling that I love so much. I’m talking about people like Siobhan Cotchin. Siobhan’s songwriting is so special. But then I think there’s always a duty as a woman to support other women. That’s something I think is really important. It’s not a burden, it should be a really exciting and special thing to do.

You mentioned the idea of talent because there is so much talent going around. I’m curious to know how you define talent?

It’s a hard one. Sometimes I think that talent is a thing that people have, but I think it’s a pretty minute part of what makes a performance something that people will pay attention to. I think you can have that little spark of something, but you really have to put a lot of work in to make it something that works on stage. So I think it’s just mostly someone that sat down for a year or two, practiced and learned what they need to do, and put it all together. Hard work is talent to me.

Being under the backdrop of Kylie Minogue, how does Kylie fit into your definition of talent?

Disclaimer, I honestly have not really been part of the Kylie Minogue world. I know that she’s a pretty iconic pop star, but what I think most of with Kylie is the show and as a performer. I really respect that, and a lot of artists as well try and work on that as well. You can’t underestimate the value of the actual show you’re putting on for people. That’s what you go to a gig for: you don’t just go to hear the songs. Piecing all the bits together, the brand and the aesthetic, that’s really a big sign of talent. Also having that personality to drive the whole thing.

When you’re on stage, I feel you’re a whole different person. It’s a very common thing for performers to be shy but when they’re up there, they’re really killing it. Where does that come from for you, and what’s the safety of being up there that makes you become so energetic?

It’s an interesting question. I would categorise myself offstage as being withdrawn to the point of anxious. I guess with repetition and playing for so long, you do build up some confidence and pride, and this is the thing that I can do. I may not be able to do many things, but this is what I love doing. I’ve done it before and I can do it now. And then there’s the sort of comfort that comes with having just a little bit of faith within yourself in that moment. Then the fun of going with it, and the excitement of being a different person, especially if you’re a hesitant person offstage and you’re not the most confident. It’s addictive to slip out of that and be able to fully express yourself, even just for half an hour.

I see you a lot, I hear you a lot. What kind of thought do you put into the concept of longevity?

Lots. I want to be able to do this forever and I’m excited to be able to change. I guess just trying to take care of my voice which is hard work, but I’m getting better and better at as I grow up. I’m like “okay this is actually something that matters.” In terms of longevity, I don’t know.

Are there any values or principles that you’re trying to maintain for as long as you can?

I look at artists that I consider as having longevity like Neil Young. He’s definitely one of those, and the parts of Neil Young’s career and persona that I most admire is absolute authenticity, and really just doing exactly what he wanted at every show – not giving a fuck, which is always great. But also just going where he wants to go, especially with making things a show. Also telling those personal stories, and just working really hard. Always being vulnerable and working hard.

Photos by Linda Dunjey
Additional credit: WA Maritime Museum & Fremantle Port Authority