“I would say the most valuable thing we’ve learned since 2012 is that bands who want to sound ‘fresh’ need not run away from vintage instrumentation and vintage-inspired melodies,” Steve Gray from Codename: Carter explained to AXS during a recent discussion about the band. “The ‘modern’ and ‘different’ elements are built into our makeup, so all we have to do is write good songs. No matter how many 1960s harpsichords and surf guitar riffs we throw into the mix, we still sound modern and unique.” This October, the Denver surf rock quintet debuts their first full-length album. With the upcoming release of their debut self-titled LP, Codename: Carter shared their history, influences, and goals in this exclusive interview.
AXS: Are you Denver natives? If not, where is everyone originally from?
Steve Gray (guitar, vocals): The band is native to Denver, but one of us moved here from Florida in 2006 or so, and he has a really strange name for these parts: Wouter Reyniers [keyboards, saxophone]. Hmm…. He speaks a funny language when he’s on the phone sometimes. Mike Behrenhausen [drums] thinks he works for a secret government agency operating out of Belgium. But Mike could be covering his own tracks by pointing the finger at others in the band.
AXS: What brought Codename: Carter together?
Mike Behrenhausen: Steve and I previously played in the instrumental surf band Maraca Five-0. We're both influenced by that style of music -- the sound of heavily reverbed guitars and big drums. After that project ended, the two of us expanded upon some songwriting and thematic ideas that Steve came up with based upon our combined love of ‘60s spy movie soundtracks and theme music. We recorded some demo versions and, happy with how those turned out, thought they deserved to be played out live and recorded with a full band. So, we brought in a group of talented friends, Sean Boyd on bass, Wouter Reyniers on sax and keyboards and Marc Hobelman on vox, keyboards, trumpet and melodic bass to help us achieve that goal.
AXS: How long has Codename: Carter been together? What have you learned during that time?
Steve: Our first practice as a five-piece was in 2012; first show 2013. The five of us adopted a band name that Mike had suggested for our two-man recording project half a decade before any of that, so there are some deep roots. I would say the most valuable thing we’ve learned since 2012 is that bands who want to sound “fresh" need not run away from vintage instrumentation and vintage-inspired melodies. The “modern” and “different” elements are built into our makeup, so all we have to do is write good songs. No matter how many 1960s harpsichords and surf guitar riffs we throw into the mix, we still sound modern and unique.
AXS: Where was your first show in Denver, and what was the experience like? Who else did you play with at the show?
Mike: I believe it was June of 2013 at the Larimer Lounge. It was one of their Sunday BBQ shows and I'm sorry to say that I can't remember the other bands on the bill. As for the experience, I do remember being pretty happy that we were able to translate our expansive sound and instrumentation into a fun, energetic live setting.
AXS: Have any Denver musicians inspired Codename: Carter?
Mike: Of course, The Astronauts, the 60s surf band based out of Boulder will always be an influence. 16 Horsepower's gothic twang, some great old garage bands like El Espectro and Boss 302. Currently, I really like Colfax Speed Queen and Echo Beds is really great. And we're always fans of Kurt Ottoway and his groups; right now he's in Emerald Siam.
AXS: What inspired your soon-to-be-released, self-titled album?
Steve: You might say that suspicion and everything that tumbles out of suspicion inspired this album — and this band. We’re not a fun “theme band,” but spy-heist cinema was a useful tool in pulling that deeper theme out. Composers like John Barry and Lalo Schifrin defined the spy “feel" so well back in their day that we now have a tried-and-true sonic toolbox for evoking suspicion, conflict, doubt, revelation, and action — all very interesting musical territory for us. But unlike a theme band, we pushed our lyrics and other elements deeper into what makes spies & thieves interesting in the first place. Why does the suspicion felt by Michael Caine in The Ipcress File resonate with so many people who have never encountered a spy in real life? It’s because we’ve all had doubts and suspicions about our own identities, about our bosses & coworkers, about our politicians, about the person we were sleeping with at this or that time…This is all very resonant stuff that can be conjured with a single harpsichord melody, and there you have inspiration.
AXS: What was the writing and recording processes like for Codename: Carter?
Steve: First, the writing process: Very, very collaborative. We’ve learned how to build on each other’s ideas without losing the inspirational thread that got a particular idea rolling in the first place. This makes it a safe forum for rolling out a brand new idea, or blowing the dust off a very old one. Second, the recording process: We owe a HUGE “Thank You” to Bob Ferbrache. When we first set foot into Bob’s studio, he instantly became fully and completely invested in our band, like he was one of us. Combined with his decades of experience recording Denver’s greats, this made for an extremely well-produced and well-recorded album, and we are very fortunate to have had that.
AXS: What projects are Codename: Carter currently working on?
Sean Boyd: We can't talk about it. We're solving problems you didn't know existed in ways you didn't think were possible.
AXS: What else is Codename: Carter involved in locally, either as individuals or as a group?
Steve: We all work to pay the bills. Most members of the band build page layouts to acquire their dough, but Sean has the distinction of building physical objects (awesome metal furniture mostly). And Wouter has the distinction of having built a physical baby recently. We think his wife Olga did most of this work, though.
AXS: Does Codename: Carter have a goal in mind for the sound the band produces? Are there certain influences or themes the band tries to inject into its own music?
Steve: When things are going well, it feels like the sound of the band has a goal in mind for us. We only push back on an inspiration when it threatens to make the band too cluttered or inconsistent. The rest of the time, we follow it. Not always knowing where it leads is part of the fun. The inspiration could lead us absolutely anywhere in 5 years, but with our help, the changes will happen organically. So far, the themes I mentioned earlier in the interview have been a useful way of tying everything together.
AXS: For someone who has never seen or heard Codename: Carter, what would you tell them to entice them to watch your set?
Sean: Bikinis and spearguns.
AXS: What would your ideal live show look like? Where would it take place? Any particular time of year? Would a specific band/musician share the bill with or open for Codename: Carter?
Marc Hobelman: I think our ideal show (given any and all of our wildest dreams have indeed come true) is in 1969 in London's Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho. There would certainly be teletype and reel-to-reel machines on the sides of the stage, manned by extra performers wearing sharp british dresses. As lights come up we're introduced by Michael Caine who shoots a shotgun into the ceiling when we hit the downbeat of "New You.”
AXS: What do you enjoy most about Denver’s music scene, and why?
Wouter Reyniers: I feel like what makes Denver unique is that the audience is willing to wrap their heads around many different types of music.