Name: Carrie Biell
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, bassist
Nationality: American
Current release: Carrie Biell's We Get Along is out now.
Recommendations: Watch the movie CODA on Apple Plus. It’s an excellent portrayal of a Deaf family who has a hearing daughter. It’s an important movie because it stars real Deaf actors and tells an important story that I completely relate to.

If you enjoyed this interview with Carrie Biell and would like to know more about her, head over to her official website. Or visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

Carrie also plays in the fourpiece Moon Palace with her twin sister Cat Biell as well as Jude Miqueli and Gabriel Molinaro. Their website is here.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I made my first album when I was 19 years old. Up until that point I’d been living and supporting myself since I was 17, and had surrounded myself within an overlapping community of queer people, musicians, baristas, and bike messengers.

I started writing songs with my twin sister when we were young teenagers, but they were mostly her songs that I played bass and sang backup on. We were lucky enough to live and play music in Seattle at a time when the indie rock scene was taking off. During high school we listened to a lot of Nirvana, Hole, Tori Amos and eventually we graduated to bands like Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip.

Eventually, I started teaching myself how to play guitar, and when I felt I was good enough I responded to a Craigslist ad for a Danish singer/songwriter who was trying to form a band in Seattle. It’s funny to look back at where I was then because I was basically a baby trying to find a cool band to be in. The Danish singer I started playing with was Sune Wagner who eventually formed the band Raveonettes. The music I was playing with Sune was the same kind of music that later became the Raveonettes. It had a vintage-y 60’s rock n‘ roll Velvet Underground vibe that Sune masterfully created in his songwriting. I was convinced that I was going to travel the world, and be in a band with Sune, but he ended up suddenly moving out of Seattle and eventually back to Denmark.

It was the catalyst to me starting to write and record my own songs. I was able to take what I had learned from him on guitar, with songwriting and recording, and turn it into something that worked for my own personal style. Of course, I’ll never forget when a Raveonettes video came on MTV while I was making breakfast a decade later. It practically knocked me to the floor that it was Sune’s music. I’m grateful that I had his mentorship when I was young and starting out.

When I started writing and recording for real I was also listening to indie bands like Carissa’s Wierd, Sonic Youth, and Cat Power and my writing evolved from there. Eventually over the years I started to love old country/ Americana like Loretta Lynn, Dolly, Tanya Tucker, and Gillian Welch and it all sorta merged into what I’m doing now.

I’ve always been into crossing genres. Luckily being in the band Moon Palace has allowed me to run with the 80s, 90s synth dreams of music. With this latest album I had been listening to a lot of 70’s rock like T-Rex and I know that flowed through some of these songs on the record.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?

When I recorded my first album “Symphony of Sirens” (long gone out-of-print) I was 19 years old and the industry was overwhelmingly dominated by men. I was intimidated by the recording process and finding a studio. I knew very little about the process other than what I had seen Sune do on his own at home. The engineers were men, the players were men. Back then in 2000 recording equipment was very expensive and making an album mostly required going into a recording studio.

In an interesting full circle, I recorded basic tracks for We Get Along in the same studio as that first album … 20 years later at a great non-profit studio called Jack Straw Cultural Center. On this project I worked more with women and non-binary individuals, and now I have a recording setup at home using my Universal Audio Apollo Twin, Garageband, and Luna. This has shifted the way I write music because I am able to demo songs on my own and figure out arrangements using my midi keyboard and editing software. Some of the extra bells and whistles like additional guitars and vocals I did in my basement with my recording setup. The way that recording technology has evolved over the last couple decades has given me access to producing my own music in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was a teenager.

I’ve experienced working in multiple studios with multiple producers and engineers over the years. These experiences taught me how to make records and I’m much more directive and in control of the process now. Back then I felt so intimidated and clueless that I often let others control the process and went with whatever style they had.

It also doesn’t hurt that my partner is an audio engineer who taught me how to make the best out of my home recording setup.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

I love collaborating with other musicians and over the years have sought that out more. Starting the band Moon Palace with my twin sister allowed me to flex that collaboration muscle more. In Moon Palace I often come up with a basic outline of a song – the music and lyrics, and rough arrangement. Then I record a little demo to share with my bandmates. I started doing that more during the pandemic and we started sharing files more and building songs remotely.

With my solo work I am much more solitary with the process, but I do start to share the songs with my friend, bandmate, and engineer, Moe to start thinking of arrangements and instrumentation. I also worked with a friend and producer named Timothy Graham on this record. I value the ear of others to give input on instrumentation because sometimes I get stuck in my own patterns of arrangement. I get excited to try new arrangements and sounds in my songs.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I am a mom of an 8-year-old boy. Being a mom has become my primary job for the last 8 years, so sometimes balancing my music life is a juggling act.

With that said I have become quite skilled at prioritizing time to create, schedule rehearsals, and do all the behind the scenes networking, booking, and business part that comes with being an independent artist. On weekdays I am usually busy taking my son to school and working my day job doing social work. I work with Blind and Deaf-Blind individuals to find or maintain employment as they experience vision loss or changes. Most of my work has turned into remote work since the pandemic started and I am able to pickup the guitar more at home during the day.

I find my most creative time is late at night and most of the music and work happens much later in the day when my son is asleep. Weekends are full, but I often have more time to play shows and work on music. For the first few years of my son’s life it was hard to even think of writing and performing music, but it had been such a huge part of my identity for much of my life that I missed it too much. It became important for me to prioritize time for music as my son became older. Being an artist is a huge part of who I am and I needed to feel like my full self again.

At the same time, I was ok putting it down for a few years because I had been so active in the music scene through my whole adult life. The pause was actually a benefit to me in the end because I felt I needed time to figure out my next creative move.

What was really tough was managing all of that while home-schooling during the pandemic. These last couple years had so many ups and downs. Releasing this record feels like a gift that came out of all the craziness.

There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?

There is a lot I can say in response to this question. As artists we do need to be aware of our place in the world, and be careful not to appropriate cultures, symbols, and language that don’t belong to us.

What I can mostly speak to is my cultural upbringing of being raised by Deaf parents and interacting with Deaf and Deaf-Blind communities. I was recently asked to interpret a song into ASL for a music video. The hearing artist wanted to sign their own song, and I was asked to help teach the signs and come up with the interpretation. It made me uncomfortable because I knew a Deaf person should be involved with taking the lyrics and interpreting them into sign. Even though I was raised in the Deaf community, and I know ASL, I also know I am not a Deaf person, and it isn’t completely my language. I know that a lot of people find ASL to be beautiful to watch, but it’s also a language and there are very complex grammar rules and cultural factors to be aware of when it comes to using it for art.

The way that Deaf people use ASL in art is quite different than the hearing world would. In the Deaf community there is ASL storytelling through various art forms performed by Deaf people and it’s cherished and protected. It’s an expression of their language and culture that is held dear. I knew that if I wanted to truly make the lyrics accessible to a Deaf audience it needed to be interpreted by a Deaf person. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

It's a complex issue and ultimately you need to be as informed as you can be about the people who live within that culture. It doesn’t mean a hearing artist can’t sign ASL in a music video. It just means there should be a Deaf person coaching the process.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?

It’s so interesting that you ask about senses because in both my immediate family and work life I engage constantly with people who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing. Both of my parents are Deaf and my mom is Deaf-Blind. She recently came to one of my live shows outside in Seattle with our band Moon Palace. It was fascinating to see the way she enjoyed the show. She could sense the energy of the crowd and could feel the bass and drums through the ground and speakers. She had a great night with just her sense of touch, taste, and smell.

The other emotions and senses that music triggers can be experienced not only through hearing and sight. It’s possible to experience music through energy, feeling and touch.