Chemistry On & Off Stage; Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt
Carrie Elkin and Danny Schmidt, two extremely talented individuals from Austin, Texas, are now becoming one as they form a partnership and release their first album together, For Keeps. The release is coinciding with their wedding in October of this year, so the pair has a busy next couple of months! Playing for Keeps is exactly what this talented duo has decided upon with their music and their relationship off stage and out of the recording studio.
After getting the chance to (virtually) speak with both of them regarding their latest album, it was easy to see that their uncanny chemistry and quirkiness rings true both on and off the record. The two began touring together in 2012, and their spellbinding personalities and music has come in through the ears and settled in the hearts of music lovers everywhere.
“Kiss Me Now” is my favorite song from Carrie & Danny, and I came to late find out that this is Schmidt’s proposal song to Elkin at last year’s SXSW Music Festival. It is impossible to not love these two for their music, their passion, and their love story that they share with all of us through carefully constructed songs.
My first question for the couple was what made them venture into this joint project after their long history of solo careers with Red House Records.
“It grew pretty organically out of the path our touring lives had taken,” Schmidt explained. “When we were always touring solo, it got to where we were never seeing each other, and so we made the decision to try and tour more together. We didn’t want to merge ourselves artistically, and play as a full on “duo”…‘cause our writing voices are so distinct from one another. But we wanted to be together more. So we decided to just song swap every night, and pass the guitar back and forth, and sing with each other. The record is exactly that same format. We just selected songs that we thought intertwined nicely with each other, and around a theme of relationship.”
The album is exactly that. An intertwining of the two unique styles that Carrie & Danny encompass. Each song is almost like a conversation between the two, as if you are a fly on the wall in their kitchen on a Sunday morning while they’re making waffles. You get a front row seat to their separate lives merging into one. With relationship songs today revolving around fear of commitment, meeting in bars, and ending in break ups, it is so refreshing to have an entire album making a statement to prove that love not only exists but also lasts, regardless of the pressures that time and life bring.
When I originally heard the album title, I immediately thought of the saying “playing for keeps,” and I had to ask if this would be the first to many joint projects from the two.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Schmidt. “We haven’t planned that either way. Honestly, we haven’t talked about it! The title stemmed from that feeling you have, as a relationship matures and deepens, that the stakes get higher and more significant. A lot of the songs on the record were written in times when we were processing the deepening of our own relationship, and pondering big things like makin’ babies and building a home together and coming to union with another person while maintaining your own individual identity. The songs aren’t necessarily about our lives…but those were the big themes in our lives while we were writing, and so those are the big themes that crept into the songs.”
It is impossible not to relate to these two, especially as they speak more about the passion and drive behind each of the tracks on their new album. Who doesn’t fear change a little? Relationships can be scary, especially when the stakes get higher and the love deepens. Carrie & Danny have written an informal manual to blast through your car speakers when you can’t quite put into words what plagues all of us at one point or another. They’ve covered all of the questions that float through the timeline of a relationship.
“For me, it’s an evolving process,” Schmidt responded when I inquired about his songwriting process and his biggest inspirations. “There’s definitely a strong handful of folks who I can distinctly identify as influences, which is different from inspirations, I know. But I would list Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom House, and Townes Van Zandt as folks who I can hear in my own style. As far as inspiration goes, I might list Gabriel Garcia Marquez as more of an inspiration than any of the songwriters, per se. It’s maybe more apparent in the solo stuff I’m working on than on this duo record, but his magical realism really opens the outer boundaries for where a narrative can lead, and I find that really inspirational. Musically speaking, I find our personal songwriter community to be an incredible inspiration. Our friends are extremely talented and creative, and are always raising and shifting the bar of what a song can be for me.”
“I grew up singing in church, and understood the importance of connection through singing at a very young age,” Elkin answered. “So, I’ve always been inspired by singers that really understand how to deliver a song. Whether it be a solo performance or connection through beautiful harmony work. I think Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou, the Beach Boys, and Paul Simon were my first favorites. I really did focus on the singing more than the songwriting at that point. I didn’t start playing guitar or writing songs until I was in college, and I never learned cover songs. I learned three chords and instantly started writing. It was kind of cool to not have the heavy duty songwriter influence. I think it helped me create my own unique style. I started down this path of being a musician because I loved singing and didn’t feel connected to the universe unless it was a part of my daily life. I realized the importance of the songwriting later on. So it was an evolving process for me, for sure. I find myself drawn to the rawness of people’s art. I think I’m drawn to it because it’s something that can’t be taught. It’s so inspiring to me.”
I asked if the two had this album in mind for a long time coming, both being from Austin, or if they met at Red House where it seemed only right to connect their roots.
“We met at a festival when Carrie was still living in Boston. It was just fortuitous that she was about to move to Austin, and we became a couple. We became a couple pretty soon after she moved down here,” Schmidt answered. “I was actually born and raised in Austin, so I’m a local. She’s a johnny-come-lately. I don’t let her forget that. It’s part of being an Austinite…reminding everyone who’s moved there after you that you’ve been there longer.”
“Yes, Danny does LOVE to brag about that! I grew up in Ohio, so don’t have that much to brag about! I feel like all the Ohians at my next show are going to throw tomatoes at me,” Elkin lightheartedly added. “We started singing together straight out the chute. When we were in the same place at the same time, we would sing harmonies on each other’s songs. That helped us gain an understanding for the nuance of each other’s songs. When Danny brings a new song to me now, I feel pretty confident I’m going to know where he wants harmonies and what he’s going to want those harmonies to sound like. We’re quite connected and sensitive to each other’s songs. I’d say we grew together as musicians in that way, and then from there started sharing shows and from that came this idea of an album. I’d say it was a pretty organic process.”
What is the song that really captures their connection as artists and songwriters, you ask?
“For me, it might be ‘Company Of Friends.’ That one is actually Carrie singing one of my songs, I sing one of hers on the record, as well…‘Swing From A Note.’ That stemmed from us missing each other when we were touring individually so much, and so we started to play each other’s songs as a way to stay connected a bit. The fact that Company Of Friends is a “connection”…about how our relationships and our community are what ultimately forge our identity…just kinda makes the whole thing feel full circle for me,” said Schmidt.
“I would have to agree with Mr.Schmidt on that one,” Elkin added.
Their chemistry is undeniable, and out of all the interviews I’ve done, this is one I wish could have taken place over coffee with these charismatic, lovely people!
I wondered if the two had rituals before live performances that helped them get to where they needed to be mentally in order to perform a solid set.
“I pace around like a maniac, take a beta blocker to try and calm my nerves, and Carrie tells me it’s gonna all be okay and that I’ll make it through,” Danny confided, “then we throw ourselves onto the stage. I don’t like being up in front of people. So this is a funny job for me. Carrie on the other hand, is a force of nature. The audience just really draws off her energy.”
“Oh jeesh, Danny paces and twiddles around on his guitar. I prefer silence. Our compatibility is questionable just before a show!” Elkin joked.
Like everything about this lovely couple and their relationship on and off stage, their album was an organic process that grew and evolved off their own individual styles. By melding their music, they also melded their passions, and their music encompasses this in the strongest and most relatable sense.
It’s time to sit back, enjoy the connection, and let their music speak everything you’ve once thought, or are currently thinking about the love in your life, the fears you face, and the storm you’ve weathered, or are preparing to weather together.