Howard’s gets a new regular

At long last, there may be a reason for college students to look forward to Mondays. Starting next week and continuing through the end of September, Howard’s Club H will be the official Monday night home of the band Carbon Leaf, one of the most critically acclaimed independent rock groups in the country.

Emerging out of the Richmond, Virginia club scene in the mid nineties, Carbon Leaf has been riding a steady incline toward national success.

Despite the lack of a major label marketing campaign, the quintet’s latest studio album, 2001’s Echo Echo, sold over 38,000 copies. That album’s prize single, “The Boxer,” has received considerable radio airplay and won the award for Best Rock Song at the International Songwriting Competition.

Having already solidified a devoted fanbase from years of constant touring, Carbon Leaf rode the buzz from “The Boxer” to new heights last year, opening for major acts like O.A.R. and becoming the first unsigned band to perform at the American Music Awards.

Though most critics have been quick to praise Carbon Leaf’s unique, versatile sound, they rarely seem to agree on a way to categorize it. Aware of that fact, lead singer Barry Privett was happy to provide a simple description of his band’s sound for the music fans of Bowling Green.

“I like to boil it down to basics,” he said. “I’d say we are a rock band with Celtic, bluegrass, and pop elements. Our style is usually positive and upbeat.”

Their Virginia roots and live shows have also earned Carbon Leaf some comparisons to another popular college band.

“A lot of people have likened us to groups like the Dave Matthews Band,” Privett noted. “The Barenaked Ladies, as well.” Carbon Leaf definitely share a certain atmosphere with Dave Matthews Band, but their influences are too wide ranging for such a limited association.

Guitarist Carter Gravatt has sited bands as diverse as the Pogues, R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo, and Bad Religion as major influences on his style. Meanwhile, bassist Jordan Medas lists the likes of Les Claypool, Charles Mingus, and Sting. All things considered, the five members of Carbon Leaf bring together a giant catalog of influence to produce a sound that is still distinctively their own. Oddly enough, this can have its disadvantages, especially in a world of corporate radio.

“It can be tough,” Privett admitted. “There’s more resistance to something that’s different, and it takes more time to get yourself heard. Without a major label behind you, you really have to build a fan base through hard work and word of mouth. It makes it tougher, but it’s worth it.”

Carbon Leaf’s live shows are definitely at the heart of their growing notoriety. On August 12th, they released their first live album, a double CD called 5 Alive. This collection is a showcase of their skills on stage. For Bowling Green students yet to hear the album or see Carbon Leaf perform, Privett describes the experience rather humbly as a “good break from your day.”

“There’s always a lot of energy at our shows,” he adds. “You can expect a good vibe. We’re a band that’s focused on good songwriting, not just constant jamming. But at the same time, our guys are really good musicians, and they like to have fun, too.”

Carbon Leaf decided on doing a residency in Bowling Green in order to help their recognition in the Midwest, while also taking advantage of what Privett called “a great place to be.”

“It’s a college town, and we know we’ll be performing for a great crowd.”

Despite his band’s surging success, Privett isn’t concerned about being prepared for the mainstream. “I think we’d hope that the mainstream would eventually be ready for us,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll always be working to gain a bigger fan base.”

Carbon Leaf are likely to add some fans this month, as they play Howard’s on September 8, 15, 22, and 29.