How old were you when you started playing guitar?
I was 17 when I first started playing acoustic guitar.
What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
My first guitar was an Ovation that had been lent to me by my aunt. That guitar unfortunately perished in a trunk (not mine lol) during a bitter cold Vermont winter. The first guitar I owned was a smaller Martin which I got for Christmas from my family, that I sadly traded away for a Takamine.
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
I have an uncle who was a classical guitarist but had given it up by the time I started playing. My mom writes poetry and loves music, so I listened to a ton of records when I was little, her father (my grandfather) as well. But I did not have any musicians within my immediate family growing up, I really had to figure it out on my own!
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
Right now, I have four guitars, two acoustics and two electrics. I have a late 60’s Gibson J-50 Deluxe acoustic that is my workhorse, an early 2000’s Gibson Songbird which was my workhorse, a nice custom Warmoth semi-hollow electric and a bright orange "Partscaster” Fender Telecaster. The Songbird will always hold a special place in my heart, but the vintage J-50 has a sound and feel that can’t be beat!
Carlin with his Gibson J-50.
Carlin and his Gibson Songbird. Photo credit: Hollis Greene
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
I use light gauge Elixirs.
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
I like to use the yellow Dunlop picks .73mm.
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
For my acoustic I have a vintage Boomerang looper that I love, that I pair with a shimmer, reverb, delay combo pedal that was given to me by a friend.
With my electric I start with a vintage Ross Compressor that has amazing sustain. On top of that I have an Ibanez Tube Screamer, a Way Huge Supa Puss Delay, a Klon KTR Overdrive and Strymon Blue Sky Reverb.
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
I do not work on my own guitars, wouldn’t dare lol! I bring my guitars to Luke Vail, he’s a great luthier and tech.
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
I don’t go to guitar shop’s as much as I used to, but I loved the Music Box in Plymouth, Symphony Music in Dartmouth and sometimes I’ll head to the Music Emporium just to look around and drool. I love any music shop that is locally owned and operated!
The Music Box, Plymouth, MA
Symphony Music, Dartmouth, MA
The Music Emporium, Lexington, MA
At what age did you start writing songs?
I started writing songs when I was 18.
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
My songs always begin with music first, stuff that I come up with just noodling, jamming around on the guitar. Then I mess around with words and melodies. This process usually goes through two or three iterations until one day it just happens. I’ll usually write all the lyrics to a song in one sitting after I’ve figured out the melodies. I still write on paper, there is nothing electronic involved in my songwriting process.
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
Tough one of course! Top of my head I would say, Reid Genauer from Strangefolk, Dave Matthews, and a four-way tie between Phish, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen.
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
I would have loved to jam with Jerry Garcia.
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
I’d take The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, Strangefolk’s “Lore” and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Damn the Torpedoes”. Ask me tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer!
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
I believe the first concert I was brought to was Harry Belafonte as a child. Ben Folds Five (or maybe Reel Big Fish) at the old Lupo’s was my first High School concert. The last concert I attended was Steely Dan at Bethel Woods.
The Beatles or the Stones?
Always the Beatles. I love the rock and roll of the Stones, but the Beatles songwriting has always been more magical to me.
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
My first paid gig was an open mic feature in Portsmouth, Rhode Island hosted by Gary Fish, I think I made about 60 bucks. Probably sometime around 2012.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
My recording highlight was making a record at the Great North Sound Society in Maine with a few great friends. My performing highlight was being spontaneously asked to open for Strangefolk in front of a sold-out crowd at the Paradise in Boston.
Carlin at Great North Sound Society.
Strangefolk poster from the show Carlin opened.
What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).
Haha, tough one! I played a festival one time that I was really excited about, but it ended up being 95 degrees in the shade and I had a midday set that had low attendance.
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
I’ve really enjoyed playing at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, they have a great staff, sound, setup over there. The Flying Monkey in NH was also a very fun experience, it’s nice to play in medium sized theatres. Now, I’m enjoying the pub scene, I like having total control of the scene.
Carlin performing at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, Hyannis, MA.
Carlin covers Bruce Springsteen at the Cape Cod Melody Tent.
Carlin at the Union Brewhouse, Weymouth, MA.
How do you work out your setlist?
I have a master list of about 70 originals and covers memorized that I keep around but as I’m playing, I try to make it up as I go along. I like to read the room as I go.
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
Keep a day job! Diving into music as a “full time” job can really suck the life out of it and be a big letdown. As busy as I am these days with music, I still work day jobs to keep that balance. Also, write original music! Regardless of how many bar gigs you play, always keep that part of yourself at the forefront of what you do. Lastly, NEVER, NEVER cancel gigs day of or without notice. Bookers will write you off immediately if you are unreliable and you will lose a lot of opportunities. I could go on and on lol!
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
Yes, do something else! Go for a hike, read a book, hang out with friends, fall in love. Anything is better than sitting with an instrument in your hands feeling frustrated. OR, practice! Practice scales, learn cover songs, and never forget, music is supposed to be FUN!
Carlin hiking with his daughter.
Carlin hanging with his good friend, Jay Psaros.
Carlin and his beautiful family. Photo credit: Adam Graves Photography
If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
Right now, I work as a full-time booking agent, part-time woodworker/furniture maker and part-time copywriter. I am always doing work that doesn’t involve singing and writing songs. I don’t like to put that kind of pressure on the craft.
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.
Photo credit: Kayte Darling