The album hit the shelves this week, however Stephanie Carlin, the group’s lead singer and guitarist, has fought through the world of record labels to own her music, style and image over the last three years.
Carlin wrote, arranged and produced the 11 songs on the new album with the musical styling of guitarist Xander Naylor, pianist Javi Santiago, bassist Russ Flynn and percussionist Wes Reid.
Together, Avidya and the Kleshas have finally developed something they can be proud of.
I sat down with Carlin at the Irving Farm Coffee Roasters on West 79th Street in Manhattan to discuss the new album and the future of her band.
Where are you originally from?
I’m from Long Island in Hampton Bays.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I came to Brooklyn in 2008 and I absolutely knew I wanted to be here. I went to school for Jazz Performance at Long Island University and was really frustrated by my education there and I felt like I didn’t learn how to be a musician.
How long have you been writing and making music? When did that all start?
Making music is just like an art form to me and I feel like I’ve been trying to sculpt that art for as long as I can remember, since I was in my early teens and my best friend handed me a guitar and said, “Hey you want to learn?” It’s kind of really inbred in me, and ever since then I’ve really had a one-track mind.
Where does making music fit in with your world?
It’s like a requirement for me. I tried to do other things and this is where I’m supposed to be, this is where I excel. My emotional heartbeat is in music.
What kind of music did you listen to when you were a kid?
My dad is a religious Bob Dylan fan, always had Bob Dylan playing. Maybe that’s why I don’t like Bob Dylan? (laughs) And, he always had really powerful female singer songwriters playing and I never noticed it until I became an adult that it probably had an effect on me being a musician.
Did that ever seem like something you had to overcome, being a female singer?
Yeah, I loathe that niche, female singer-songwriter. I absolutely detest it. It’s why we don’t really play under my real name, it’s because the music I’m trying to create has a very strong message that transcends any sort of genre or cliché that the music industry tries to present you. I’m not singer-songwriter or indie-folk.
How do you describe the kind of music you guys play?
When you’re speaking in terms of genres, it is like a funk-jazz-folk hybrid, but my goal has been to not really be confined to one box and to be very genre-less and very fluid. The consensus has been that people can’t really figure out where to put us. We’ve had a lot of trouble with agencies and with labels because we’re either too jazzy or not jazz enough, or too folkie or not folk enough.
Is that because you’re just playing the music you want to play and not playing for a specific genre?
That’s so true, and I never had a musical support team that I could really admire and learn from. I was very independent and alone as a teenager and even still today as I shape my craft.
What’s your philosophy on the music world right now?
It’s so tumultuous right now; people don’t know what to make of it because a revolution is happening and we have to catch up in real time. There is really no time to waste. This is the best time for anybody who feels art inside of them and to put it out into the world, especially music.
How do you see Brooklyn as a place for music right now?
I’m a Gemini so I tend to see things on two very intense sides.There are music venues popping up everywhere. You can play anywhere and there’s a crowd that will listen to it, but at the same time that also makes things very over-saturated. I find that it’s very hard to get the attention of an audience because music is just fluid as water in Brooklyn. Everyone’s an artist and everyone is a musician and people don’t really care because it’s so second nature to see so much art.
Where did you meet your band?
I was just playing a regular jazz gig, where we play a bunch of jazz standards, and I needed a bassist and a drummer. My regular guys couldn’t do it, so I just went on Craigslist and I found Russ, my bassist now, and he recommended Wes, my drummer now, and we just played that gig and didn’t really talk.
I went through a stream of people to record this record and they didn’t really work out. I put out an audition on Facebook and Russ and Wes were the first two people, separately, to say they would love to do this. It just felt like it was fate calling. They are both core members of this band and the music wouldn’t be anything with out them. Their sound is very important.
Where did you come up with your name Avidya and the Kleshas?
Avidya comes from a yoga philosophy and the Kleshas are, in yoga and many other philosophies, the five hindrances to enlightenment. They are the five reasons why human beings suffer and can’t be just peaceful, blissful beings all the time. The first reason is Avidya, which means ignorance. Our ignorance is like the trunk of the tree from which the four other kleshas stem. They are our ego, our attachment to pleasures, our aversion to pain and our fear of death.
It’s my mission to create a community of people who want to explore these afflictions and talk about them. I don’t think we can rise higher and be at peace until we start to understand why we’re angry all the time or why we’re sad.
When did you first start recording the new album?
We recorded in January 2011, and we recorded a multi-album record deal and that took about eight months to process. Labels don’t really exist anymore, and I was foolish to believe that they do, but the label was going bankrupt, they kept offering us less and less money, and oh my god, it held us up for months and close to a year for releasing this record. We had to follow through with it. It was a process and I should have listened to my intuition and self-released it.
Where did you record?
We recorded at this amazing space called Hoboken Recorders. They actually got washed out by Hurricane Sandy and their whole studio was destroyed. But they’re rebuilding it, which is awesome. That place had such a good vibe. We recorded the whole album live.
How many takes did you take per song?
I don’t think more than five takes a song. We recorded in three days.
How many songs did you record in total?
Twelve. And 11 are on the record.
What can you take away from a three-year recording process?
It’s finally out. I’m the kind of person that wants to ship it and be done. Having this take three years has been very painful for me, embarrassing and stressful, but it is so important for artists to do their art the way they want to do it. It was such a learning experience to find out who the right producers were and the wrong ones, and who the right players were and who weren’t and who the right engineers were and who weren’t. Everything is just a learning experience, but I think this music is great and well done.
What is your day job?
I teach music full time and I also started a songwriting school in Brooklyn called the Free Spirits Music School in Prospect Heights. Right now I am running eight-week workshops for kids and at the end we play a rock show. They learn guitar, they learn how to sing and they learn how to write songs. And the underlying thing for them is learning confidence and learning the process of our own artistic process. I want them to be able to walk away with the understanding of how to write a song by themselves. Where they want to get frustrated and where they want to run away, that they not run away and not be frustrated.
Check out Avidya and the Kleshas at Brooklyn’s Tea Lounge, located at 837 Union St., on Friday, June 28. Doors open at 9 p.m.