Breffni Cummiskey: Will Self recently proclaimed the death of what he calls ‘deep reading’ in the digital age, you did a piece about the numbers that are coming back from Spotify, on listener habits and the tendency to skip songs, do you think that deep listening has changed as a result of streaming?
Jim Carroll: “A friend of mine, Donal Dineen, has this great theory; it’s called the ‘stop sign’. It goes like this; when you are in your teen years and your twenties music is your be all and end all. It’s your badge of identity and you know everything. You know the name of the doormen in Whelan’s. You know how to sneak in. You know what time the support band is coming on in the Olympia. You know it all because you are there. You listen to everything.
“Then around 27 or 28 suddenly the yield sign emerges. You buy a house and settle down with a man or woman. You’re in a serious relationship. A baby might come along. Your job gets quite serious. Music takes a back seat.
“Further down the road the stop sign comes. That means you’re out. That’s it. Musically you become one of those people who listen to just five albums a year. Or you become one of those horrible people where as far as you’re concerned there’s no better music than the music you were listening to at that stop sign. I’ve got friends like that.
“But there are a small number of people who just drive right by that stop sign. We go into seventh gear and just keep going. These people are into music in their forties, fifties and sixties. I’ve friends in their sixties into the dirtiest hip-hop and reggae, the new stuff.
“They are my people. For them it’s this lifetime buzz. They are deep listeners.”
Meeting the Irish Times music writer in the Library Bar I’m equipped with sheets of questions. I didn’t need them. His heft of musical knowledge is matched only by his loquaciousness. Like music today, he gives it out freely and it’s all copy.
Carroll knew he wanted to be a music journalist young. He blames Hot Press writer Bill Graham for inspiring him with a piece on the Waterboys’ 1986 tour.
He free-lanced for the Evening Press, Irish Independent and Evening Herald while also writing for Hot Press and In Dublin. By the early nineties he was doing pieces for Sounds and NME as well as American magazines.
“The thing about that was, besides writing in great magazines, you were getting paid in dollars and sterling. The cheques you were getting were mental!
“Then because I was going to lots of gigs I was meeting A&R people (talent scouts) from record labels. They were noticing my name in NME and Sounds so I got approached about doing A&R. I did this for Go! Discs, Dedicated, Rondor Music, Peer Music, Warner Music and WEA (all labels).
While this was all going on he set up a label called Lakota with Conor Brooks as a joint venture with Sony music. They signed three acts: The Ultramontanes, Jubilee Allstars and JJ72. All were “great” but only JJ72 sold records.
Carroll saw that time as a good exercise in how to sell a band.
Moving to the UK in 1997, he was one of four with an email in the London Records offices where he was press officer. By day he worked on E17, Goldie, Orbital and a load of other acts.
“This was all pre-Napster but you could see it coming down the road. I was sent to these meetings. I was getting the jist of what was coming when broadband would improve. We’re talking about MP3s we were talking about digital downloads. Everything that the labels were digitising could be sold on.
“I mean there were others like me who went to these meetings and reported back but were ignored. That was the golden age of cd reissues. So I’ve no sympathy for the labels really.”
Carroll returned from London when Eircom, then Telecom Eireann, recruited him to run an online music magazine called Muse.ie.
“Muse was ahead of its time but we just didn’t have the technology back then.
“The thing people involved will say about Muse is that they always got paid for their work. That’s a good thing in journalism, especially these days. The money was there, Eircom were really generous. Then the dot-com bubble happened but I was out before then.”
In November 2000 The Ticket was launched and Hugh Linehan was the editor of the magazine. He approached Carroll in 2001 to do a weekly column and music reviews. His role is much the same today as it was then but he now runs the On The Record blog on the Irish Times website. This was part of a suite of online initiatives by the paper in order to compete with new media such as blogs like Nialler9.
“Once you are online fuckers like me or Nialler9 will find you. We’ll only listen to you once because there’s so much new music out there. So stay the fuck offline unless you are polished. Unless you have something to sell.
“The problem these days though is that we live in a time of over-sharing. People put everything online.
“But it doesn’t help if you aren’t ready and you’re online.
“Why should I be serious about you if you aren’t 100% serious about your music? Because there’s so much other stuff out there from around the world and that’s what Irish bands are competing with.”
You can’t be half a musician, is what Jim is saying.
This evening Jim Carroll’s Banter teams up with Beatyard to host a talk on whether Dublin has lost its creative edge hosted in Twisted Pepper. The panel is Una Mullally (The Irish Times), Sinead Kelly (Hunt & Gather), Dave Smith (Mabos) and Richard Seabrooke (creative director Thinkhouse, founder Offset) – the topic was sparked by Una Mullaly’s divisive article in the Irish Times.
The talk starts at 6:30pm and the blog will be there to report on it. Limited tickets will be available on the door.