When they were 16, Kevin Friedman and Jackson Phillips met at summer camp. They were from completely different worlds — Friedman came from a big family in Ohio and Phillips grew up in the San Francisco area with his kid sister.
By the end of camp, they knew they were connected. Unlike the other overtly horny teenage boys running around on the prowl for girls, Friedman and Phillips were on the prowl for music.
Also unlike the other teenage boys of the time, Friedman and Phillips’ musical bond didn’t strengthen because of their crushes on Britney Spears or their equal love for Death Cab for Cutie. Their obsession was for a very specific kind of sound, one that many music-loving adults never get into: The sound of jazz.
For the next couple of years, they kept in contact, and when college admittance letters flew in, they both got accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. They spent practically every day of college together, choosing jazz as their medium. Then they started making their own tunes.
“We were in Boston, it was Jack’s senior year and I was working full time. We started making music — and I was like, ‘Ooooh. I like what we make. This is fun,’” said Friedman. “It was more fun than we’d ever had before, because back then we studied jazz thinking that’s what we were gonna do.”
They found their calling in Boston, but it was New York that inspired their budding group’s name. During the four months they spent in Brooklyn making music, they hung out a lot in DUMBO, a.k.a. “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” DUMBO is a neighborhood that echoes Isla Vista’s small-town feel, but it definitely has some cooler aspects. It’s a matter of minutes from the world’s most happening city and at its corner is Brooklyn Bridge Park, where a carousel sits waiting for kids to take its $2 ride.
Friedman and Phillips hung out by this carousel a lot. A restored 1920s beauty, the carousel attracted all kinds of different people — tourists, small children, teens on their first dates and elderly couples.
“We were in DUMBO every day for a month and we loved to people-watch at the carousel. Everyone there was so happy. Whether they were young or old, they had the same look of happiness and nostalgia,” said Friedman. “So one day, we thought, why don’t we call ourselves ‘Carousel’?”
The name stuck and the two moved to L.A.
Last Thursday, in front of a crowd of screaming sorority girls and arty kids wondering where the sorority girls had come from, Carousel brought the house down at SOhO. Their show was presented by We The Beat, an all-inclusive production company that puts on live electronic shows once a month. Local I.V. band Yonder opened the night with old-style folk songs and vocal stylings reminiscent of Norah Jones.
At precisely 10:09 p.m., Carousel hit the stage. Like best friends who have known each other since the fine age of 16, Friedman and Phillips situated their synchronizers to face each other and got ready to jam. Their stage setup was simple: Just two synthesizers, a couple of pedals, two mics and a guitar for Friedman. Nice and uncomplicated.
Their music was equally, wonderfully uncomplicated. Soothing electro-pop swam out of the synthesizers and Phillips’ creamy lyrics floated in the air. Everything about the performance was lighthearted. They’ve got a fun, happy sound reminiscent of Passion Pit, Foster the People and Miike Snow.
Their lyrics are refreshingly optimistic. “Let’s Go Home” spoke to anyone afraid of losing their childhood dreams: “We can take this road let’s go home/All those dreams we know/We can take this road on our own/All those dreams we know/All those dreams won’t go.” For a student in college who finds herself constantly transforming, it was refreshing to hear a tune about the importance of keeping nostalgia alive.
“Another Day” was about a shy male specimen who had just found the girl he wants to be his first girlfriend. Given our location and age-group, the thought of men having serious romantic feelings about anyone is sometimes rare — so this was a game-changer song for the girls listening intently at SOhO. And maybe an inspiration for some guys, too.
Onstage, Friedman and Phillips had that sweaty, grungy teenager look. Wearing raggedy Converse and skinny jeans, they played their hardest. Winning the crowd over with covers like DeadMau5’s “The Veldt” and Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” they brought an electro-pop sound to stage that was sincerely appreciated.
Carousel hasn’t quite developed a way to talk to the audience yet, but they’re still young. Most of the onstage comments were along the lines of “We need you guys to dance more” and “Wow, you’re a good crowd … we love you Santa Barbara.”
That being said, they still had great chemistry with the audience. During their Robyn cover, Phillips pulled the microphone (and himself) into the screaming crowd and proposed for a girl to sing with him. An ear-splitting off-key rendition of “Dancing On My Own” followed suit — and honestly, it was fun to witness a mid-concert karaoke party.
And it did not matter if it was the party girls in their stilettos, the arty ladies wearing Brandy Melville dresses or classy women who popped in to enjoy dinner and drinks — practically every single one of them knew the lyrics.
That night at SOhO, Carousel transcended the notion that a band can only play for one crowd. Friedman and Phillips played songs that brought people from all different kinds of social scenes together, in one happy night.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of Thursday October 17th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.