If you wanted to boil down Bozeman singer-songwriter Marcedes Carroll’s debut album She’s Pretty to just three words, you couldn’t do better than “coming out party.” Indeed, it’s a lovingly assembled package of seven songs of affection, beauty, and relationships, grabbed from a variety of influences and her own vivid imagination.
“I’m honing my craft a lot more,” says Carroll. “(Vocalist) Krista Barnett and I have been working together and her education on vocals helped me navigate what I’m doing and where I’m going. Krista helped me develop the technical side, pitch and tone, and things like that. I’m constantly trying to improve that.”
Going Live from the Divide
It’s Carroll’s long-standing relationship with “Live from the Divide” (LFTD) that has had an immensely fertile impact on her creativity. The ultimate intimate jam, LFTD is a live music venue and public-radio broadcast in Bozeman, celebrating both the lineage and modern-day voice of the American songwriter.
A few years ago, she crossed directions with LFTD founder and musician Jason Wickens at a local open-mic event, and soon after meeting him, she was volunteering at the intimate 50-seat, converted cold-storage warehouse. Now an employee, she has been spectator to at least 300 live shows at the unique venue.
“It has created such a well-rounded view for me when it comes to the industry,” says Carroll. “I’ve learned the tech side of stage set-up, of sound, of miking, and venue optimization. But the parts that interest me the most are the songwriting and the performance, and hearing the great intimate interviews as they are happening. It gives you a bar to reach. It’s incredible to be able to see that bar without having to travel to see it. There are so many different musical styles and stage presences and that’s allowed me to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Grammy-winning producer and co-owner of LFTD, Doc Wiley, added his inestimable touch to the recording of She’s Pretty. For example, he created the introduction of the song “Downriver,” a bluesy, brawling mood-enhancer that Carroll – and Wiley – pulled off seamlessly.
“He’s been paving a very nice road for me. Doc emphasized to me to take my time. And he really put intention into the work for me. Through this experience, I’ve learned that it’s better to tap into your heart and do what’s important to you, and to draw from that. Doc brought a lot of life to these songs, and you could feel his experience in their arrangement. ‘Downriver’ was bare bones, and he turned it into this very beautiful gospel piece. It’s a record that took a village.”
With a voice that carries a blitzkrieg of energy and taut thunder, She’s Pretty, which features the LP artwork of her husband and frequent guitarist, Isaac Carroll, widely spreads Carroll’s rockin’ country-blues gospel wings.
“It’s on the blues side of things,” says Carroll. “But it’s also one big mash-up, really. The songs we worked on for She’s Pretty could be divided in two halves. There is the big, bombastic, the rock, and the blues, the country, and there will be a second half, that’s acoustic, bluegrass, also spanning quite a few genres.”
Carroll was born in Colorado to a pair of North Dakotans, raised in Montana from the age of nine, and attended college in Idaho. Though she recalls her mother often playing the saxophone, she has only recently come to better understand why she has such an inborn drive for music.
“I’m a bit of a black sheep of the family – computer programmers, with very analytical brains. After getting my biology degree, the art of music and writing appealed so much more to me. At 28, I went to North Dakota to hang out with my family, and I found out that my biological dad’s side of the family was incredibly musical. His mom was a great singer. Two of his cousins, one was a Nashville fiddle player on the indie charts, and the other played a lot of bass.”
Of late, Carroll realizes that when she is in the zone – the state of focused attention in which performance thrives and creativity soars – she can do no wrong. In the zone, lyrics and energy flow without effort.
After a brief time in Seattle, Carroll returned to Bozeman a couple of years ago and settled into a job at a medical supply company. In the past, she was working as a massage therapist. Hoping to no longer have to balance other jobs with music, Carroll has been slowly transitioning to recording and performing music full-time.
“It’s like when I was working as a massage therapist a while back. I felt like I got better and better at it, and I loved it. I loved the science behind it, human anatomy. But I wasn’t doing music that much. The life of music was more appealing to me. It’s the routine versus the spontaneity. I like that every day is different.”
Even at a relatively modest seven selections and clocking in at less than 40 minutes, Carroll’s new album She’s Pretty feels ambitious, sprawling and expansive. As many as 25 songs were initially considered for inclusion, and from those, Carroll whittled the possibilities down to about 12 “fairly solid” compositions, she says. Ultimately, the seven finalists included a couple of covers – her scrappy homage to one of rock and roll’s most beloved jams, “Cripple Creek” is stellar – that she was able to build her sound and vision around.
“Seven songs that are big band, rock, blues, high vocals,” says Carroll. “There will be a second half coming, one that’s acoustic and roots. We’ve been referring to the two halves: the first half, She’s Pretty, is Saturday night, and the second half is Sunday morning, a little more relaxed. The second half is scheduled to drop May 1.”
Clearly, Carroll intends to straddle multiple worlds to put in the effort to secure her reputation.
“Solo acoustic, duos, trios, small five-piece band, big band,” says Carroll. “I want to be well-rounded enough to play anything from solo sets to big band gigs. We hope to have runs in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and seeing wherever else I could connect and play and build that fan base.”
As the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) national emergency continues to devastate the country and disarm the economy, Carroll seeks to find the reassurance of normalcy through artistic immersion.
“Right now, I want to keep encouraging people to be kind and supportive, and live streams of music have given people something to look forward to, and to get their minds off of things for awhile. When we get through this, everyone is going to realize that we need to cherish everything that we have. There will be gratefulness in music and friendships and even the ability to go in to work. Personally, I want to get back to the fundamentals, and keep creating. That’s something that will get a lot of people through.”
Indeed, She’s Pretty provides a certain guide that Marcedes Carroll is on the course to becoming one the state’s most defining voices. She is excited and ready and there are no obstacles to stop the momentum.
“I vow to keep learning and trying, doing things like training my ear better, or singing up and down the scales. It takes a long time to be comfortable totally on your own.”
She’s Pretty is available online at Amazon.com, Spotify or Apple Music for a MP3 download or get a CD or vinyl album at www.marcedescarroll.com. Carroll has extensive live performances uploaded to her Facebook page at @marcedescarrollmusic and she played the Montana Happy Hour at the @MontanaPressMonthly Facebook live on July 16 at 7 p.m. The performance will be recorded and can be watched any time.