Today’s Feature – May 17-18

May 18, 2008 at 2:29 am (Today's Feature)

Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel weren’t always collectively known as KaiserCartel – but instead existed as aspiring solo musicians and very active supporters of one another. But if the people demand it, you generally have to give it to them. Thus, the Brooklyn-based duo came together in 2004, jumped into their Toyota Prius and haven’t looked back, showing off a rare “earthy blend of folk-rock and pop that will make you laugh, cry, sing along, and want to hold hands with the stranger next to you” both regionally and nationally.

Equally talented vocalists and guitarists, Kaiser and Cartel have played along with some huge acts respectively, from John Mellencamp and The Wallflowers to The Heartdrops and Sean Lennon. They continually find success because they respect the power of music. Courtney puts it best, “I believe that music is the universal language of the world and am happy to be a messenger.” Their album, “March Forth” is an excellent representation of their fire-side approach, a comforting record that tells a story of “two people coming together, talking about their pasts and moving forward with their lives.”

Specifically, the collection includes a complex mix of instrumentation, difficult to execute but easy to take in. It’s hard to believe only two people form this group – it’s simply a huge sound that jumps out of your speakers and entraps you. A live KaiserCartel performance is “like an open door to an honest world,” while not always happy, it is indeed eye-opening and meaningful. They’ll be touring everywhere, so catch a show in the near future. And when you buy the album, check out their coloring contest – an interesting concept to say the least. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: KaiserCartel (PEV): Tell us how you two first came together to form KaiserCartel. Was it an instant music connection?

Benjamin Cartel (BC) – Yes, it was. We liked each other’s music and wanted to tour in support of each other’s solo efforts. Our original working format was that we were playing each other’s songs. The crowd for that tour was very responsive and asked us when our collaborative album would be coming out. So, we joined forces and started KaiserCartel.

PEV: What were your first years in the music business like? When you were first starting out?

Courtnery Kaiser (CK) – We both have had different experiences in the music business as we come from different musical backgrounds, but our experience in KaiserCartel has been amazing. People have been willing to help us any way they can whether it’s by making us dinner, letting us sleep at their house, or booking shows for us. We are so appreciative of all the generosity we have received from fans, family, and friends on many levels.

PEV: Now calling Brooklyn home, what kind of music were you listening to growing up? Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?

BC- The first concert I ever attended was really strange. It was in the mid 80’s…an all ages show at Irving Plaza where both Dwight Yoakam was opening up for Husker Du. I listened to a lot of 60’s and 70’s pop like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Jimmy Cliff.

CK- In my early childhood, I would sing with Billy Holiday, and with musical records like “South Pacific.” I also loved Julie Andrews. In my teens I liked The Cure, XTC, The Pixies, and Sinead O’Connor. My first rock concert was as a 6th grader. It was Tom Petty and Lenny Kravitz. I remember Tom Petty taking a picture of the crowd with a poloroid camera which he got out of a golden trunk. My friend’s mom made us leave early because of all the pot smoke.

PEV: What is your favorite part about living in New York?

BC- People tell you how they feel. Also, there’s no time to sit around and sulk about yourself. I love Yonah Shimmel’s Knishes.

CK- I agree with Ben’s statement on the honesty of NY. Being a driver, I enjoy the communication among drivers about their driving. Also, I love Red Hook, Brooklyn. I have never lived anywhere else and don’t want to.

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a profession rather than just a hobby?

CK- I have been singing ever since I could speak. Music has always been a natural presence for me. There has never been a moment that my life has been without it. I believe that music is the universal language of the world and am happy to be a messenger.

BC- When I was in high school playing my first shows, I loved playing in front of people so much. I couldn’t imagine my life without it after that point. Playing music was really the first experience I ever felt of feeling empowered.

PEV: What is a live KaiserCartel performance like?

CK- It’s like an open door to an honest world. Comical, yet serious. Sad, yet you leave feeling like you just watched a great movie.

PEV: Tell us about your debut, March Forth.

BC- March Forth is an album that came together from all our live shows and first outings. It is a story of two people coming together, talking about their pasts and moving forward with their lives.

CK-I think it’s about our dog Ivan visiting planets in outerspace. Each song is about what he sees and hears:)

PEV: What can fans expect from this album? How is it different from other albums out today?

BC- March Forth is intimate, yet grand. It sounds like the biggest duo you ever heard.

CK-There is extra instrumentation, but we get feedback from listeners that they always think that there is more than just the two of us when they see us play live. Trying to recreate the live show on recording, called for some extra special instruments.

BC- The songs won’t leave your mind soon after listening. Once you have heard them, they will be stuck in your head. Rather than being annoyed by that, you will be comforted.

PEV: What happens when you hit that “creative brick wall” and feel like a song is just not coming out right? What is your method to cure that?

CK- We don’t really have that issue. What we deal with more is being tired after work, and not feeling like writing. Teaching children music all day takes a lot of energy and sometimes there isn’t anything left for us. We look forward to pausing our teaching for now and focusing on writing for ourselves.

PEV: Is there a certain environment you surround yourselves in when you sit down to write music?

CK- Ben writes on the subway on his way to work everyday. He loves writing lyrics and working on things at that time of day. We both write at home. We love our apartment. It is an awesome creative space.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your musical career?

BC- My parents are very excited about what we are doing. My Dad sings along at the shows and they see us play in NYC as much as they can. I have had more of a positive reaction with this band from my friends than any other band I have played in.

CK- My parents are very supportive. They are a bit nervous about me leaving my music teaching job and having no health insurance, but that is to be expected. All my friends are saying to me “finally, this is going to happen!” They have been waiting for me to have this as my only focus for a very long time.

PEV: Having traveled everywhere, what city do you think offers the best appreciation for music? Why?

BC- That is a tough question.

CK-We have felt a lot of love from Minneapolis. We like to call ourselves honorary Minnesotans.

BC- That being said we have had a great experience in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, and many other places.

CK-Yes, I think there are too many great places to pinpoint only one. We have a lot of love in NYC. I think a lot of people think New Yorkers are a tough audience, but we always had a great audience and response.

PEV: What is life on the road like for the band? Best and worst parts? Any favorite spots along the way?

CK- We drive a Toyota Prius and love it. I like to go thrifting, so we make a lot of little pits stops and see little towns all over the country. I like seeing various city/town centers.

BC- I enjoy meeting people from different places and hearing their stories.

PEV: Is there an “up and coming” artist or band right now that you think we should all be listening to?

CK- The Winterpills.

BC- Kristoffer Rangstam.

PEV: Is there someone you have not had the chance to work with or collaborate with, that you would like to?

CK- Tony Visconti and Bjork.

BC- Radiohead and Public Enemy.

PEV: When not traveling or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

CK- We don’t really have spare time. We have so many creative friends, that we are going to art openings, or shows…so our schedule is always total mayhem. But if I have free time, I like sewing stuff like clothes or making things.

BC- I like to paint and write until I don’t know how much time has gone by.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of KaiserCartel?

BC- That I try to work out everyday at the gym and neither of us like mushrooms.

CK- That I have never had a pickle.

PEV: If we were to walk into your practice studio what would we find?

CK- Stuffed animals, a toy piano, lots of suitcases that say “Going to Grandma’s”, drums, guitars, a harmonium, theremin, little percussion instruments, cello, keyboards, a giant penguin, crayons, broken amps, and a ladder.

PEV: In one word, Courtney-describe Benjamin. And Benjamin-describe Courtney.

CK- Comical.

BC- Magical.

PEV: So, what is next for Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel?

BC- Touring until the wheels fall off

For more information on KaiserCartel, check out

1 Comment

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