We interviewed Brad Kearsley from California indie band Carpool Tunnel to talk about time travel to the 70s, five dudes living in a two bedroom house, and the bands’ tour vans, Kirk and Daryl. Be sure to check out Carpool Tunnel’s next single, “Dreaming Still,” when it drops February 3rd, and their album Bloom, which comes out February 26th.
Your band name is, obviously, Carpool Tunnel, which is a play on carpal tunnel. Have you ever sustained any gnarly injuries during your time as a musician?
Brad: Not from playing music, no. None of us actually have carpal tunnel, thankfully. I did fracture my hip when I was 13.
Sarah: Usually those happen when you’re a senior citizen. You got in early.
Brad: I grew really fast from the age of 10 to 13. So, all my bones are really weak. I played baseball and I was running and tore my growth plate from my muscle. I was on crutches for a little bit, and it was no fun.
You have quite the handlebar mustache. If you could time travel to the 70s, would you? Why or why not?
Brad: No, I don’t think I would. I think it’s glorified a little bit. I like to be a time traveler from the 70s that’s blending into now. The 70s were cool. I think rock was great back then. And music was great back then, but I don’t really want to go back in time. Things are already pretty bad, I don’t want it to be worse. But it would be cool to not have cell phones and social media.
If you could carpool with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Brad: Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys. It would be an interesting kind of conversation. His voice is really cool, and any songs we were singing in the car together would be really fun. He’s pretty old by now, so he could pass some wisdom down.
What’s your usual gas station order when you’re on tour?
Brad: That’s a wonderful question. I usually grab a yerb, and If we’re in California, you know the Lenny and Larry cookies? It tricks your brain into thinking it’s a snack. It is really good. I usually get a yerb and that. If we’re out of state and they don’t have those, I get any gas station burrito and a cold brew coffee. Maybe a banana from 7-Eleven and a salad.
You’re planning to release a record soon. How does it feel to be releasing putting stuff out amidst a pandemic?
Brad: I wouldn’t have hoped our first record would come out in a pandemic. You can’t really plan for the future. Listening back to it recently, it’s interesting how many songs are relevant today. I’m glad it didn’t come out in February, we were potentially gonna release in February 2020. And that would have been a lot worse. I’m happy it’s coming out now, and I hope it can bring joy to people who haven’t had joy recently. We recorded in October 2019. I’m just excited for it to come out.
Your new album “Bloom” drops February 26th, can you talk a bit about the process of writing this record and the inspiration behind these songs?
Brad: Back in summer of 2018, we had known each other for maybe six months. We moved into a house together in San Francisco. We had a little band house, which was great. The only thing was there was two bedrooms and five of us. The band and my brother. A 1,000 square foot house. One bathroom, five dudes. It was great to have music constantly surrounding us, and each other to push ourselves.
We definitely hit our limit of “I need some air, I need a break from these people.” We were all trying to go to school. Ben and Spencer commuted to San Jose from San Francisco, which is about an hour. Every Tuesday and Thursday I had a 45-minute bus ride to USF. I made it one month into college before having a mental breakdown and dropping out. The intensity of the living situation we were in, and everything we were going through, kind of coming of age. I turned 19 in that house, I moved just out of my parents’ house, and Rich had just graduated high school. I was learning to be on my own, and all that stuff that was going on was what we wrote about.
I use music as a kind of escapism for ourselves, instead of dwelling in what’s wrong in the moment, we try to write about what’s great in the future that we haven’t experienced yet. We definitely use music as that sort of tool. Before being in Carpool Tunnel, and before we started and before moving out, I was really cynical and a depressed angsty teen. The three other guys in the band and the music we created really helped me really pull out of that and see the joys of living. Going from hating every day and myself to loving the people around me and every day that I’m living is kind of the experience that record gave me.
That’s kind of the point of the record. I want it to be something you can experience from beginning to end, and you come out the other side better than you came in. It’s a very important record to me, and to the band as well. I have it tattooed, I got it while we were recording in the studio.
Specifically for the writing process, I we really like to work together through our songs and talk about what a song should feel like, and what it should make you feel, and what it’s about. Then go test it out a crowd, and fix everything and fine tune it to how we felt playing everything in front of other people. We really love playing in front of other people, because we really like the live performance aspect of other people. So we really want it to feel right when playing.
It sounds like a coming-of-age record.
Brad: It is a bit. That’s kind of the point of our lives that we were in when we wrote it. I’m 21, our drummer Danny is 20. So, he was 18 for the majority of time when we were moving out. Just a bunch of kids trying to figure out life. We wrote that album from the moment we started as a band from October 2019 when we finished writing it. We literally wrote our next single actually, “Dreaming Still,” which comes out February 3rd. We felt like our album was missing one sort of vibe, for lack of a better word. We sort of had these chords we really liked , and we came back from pre-production in the studio. Somehow pulled out this song that ended up being one of my favorite songs on the album, within two weeks when we went back to the studio. It’s kind of the story of Carpool Tunnel within the album. “Impressions” was a song we wrote before we entered the studio. It’s re-recorded, but it’s also the first single we really put out that got us some attention. There’s new stuff, there’s stuff we’ve been playing for years. It really represents us as a band.
Do you look back on these songs with a different perspective, like it’s sort of a time capsule?
Brad: Sort of. It took us so long to write because we would constantly go back and adjust a song, or rewrite the song, or take part of one song out and rewrite part of the song with it. It was such a long process to work on, and songs that took months or years to write never made the cut. That’s because if we are constantly looking at how we can “improve” a song, then we’ll never be finished and satisfied, because our tastes and how we’re feeling, just generally in life, will always change.
We kind of took the approach of any song we write, the first magical spark that happens where things come together really smoothly is what we should hold onto, and try not to throw that out and tweak it. To us, each song is a snapshot in time of how we’re emotionally feeling, spiritually feeling, our musical taste, a collection of those three things. It’s very interesting to see it like that and see how our tastes have changed.
We don’t have too many slow songs, and being stuck in quarantine you don’t feel like writing a mosh song. We’ve explored new areas and matured a little bit. We’re still so happy with how Bloom came out, and we’re really excited to share it.
The music video for “Flora” features a very high-stakes van parking situation, do you have any stories of van travel gone wrong?
Brad: Yes, oh my gosh. The first Carpool Tunnel van we got, we had a Craigslist ad come up at the end of band practice. Everyone has that idea, like “we should get a van.” We were just starting out, we didn’t even have a bass player yet. We were like, “Let’s just check Craigslist.” And there was one for $800. We were like, “We can do that.” And then we get there, and we test drive it, and it’s in San Francisco, and we test drive it. And we’re like, “Alright, let’s close this deal.” And it just starts dumping coolant.
We were like, “How is this gonna get us home?… If it doesn’t smog, we’ll buy it.” And it ended up not smogging, and we offered $400, and we got it. Basically fixed that thing up. We took that thing from San Jose to Temecula. We took it to Portland.
One time we were driving in the snow while it was raining, in the hills of Oregon. Semi trucks were passing us because our van was so slow, and just maxed out. It was terrifying. Our van was kind of like our home. We like to name them. Our first one was named Kirk, because we had just seen the movie Dunkirk. We were so hyped about it, and it ended up sucking. And we felt similarly about the van. So we named it Dunkirk, or Kirk.
Our new van’s named Daryl. It’s a retired LAPD van. It was used as transport or something like that. We thought Daryl was a retired cop name. That thing’s great, it fits fifteen people. The brakes did break on us going to San Diego, and within a couple hours we had to get the brakes replaced. It was the kind of thing where we pressed the brakes and nothing would happen.
Obviously, the pandemic is still prohibiting us from celebrating in a more traditional way for an album release, but how are you guys hoping to celebrate once the record drops?
Brad: We’re trying to figure it out, and it’s coming up real soon which is a little daunting. We’re not sure how we want to do this release. We’re thinking about doing a livestream. We hosted a Zoom party for our first single, which was really fun. We bought the upgraded one, so we can have like 300 people in our Zoom.
We might do something like that. We have some ideas about doing some outdoor live sessions. We might do an outdoor tour type thing, where we go and camp and record sets in different locations. That could be fun. We might do a livestream where we just play the whole album. Some sort of performance will be part of the celebration, I think. We’re just not sure exactly what.
“Empty Faces” seems to have many parallels with the feeling of quarantine, like the line “I’ve been waiting, maybe see you real soon”. What’s something you’ve really been missing nowadays, besides playing shows?
Brad: Before tests were available, I was not able to see my grandma. I love my grandma so dearly and she’s so sweet. She would come to all the Carpool Tunnel shows and be right in the front, and film, like “That’s my grandson!”. I missed the hell out of her, but I’ve gotten to see her a lot more because I’ll get tested and quarantine and go see her. She actually gave me this sewing machine recently. I’m working on a shirt right now.
I definitely miss seeing my grandma and all my friends I haven’t seen because we only see each other at shows and they live in SoCal and stuff like that. Just social interaction, dude. I wanna go meet some people! That’s half the fun of playing in a band, going and talking to people and meeting all sorts of interesting people. Even if you’re just at a gas station and someone comes up and says hi or something.
If you could play any venue after quarantine is over where would you want to play and why?
Brad: I’m pretty sure I can speak for everyone on this. The Fillmore, in San Francisco. That’s such a crazy venue that has so much history. I’ve gone there with my dad to see some of our favorite bands, and I’ve seen some of my favorite bands. A lot of good memories at that venue, and it’s so historical and iconic. My favorite record, which I have hanging on my wall, is Albert King at Fillmore East, a night in San Francisco. To be able to play at that same venue would just be insane. It’s definitely been on the bucket list for years for me. Hopefully it’ll be able to be a reality at some point.
We heard that Billie Joe Armstrong is quite the fan of yours. We’re Green Day fans too. What’s your favorite thing about the band?
Brad: Oh man. I don’t know if you could say he’s a big fan. He said we did well. My brother showed me Green Day when I was really young. I think the Americian Idiot album was my favorite. Being a Bay Area band, he’s from Oakland and we’re here in San Francisco.
I think the greatest thing that’s come from Green Day is 924 Gilman. It’s a DIY run venue in Berkeley, California. It’s kind of where Green Day had their start. The punk, do-it-yourself, anyone can come, all ages venue has been running since the late 80s, and it’s all nonprofit. So, they pay the bands really well. It helps touring artists that come through. It’s how Carpool Tunnel got their start, it’s how previous bands I was in got their start, it means the world to me that a venue can exist like that. So much is because of Green Day. Super cool venue, great place to play. Wonderful people that work there.
Don’t forget to check out Scrunchie on Instagram and Youtube!