Transcript of Episode 1: John Carbone (Moon Tooth) [Part 1 of 2]

November 4, 2020

Listen to the episode here.

Read Part 2 of the transcript here.

Answering Machine [00:00:01]Thank you for calling Death Before Desk Job. If you are this week’s guest, please leave a message and Paul will call you back once he finishes the intro. 

John Carbone [00:00:10]”This is John Carbone, wishing you furious hope.”

Paul Motisi [00:00:18]Hi, this is Paul and you are listening to Death Before Desk Job, the podcast geared towards people who are pursuing or who want to be pursuing their creative Endeavors to their hearts content. and just a heads up, if you hear more background noise than you did in the last episode, I’m recording this in the middle of the afternoon this time. Last time I did it in the middle of the night, but I realized it’s going to be impossible to do every episode at that time and have a normal day the next day. So until I get a proper sound booth setup, you just have to deal with some birds and traffic. I’m very excited to be talking to one of my best friends in the whole world today. I think he encapsulates a stick-to-itiveness that I rarely see in people. You probably know him as a singer from the band Moon Tooth, but I know him to be much more than just that. I affectionately call from John Boy or Wang Kabang. My very dear friend John Carbone will be on a call with me today and we will go into the things that him and I have done together as well as the things that he’s done on his own, what he’s learned all that but before I get into all that, I think it’s worth noting that John is one of the only people that I brought the name of this show up to before it became a thing. I trust his opinion. In the beginning of the last episode, I gave a whole explanation that it’s not a problem  just having a desk job, but rather it’s a problem taking a desk job instead of pursuing the things you love out of fear, and that was part of my introduction because of a suggestion from John. He said to me, “well, you know, I love that but I think you might alienate some people who actually work at a desk.” I’m not trying to alienate anyone so I gave that little preface. So while we’re talking about the name, it does have interesting origins. And since this show is about process, I thought I’d take a few minutes and just kind of give you a little bit of insight into how this show got its name because there was an “aha!” moment, but that was only after I followed through my process. I knew that I wanted to make this podcast and cover motivations, inspirations, and influences. And so I thought about calling it The Swipe Files. It’s an advertising term. You collect clippings of images and text for a campaign that you’re working on. They call that a swipe file, but it turns out that there’s a podcast that uses swipe files in its name. And that led me to see that the term swipe was being used in the e-commerce world a lot. I mean I want to get into how creatives make money but I don’t want this to be some sort of thing where it’s all about conversions and funnels and everything else. So I bailed. Plus if I isolate the name or the word swipe, it just sounds like it’s a show about Tinder nightmares, but I really don’t want to get into that on a weekly basis. So we moved away from that name and I hit the thesaurus. I started going through synonyms for swipe, searching for terms on Google. What is the word for X? One term I stumbled onto was “pastiches.” For the definition: It’s an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artists or peroid. It turns out that’s already a show, but it really only focuses on the influences element and it also sort of sounds like a celebrity rehab facility to me. So I go back to my book. I wrote down a bunch of names. I wrote down Creative Heist, probably because “heist” came up as a synonym and I just like the word “heist,” but it doesn’t really make sense for the show and there is no episode of this show that I could ever make that would live up to a name like that. I would listen to that show. Let’s see, I wrote down “great artists steal.” Literally stealing a quote and go figure, it exists already, but I do think that also narrows the conversation too much although I like the concept. I wrote down “paste-up” … Sounds cool. It’s not super descriptive and it leans very heavily on the visual arts. Those of you who are not visual artists and don’t know the term, think street art. It’s when someone takes a print and slaps it on a wall, so it’s not really brought enough and it doesn’t really cover it, but we’re kind of on a trail here. We have parameters. We’re close. So I know that it can’t be super specific to one occupation. It needs to be broad. So I need to find the thing that anyone in my ideal target audience would be united on. What are they for? What are they against? And by doing that I did hit my “aha!” moment. I had designed a t-shirt that said “death before desk job.” The file was sitting on my desk top because I had come up with it a few weeks before. I remembered it right here because I remember that moment of frustration, feeling stuck and that feeling resonated with me and I know that that feeling resonates with a lot of creative people. So there’s the idea. I think it talks about work. I think it talks about all of the things that show is set to talk about and I think the name fits for that reason. The reason I’m telling you all of this is because there is a process and I’m going to try to boil it down. So let’s start: you take your initial idea run with it for a second, right? And then put on the the mask of the critic. A good way to do this I’ve found is let’s say you take this idea that you think is really cool. And now you picture that idea coming out of the mouth of somebody that you think is a hack. I think we all have a person or people in our lives that we think are kind of cornball. Let’s be honest. We have this person that we know and whenever they do something or say something, it’s a little cringy, you know? So if you can imagine that person saying it and not cringing at it, you might be on to something. We’re unable to be critical of ourselves a lot. So it helps to picture it coming from somebody else. I think when it comes to our own criticism, we’re immune to good advice sometimes and I don’t think that we think that we have bad idea sometimes, but of course we do. We’re human beings. So that’s one really, be self-critical. Tear your own ideas apart. Because if you can’t be honest with yourself you’re doing yourself a disservice. So here’s two: I’ll say do something with that criticism, right? Go down the rabbit hole a little bit. In my case it was going to the thesaurus. Find similar things, break them apart, explore them more. It’s one thing to just Google “what’s the word for this” and then use that in this example, but you know, when you look for an answer for something, you can get just the answer or you could explore the the topic. When you’re Googling something, there’s your answer and probably ten other doors that you can open at least to keep exploring the realm and that door that you pick could go to 20 more doors and forty more and you can keep going down the rabbit hole. You’re going to find interesting things because there’s just so much out there. So getting lost is my second piece of advice in the process. And lastly I would say, find somebody in your life who’s a good barometer for taste and somebody who’s going to be honest with you. You will obviously make the final call and you’re going to do what you want to do, but it does not hurt to show your work to somebody that you trust and get an opinion. Ask yourself: “Am I communicating the point? Is this effective in selling my message? Am I just stroking my own ego and being self-indulgent here?” In my case, having to present the show to the public, I needed to make sure that somebody who doesn’t know who I am and doesn’t know what I’m up to would see the name and know what my general message is. So that’s it. Let’s not waste any more time and get right into it. This is my conversation with my very own dear friend be incredibly talented John Carbone.

Paul Motisi [00:09:38]John, it’s amazing and strange to talk to you on mic. This is… 

John Carbone [00:09:43]Shut the fuck up. Shut up. 

Paul Motisi [00:09:45]Great start.

Paul Motisi [00:09:53]Yeah, seriously, it’s exciting. 

John Carbone [00:09:56]Yeah, the first one that you did was really cool. I was telling you off mic about that, but it was cool, I even learned a couple of things about you that were really impressive, and it’s really useful for anybody that’s struggling as an artist of any kind. I think they all understand, you’ve just got to find those things that like, “all right. I need to watch a behind-the-scenes, making of the album, or documentary, or something like that. I need to see the other person  doing their thing to just remind myself so I’m not alone. So this is a really cool thing that you’re doing. I’m proud to be part of it. Thank you for having me. 

Paul Motisi [00:10:35]The pleasure is all over here, man. It is weird that there is anything about me that you don’t know. Just for context for anybody who’s listening, I’ve known John since we were thirteen years old, maybe?

John Carbone [00:10:49]I barely had any hair on my body at the time. 

Paul Motisi [00:10:52]Yeah, that’s saying something. I think it grew when you first saw me. I think it just like popped out.

John Carbone [00:10:58]Yeah, I just turned into a carpet as soon as I laid eyes on you. 

Paul Motisi [00:11:02]Well, that’s saying something I think. So, yeah, to kind of cover that… I mean, having known you for as long as I have, it’s been really weird and interesting to see you may become, dare I say, the Goliath that you are because I remember a very… you were infectiously funny, but you were also in some ways very meek at that age. And I know that we have gone through our share of tribulations as people together, but something happened somewhere I think, that for you, you went from being shy, you know it maybe you could talk about our early bands, like middle school bands versus, you know, where you’ve come to now where you front this band and you are known for your on-stage energy and antics. Where does that motivation come from after all this time? 

John Carbone [00:12:03]Yeah, it’s really fascinating. So I’ll talk about our first show together for the people that don’t know the story, but that was going back to… What would you say? It was like 2003?

Paul Motisi [00:12:21]2003. And I don’t tell anybody this story. So this is all new. 

John Carbone [00:12:26]This is a band we played in at the time called Pox Populi. And that was your idea wasn’t it? 

Paul Motisi [00:12:35]Yeah. That’s that was a dictionary search, I believe. 

John Carbone [00:12:39]Should I say the other end name that’s one of my favorite band names, you ever made that came up with? You know the one I’m talking about?  I don’t want to stay in case you want to keep it in the banks but… I’ve told you that this is one of my favorite band names. 

Paul Motisi [00:12:55]Well, if anything, I’ll just change my current band name. I’m not using it. So whatever. What do you got? What was your favorite? 

John Carbone [00:13:02]Do you remember Eu? 

Paul Motisi [00:13:04]Oh, how can I forget? 

John Carbone [00:13:06]Yeah. Spelled E-U.

Paul Motisi [00:13:08]Like the European Union.

Paul Motisi [00:13:13]Yeah, like euphemism, euphoria… I thought that was the coolest shit ever.

John Carbone [00:13:20]Well before we get too into the aggrandizement, thank you. But the reason that that doesn’t work is the same reason that Bono from U2 is such a jerk move, because you know, you’re saying you’re good? I don’t know. Bono is good. So I guess there was sort of a pomposity about it that I didn’t like.

John Carbone [00:13:47]I always thought of it as like, you know, just feeling good and good things that came from the music. Which is interesting because I was incredibly cocky back then. I mean, I’m still incredibly cocky. But anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here. But what I want to bring up here, which is interesting what you’re talking about… The first show that we played together was in this band Vox Populi, and it was like… nu-metal-ish? Borderline screamo kind of, right? Is that fair to say? No rapping or anything, you know, it was like, screaming and it was drop D…

Paul Motisi [00:14:26]It was the product of a couple of kids who listen to nu-metal and started the band of year later. Yeah.

John Carbone [00:14:32]And I had such bad stage fright that when we finished, I quit the band on stage, I went up to Matt, the guitar player, and I just said “Listen man, I can’t do this. This is too much.” I was horrified the whole fucking time. And then yeah, fast forward to now when I am King Shit of Turd World every time I step on the stage. 

Paul Motisi [00:15:04]Well, I mean at least you’re humble, I don’t know man. That is very interesting. That’s what I’m saying. I’m baffled by that because yes, I remember. I used to have a camcorder and I would hand it off to our friend who would film more practices and he would just pan around the room and film all of us playing and this man I’m talking to would face the other way while he was singing he wouldn’t make eye contact and he had the voice for it at the time and I was just so so baffled by that fact. And then cut to now. Where does that motivation come from? Was it a moment? Was it a an evolution over time? That you went from being so meek to being so bold?

John Carbone [00:15:49]I think what it came down to was, when I… started playing music in general, so there was there was that period of time that was like the first stint that I had in “playing in the band” and then some time went by and then I started playing drums for you guys, and then it turned into whatever other different bands it was at the time. But the more and more I started playing music, even though I turned into solely a drummer for many years after that, the the way it made me feel really gave me my confidence. Fast forward to a band called Rice Cultivation Society, the brainchild of Derek Smith, who would be great to talk to you for this…

Paul Motisi [00:16:46]Yeah. Don’t let too many cats out of the bag.

John Carbone [00:16:54]It’s actually weird because Mike Kennedy was playing bass at the time… I just posted like a memory thing, it was ten years ago a couple of days ago that we played our first show together in a bar called Sinclair’s in Westbury, and I remember being so fucking nervous. Before that set, that was the last time that I’ve had like crippling nerves because you know, it was like a first-time really playing before I took like an open mind before that as a fluke. But this was our first like book show and I was so fucking scared and then as soon as we started playing I felt like I just turned into a fucking dragon and I felt like a million bucks, and I was just beating the shit out of the drums. I bust my hands open. The drumset and my pants were covered in my blood and I just I felt like a fucking eagle soaring. It was just amazing. Ever since then, that was kind of like, “oh, this is home. This is where I belong. This is where I’m safe. And this is where I can do anything I fucking want.” So that kind of evolved over the years, and you know, several years later when I joined up with Nick Lee and Rae Marte and Vin Romanelli as we were forming Moon Tooth, then I was the frontman and the singer. By then, I had years of playing behind the kit in Rice. It had built up my confidence and bravado, so when I jump to the front of the stage, I was just like “oh, yeah, I’m not afraid of you fuckers. This is my room right now. I’m going on this fucking place.” I think it just comes from playing. 

Paul Motisi [00:18:40]Well, that’s amazing because that’s almost instantaneous. You go from the moment of being scared to play and then suddenly feeling as if you have some sort of Excalibur, so to speak, that nobody else has and that’s really wild. But I did want to say that you making mention of the guys and how you got involved with moon tooth. Even in the way you became a part of that band is somewhat historic. I mean, I know this wouldn’t be the first time the story was told, but I’m pretty sure you wrote the guys and just said, “I am your man.” Is that right? 

John Carbone [00:19:27]So, brief history: Nick Lee and Ray Marte played in a band called Exemption with Tom Moran, and they were a band for about eight years or so, and they were just the absolute fucking best, one of my favorite bands I will ever see play live and I love their music. They were part of our scene, you know, they were the shining pinnacle of our scene, really. I might be a little off with this time frame, but roughly the last year or so of Exemption, Nick played second guitar in Rice Cult with me and Derek and Joe Sanders at that point. So, that’s why I met Nick. We played a show with Exemption and then Nick played in Rice for a while. I loved exemption and then they broke the news that Tom was going to leave. Tom’s a brilliant singer/songwriter and that was more of the direction he was going so he left. Tom was the bass player singer for exemption. When he left, they made a choice, I think publicly too, they said like we’re definitely going to keep going with something else, you know. And I just wrote Nick this this long message and just talking about like my influence, what drives me, why I love what him and Ray were doing at the time, and you know, why I just kind of knew in my heart I’m the guy for the job, worded politely and without as much arrogance, but it’s basically saying like, “I know I got this.”

Paul Motisi [00:21:13]Right. Well, that is a perfect spot to land on my next line of questioning which has to do with your influences, and I know they change over time. So if I’m going to ask you about your influences are, I know I’m going to hear something from when you were six years old and I’m going to hear something from a year ago. Like I understand. I know that your influences are always moving around. 

John Carbone [00:21:37]Yeah

Paul Motisi [00:21:37]And I did tune into the the moon tooth live story where you were doing a one-on-one Q&A type of thing and you had made mention of some books to your audience. You can bring those up if you want. I wrote down that you mentioned The Magician’s Nephew by Joseph Campbell. And… 

Paul Motisi [00:21:57]Whoa! Hold on. Let’s back track. the Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis. 

Paul Motisi [00:22:03]Oh, okay. So…

Paul Motisi [00:22:07]It’s a Narnia book. The one that everybody knows is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. But The Magician’s Nephew chronologically takes place first in that seven book series. But I was also talking about a bunch of Joseph Campbell books. Non-fiction

Paul Motisi [00:22:22]You know what? I wrote them on one line. So I was like, “Oh! The Magician’s Nephew by Joseph Campbell.” And I don’t know enough about literature to correct it.

John Carbone [00:22:33]Nobody ever talks about The Magician’s Nephew. It sounds like it could be a Joseph Campbell!

John Carbone [00:22:38]But when you bring up Joseph Campbell, the one thing I wrote down that you mentioned is that “everyone is living their own hero myth.” 

John Carbone [00:22:45]Well, I think that is kind of a lot of what was in my head and heart, probably always, but especially in the time of starting Moon tooth and when I was writing lyrics for songs that were going to reach other people. That was the whole thing. It was all about, you know, this call to adventure kind of thing. and I don’t really remember when or how I got to Joseph Campbell, honestly… thought was probably around then but it’s basically like his philosophy. It’s all about this idea of “mythology is just a mirror to every person and their own life, a person’s life.” There’s these arcs and these archetypes that happen and you know, you go through these trials and you pass or you fail them. Sometimes you get this opportunity, maybe you ignore it. Maybe the opportunity is knocking at first and if you ignore it will fucking knock your door down. Maybe you don’t ignore it, you know? But I just love that because that’s always kind of how I looked at life. I was like… I wanted more. I didn’t have it in me just fucking settle down and get a job that I didn’t give a shit about, you know? I remember before we kind of started playing music, you know, I had this vague idea, like maybe I’ll go to college and and be a history teacher, you know, I think I would kind of like that, but I wasn’t like, “oh my God, I’m already a history teacher. I’m the history teacher!” or anything like that. It was until I started playing music that I was like, “oh my God, this is it!” and it was like the bliss that Joseph Campbell talks about where he says, “follow your bliss.” And that’s the kind of thing. Sometimes people if they’re lucky enough… I don’t think lucky. I don’t believe in luck, really. I just think it’s if people listen to themselves enough and learn enough about their own brain, their own heart, and their own spirit, then they’ll hear that call to whatever bliss and they’ll follow it. So that’s what all those Adventure myths are all about. They’re all just metaphors for a person’s life. That’s when they’re called to what their true calling is. That kind of ties into a lot of what you’re talking about with this podcast. It’s this Quest, this dangerous mission to go on this path of this unorthodox life, or unorthodox at first, you know? But really, when you look at it, we’re talking about having careers, people like you and I. But you look at the specifics of it and when we’re younger and we’re first getting out of college and high school and our parents are expecting us to get full-time gigs, wherever that has benefits, you know? I’m going off I’m going on a tangent here, but another very careful line to stride is — and I think you talked about this in the first episode — it’s not about like putting anyone down that wants to have a desk job or anything like that of course… 

Paul Motisi [00:25:48]Or certainly not for doing it out of absolute necessity, you know?Survival is key and I’m not here to judge you and neither are you, and I know that.

John Carbone [00:25:57]Yeah. What I what I kind of rally for, and the people I kind of rant at, preach at, are the people that like… say you are working some desk job that you fucking hate and you do have some kind of calling that you know that you were born for. You know that makes you feel happy and you know that if you really went for it, and risked your neck, you could turn it into a career. Those are the people that are talking about. Those are like the people that hear the Call to Adventure. I don’t know. If you’re a budding artist, read Joseph Campbell. That shit will inspire you, you know? 

John Carbone [00:26:33]And you’re talking about this Call to Adventure that he puts forth and and that being applicable to one’s life. Would you say that that time that you performed at Sinclair’s, the first time you played drums with Derek, in that example, that wasn’t the first call. Do you remember the first time you heard any call to it?

John Carbone [00:26:54]Oh yeah, I can remember things throughout my whole life. Even from when I was a little kid of weird… like, this is gonna make some people close their ears, I know… but they were like… call ’em whatever you want to call ’em, but there were weird synchronicities. I can remember from being really little, where I would be in the backseat of my car listening to something and there’d be weird lyrics, whatever song I was listening to was like, basically, saying what I was doing exactly. Weird shit like that, like, “What was that? That was weird!” It’s this weird kind of moment where like something strange happens and make you focus on this one thing but it always involved music. There were a lot of times. I remember one time I sat behind a piano in the Cub Scouts when I was in fucking probably third grade or something like that and it was a piano and cafeteria when the meeting was over and I was just bashing away in the piano and it sounded like garbage, I’m sure. But at the time I was like “This sounds amazing and I’m a master of piano. This is the best. I don’t need anything else ever. This sounds great.” And the first time I sat down behind the drum kit, at a friend’s older brother’s… It was actually Larry Bernardo’s drum kit, which is funny because I’m involved a certain projects with him now, but yeah, I was friends with his little sister Jenna, we were in his basement, and I sat down behind this kit and there was just something that like… It’s hard to describe but you felt something in you were all your attention and all of your focus and everything in your brain, all the strands all went to one thing and just like something grabbed said like “Hey! Dipshit! This! Pay attention to this!” And I never got that really with anything else. But as time went by and I started playing music more, it really started. Going back to Joseph Campbell, another part on that “hero map” if you want to call that is, you know, once that person opens that door answers that call, while there will be obstacles and trials and whatnot, there will be help. More doors will open, you know? A lot of times, the scariest thing is just making the first choice to pursue this stuff, you know, and it’s horrifying, rightfully so. But once you do doors that you couldn’t have imagined will definitely open up. It’s not about like, “I need to know where every door is and then need to check them and make sure they’re unlocked.” It’s not about that. It’s just, like, if you see one door, go through that fucking door. Eventually the next door will pop open. 

Paul Motisi [00:29:45]I have to pause you here because so far, in this whole conversation…. I want to talk about weird synchronicity things. You have specifically brought up two things or three things in this conversation to this point that I did in the recorded intro that I did for this episode before I spoke to you.

Paul Motisi [00:30:07]Oh really? 

Paul Motisi [00:30:07]Yes. Specifically, finding all these doors and things like that. And, to me that’s very interesting that you gravitated to the same metaphor and…

Paul Motisi [00:30:15]I told ya!

Paul Motisi [00:30:16]Yeah! See? And there’s some sort of thing that like points me, as if to say “this is what you’re supposed to be doing right now.” Not to go too off on myself, but as you say, you know, all these doors that point to you and these synchronicities and things like that… and there are plenty of other things around us that are telling us not to do these things and sometimes those are not to be ignored, you know? Those things are there for a reason too. But I do find it very interesting in that particular example, because if I were to apply this, listening to this loud voice of “Hey! You! Dipshit! This!” If I apply that to my life, me seeing the synchronicity in what you’re saying talking to me, for example, I’m seeing that maybe I am supposed to be doing this and I don’t know why I’m supposed to be talking about being creative with you, but I’m supposed to be for whatever reason and I have to trust that. Did you always trust your intuition? Or did you go through moments of doubt? Did you go through moments where you felt it was wrong to follow that voice? 

Paul Motisi [00:31:22]You know, it’s foggy. Everything’s kind of foggy when you look back a little bit, but for the most part

Paul Motisi [00:31:28]I did always trust it but to more severe degrees as time went by. I can remember playing drums. Like when I like first learned how to play drums. I learned how to play drums because you guys like called me up and said Brian, our good friend Brian, who was a brilliant drummer, he was too busy. Brian’s too busy, learn how to play drums. And I learned how to play drums just from basically learning how to rub my belly and pat my head and just figuring my limbs out. And then I learned drums by just jamming with you guys. But from those early days, it’s funny because I knew so little, but the way it made me feel made me so fucking sure. I can remember in those early days thinking like, “I could make a career out of this!” Which is hilarious now to think about because we’re talking about a time where we barely had a band, you know what I mean? It was just like garbage music, this and that… but that feeling was just like, “oh this will work,” you know? The trust was always there. It was until it got to the point where I was basically flunking out of college because I just stopped doing the work. I stopped going. I just didn’t give a shit about going. So I just kind of dropped out. That was like the hardest time in terms of the pressure to not… even at that time, there wasn’t a set game plan like there is now. I don’t want to say I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t as concerned with as you might think someone would be. The point I want to make is because of the way it made me feel, that’s how I trusted in it. Think of a relationship. I always kind of thought that like when you’re really truly in love with someone, that love is the thing that tells you, “We can make it through anything because we love each other.” You know? And that’s kind of know what I felt about this stuff. Like it doesn’t matter. If I don’t know how this is going to work. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do. But I know that I’ve tapped into some kind of fucking current. The lightning has found its lightning rod. So that’s all I need. So that kept my attitude pretty sure from the get-go, I would say.

Paul Motisi [00:33:45]I’ve never really heard anyone compare it to romance in that way. That’s very interesting. It’s pretty astounding. I mean, whatever you’re doing seems to be working for you because going from where you’ve gone from to where you are now, and I know there’s many more Mountains to climb for you.

John Carbone [00:34:12]Oh yeah.

Paul Motisi [00:34:14]And I know you ain’t done! But with that in mind, I am curious about… okay, you’re in a position now where there is an expectation of some sort of, you know, in the design world you’d call them deliverables, but you know, there’s output, you know, there’s expectation of output. I’m curious in more ways than one, or in relation to multiple projects: How does your process work as far as writing? With you, I’m gonna say “summoning words.” I feel like that’s more appropriate for you, knowing  you.

John Carbone [00:34:59](laughs) Yep! 

Listen to the episode here.

Read Part 2 of the transcript here.

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