Akron native brings unorthodox music philosophy full circle

By: Ian Schwarber

On a rainy afternoon in Akron, it isn’t hard to imagine why Ralph Carney moved away to San Francisco over 20 years ago. At the same time, it is easy to understand why he still calls Akron home and returns here as much as possible.

“There is a dismal beauty that inhabits Akron much of the year, and in between those days of sunshine, a lot of great music can be written,” Carney said.

It is an odd statement to say the least, as his newest offering, “Serious Jass Project 2,” is a traditional collection of jazz standards, none of which were written by the artist. Carney instead focuses on performing the music. He plays saxophone and clarinet, and considers himself a multi-instrumentalist.

“I wouldn’t say I am a master of all instruments, but I would admit that I can play them well enough to generate the sounds I am looking for,” Carney said. “It’s been easy since that first day I put on a set of headphones, started playing with a recorder and figured it out.”

Being able to strike instruments in his own way has led Carney to develop another useful talent – creating original sound recordings. Using very limited equipment, purchasable at any local music store, he has embarked on a number of personal side projects that he uses to explore the more primitive aspects of his creativity.

“I overdub a lot, and when you figure out all the possibilities that are lurking out there, making music gets really fun. On some of the songs I’ve just recorded, I laced at least 100 tracks of me over the already recorded me,” Carney notes.

The resulting recordings are remarkably eclectic and wildly unpredictable.

Despite these original works, Carney still doesn’t consider himself a writer.

“I’ve written over the years and played with other musicians who preferred to do the writing. It never made a real difference to me. Music is music, and I don’t think much more about it,” Carney said.

Ralph has played with some of music’s best known artists. Having performed with Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, The Black Keys, Les Claypool and Medeski Martin & Wood, to name a few, Carney’s roster of band mates hardly resembles that of a “laissez-faire” artist.

“Yeah, I’ve played with a handful of do-gooders, but if it’s not about making the best music possible, I’d rather not be doing it,” Carney said.

Carney’s most recent recording finds the musician “returning to [his] musical roots, and just trying to sell some records. After playing with so many people who sell records, I finally want to sell some of my own.”

When pressed about why this most recent album is full of old standards, he quips charmingly, “Standards sell!”

Carney has recently signed with SMOGVILLE Records, and says that the company is ready to push his new album wherever jazz enthusiasts can be found.

This seems to be what has driven him to release the second disc of his “Serious Jass Project,” a line-up of songs plucked from the library of fine jazz. With an eye looking squarely at the bottom line, this is Carney’s time to reap his rewards and cash in a little musical karma. He has seen many of his friends achieve financial success.

“Now that I am on a legitimate label, it’s my turn,” Carney said.

Carney’s music can be found through his website, akroncracker.com, and at his Myspace and Fa

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