For many creatives, it’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, they began creating -- the process becomes inextricably linked with the artist.
That's true for Minneapolis musician Austin Carson, the man behind the enigmatic project YYY. Set to be released Wednesday at Icehouse, the debut YYY record reinvents the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, with assists from a whole slew of collaborators and friends.
Carson performed with the band False Teeth earlier in his music career. The eclectic group did whatever they fancied, be it Christmas albums or fooling around with surf rock. After moving on, he began experimenting as a solo artist, and YYY was born.
Unemployed and unsure of what he wanted to do, Carson gravitated toward Pet Sounds last August. At the time, he was working through some mental health issues.
“I’m the type of person that in certain seasons I listen to certain records for months at a time,” Carson says. “The Beach Boys are associated with summer, and I ended up connecting with this record on a bunch of different levels when I started listening to it. One day, as an exercise, I decided I was going to cover ‘That’s Not Me’ to shake things up in my creative world."
Carson took his time while deconstructing the psych-rock classic from 1966, running the songs through MIDI instruments to find his preferred aesthetic. Working with someone else’s songs proved creatively liberating, since there was no self-doubt with the songwriting. He ended up pouring around 25 hours per week into the project.
Working in an insular environment was tough on Carson, so he crowd-sourced for musical partners. Several answered his call, including including Lydia Liza, P.O.S, Al Church, and longtime friend Josh Turner, aka deM atlaS of Rhymesayers.
"I originally wanted [Turner] to do the song ‘That’s Not Me,’ but when we were driving to my place, he asked, ‘Do you have anyone on ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’? I know that song by heart,'" Carson remembers. "That was one of the songs I hadn’t done production on. It’s the first track on the record; it’s the big single, so it was scary to me. At the same time, if anyone does this song, it should be Josh because of his vocals, and I knew he could crank out the energy.”
The resulting song features vastly contrasting pieces, collected in a manner that rises them up to form a glossy, pulsating whole.
Carson had no end-goal in mind when he first began his Pet Sounds project; he just knew he wanted to do something with his friends. But was making an album of someone else’s music a cop-out?
“I was the only one who thought that,” he admits. “There were a couple of times I would be talking with some friends, saying I could spend this time making stuff that was original and my own. Then my friends would tell me, ‘This is tight. Just the fact that you’re doing this is more original in itself.’"
Carson describes himself as his own hardest critic, but he was met with consistent reinforcement during the recording process. He was determined to do right by his friends.
"I was about five tracks deep, and I had this moment -- you know when you start rock climbing, and you’re a little ways up and there’s still so much left to go? -- I had a moment of anxiety, but I realized I already had all of these people on tracks that were done. I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
To celebrate, Carson will present YYY's Pet Sounds album as a listening party at Icehouse, with plenty of the LP's guests in attendance for pop-up performances. The hard work is done, so all that’s left to do is to party -- unless Brian Wilson shows up to hear how Carson re-imagined his masterpiece.
“I don't think Brian Wilson would like it, honestly. I went to see him in San Francisco last fall, and he didn’t look like he was doing well at all,” Carson says. “I listen to his recent stuff and it still sounds like he has maintained his songwriting style from the ‘60s. I feel like since my version is drastically different, he might not understand it. But if he heard it, I would hope that he likes it.”
YYY's Pet Sounds cover album release show
With: YYY, P.O.S, Fort Wilson Riot, City Counselor, Matthew Jon, Elle PF (aka Bae Tigre), Al Church
When: 9:30 p.m., Wed., July 19
Tickets: $5; more info here