Indianapolis based songstress Carnelia released her debut album, Muse & Motor, last week. The album is eight songs totaling 28 minutes, but feels like a lifetime of discovery. After writing her first song in a decade, Carnelia said she came back to herself – Muse & Motor reveals that in each song. Producer Jonathan Trubshaw brings together the melodies and soul-stirring lyrics adding multiple instruments and harmonization to the album. His arrangement compliments her style by trying new things and working with her unique song structure. Together, along with the help of a few friends, they made an indie album that is a mix of folk, pop, electronic, and strong yet soothing vocals. It is an album with the ability to take the listener back to their home, their truest self.
Carnelia got her moniker from the Carnelian stone. Carnelian is often referred to as an “artist’s stone.” It is known for inspiring courage, increasing creativity, and reinvigorating strength. In a sense, it is known to promise new and refined confidence in oneself. Muse & Motor brings together the essence of Carnelia with songs exploring being at home in our bodies, human connection, and having the courage to create something new. Here, Carnelia and Johnny open up about the production of an entirely independent album and what’s next for them as an artistic duo.
Listen to the album on Spotify.
Can you describe your creative process?
Carnelia: I wrote the album. I outlined everything chord-wise; how I wanted it to move and sound. Then I wrote all the melodies. Johnny then filled in with like 12 instruments (laughs) and his voice. He produced the entire thing. Johnny did cool stuff. He chopped up parts of the songs and put Gravy (Carnelia’s Basset Hound) in a song. Olive (Carnelia’s daughter) even has a little song.
Jonathan Trubshaw: It’s an interesting mix of standard folky-pop instrumentation; acoustic guitar, bass, drums and reverb electric, but then those more experimental sampling harmonies from within the song. That church song sound.
What would you say the genre is?
JT: Indie pop with a southern lean.
What was a mantra you had while making the album?
JT: Mine was say yes to any of Carnelia’s ideas. Try them out and don’t say no. I guess that’s how I try to do things generally when I make music. Don’t judge an idea until you’ve tried it. She’d be like “I want to yell from across the room and record that,” and stuff like that. Those are some of the coolest parts.
C: I think I probably yelled “Self Church” more than anything else. When we first started on the song “EVERYTHING//” Johnny said, “Now are you sure? Because this sounds very… churchy.” I was like yes, I need it to sound like the part of my life that hurt me but like… self church, you know?
What inspired you to make the album?
C: I sat down and wrote my first song in a decade in 30 minutes. I used to sing a lot. It was going to be my whole life. Then I got sidetracked with being a mom. I had the opportunity to get into the booth and it felt really good. I hadn’t been writing for literally a decade. It was late when I got home from the studio, and I sat in the stairwell of my old loft. That stairwell was church for me. I sat in there for 30 minutes and I wrote this song from start to finish. I automatically had a full melody in my head. I recorded it on a voice memo and sent it to 2 people who I trusted and I was like, “Is this… any good?” (laughs) That was “A Holy Fight.” I realized I felt back to myself. That felt good to do. I thought that I should do this. I’ve always loved this. So I did.
JT: I got introduced to Carnelia through a mutual friend. He said I had to meet this songwriter, and the first time I heard her songs I was like, yes! I knew “A Holy Fight” was a great song and same with “Great Triumphant Sound.” It had been awhile since I came across a songwriter where I knew I definitely wanted to pursue them. It made itself clear over time how driven and focused of an artist Carnelia is.
That can be rare. I think it’s crucial in art and music. You have to want it more than anybody else in the room. You have to do the things and organize the people. She is really good at that. That was the practical reason in addition to the music. I like having that opportunity to have a structure of a song that somebody’s written and just filling in the pieces. It was a very natural process for us to start working together and harmonizing. We had similar stories I think, and both grew up in the church and got exposed to a lot of music that way and in other ways. It was a clear path forward.
Who or what are your inspirations?
C: Justin Vernon, Phoebe Bridgers, Sam Beam, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, and Adele to name a few.
What song do you feel closest to?
C: “//nothing” That was the one where we were like… we are doing this.
JT: “Rolling Off My Skin” for me because that one was the most uniquely structured in terms of how the chorus plays out. It’s really a unique song. It was one that I had a clear sound in mind for. Sometimes when I produce things it’s very much discovering as I go, exploring, and finding the sound. Other times I have something in mind and try to execute on it. “Rolling Off My Skin” is definitely the latter. That’s the one that I feel most proud of.
What’s next for you?
C: I’m finishing up the second album that I’m writing. I’m having a lot of my artist friends collaborate on it and we’re going to record it on a cassette tape and record the whole hour tape along with the environmental, like, “us hanging out” sounds. What changed the whole direction of the Muse & Motor project was that I love environmental sounds. I love feeling like you’re in the room with those sounds. I need that, so I want to experiment more with it next time. I am also working on a 12 song album where each zodiac sign is going to have a song.
JT: On all the songs on Muse & Motor there are room sound transitions between the songs. I think we’ll expand on that much more with the next thing, and kind of make whole songs out of those transition sounds.