It All Started Over A Free Beer -Ian Carlton Interview By: Liam Sweeny

Written by on November 19, 2021

Music is an alter ego. Even when you use your own name and wear your own face, when you go up on that stage, you become somebody else. You become a performer. No matter how absolutely zen you are, you shift your mindset into that of the best musician you can be. And that persona belongs to the crowd.

Ian Carlton has an actual alter ego, Ritz Carlton. As the singer and guitar player for Rocky Velvet, among other bands, he’s had the pleasure of assuming that persona for decades. I sit with Ian and we discuss ergonomic phone booths.

RRX: Your name is Ian Carlton. But your name is also Ritz Carlton. Secret identity, perhaps? Witness protection? On the run from a rogue guitar maker that wants to string you up? In seriousness, how did Ritz Carlton come about, and what are the key differences between Ritz and Ian?

Ian: Ritz Carlton?  Never met him, but he sounds like a real wanker.  He comes off like one of those guys who brags about eating paella in Valencia, Spain,  having red silk panties thrown at him on stage in Atlanta, GA, or wearing custom tailored tuxedos from the now out of business Rodino’s in Troy, NY.  Best of luck to him, but that stuff is not my cup of tea.  You should probably ask him for his own separate interview.  

RRX: You’re in Rocky Velvet, which you’ve described as “Cropseyville’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Degenerates.” But that name had a ton of respect and staying power in this area. What do you think is a point where a band of “degenerates” actually gets the respect of its peers, and does the descriptor change at all at that point?

Ian: The original goal of the band was to get free beer for playing the Ale House in Troy, the QE2 in Albany, or any place in between.  When we started it was being in the right place at the right time with a moderate amount of musicianship, at least for my part.  Our connection to Johnny Rabb through Graham and his dad, the “Rockin’ Professor” John Tichy, opened the door and away we went.  We played and played and played until we actually became fairly competent, and really hit our stride around 2008.  Playing consistently across the midwest and east coast, we had a good album recorded and actually functioned as a respected band!  Naturally we broke up.  I still appreciate a free beer or two at a gig, and I sure as hell want to play at the Ale House again.  It’s cliche, but as much as things change they stay the same.  

RRX: You’re in Rocky Velvet and the Swinging Palms, and probably a few projects I’m missing. And if Ritz Carlton is more a project than an alter ego, there’s that. How do you keep your hand in as much stuff as you do? Are you doing these projects with some of the same people, or do you just not sleep? What’s the trick?

Ian: This area is flush with talent, and I feel truly fortunate to be surrounded by it.  Most of the projects I am involved with do utilize the same rotating cast of characters, but the goal is to keep each one unique and exciting.  Every band, and every gig, has its own purpose and goals.  I definitely do not say yes to everything that comes my way, but I like having multiple projects and personalities in the mix.  

RRX: I’ve seen you play guitar, and I’ve seen you play stand-up bass. And I love stand up bass. I think it should be in every band that has bass in it’s sound. I know I’ll never see that, but one can dream. When you play guitar or stand-up bass, you gotta move. How do you dance with either instrument without losing focus?

Ian: Ask anyone that knows me and they will affirm that I am easily the worst dancer in the room, no matter what room I am in.  I think my playing is at its best when I am not concentrating, not focused, and totally checked out, thinking about something else, like what I’m going to eat later.  That said, I do like to get people in the crowd excited.    With or without an instrument I enjoy taking my “Elaine Benes” style moves to the people.    

RRX: We’re getting things back in full swing now that the restrictions are being lifted. We hated to ask people how they were adjusting, say, this time last year, but we love asking it now. How has it been, gearing up, going out, playing, after such a long hiatus?

Ian: It feels great to get out and play again in front of live audiences!  The trickiest part so far has been finding and reorganizing all of the gear.  My basement is a mess with chords, amps, and guitars etc.  It seems like all of the sudden, gigs are back and everyone is crazy busy.  Having everything shut down has obviously been a huge drag professionally and financially, but it also gave me the opportunity to spend a ton of time with my wife and kids.  Despite how hard it has been, part of me will always cherish it.   

RRX: You play with Graham Tichy a lot. Or enough. In Rocky Velvet, elsewhere. We covered Graham in a previous issue, and it’s always a good time to let two musicians connect over pages (and in this case years.) What is the secret of your jibing, as musicians, and as friends? And if you have any stories, do share.

Ian: Honestly, I feel so lucky to have met Graham when I was in 7th grade.  He is constantly learning and improving, and he can’t help pushing and teaching the people around him.  It was never, “Do you want to learn to play the Beatles, or would you like to learn some Hawaiian music?”  It’s always been a kind of trial by fire, “Play this and if you don’t know it, put in some time and learn it.”  His focus and determination has been a clear motivator for me as a musician.  Aside from that he is a great guy and we have always had fun together.  You should see what he’s done with his lawn!  So lush and green! 

RRX: This is where you answer the question I didn’t ask. Favorite degenerate pool hall? Surf or turf? Educate, enlighten, emote – the floor is yours.

Ian: Go see Battleaxxxe, and have your face melted.  Go see the Lustre Kings and dance with a stranger.  Go to the Hanger and tell Brian and Troy I said hi.  Go to Indian Ladder Farms and visit Simon.  Rewatch anything featuring Danny Devito.  Vote Dolly Parton for President.  Stop checking Facebook.  Have another cup of coffee.  Call your mother.  Eat your vegetables.  Take a deep breath and a nap when you can. 

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