Carbon Leaf returns to the M-Shop

Carbon Leaf

Courtesy of SUB

Carbon Leaf

Kyle Cravens

The Virginia-based, folk-infused indie rock outfit Carbon Leaf will be performing at the Maintenance Shop Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Born from auditorium practices by five friends at the Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, the college town band exploded off its campus and into the airwaves. Founded in 1992, the band has flirted with lineup and genre changes over the course of its 17 projects, each one telling its own story.

Barry Privett, the front man and primary writer for the group, has remained integral to the band’s lineup from the beginning. Although the visionary, he never could have anticipated a career in music. During the band’s cornerstone years, Privett was an ordinary student with an above average course load.

“I went to college and was set to be an actor or writer,” Privett said. “I was an English major, a drama major, and a journalism minor. To be in the film world was where I was steering, but when the band started performing and just kept going. Before we knew it, I was in a full career and I didn’t have time for auditions.”

Although Carbon Leaf became Privett’s life centerpiece, he still misses acting from the time to time, and he auditions when he can. Most notably, he landed a role in the movie Lincoln as a politician in the House of Representatives.

When Privett and company began playing college parties and backyards they had a jam band mentality, taking influence from acts such as R.E.M. and Dave Matthews.

“It was a diverse time,” Privett said. “A lot of styles were floating around. When we were getting started, you had the guitar-driven radio-pop bands that were emerging from the new wave of jam bands hitting the college scene like Hootie and the Blowfish or Dave Matthews, whereas acts like the Grateful Dead or Phish were staples of the genre. On the other hand, you had this stuff coming out of Seattle which obliterated the hair band scene and lent a grit and authenticity to rock, certainly an inspiration.”

Carbon Leaf would go on to perform with Dave Matthews Band because of their similar styles and Virginia roots. In fact, their first gig ever was opening for them at their college.

“It’s funny, nobody had heard of them yet, but they blew up that same year,” Privett said with a chuckle. “We went on to perform with them many more times whether that was opening up or playing side stage at festivals.”

Privett’s affection for English and writing is certainly the reason Carbon Leaf still comes out with fresh material after 20 years of performing and recording. He is the chief writer for the group and explained the process of creating a new Carbon Leaf jam. The band utilizes all sorts of instruments from fiddle to mandolin that feature in their songs, so it is normally music first when it comes to crafting a new song.

“We used to write as a full band when we had more time on our hands,” Privett said. “Now we get into small groups when we can and write that way. When I write, I look to parts in music I can latch on to, a guitar riff for example that takes me to a certain place that I can then plug in my own life experiences. It’ll either be autobiographical or it’ll skew to a metaphorical space.”

“It’s all like a painter, who will just start painting something not necessarily having a goal in mind, but by the end of the day you have something that you can’t really put your finger on and yet it resonates,” Privett said.

Some of the greatest original compositions of Carbon Leaf come from albums “Indian Summer” and “Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat”. These two projects were released on a record label that kept the master recordings of the songs after conflict arose between the band and the label. After the two parted ways, it was important for the band to retain rights of their work, which led them to find a loophole in their contract that allowed them to re-record the albums several years later.

“I feel like we nailed the production and the fans were really supportive, I think we beat the original recordings in a lot of ways,” Privett said. “For ‘Indian Summer’, we wanted to retain the vibe we had set on that record originally, which was hard to do ten years later.  A lot of the gear we used had since been sold, and we got really tweaked about the little stuff. The end product sounds like the original but it’s played a little differently. Kind of the best of both worlds, a more organic sound, like we have been playing the songs for some time.”

It is endeavors like this that makes Carbon Leaf stand out amidst its rock and rolling peers. They care about the fans and work hard to ensure an interactive experience with the band on and off the stage. Getting fans involved during live shows has always been important, and keeping the jam band mentality ensures parties extend long into the night.

Tickets are $14 with a student ID and $16 for the public, with a $2 increase the day of the show. Tickets can be purchased at the M-Shop box office or online via

For more information, visit the M-Shop website.