Chad and Morgan Carson grew up in Westlake, Louisiana, on the west bank of the Calcasieu River near Lake Charles. If they weren't performing as the New Orleans-based Americana outfit The Kid Carsons, the brother-sister duo might've had a career as competitive waterskiers.
"There's probably as much money in competitive water skiing as there is being a professional musician," Chad says, laughing. "That close proximity to the water, that carried over here. That's definitely important to us. Our entire childhood was framed by that experience."
"And fishing camps and hunting camps," Morgan says. "That's something special about that part of the country. Regardless of how you grow up, everybody has a friend or family members that have access to just being outside. You spend a lot of time sitting on porches or in fields, or in little shitty boats with not that much to do. And a lot of people play music out there."
The band bridges its North Carolina bluegrass chops with its love for songwriters like John Hartford, Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt (Chad has Van Zandt's "For the Sake of the Song" tattooed on his right forearm) and rock 'n' roll, from Big Star's bright pop to Bruce Springsteen's grand operas. The band celebrates the release of its latest self-titled album, out this month on its Bear America imprint, on March 6 at Gasa Gasa.
"Our dad listened to a lot of Doc Watson, blues, Lightnin' Hopkins," Morgan says. "Louisiana is just so musically rich, there's lots of points of influence."
After living in North Carolina for several years, the siblings moved to New Orleans, where their father is from and where their grandparents had their first date at The Roosevelt's Blue Room. The Carsons started a studio and record label, Bear America, in their Uptown home, and debuted The Kid Carsons in 2012. For the band's full-length follow-up to its 2012 EP Settle Down, the band whittled down more than 40 songs to a dozen and recorded at the remote Bogalusa studio A Studio in the Country with David Hart on keyboards and banjo, Derek Duplessie on pedal steel, and drummer David Shirley, among a host of guest musicians.
Bright, jangly guitars carry "The Weight," dreamy lapsteel mends the broken hearts of "When the Light Shakes Through," and gorgeous three-part harmonies (from Morgan, Alexis Marceaux and Dominique LeJeune) support polished layers of guitars, organ and fiddle.
"It's not like we wrote the songs to be a record — some I wrote when I was 17, some I wrote a month ago," Chad says. "In a way it chronicles these kinds of experiences, and these things we were tying to do with all these myriad influences. We had so many roads we wanted to go down, and some weren't the right roads."
As Mardi Gras parades crawled Uptown, the band held a listening party at its watering hole — the smoky, yellow bricked, low-ceilinged Brothers III Lounge on Magazine Street, where the album joined the bar's jukebox alongside songs from Brenda Lee and Hank Williams. "I'd been listening to it on different speakers for months, in the van, on our nice monitors, on my phone," Chad says. "It was nice just hearing it in the world."
"Everything just sounds better on that jukebox," Morgan says. "A parade was going on outside, so we only sort of listened."
For The Kid Carsons' album release show, Nashville musician and songwriting partner W.B. Givens, who recently moved to New Orleans, will join the band to debut new material.
"I always thought of The Kid Carsons as a playground. That's why the word 'kid' is in it," Chad says. "And Kit Carson, the frontiersman. I had a painting of him in my hallway across from my room growing up and I looked at it every day when I opened my door. We've always allowed ourselves room for failure. We've always been an ambitious band. ... With this new project, we're putting it all together in a way that's like, 'All right, we're going to make some good music.' Not that we haven't done it that way."
"We just did it in the longest possible route on purpose to come together as a group," Morgan adds. "We needed to do that as players and musicians and with the people we're working with. Now we've got the group, we know the kind of songs we want to write, and we know the kind of performers we want to be, and now that we've done this exploring, we're ready to be a more focused band."