The classic trope of the young musician goes something like this: He or she grows up in the suburbs, wants to get into weird, unique music — esoteric chamber-pop, experimental sounds, electronic — but no one around plays anything but straightforward rock.
The story's the opposite for Carousel: For a long time, the quartet's members found themselves in more extreme or experimental bands — but really, they just wanted to play rock music.
"I've been in whatever band that would have me, since I was, like, 14," says bassist Jim Wilson. "But I always just really wanted to be in a good rock 'n' roll band. And this is the first time it's ever happened."
The core of Carousel is guitarist Dave Wheeler and drummer Jake Leger. The two played together in the heavier band Magic Wolf a few years back; before that Leger played in punk bands like The 53rd State, and Wheeler was best known for the super-heavy 70,000 B.C. After Magic Wolf broke up, Wheeler went underground for a bit, while Leger continued playing in the Karl Hendricks Trio.
"There was a couple years there where I didn't play original music at all," Wheeler recalls. "Then I went to see the Trio at Howlers, and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, Jake's awesome.' I talked to Jake about how I wanted to do something a little more straightforward, and I wanted to do something with two guitars. What I had been recording on my four-track was harmonized guitars, in the style of Thin Lizzy or whatever."
"I was sad when Magic Wolf ended," says Leger. "But I think this band is actually more in our wheelhouse. Magic Wolf — Dave would talk about it in terms of a formula, we sort of had a thing that was hard to break out of. I feel like we did need to start a new band to get away from some of the things we were doing."
Wilson came along when Wheeler realized they had similar interests.
"I knew Jim was a good bass player, because I'd seen him play before; one of my coworkers had played with Jim and tried to recruit him for his band, and he told me, ‘Yeah, all he really does is hang out and listen to rock records.' And I was like, really?"
"For me," says Wilson, "when we started playing together, it was like I was finally home."
Of course, in order to do harmonized guitars, they needed a second guitarist. They eventually settled on Chris "Twiz" Tritschler, who's currently also in the metal band Lady Beast.
"For me, it was a little bit different — it was more straightforward than what I was doing with my other bands," Tritschler says. "But I caught on. What I really like about it is that it's making me a better player. I'm learning a lot."
Next week, Carousel releases its first record, a three-track, 12-inch record with an epic, 12-minute opening track. It's a slow burner, and the epitome of guitar rock: The rhythm section holds down the beat while both guitarists ride blues riffs as far as they can go; "rhythm guitar" isn't really something Carousel does. Besides the Thin Lizzy guitars, bands like Blue Cheer and early Sabbath are obvious Carousel antecedents. Contemporary comparisons that make sense are Mount Carmel, and even the bluesier side of Howlin Rain. (Wheeler's vocals are strong and soulful, not unlike Ethan Miller's.)
With that under their belts, the members of the band are ready to do as much as possible with Carousel. "I'm past the point where I have a checklist," says Wheeler. "Like, ‘We've got to play at this place, or we aren't shit.' But everybody's committed to go as far as we can."
In Pittsburgh, straightforward rock can get you pretty far. With Carousel's pedigree, the band can hold the interest of punk and metal fans, but with its no-frills bluesy rock material, it'd also fit right in at a yinzer bar.
"I think the music has power," says Wheeler. "People respond to rock 'n' roll if you communicate it — it's not that what we do is great; I think it's that we have a responsibility. The music has power more than the band. Almost anyone can appreciate a band like us."
"When you're a fan of straight-up rock 'n' roll, there are a lot of different ways that can go," says Wilson. "People have a million different definitions of rock 'n' roll. But I think the four of us are on the same page — more so than any other group of people I know."
The common reaction that all four share is that it's a lucky thing they found each other.
"In 2012," says Wheeler, "it's hard to find people to play with who are willing to do a straightforward version of rock 'n' roll that's not cheesy, and not ironic in some way. I think that's something I've found playing with the rest of these guys."