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Seth Carolina on playing drums and joining Starcrawler

todaySeptember 22, 2023 254 12 5

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Knox R. White

Music Journalist

 

Starcrawler is a glam-punk-alternative rock and roll band from Los Angeles, California. Since forming in 2015, the band has been heralded for putting on incredibly tight and energetic concerts. Also, since their formation, the band has only had two line-up changes. One was when guitarist Henri Cash’s brother Bill joined. The other being when original drummer Austin Smith left the group during the Covid-19 pandemic and was replaced by Seth Carolina. Get to know how Seth Carolina got into drumming and his approach to joining an already established band.

A stage with various guitar amplifiers, cables, and drums all painted to the same matching shade of pink
Starcrawler’s stage set up on the She Said album tour. | Knox Ryder White

Carolina’s interest in music started at an early age at home. While his mother played the banjo and saxophone, it was his father who introduced him to drumming when he was around 5 years old. “We were living in Pittsburgh at the time. We had moved there for a few years, and my dad had brought out this drum set that he had had forever,” says Carolina. “My dad could play, and it would always blow my mind.”

However, almost immediately after being introduced to the drums, they disappeared when his family moved back to North Carolina. It wasn’t until he was about ten years old when Carolina would be reunited with the drums. “From that point on, I have not stopped. That was fourth grade, and he [his father] started teaching me, and I just kept doing it. Then, in sixth grade, he couldn’t teach me anymore,” said Carolina.

 He then began taking lessons with Frank Pirtle, a local legend in Greensboro, North Carolina and continued to do so until he left for college at Appalachian State. Carolina not only learned from his father and Pirtle but was also studying his craft in middle school and high school in their concert, marching, and jazz band programs. He also took courses in music while at university but would later change majors because he “didn’t really want a performance degree and was studying classical music, and [he] just really wanted to play a drum set.”

While growing up, Carolina played in a band with his childhood best friends called Hot Basic. The band went defunct with Carolina being the only member pursuing music full time, but they still talk about one day reuniting. “That was a special point in history, because we could pack out a small venue in Greensboro, which is where we’re from,” says Carolina. “We’re all spread out around the country, but we always talk about how, at the very least, there’s going to be a reunion show.”

After graduating from college, Carolina moved to LA and obtained an internship at the record label Sargent House. He pursued this label because the label was home to artists he admired such as Tera Melos and Chelsea Wolfe. Since that was just his day job, Carolina spent his off hours networking and going to shows. It was through this that he met Gilbert Trejo, the son of actor Danny Trejo and Arrow de Wilde’s, Starcrawler’s frontwoman, partner. Carolina and Gilbert Trejo formed a band called “Gold” soon thereafter.

“We did that for a while. Once my internship ended, we went to New York for a couple of months. We did the music thing there, came back from New York and then stopped the band. Gilbert kind of wanted to take his focus on directing,” says Carolina. After the breakup of Gold, Carolina worked numerous odd jobs while living just outside Los Angeles. After doing these jobs for a year without touching a drumkit, Carolina was ready to leave LA. “I couldn’t live like that, because I was just living paycheck to paycheck, hardly scraping by, not playing the drums. I was super bummed.”

After deciding to leave when his lease expired, Carolina got a call from Danny Trejo who gave him a job, keeping him in Los Angeles for which Carolina is extremely grateful. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without him. He basically just took me in like one of his own. To this day, you know, he still supports me and helps me.”

It was through the Trejo’s that Carolina met Starcrawler. He was working with Gilbert Trejo who was directing the music video for “Chicken Woman,” a song on the first Starcrawler album that was released in 2018. “I went and picked up the guys from Tim’s house and drove them out to the desert,” said Carolina. He was also an extra in the video. “They were like, ‘We’re going to have you take all your clothes off, glue your mouth together, put white out contacts in your eyes, and tar and feather your mouth. Then you’re going to get into a little ball in this little shack and be this scary chicken boy.’ And I was just like, ‘Cool, let’s do it [laughs].’”

After the “Chicken Woman” video, Carolina’s friendship with Starcrawler continued to grow as he was always helping them out. “I was just always there helping out on their music videos. I teched to one of their shows in San Diego,” says Carolina. “I mean, all I was doing was handing Henri guitars, but it was just like we all had gotten super tight.”

It was at this point that the Covid-19 pandemic occurred, causing a major shift in everyone’s lives, but especially amongst musicians who relied on touring for income and to fill the year. When the lockdown began, Carolina along with Henri and Bill Cash, the guitarists in Starcrawler, were filming a music video for legendary LA band X. This allowed them to be together during the pandemic. “In the beginning of the pandemic, we are like, okay, we’re all going to get tested, create a pod, and we’re going to get creative.” Once the rules on quarantining lightened up, Carolina continued to ingratiate himself musically with Starcrawler. “I was meeting up with Bill and [Henri’s] dad, Buddy, and we were just jamming the blues.”

It was at one of these jam sessions that Carolina would end up proving he would be able to play for Starcrawler. “One day Bill was like, ‘I’m going to go let Tim [bassist] and Henri in to jam.’ I had never played with them before. I didn’t realize that this was like a secret audition,” said Carolina. “I guess they had just lost their drummer and were trying to figure out what to do.” After the successful jam session, the members of Starcrawler decided Carolina was going to be in the band, which he found out a few days later. “They hadn’t even like brought this up to me yet. It wasn’t for like a couple of days or something [laughs],” said Carolina.

While Carolina may have already had experience playing music under his belt before making the move to LA, drumming for Starcrawler turned out to be more difficult than he had thought. For one thing, he would be playing a different style of music. “There was a huge learning curve for me. I had realized that I grew up listening to classic rock and rock music, but I’ve never played it. You know at some point it was just like, this is boring. Like, all I wanted was like Elvin Jones [a famous jazz drummer] or metal,” said Carolina. It was a return to his roots as his parents had raised him on music from the 1960s and 70s, and he is still working on mastering it. “There are stylistic nuances that I can’t even wrap my head around, but I can hear it.”

Not only did Carolina have to learn a new style of playing, but he was also joining a band that had been around for about six years and who had two full albums out at the time. Additionally, Starcrawler is renowned for being a ferocious live beast; being able to maintain a tight sound while simultaneously putting on a chaotic performance. “They would say things like, ‘Don’t worry, once you have like 150 shows under your belt, you’ll feel a lot more confident.’ And I was just like, oh [expletive] because this is a real band that tours and plays all the time which I hadn’t done,” said Carolina. “Naturally, that was intimidating for me, but the difficult part was learning the facial expressions and the silent language that you have on stage when connecting with the musicians that you’re playing with.”

A band wearing black formalwear on stage that is completely covered with pink items such as guitar amplifiers, drums, and instruments
Current Starcrawler line up playing at a venue in Austin, Texas. | Knox Ryder White

Since joining Starcrawler, Carolina believes he has reached that 150-show mark now. He has also played with them at some of their biggest concerts yet opening for people like Jack White and the Foo Fighters, from which he and the band learn more lessons about how to improve. “The biggest takeaway from this is probably just the energy. It’s right in front of me with Arrow and Henri. I can’t not just go berserk and have a blast when this is happening right here in front of me,” said Carolina. He has also lost at least most of his stage fright, too. “I would always get a little bit nervous for sure. Even like at an orchestra concert where I’m going to play the triangle. It’s like I would always get nervous walking out and couldn’t wait for it to be over. I’ve definitely had that for a while with Starcrawler, but now I finally get excited and get into a zone.”

When asked if going from playing stadiums and arenas in Europe, when Starcrawler was opening for My Chemical Romance, to returning to club gigs back in America had any effect on him, Carolina stated that he found it refreshing. “After doing a bunch of big shows. Sometimes it’s really exciting to do the smaller ones because the smaller ones are a lot more intimate,” he says. This increase in intimacy also makes him more nervous, however, larger crowds don’t bother him as much. “You can see the whites in their eyes and these people, especially if you’re opening, these people are just judging you and they’re right there. But for some reason, it’s just too much to feel nervous when there’s like 50,000 people.”

Despite going on both national and international tours, Carolina still maintains a day job to make ends meet. His main thing is being a care provider for a young adult with autism, helping him both in and outside of school. He also works some odd jobs if he is available. “I do some assistant work and occasionally I’ll do set production if it comes along, but I’m always working out the balance of working with my client and then touring,” said Carolina. “We’re not at a place where we can just tour and then come home and hop straight into the studio.”

As for when they do get into the studio, he views himself more so as a collaborator; he has little say on the business side of Starcrawler which he is fine with. “It’s kind of what I’m used to, because I’m used to playing with a lot of different artists and doing hired gun playing, like, one-off shows with some people,” said Carolina. He also maintains that it is important to respect the original drummer’s compositions when playing older material as well as respecting the culture and feel of the band.

When asked if Starcrawler is currently working on anything, Carolina states, “We’re always working towards something. If we’re not on tour, we’re getting together and were trying to figure out whatever the next thing is, which, you know, oftentimes is multiple things at once.” When it comes to touring, there is nothing currently planned. However, Carolina says, “[His calendar] is all marked for potential dates to be booked for us.”

 

Written by: Cayla Soriano

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