Dispatch - Argus

 

The fourth CD by the Q-C pop-rock band Minus Six is complete, and the quartet will unveil it at a CD release party this Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. at Rock Island Brewing Co., 1815 2nd Ave. Cover is $6, and the disc -- "Come Out From Where You Hide" -- will be available for $10, as well as on iTunes.

Named because the group of piano, saxophone, bass and drums is "minus six" strings of a lead guitar, the band played consistently from 2003 to 2010, then took an 18-month hiatus while lead singer/songwriter Kevin Carton taught English to junior high and high-school-age students in Montauban, in southern France. He was a French, communications and African studies major at Augustana College, from which the 26-year-old graduated in 2010.

The new CD (the 15 songs all penned by Mr. Carton) is heavily influenced by his experiences abroad. Several of the songs were written while he was in college; Minus Six's last recording was from 2006.

"I have a huge passion for France," Mr. Carton said recently. He taught there in the 2011-12 school year and has been working at Augustana since June as the internships and careers coordinator. He first visited France while at Alleman High School in 2004 and backpacked through Europe in July 2008.

On the CD (recorded in Minneapolis) is a song called "20 Rue Barbizan" -- his address in France. It's about his experience there -- "becoming culturally aware of my surroundings, saying yes to taking the opportunity, the experience of what's out there," Mr. Carton said.

"You can definitely hear the influence of travel, expanding your horizons on the CD," he said. One song on the disc is also entirely in French (in which he plays ukulele), the title translated as "The Bird Fled."

"That song is about letting a loved one go because you know it's in their best interests," Mr. Carton said. "We also tried to really keep a diverse selection of song topics -- partying, falling in love, traveling."

"What we really pushed for was to get away from the standard verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. We definitely created more complex songs, more layers in our music, and tried to keep the catchy, bouncy melodies."


River Cities' Reader

Too Few Detours: Minus Six, "Come Out from Where You Hide"

On Minus Six’s new album Come Out from Where You Hide, “Grassfed” boldly announces itself with gorgeously intertwined fast runs on sax and piano – downhill, then up, and back down again, a deft flash of early jazz grafted onto verses of piano rock. The instrumental breaks elevate the whole, with pianist Kevin Carton and saxophonist Matt Sivertsen given the space to playfully develop and explore.

It’s telling that these sections represent the whole of the song’s progression, as the verses and chorus are (relatively speaking) inert – which is where the album falters as a whole. The dominant style and overly consistent mix don’t sustain interest over the course of the record, and fertile detours don’t come quite often enough.

That’s not a problem at all on the tight “Burn,” which is bracing in a way similar to “Grassfed” but more thoroughly, with urgency and a level of detail and variation in the singing to match what’s happening with the piano and the creamy honk of the saxophone.

Those are my two favorite songs on Come Out from Where You Hide, which has plenty of other highlights. There’s the almost tangible yearning of Carton’s singing that’s mirrored in the bass on jaunty lead track “Orion’s Belt.” The jarringly sudden discordant shift of “Lucid Dreaming,” announced by the sax and brought to fruition by the piano – with a sunny chorus shoving the clouds away just as quickly. And the writing and vocal phrasing at the beginning of “Lullaby,” pleading but clear-eyed: “The power’s out / There’s more important things than paying bills on time.”

I could go on, and there’s no doubt that Come Out ... is a collection of polished, skillful songs. Yet while it’s by no means bloated, the album’s 15 tracks (running just under an hour) become strangely numbing – a function of the quartet’s choice to work with such a static palette and within such a narrow dynamic range. The songs are varied, but in their mildness they blend together after a while.

Minus Six (which also features Kameron Rummans on bass and Rob Baner on drums) bills itself as a rock band without guitar, but in reality there’s precious little rockin’. “Grassfed” references times when “the music’s pumpin’” in a chorus meant to get a rise out of the listener, but Carton’s voice – which has echoes of Peter Gabriel – and the music are simply not forceful enough to be convincing.

So Come Out ... leans too heavily on earnest ballads and pleasant piano pop – both good fits for the band in small doses. “Let Me Come Around” is the high point in the latter style, with its catchy chorus and tonal digressions that pack a lot into just over three minutes.

But even with the songs’ structural adventurousness, it often feels like something is missing. There’s a sterile sameness in the production and mix that reminds me of musical theatre in the prominence and clarity of the vocals and Carton’s held-back articulation of the lyrics; the need to be understood trumps variety and messy emotion.

Perhaps more damaging are lost opportunities, hints of promising paths not taken. The jazzy, energetic instrumental interplay of “Grassfed” and the ukulele, whistling, and French lyrics on closing track “L’oiseau s’enfuit” show that Minus Six isn’t timid. Unfortunately, Come Out from Where You Hide too often is.

Quad City Times

Get the numbers straight: The Quad-City band Minus Six is releasing its fifth album and its fourth studio release, its first in six years.

A CD-release party taking place on Thanksgiving eve at the Rock Island Brewing Company will introduce the band's latest, "Come Out From Where You Hide."

"We've been a band 10 years and gotten into a maturity level with our own music and our own sound," sax player Matt Sivertsen said. "We're pulling together so many different styles that meld into the music. It makes for a broad stylistic exposure and a lot of transitions throughout the album."

Sivertsen said he and the other band members — lead singer-pianist Kevin Carton, bass player Kameron Rummans and drummer Rob Bane — feel more cohesive than ever as Minus Six.

"Just playing long enough together and growing up together and all that," he said. "We're just in a spot where we're more comfortable with what we have to deliver with our own music."

"Come Out" was recorded during July at the Terrarium, a studio in Minneapolis recommended after Baner had a good experience there. The band recorded 15 tracks over the course of four days.

"We're playing for the right reasons and definitely excited about our music all the time," Sivertsen said. "We've got something that's Minus Six-relatable. People understand that sound.

"At an earlier age, we felt like we drew from so many different places over the years. We do kind of have a Minus Six sound now, and we're ready to share that with this project," he added.

Minus Six chose its name a decade ago because the band lacked a guitar. They were among a wave of piano-based acts across the country, Sivertsen said, but are not as slow-tempo as some of those.

"We've tried to deliver a little bit more of an 'up' experience," he said. "We try to have a lot of high energy in a lot of situations."

Quad City Times

Rejuvenated Minus Six takes the stage again at Brew Ha Ha

The guitar-less rock band Minus Six returns to the WQPT Brew Ha Ha on Saturday after performances at the event in 2008 and ‘09.

But after a yearlong break, the band has found an evolved sound and a new drummer.

Jamie Hopkins, currently in the Curtis Hawkins Band and formerly with the Andrew Landers Project, joined the group at midsummer.

“Although I’d never heard them, I understood the concept of a piano, bass, high-energy outfit because Andy Landers was that to some degree,” said Hopkins, who was set up with the band after being recommended by a club owner in his native Muscatine. “They were doing original music, and I’m very interested in the creation of something rather than just rehashing covers every weekend.”

The band started in 2003, then took a break from mid-2011 to mid-’12 while lead singer Kevin Carton taught in France.

“The sound has continually evolved since we started nine years ago. We still have the core Minus Six sound, but it’s a little more experimental as far as the song structure and the chordal structures go,” he said. “The subject material has also changed, from being what any freshman or sophomore in high school would be writing to what a college person or college grad would be writing about.”

Hopkins on drums has changed the band’s sound as well.

“Some of our new material is experimental, drawing from different rhythms, different Africana-like stuff,” sax player Matt Sivertsen said. “It really goes well toward the mesh of styles we’ve put together over the years.”

The band plans to return to a schedule of touring.

“We’re kind of working on a live album now from a show we had about a month, six weeks ago,” bass player Kameron Rummans said. “We’re working on getting that out, and hopefully with revenue from that and new shows, it’ll push us to a new studio album next year.”

Eros Ink

Eros Soundtrack to feature music by Minus Six

When the producers of Eros Ink began imagining a romantic comedy, they knew the music would be just as important as the script itself.  Their hope was to find some hybrid of Harry Connick Jr. and Jamie Cullum.  After searching high and low, the producers ran across Minus Six at a music lounge in Rockford, IL.  As soon as the group hit the stage, the Eros Ink team knew they had found their sound. For having only four members, Minus Six carries a big sound, and their studio albums are absolutely essential.  The producers of Eros Ink owe a big thank you for making this little indi sound so great!

Quad City Times

Minus Six takes a hiatus while lead singer heads to Africa

Minus Six is taking a three-month hiatus, and when the Quad-City favorite returns to performing this summer, there just might be an African flair to the group’s music.

Lead singer and piano player Kevin Carton is headed to the nations of Ghana and Senegal as part of an Augustana College trimester abroad.

Carton has made a habit out of drawing on the classroom for inspiration, writing about everything from French tales to lucid dreaming to social constructivism — a theory that people are molded by the society in which they grow up. While spending his final term at Augustana in foreign lands, he will study art, West African history and African music.

“I’m very excited to get to understand the African music from a different perspective,” he said. “And I’m excited to return home and be able to take those skills and incorporate what I’ve learned over there into our own music.”

Shortly after returning to the Quad-Cities on May 10, he will graduate with majors in French, communication and African studies. He may pursue a graduate degree in anthropology at the University of Iowa or teach English in France for a year, but he hasn’t made any major life decisions besides taking a year off to teach piano lessons and write music, possibly something that can be recorded by Minus Six as a concept album.

“I couldn’t ask for better bandmates,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. They’re very understanding that I have multiple interests.”

Post-graduation plans also include taking a break from hitting the road to play gigs each weekend and focusing instead on writing a new album to follow up “In the Garden,” which was recorded in 2006, and saving up money to record it. While graduation will be a bittersweet moment for Carton, taking a break from Minus Six will not be.

“It’s not as much bittersweet as much as a transitional moment,” he said. “That will be really close to our eighth year as a band. We had four years in high school together. That was its own period. Then you get into college and you try to expand the creative elements of the band. I feel like we really tried to accomplish that.

“Now, when I come back, it’s going to be pushing it even farther.”

The Daily Iowan

Minus Six has huge plus side

Somewhere in Peoria, there’s a man with “Minus Six” tattooed on his arm.

Not too far away, baby Elise lives in the Quad Cities, named for her parents’ favorite Minus Six song.
“We had a proposal on stage once,” said Rob Baner, drummer for the band that inspires such avid fan devotion. “This guy wanted to propose before one of our songs, ‘Jane,’ and now we’ll play for their wedding this summer.”

On Saturday, Minus Six (and its die-hard concert attendees) will invade the Industry’s downstairs stage, 211 Iowa Ave. The set (and any ensuing proposals) will kick off at 8 p.m.

It’s true that Minus Six has certainly cultivated its fair share of admirers. Known for its “high energy” live acts, the piano-fronted pop-rock band has released three albums since its 2003 inception, and it has a growing Iowa City fanbase. The group lacks something central to most bands: a guitar — hence the “minus six,” the usual number of strings on a guitar. But what really sets the Quad Cities quartet (which comprises bass, piano, drums, and a saxophone) apart are the lengths its fans venture to demonstrate their affections, ultimately proving that Minus Six has made its imprint — both figuratively and literally.

“It’s those kinds of things that mark the success of the band,” said lead vocalist and pianist Kevin Carton. “It’s not how many CDs we’ve sold or how many times we’ve been on the radio. It’s about how many people’s lives have we touched through our music.”

“Iowa City is fantastic because every time we come here, everyone in the audience is there to just have a great time,” Baner said. “We really feed off of what the audience members do — when they’re dancing and singing along and telling us something they want to hear. I think Iowa City is really special in that regard. People are just looking to have fun with us.”

Principal songwriter Carton said creating an euphoric atmosphere is one of his chief aims in crafting Minus Six’s lyrically and melodically driven tunes à la Ben Folds or Billy Joel.

“My piano playing is an eclectic mix between rock and ragtime,” Carton said. “We want our music to inspire thoughts or visions in your head. We want to create a dream state for you to follow.”

It’s easy to appreciate Minus Six’s tightly crafted revelations. Three of its members — Baner, bassist and vocalist Kameron Rummans, and saxophonist Matt Sivertsen — are all formally trained musicians. Baner, a UI graduate student, is heavily active in the UI School of Music.

“I find myself using all my jazz training and different percussion techniques in how I’ll approach the rock track that we play,” he said. “It gives me a different outlook.”

Lately, Carton said, he has been toying with more mature lyrics to support the group’s evolving fondness for musical experimentation and complexity.

“I try to keep away from writing songs about love, because I feel as though there are enough love songs in the world,” he said. “But you know, every once in a while, you get those cheesy feelings where you start falling for someone and you can’t help it. I’ve been trying to expand as far as the writing goes and to write about cultural relations, politics, and the end of the world; the guys [in Minus Six] know there’s meaning behind the lyrics. It’s not just a bullshit song. I believe what I’m saying, I believe what I’m writing, and we have a message. There’s a bigger meaning behind the music.”

For Baner, part of this bigger picture includes the intimate relationship Minus Six has formed with its fans.

“It really means a lot to me that people appreciate what we do,” he said. “We’ve got this interaction with people who really dig our stuff, and it’s good to see them be able to party at the shows.”

Quad City Times

Minus Six mature, steps into own style

When Minus Six performed earlier this month at Augustana College, Kevin Carton was almost dancing as his fingers flew across the keyboard and his feet tapped beneath it, moving from the pedal to the stage floor and back again.

All four the members of the guitarless band — which isn’t quite pop, jazz, rock or Broadway, but some fusion of the four — were in motion as they performed “Anchorage,” a love song about a girl from the Alaskan city.

The packed patio applauded, Carton smiled slyly and said, “Thanks. This song is about the exact same girl, but in a different light.”

He started to sing “Walk Away,” which is still poppy, but faster, almost agitated, to convey the not-so-amicable ending of the relationship as if Carton was venting to the audience.

Both songs are off Minus Six’s third album, “Hidden Deep in the Garden,” which was released in 2006, having been recorded on Music Row in Nashville with producer Joe Hand, who has worked with Linkin Park and Matchbox Twenty.

Carton, Kameron Rummans on bass and Matt Sivertsen on saxophone have been together since 2003 when they were in high school at Rock Island Alleman. Rob Baner of Moline joined the band on drums in 2005.

Today, Carton, Rummans and Baner all are attending college in different cities, and Sivertsen has graduated and is in the working world. But they perform together almost every weekend, meeting in the Quad-Cities and traveling to the college or bar they’re scheduled to play at and then spending Sundays working on new material that takes on musical forms which are anything but the standard verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.

“We’re playing songs that are longer and almost have more of a musical sound to them,” Carton said. “I’m excited because I feel like we’re maturing. We’re stepping into our own shoes instead of playing things the way everybody else does it. We’re trying our own attempt.”

One of their new songs, “Le Jongleur,” is about a traveling minstrel from the medieval period who convinces a queen that the peasants are planning an uprising in order to get the queen out of the castle so he can steal all her jewels.

“I love sitting down with these guys and working on a brand-new song,” Baner said. “It’s like going on a trip. You never know where it’s going to go or what kind of challenges are going to lay ahead of you for each song.”

In its new material, Rummans said, the band is stretching out to utilize each member’s talents, which is when being a guitarless band has its advantages. The lead can be picked up by Sivertsen on one of his four saxophones, Carton on piano or Rummans on bass, giving them versatility and a sound that even they have a hard time describing.

“I think it’s cool that we’ve ben able to put something together that is tough to describe,” Sivertsen said. “There are a lot of people that can answer that question in two seconds.”

But the piano-heavy sound has struck a chord and they’ve reached the point where venues are calling them instead of the other way around, and they see groups of people they’re pretty sure they’ve never met before, singing along with their songs in towns nowhere near the Quad-Cities.

“The reason that we’re playing out live and traveling is because we love to see the feedback,” Carton said. “When someone is out there and they’re smiling and having a good time and it’s a weekend and they’re leaving all their worries of the week behind and they’re singing the words to your original songs, that’s the best feeling in the world.”

Driven Far Off

A pop rock band with a saxophone instead of a guitar? When I found out that Minus Six was playing near me, I jumped at the chance to interview them. I was lucky enough to talk to the band over dinner at the Riverhouse Bar & Grill in Moline, IL, where the sweet small-town guys told me just how the unique group came to be.

I would like to thank the band for taking the time to make this interview possible.

- For the record, can you state your name and specific part you play in the band?

Kevin: My name’s Kevin Carton and I play piano and sing for Minus Six.

Matt: I’m Matt Sivertsen and I play all the saxophones as well as the EWI, Electric Wind Instrument.

Kameron: Kameron Rummans, bass guitar and backup vocals.

Rob: Rob Baner, drums.

How did each of you get into music?

Matt: Started playing saxophone in 5th grade, and got really interested in high school with saxophones in particular and rock bands like Dave Matthews Band, who I really admired because they had a saxophone player. Then I got quite a bit into jazz as well, and was a saxophone performance major at the University of Illinois, and then got with these guys, these spirited young musicians, and now I just aspire to be in a rock band while incorporating a saxophone.

Kevin: From the time I was an infant my mom said that I would sing inside the cradle, so I guess you could say it’s been in my blood ever since I was born, and I guess my whole life has been aimed toward becoming the best musician I can be. I started piano lessons in second grade, and I haven’t looked back since I’ve started. I love what I’m doing and it’s awesome because I’ve gotten to make three new brothers along the way.

Kameron: I started singing professionally when I was nine years old in a boys’ choir, and I started playing bass guitar my eighth grade year of school, and influenced by Kevin Carton, I struck the urge to pick up that instrument and help him and his music endeavors.

Rob: I started playing drums back in fifth grade, when I was about eleven, and I’ve been playing ever since with any kind of ensemble I can get my hands on. I’ve been playing with these guys now for about three years, and it’s been awesome.

What is unique about Minus Six?

Matt: Definitely unique in that we don’t have a guitar for being a pop rock band, and that’s kind of the first thing we sat around and talked about, like five years ago, trying to incorporate a piano based rock group. Most rock groups don’t have that and don’t have a sax and don’t not have guitars. Hence the name Minus Six, for the six string guitar absence.

Is it difficult playing without a guitar in the band?

Kameron: No, our rhythm instrument comes from the piano, and the drums and the bass fill in as the rhythm section. I think the three of us together solidify what we are doing as musicians under vocals and lead instruments. I don’t think the guitar is missed much.

Rob: I don’t think it’s difficult, I think it provides us with the opportunity to get our sound base a little different and get a unique sound and test some new areas that don’t necessarily get hit that often in this genre.

You released your third album, Hidden Deep in the Green (2007), last year. What can you tell us about the first two albums and how they differ from the most recent?

Kevin: I think the most obvious change in the most recent album compared to the last two albums is that our drummer Rob appears on the album for the first time with the band, and that alone has made the band 100% better because Rob is so good at keeping the rhythm. Not only that, but he makes the music really come alive and makes a visual. I guess what I am most proud of in the third CD is it’s a lot more visual, where you can almost close your eyes and go into your own world and experience that. The new album is more written from life experiences; from childhood to love and heartache. We do try to stay away from writing a lot of love songs on the new CD, so we also have songs about the end of the world, and peace, and how the world should come together because right now there is so much shit going on.

Matt: Our third album, Deep in the Green, was an opportunity to work on a little higher level for over week in a recording studio with a higher budget, we worked with a producer named Joe Hand down in Nashville. Our other two projects were much lower budget, so Deep in the Greenwas definitely one we spent a lot of time on with the writing and the production of it. Now this summer we are going to progressively start working on our fourth CD as a band, but also our second bigger budget CD. It’s been a fun ride.

Is the band your main focus right now or are you each working on separate side projects?

Kameron: I think we are all musicians just striving to play. Minus Six is a big commitment for all of us, but some of us at different parts of our lives played jazz ensembles at school, or got together with friends just to jam, but this is a big commitment for us.

Matt: Yeah, I would say musically the focus is definitely Minus Six. I mean, I have a day job and these guys are all in school, so we have the Monday through Friday stuff, but we definitely play every weekend, and Friday and Saturday we really commit to playing. Pretty much anything else that we do have come up would be secondary.

Music-wise what do you guys hope to accomplish in the next few years?

Rob: Right now we are really focusing on playing as much as possible wherever we can to give everyone a chance to hear us. But I think in the next few years our goal is to really take this as far as we can and get as much exposure as we can and get more material going.

What bands or albums do you usually use for inspiration and why?

Kevin: I would have to say that my favorite bands are Ben Folds 5, Dave Mathews Band, and The Beatles. I think the biggest inspirations for the most recent writings would be The Beatles’ really melodic melodies and the Dave Mathews Band’s bizarre attempt at making really diverse songs that really don’t sound the same at all. At the same time, I think we are trying to move in a direction of trying to start something new with the music, in that we are incorporating almost a broadway-esque style into the songs. With that, we can take the music and tell stories and make longer songs, so that like I was saying with our last CD being visual, our next CD can be ten times more visual because we’re adding that plot to the songs. It’s like a mini movie in your head where you can shut your eyes and see it through the music. But everything from classical music to jazz really influences Minus Six because I think that we all try to listen to as much music as we can so that we can pull from different ideas and really hit all of the areas we find entertaining.

Matt: Yeah, we draw from every genre possible and I think Rob was a huge catalyst for that happening. He’s a drummer that can draw from anywhere and anything, versus a drummer that may just be rock genre based. So I really feel that Rob’s capabilities allow us to then have no boundaries and make the fans listen really well and incorporate the instruments and pull off a lot of different things. Like Kevin says, it makes it very visual.

What does each of you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies?

Matt: What free time?

Kevin: I like to do a variety of activities. Writing the music for Minus Six is a big thing that I love to do with my free time. I go to school and I have a job, but when it all comes down to me having time to do whatever I want to do is walk to the piano and try to write out a new melody or new lyrics. If I’m not doing that, I like to hang out with friends and party and have a good time like any other college student.

Matt: Pretty much just run, work, and try to stay in shape. Minus Six pretty much encompasses a lot of my free time for sure, but I do have a Border Collie that keeps me busy too, playing with him.

Kameron: Hobbies? Yes. I have hobbies. My hobbies include playing music, of course, and I guess I’m a closet videogame nerd. I hang out with my fiancé a lot, and played football for a long time and did sports, but I don’t do that as much anymore.

Are there any plans for music videos in the near future?

Kevin: I think right now we are focused on spreading our word, but not through professional music videos, more through videos like on YouTube, where it shows crowd participation and the high energy level on stage. I think that says more about us as a band at this stage, as opposed to trying to make a really artsy music video when we don’t have any kind of budget to do so, so it would probably come off looking not very professional. Right now if we do take any videos of the band, it’s at live shows and then putting them on YouTube to try to spread the word that way.

For fans that are listening to Minus Six for the first time, what song would you suggest they listen to first?

Rob: I would say Anchorage would be a good song to start with, because I knew that’s what everyone else was going to say and I think it’s a neat tune. I also suggest that everybody give the CD one total listen down, because I think there is one song that will reach out to different people and I think that would be a cool way to find the song you like.

What do you hope listeners take away from your music?

Kevin: We hope that our music makes people feel.

Do you think the music community will accept you guys or will you need to prove yourselves a bit more because you have grown up in a small Illinois town?

Kevin: The longer I play, the more I question that because we’re trying to develop a new thing, like going with the Broadway rock style, and trying to incorporate longer songs with crazy plots. Personally, I know we all dig it, and we are excited to see people’s reactions to it, but I think we are so excited because we have no idea how people are going to react to it. So if we end up making a new CD and it doesn’t catch on because the songs are way too Broadway and out there, I think that we may then need to think about changing the way we write the music. For right now though, we are excited to see people’s reactions because it is different. In general, at live shows it seems to be catching on fairly quickly, and people like to dance. I don’t know if that’s because of the energy or our songs, but I’d like to think it’s a mixture of both.

Kameron: I think what every kind of music one would listen to, in like a big city or for someone else to accept us, is one thing, but I think people could definitely accept us as musicians individually and as a group together. Whether they like us as a group, they definitely acknowledge the fact that we do take a lot of pride in the way we play all our instruments.

So have you guys already started working on your fourth CD? Have you done anything differently than before?

Rob: We have some new material that we are working on, and we have a lot more ideas that we’re still tossing around, not sure what’s going to happen yet. I’d say the one big characteristic of what we’re trying to do now is we’re trying to be adventurous and we’re trying to lead the listener on a journey, and take them somewhere. Where that is though, we’re not sure yet, but we want it to be somewhere.

Currently the band is with M6 Records, but do you hope to someday sign with a major record label?

Matt: I don’t know, I think it depends because things are changing so fast. Right now record labels just aren’t what they used to be. Certainly, having advertising and exposure power would be nice, but we also know that a lot of times those things can be so short focused that they may be able to get one song out, and that’s where we’ve seen a lot of bands come and go, with just one tune. I think we’d rather do the leg work of getting true fans who go through our whole sets of music, and not just try and channel one hit tune. We would rather build it up from the bottom to get that core exposure. It was kind of cool because we started with high schools, but then what happened was all of the kids went away to college, and they go to all of these regional colleges, so that helped us jump to the next level. We are trying to branch out and play that college circuit, and we just hope it goes off to the next level. There are plenty of bands that have done it without record labels, and it might be a good thing eventually, but it’s not a hindrance now.

What has been a difficulty that you have worked to overcome throughout the making of the band?

Kameron: I think the hardest thing is that all of us take a lot of pride in our talent, and with all of us in day jobs and college it’s hard for us to practice together. So we have to rely a lot on individual practice time and have confidence in the other people and their abilities to stay tight, because it kind of sucks not being able to practice on a regular basis together.

Matt: The toughest is anytime we’re in a new marketplace, because you can’t expect to go to a totally new venue, in a totally new town, and just have all of these people come out. You have to find the right spots where there are going to people out there already or maybe have another band that has a draw. It’s kind of frustrating because you get into the areas where you have a really good following, but at new places you have to start all over and it can take three to four shows to get back. Usually we get a good enough response so that it fills up pretty quick, but it does suck starting over at a new place where you have to branch out.

River Cities' Reader

The Imaginary Musical: Minus Six, "Hidden Deep in the Green"

The third record from the Quad Cities' Minus Six, Hidden Deep in the Green, has the vibe of a musical-theatre soundtrack. If the idea of a pop record that invokes Broadway makes you recoil in horror, then you're wise to avoid this. If you're intrigued, you're likely to be carried away by singer/songwriter Kevin Carton and his band.

To be clear, there's no discernible plot on the album, and the songs aren't obviously related.

But nearly every other facet of the CD contributes to the feeling that this is a cast-recording memento of some stage experience: the tuneful bounce; the keyboard-heavy instrumentation; the straightforward production that emphasizes melody and the vocals; and the expressive, well-articulated voice of Carton. About the only thing missing is a unifying chorus, or the inevitable reprise.

This quirk is both a joy and a frustration.

On the one hand, the idea of songs divorced from an imaginary-narrative context and forced to work on their own is playful, alluring, and daring. The audience is invited to create its own story and its own staging, to figure out what happens between the songs.

On the other hand, there's no indication that this musical-theatre effect is intentional, and it seems unfair to cast the CD as part of a larger - if nonexistent - work.

For the most part, individual songs hold up well. Carton's voice is warm, his phrasing is smart and unpredictable but not showy or unnecessarily ornate, and he hits all his emotional marks. Matt Sivertsen's saxophone punctuates most songs with unexpected flourishes - an Egyptian theme on "Walk Away," for instance - and does the lifting typically reserved for a lead guitar. The smoky, noir-ishly romantic intro to "Secrets in Our Awakening" suggests a larger musical palette for the band and is a welcome break from the album's routines.

But there's a sameness that plagues the record. Consistent textures, steady dynamics, and a mix that puts the vocals at the forefront at the expense of the other instruments make Hidden Deep in the Green problematic as a pop album. The lack of musical and sonic variety creates a void, and in their places the listener is forced to imagine the connective tissue of a narrative, or visual interest created by staging.

Bassist Kameron Rummans and percussionist Rob Baner are game and energetic, and within the confines of the CD's sound they do all they can. But they're banished to the background too often.

Sivertsen's sax has more latitude, and he sometimes steals Hidden Deep in the Greenfrom Carton. A blast of impassioned horn on "Nobody" breaks the soundtrack spell, and the climbing sax lead of the opening track, "Lost at Sea," suggests that the audience might be in for some Brave Combo-like polka madness.

But when Carton's Billy Joel-like voice enters the picture, it's clear who the boss is. As is typical with soundtracks to musicals, every word is clear and understood. I mean it as a compliment when I say that Carton belongs on a stage - in the lead of Rent.

His voice often rescues his lyrics, which are idealistic and sunny and love-struck and resilient but lack consistent wit or insight. "Smell the daisies, smell the roses / We'll get pollen on our noses" is typically literal for Carton, but it's one of the few lines with wit or humor.

Like that couplet, Hidden Deep in the Green is a vivid record. It has loads of concrete images, a soulful sax, and heartfelt vocals.

What Minus Six is missing, though, is a healthy dose of imagination. The band should either make its songwriting more dynamic and varied, or get to work on the stage version of this album.

Quad City Times

Band Minus Six seeing signs of positive growth

The Quad-City based band Minus Six found itself playing for students at Iowa State University a couple of months ago, to a reception that surprised even the band members.

"When we were playing a song, they would have the refrains memorized," lead singer-pianist Kevin Carton recalled. "They would wait in line for an hour afterward to meet us and have us sign stuff."

Little did the ISU co-eds know that the band they'd grown fond of was younger than they were.

A collaboration of four Rock Island Alleman students — Carton, bass player Kameron Rummans, sax player Matt Silvertsen and drummer Tyler Kaschke — Minus Six is seeing its reputation add up with the release of its second album, "Some Things Change," this weekend.

"We went from a basement project through the help of a friend to a live studio in Nashville, Tenn., with all this expertise and help," Rummans said.

Three of the band members attended a music seminar in Arkansas last year, where they met Joe Hand, a performer and producer of the likes of Linkin Park and Matchbox Twenty. Hand agreed to take the band under his wing, and in April, the members found themselves on Music Row, for 2 1/2 days of solid recording.

"Joe had actually listened to our first CD down there (in Arkansas), and he could tell there were issues with the first recording," Carton said. "Not that it was horrible, it just could have been better. He wanted to work with the band, expand the sound and make it a little more professional."

Hand told the band what its strengths were, and where it could improve.

"Ever since he's known us, he said we always had the ‘It factor,' which not all bands can develop," Rummans said. "We needed to become tighter in the next year, then give him a call."

Members of the group can already tell they're making progress, thanks to the producer's encouragement.

"He liked the music, he thinks we're getting tighter, and he's excited to see where we're going," Carton said. "He's always on board if we need anything."

To have the good words from a respected producer helped the band's self-worth.

"To get a compliment from someone like him who's had experience means so much to you," Carton said. "It's not like the crazy guy that comes up after the show and says ‘You did a real good job.'"

The band's name comes from its unique calling card — that it's without a guitar. Members compare themselves to a combination of Ben Folds, Billy Joel, Maroon 5 and Gavin DeGraw for their piano-heavy pop-rock sound.

"We wanted something a little more unique, like Ben Folds Five," Carton said. "There are other bands who have made it without a guitar, but there's not a lot of live, local bands with piano, bass, guitar and saxophone."

Those unfamiliar with the band see a piano and sax and wrongly think it's a jazz group, the members — age 15 to 18 — say.

"It's definitely got a defined rock sound, but it's got a twist," Carton said. "We're all playing different styles of music, forming them into one."

With the backing of a well-known producer, members of Minus Six think they might have a shot at the big time.

"Originally, we were just having fun," Carton said. "When a band starts, they always want to make it big, but after we've been touring around the Midwest and seeing the reaction from colleges there, it gives us a lot of hope."