Atlanta Ensemble Band Wabi Sabi Releases latest album, The Love Insane

Wabi Sabi is an ensemble band based in Atlanta. Image courtesy of Wabi Sabi.
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The Atlanta-based ensemble band known as Wabi Sabi just released their fourth album, The Love Insane. Working on the album was a departure for the group that’s used to their high-energy shows and working together as an ensemble. Since it was made during COVID, Wabi Sabi was produced alone by band leader Damian Carter during lockdown. 

Carter spoke about the new approach. “This is the first of our albums that I have produced myself. I was working on a couple of singles when Covid hit, and then I just started programming some new and old songs that I had never properly recorded. Then, one by one, I replaced all the parts with real Wabi Sabi musicians. We have never done an album this way, but Covid mixed with having a spare bedroom home studio seemed like the perfect time to try.” 

“It was such a departure from our last album which was a double ‘live’ album, and the other two albums we made in the studio. It was nice for me to be able to work on it at home, using any spare time I had learning, editing, mixing, and experimenting,” he says. Carter recently spoke to us about Wabi Sabi’s beginnings and the latest album. 

Wabi Sabi is led by Damian Carter. Image courtesy of Wabi Sabi.

Tell me how Wabi Sabi came together. 

A friend of mine who was (and is) one of my favorite songwriters/singers/people convinced me to move to Atlanta. I agreed to come play in his band Brighter Shade, and even though I wrote my own originals, I was determined not to start another band because the last one got so close to that sexy and ever elusive record deal. Then the band fell apart slowly piece by piece, and the momentum had run out of gas, so I headed south. One day I submitted a demo to the Atlantis Music Festival and was completely surprised when they gave “us” a primetime spot at The Hard Rock Cafe. 

I was playing mostly solo piano gigs around town at the time, and had been asked by India Arie to play a few shows with her band where I met Wes Funderburk (our future trombonist and arranger) and we started doing some gigs together with the amazingly talented Eric Sanders on drums. We called ourselves “Damian Cartier (and His My Newt Orchestra)” as a sort of joke. We were a tiny orchestra consisting of a piano player, a trombonist and a drummer. Truly a formula for success! We started to play more and more places, and added Sean McIntyre on bass, Andy Birdsall on guitar (both from Brighter Shade), Vinnie D’Agostino (sax, flute/clarinet) and Joe Grandsen (trumpet). Joe then had to move to New York for an amazing opportunity, and Wes brought along Lester Walker (trumpet) who remained with us all the way up until 2023. Sean had an exclusive commitment to another band in town that was taking music seriously, so we added Kristofer Dale on bass in 1999. We had a few lead guitarists along the way from Derek McCoy, Aaron Thompson, and finally Jeff Caldwell who unknowingly auditioned by playing the guitar solo note for note from Tom Waites’ “Way Down In The Hole” at a blues jam. Jason LaMarca joined us on drums in 2005.

We changed our name to Wabi Sabi sometime after our first album, as no one could spell “Damian Cartier (and His My Newt Orchestra)” correctly, and it wasn’t as funny now that we were as a 9-or 11-piece band. Along the way, we have had several backup singers over the years including Karesha Hicks (from India’s band), Stephanie Davis (from Los Angeles’ Lovestar Deluxe), Stephanie Carll, Anitra Holley, Kelly Blackmon, Kelly Andrews, Kourtney and Keisha Jackson, and Luna Searles.

How did the name come about?

One day I was watching the episode “The Son Also Roses” from King Of The Hill, and Bobby was trying to grow the “perfect rose” for a flower competition. He wanted to enter the rose that had a beautiful imperfection which made it unique and more precious than the others. He had been reading a book on Eastern Philosophy that the stoners in the grow light store had given him, so he said he loved this rose because it had “wabi sabi” – a perfect imperfection. Because our live shows involve a lot of improvisation and the songs were organic; reflecting the mood of that particular night, we changed our name. Also, it was much easier to spell, if not easier to confuse with wasabi.

The Love Insane is the band’s fourth album. Image courtesy of Wabi Sabi.

This latest album was put together somewhat piecemeal, somewhat at times alone, due to COVID. What was that process like?

I programmed all the songs here at home in the spare bedroom studio, and would replace one instrument at a time with a real musician. First, Jason would replace my incredibly basic drum parts with him playing on an electric kit (a first for us) so we could manipulate the sounds later. Then, I would email Kris the track without the synth bass part for him to record real bass at his home studio.  After that,  guitarists Jeff and Andy would come over to play their socially distant tracks. We recorded the string quartet and the horns, all of which were arranged by Wes, at Brighter Shade Studios with John Driskell Hopkins (JDH) running the board. One by one, musicians were added to tracks, mostly by having them over and recording them while remaining socially distant. It was a weird way to make an album, and a complete 180 from our last double live album “Alive and Orjazmic Up In The Tin Roof” where we recorded a live show. But it was also the first album I got to engineer and mix, often asking JDH for his professional opinions and advice. It was a beautiful and frustrating experience, and once I started playing dueling piano gigs again for work, it was incredibly hard to find the several hours in a row one needs to work on it. Once I was immersed in my second bedroom studio, I didn’t want to leave. I loved listening to everyone’s performances, and how they played against each other, as well as being scared to death because I didn’t want to mess any of it up.

The Love Insane came out this summer. What’s the response been like so far?

We have had great response with many of our songs being reviewed and shared all over the world, and surprisingly decent sales. I say “surprisingly” because we don’t have anyone professional promoting it. And as every song is unique, many people have their own favorite. And not-so-favorite lol. But, hey, if they like one song on this album, then we have made a connection!

What do you hope listeners will gain once they listen to the songs on the album?

I hope they will gain their stereos/earbuds up to 11!  And never play it on the phone speakers. All that work just to have it sound like an AM radio from a bad dream. I don’t know what listeners should gain, except hopefully finding a song on here that they can relate to in some way.

Wabi Sabi performing live as an ensemble. Image courtesy of Wabi Sabi.

Is there a story to tell with each song, both individually, and together as an entirety?

Yes. I will try to share a Cliff’s Notes version here.

“The Truth”: Being able to listen to friends who care about you enough to tell you what the hell is wrong with you.

“I Am OK”:  A song for my daughter and how she changed my life, disguised as a universal love song.

“Manifest”: National and personal growth. 

“The Love Insane”: Conditional love sucks and is running rampant.

“Not Yet, Sister”: Long distance relationships do not work. Stop thinking you are the exception.

“Sick Tuna”: A song from my youth about walking in on something you really didn’t want to see. 

“The Fall”: Falling in love is great. Landing is a whole other thing completely.

“Please Rescue Me”: A couple loses baggage and learns to trust again.

“Spacetime”: This time I am the friend telling you what the hell is wrong with you. It’s like a reverse Truth.

“Weirdo Blues”: Fear metaphorically manifesting as a creature in your closet.

Together they are a collection of really old and new songs that never made it to an album, but deserved to. Aside from that, the songs are really just a bunch of observations on some of the absurdities of life.

Wabi Sabi is very much about the live music aspect. Are you happy to be back performing live now that COVID restrictions are over?

Well, we have only played very little since. Original music clubs are harder to find in Atlanta these days, especially for music that doesn’t fit into a genre. With that, everything is turning into DJs and tribute bands. Even cover bands are having it hard these days. We all play with other projects from swing bands to dueling pianos and everything in between. We are now in the process of planning our next shows and venues.

What’s next for Wabi Sabi? 

Wabi Sabi is a place where musicians get to breathe and jam and laugh while discovering new depths together. Everything has a basic form, but sometimes the music just takes us on a journey we weren’t expecting. The musicianship of all the players as well as their listening abilities keeps everything fresh. New music will always be coming as long as we are able, and we will most likely be releasing singles from here on out. That last album actually became possible BECAUSE of COVID. Time was in abundance. And, “they” tell us singles are the only way to go, and why would they lie? 

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