The gaps between Bill Carbone’s riffs about music’s connection to pretty much everything are filled with a rhythmic pattering of taps on his thighs, as if he’s in the middle of a drum solo for a future concert. The taps aren’t distracting because they compliment his every word, as his head bobs back and forth to the sound of his own voice and the simple melodies of his life.
Bill is a drummer for Max Creek, The Z3, Zach Deputy, Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan, and 10ft Ganja Plant (not including the several he substitutes for), a private lessons drum instructor at Wesleyan University, an adjunct professor of music at Central Connecticut State University, and is currently a PhD candidate, completing a dissertation on ethnomusicology. He spends much of his weekdays and nights enveloped in music. His last show was just the night before, and despite having to constantly negotiate the whirlwind of life as an arbiter of music at all hours of every day, he seems enthusiastic and spry about spending sunny Saturday mornings hiking and bike riding with his two young kids, while his wife is away on a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction retreat.
Bill has been obsessed with the drums since the fourth grade. He attributes his love for music and his start as a musician back to the days when his mother, Marta, used to take him to Merle’s Record Rack, in Guilford, CT. She used to allow him to pick out one cassette each week. Born and raised on WPLR, Connecticut’s predominant rock station, Bill remembers his first couple tapes he got at Merle’s – a Poison album he laughingly describes as the one where they all have makeup on and look like women. He was so excited about it that when he went home he immediately tried to play the drum riffs. He began taking drum lessons in the fifth grade and knew right away he’d drum for the rest of his life.
Just around the corner from Wesleyan University, Bill’s three-story home sits indistinguishable from others on the street, save for a Bernie Sanders sign stapled into the grass. Inside, hundreds of vinyl albums in a rack, from a recording of a T.S. Eliot reading to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Dare to Be Stupid, lean against a wall next to a turntable in the living room where a television might normally sit. Bill stood in the dining room fussing with camera parts for a LEGO video that Taavi, his affable nine-year-old son draped in blonde, plans on shooting. Veda, Bill’s also bright-blonde four-year-old daughter with a ring of Thin Mint cookie smeared around her lips, stands on an end table by the window, then crashes to the ground and shrugs it off. “At least nothing broke,” she says. Bill, with cheeks pushing up his glasses, manages to be cheerful and smiles at her comment. Taavi then begins to bolt in circles around his father and topples over a conga drum in the middle of the room. Less cheerful this time, Bill remains compassionate and concerned amidst the pandemonium.
During his shows, Bill explains that everything he focuses on is framed by the song itself. It begins with the song, it ends with the song, and everything in between – those moments he is able to let go, to “thrash and sweat” – is for the sake of the song. To that end, there is nothing else but the song; not even his family. “That’s the thing that freaks me out about music sometimes. I’m working on my own things so hard, like am I giving enough to the people around me? It’s a little selfish,” he says and stops tapping, if just for a minute. “Sometimes you just have to decide something else is more important. My kids. Being there for them. Being a dad.”
Despite his concerns, Bill is stalwart in his quest for a higher musical understanding. He calls it his nada brahma – the “Sound of God” in Indian classical music and tradition – and lurches forward out of his chair with his hands raised toward the sky when he uses the term. “What I really want from music…is to like, go further, you know?” He says, and then settles back comfortably in his chair. Like Indian classical musicians, Bill has spent most of his life practicing his instrument, mastering it, devoted to it. When he sits at it he seems to mold into its features. Every shining piece of chrome stitched with fingerprints, the matte drumheads worn black by the barrage, the high hat cymbals riddled with tiny acorn dents; every bit of it suits him perfectly, like he could disappear in it all.
“Dad, grandma and grandpa are here! Can I have a cookie?” Veda yells two floors down from Bill’s mini recording studio, which is the size of a king-size mattress. Bill calls back that he will be right down and carefully shimmies past the many different things that can be bumped into – a desk, several chairs, recording equipment in a heap of wires and flashing lights, his drums on one wall, a set of drums for a person half his size on the other wall, a mandolin, and, hanging close to his chair, a Guild Starfire guitar circa 1968. The guitar belonged to Bill’s father, back when he still played old school rock and roll music, the likes of Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly. When severe arthritis forced Bill’s father to quit playing, the guitar found a home with his son.
Bill’s parents arrive at his house after spending several weeks on a cruise. They are there to pick up, Emma, their nervous rat terrier Bill agreed to watch, and Veda and Taavi to baby-sit so Bill can have a small vacation of his own – one with his wife, Amy, for a night out. He ran around the house ushering his children from room to room, trying to clean up the boxes of girl scout cookies and playing cards strewn across the floor, get them dressed, and convince them to brush their teeth before they leave with Droggy and Doo-Wop Pop, A.K.A. Grandma and Grandpa.
One of Bill’s great talents as a musician and a student of ethnomusicology is seeing the connection between artists and the influences on their sounds. “Everything is connected. Nothing ever just starts…but if you want to be deeply influenced by somebody you have to follow them deeply,” he says. It is part of what he loves about music – that there are so many ways people in this world can be torn apart, but that there are just as many ways they can be drawn together by music, learn from music, and celebrate music while they celebrate themselves and everyone around them.
Bill crouches to pick up the remaining playing cards strewn on the floor that Taavi missed, and wraps his children in jackets, hands over a pink backpack and boxes of LEGOs to his parents, and blows kisses to his children before closing the door behind them. On the other side, Bill’s father and Emma walk side-by-side. Veda and Taavi bounce and skip toward Bill’s father’s car. And Bill’s mother follows proudly after her grandkids. The air in the house finally settles and Bill turns toward the steps up to his studio, rests his hand on the banister for a moment and mutters, with his bearded cheeks and glasses pushed up by a smile, a genuine and loving, “This is my life.”