The Raging Marys/London Down - 10 Questions Interview
Interview with: Steve Hartsoe: Lead vocals, guitar Chris Carbone: Bass
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
Steve: I was influenced to pick up the guitar because of the classic records my Mom played -- Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry, CCR. Hearing the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” in headphones for the first time was mind-blowing. I never thought about playing in a band until I saw Tom Petty in San Francisco in 1983. I had never seen a band connect with the audience like that and they seemed like they were having such a blast together onstage. Then I saw The Replacements on Saturday Night Live in January 1986, and that was it. All that raw energy and such brutally honest songs really moved me to try and write my own songs. London Down was just a few months old at the time, and everyone really dug working on our own music -- just like we do today. (Note: we changed our name to The Raging Marys from 1988-1991.)
Chris: I saw a band playing in a park when I was about 7 years old. It was the most mesmerizing thing I’d ever seen. A cover of The Monkee’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday. I was hooked. The idea of being in a band would stay with me my whole life.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
Steve: Probably when The Raging Marys opened for Mudhoney at the legendary Satyricon club in Portland on our Northwest tour in May 1990. It was just before Nirvana and that Northwest grunge scene exploded, but we could feel that vibe was starting to happen. The club was packed and it’s probably the most intense we ever played, mainly so they didn’t throw beer bottles at us. After our set we had to exit through the crowd, escorted by bouncers. That never happened in San Jose. We have a new song partially about that experience called “Budokan” that we plan to release this summer on a London Down EP.
Chris: Lurching through the crowd on top of the shoulders of our guitarist while playing AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie”-- Bon Scott and Angus Young style at One Step Beyond in Santa Clara for an encore. We pulled it off without missing a beat…needles to say the room was on fire…so ridiculous…
What has been the high point of your music path?
Steve: It sounds like a lame plot from a Hallmark Christmas movie, but I’d say connecting with the guys in the band and forming friendships that have lasted more than three decades. Sharing song ideas with them and seeing a song take shape is always a highlight. We’ve always kept the music as our focus, which helps remove ego trips and tension. We’re a democracy, so the majority view wins. Imagine that.
Chris: There have been many stellar moments, playing with Mudhoney at the Satyricon. Playing benefits for Amnesty International and Jello Biafra’s No Censorship, but I have to say we haven’t reached it yet. We wrote songs for a couple years then took an extended break then started to write together again. It felt like we never stopped, but was in a cryogenic freeze in suspended animation…like a thawed-out caveman. It is weird having such a chronologically broad range of influences … so yeah, the best is yet to come.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
Steve: I may get a vibe or emotion or experience I want to put in a song, or I’ll strum my guitar to a drum loop for inspiration. A melody usually comes to me then I just start building a song based on that vibe. Lyrics always come last and are the hardest part for me. Once I make a demo I’ll send it to Chris or the band to see if it has potential. The ones they reject end up on my solo projects. Ha!
Chris: My creative process is fueled by my extreme introversion. I’m a classic loner with a touch of melancholia. I’m always writing in the middle of the night. The Brian Wilson song “In my Room” pretty much defines my approach … just leave me alone with my guitar and I’m content. But here in San Jose something is in the water that grows and influences garage music and psychedelia. Some really great bands (we actually used to practice in a rehearsal space used by The Syndicate of Sound) so the lo-fi garage/psychedelia has always been part of my creative mindset…total cro-mag…another link in the SJ lineage.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Steve: The biggest challenge for us -- whether promoting our past work as The Raging Marys or London Down, which reformed in 2018 -- is getting noticed with so many artists vying for attention. The internet is great for reaching people, but there’s so many thousands of bands doing the same thing. In addition, two of us live in North Carolina and two guys are still in California, so it’s a major effort just to play a show. If we could play regularly I have no doubt we would generate a much larger following and buzz. That said, we are open to playing more if possible, so get in touch, bookers: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris: I just thawed out, I’m still trying to untangle my coiled patch cord and find my tuck and roll padded amp head. Seriously though, everything has changed in music with streaming. If I could change one thing it would be a way for local amateur musicians to get a little more money and recognition for their music. The sad truth is even with the accessibility of streaming, the same industry people still run the show. It sounds ridiculous but “they” are even more in control than they were before.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Steve: Probably The Stones. Might as well aim as high as you can. Plus I want a close up view of Keith’s guitar rig so I can glean whatever I can.
Chris: Real tough question, there are so many musicians. If I could go back in time and just be a fly on the wall, soaking it all in … the icons for me … Elvis, Cash, Snakefinger, Orbison, Morrison, Cobain … but I’d rather just hang out and have a conversation or watch them run through the changes of a new song, in the throes of the creative process. I would enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and talk about music. I guess if it had to be a living musician… John Doe.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
Steve: We can’t rehearse because we are on both coasts of the U.S. -- NC and CA, unless we have a show. Because of the distance we only play about once a year. My son, Eli, our drummer, and I fly to San Jose, we borrow another band’s rehearsal space and we blast through the set, playing each song once or twice. Everyone has to woodshed the songs on their own before we get together since we can’t practice weekly like we used to.
Chris: We don’t rehearse. Half the band is in NC and the other half in NorCal. We did an album in Nashville and all flew in. We rehearsed 12 songs in one day at SIR and recorded an album in 3 and half days. I wish we could rehearse, I really miss it. You can hammer out parts of songs really quickly. Where all the late night ideas and meanderings come to life…really exhilarating…the first few times blasting out a new tune…plus nothing better than the hang time.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
Steve: Probably “Canyon Song” on a solo EP I released last year. I got the idea while visiting Malibu, California, in January 2020. The juxtaposition of the serene coastline and the brewing pandemic created a strange vibe. I can’t explain why, but I just wanted to find a canyon in Malibu and hide with my family until it passed. I heard exactly how I wanted that song in my head, and worked on it for a few months until I got it, even hiring a harmony singer from Venezuela because she sounded like Tina Turner with a gritty vocal quality the song needed.
Chris: The toughest song for me to write is anything in a major key. Ha ha! I’m drawn to minor-key songs, sad and lonely, but weirdly inspirational themes … or straight garage thrash. I write about personal experiences, so the hardest part of it is deciding how deep I want to go and how much I want to air out. Sometimes you have to make it a little ambiguous to protect the innocent. “Cherrywood and Roses, Too” on London Down’s 2018 album “Gnashville” was probably the most difficult to write. Another difficult song was “Shotgun at your Waist.”
What's coming up in the future?
Steve: I think The Raging Marys is probably a one-time legacy thing. We released our indie album “Birthday” on vinyl in 1989. After we reformed London Down in 2018 we started listening back to it when learning some of those songs for our London Down shows. I think we realized it’s a good album but no one has heard it in 30 years so why not give it some new digitized life? Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering in Milwaukee created digital versions from vinyl copies. Justin is great, and has mastered albums for some of our favorite bands, including The Replacements and Peter Case. We’re really happy with how good it sounds. We also recorded a bonus song, “Assault Gun at Your Waste.” The original version on “Birthday, titled “Shotgun at Your Waist,” was written after a gunman killed five students and wounded 32 others at a Stockton, California, elementary school in 1989. Here we are 32 years later and gun violence is even worse. We updated the lyrics and titled it “Assault Gun at Your Waist” to include as a bonus track on this remastered version of our album, with releases May 21, 2021. Longtime friend Dave Ristrim, who plays in Luke Bryan’s band, plays lap steel on it. For London Down, we plan to release a few EPs a year, recorded long distance, and maybe play a few shows a year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Chris: What’s next? We are just happy to get the Deathmobile cranked up again. Working with my brothers on new stuff is super exciting. At this point I don’t really feel there is a difference in style between the two bands. It all comes out of the same brain bucket. We have always enjoyed a really wide range of musical influences and it reflects in the range in our music. If we want to play a garage punk song or a country weeper, we just do it, psychedelia, folk, super heavy, weirdness, it’s all on the table…a marketing nightmare, but that’s the way we’ve always been…but it’s infinitely real and heartfelt.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
Steve: People can download all our music -- London Down and The Raging Marys -- at our website: www.londondownmusic.com and find links to our social media sites there.
They can follow us on Facebook for updates on new music, occasional shows, etc. at
About The Raging Marys/London Down
Just before grunge draped the West Coast in plaid and distorted guitars, San Jose-based The Raging Marys released “Birthday,” their 12-song indie album produced by Oakland punk legend Kevin Army (Green Day, Operation Ivy). Released on vinyl and cassette in November 1989, the band’s mix of gritty garage rock and folky strains garnered critical acclaim, steady airplay on college radio and opening slots for heavyweights including Mudhoney, The Young Fresh Fellows, Loop and The Tragically Hip.
Managed by Dennis Gonzales, founder of POW Magazine, The Raging Marys formed in 1988 out of San Jose’s London Down after an original member left and the band opted to pursue a harder sound with a new member, Gerry Henne.
The Raging Marys were Steve Hartsoe (lead vocals, guitar), brother Ken Hartsoe (drums, vocals), Chris Carbone (bass, vocals) and Henne (guitar).Hartsoe and Carbone also perform again with London Down, which regrouped in 2018 and started releasing new music, including the 13-song “Gnashville”(2018) and“Live in San Jose”(2020).
Henne, whom band members credit with adding a creative edge to their sound, tragically died of cancer in January 2021. The band has dedicated the new release to his memory.