It would be nice to think that we at crca.net are becoming so professional that we were able to whip up an interview with Jiminy winner Paul Carbonara within hours of his Jiminy victory but that was not the case.
The interview has been in the works since the April 9 New York Times article which reiterated the growing cyclist as rich finance guy stereotype. Not that I have anything against financiers in cycling but too much has been made of it and the big bucks they spend on equipment.
One of the things I like about the sport is the diversity of people. At the starting line we are equals where the only thing that matters is your ability to hold your line.
Not only do we have people from outside the financial area, but some have achieved some notoriety. One such person is Paul Carbonara of the Axis team. Paul’s been a member of CRCA since 1991 and has stood on the podium more than a few times. Outside of cycling Paul was a top studio musician who ended up landing a spot in the legendary Hall of Fame rock group Blondie.
Paul is currently preparing for Bear Mountain and Blondie’s summer tour.
On Saturday May 2,2009 Paul won the Jiminy Peak 45+ race.
So Paul what came first cycling or music?
They both have been happening simultaneously as far as I can remember. When I was a kid, we rode our bikes everywhere and from an early age. We set up a little BMX course in the empty lot next to our house and used to race each other and set up jumps and that sort of thing. I’ve also studied and played music since I was about 8.
I guess cycling is pretty important to you. Your very nice web site, and your bio on the Blondie site include cycling pictures.
When did you start cycling?
I started racing back in 91.
Were you racing before CRCA or as a junior?
No I was smoking a pack a day as a junior.
What got you into the sport?
Really just trying to get in shape. In my teens and twenties I was living the what I thought was the life of a musician. It wasn’t a very healthy lifestyle and I knew I wouldn’t last too long if I kept it up. I hauled out my roomates 63 cm frame, slammed the seat down as low as it would go and started riding up 9W. I did my first race about a year after that. I won a C race on that big beast. Some snotty A rider said, “That’s a pretty big bike there, son.” The idea of a bike fitting me didn’t occur to me for a couple of more years.
Did you do anything else musical before playing guitar?
I played piano for a couple of years, maybe starting when I was 8 or so. I gave clarinet a shot too. I got frustrated though and threw the thing on the floor and broke it . My dad glued it back together and said “thats it for clarinet.” It was a rental !
How did you get into the music business?
I’ve been playing music for money since I was about 15. I was in lots of bands back in the day and we would play anywhere: parties, dances, barbecues, pizza joints and bowling alleys. If you hang around NY long enough and have a little talent you’ll move up and eventually get better gigs. The crazy thing is that when I was a kid I’d make 100 bucks a night to play, that was the 70s and 80s. Nowadays I still get paid 100 bucks a night to do a local job., with a local act. It just proves you’ve got to play music for the love of doing it, because the chances of making any real money kind of suck.
Were you from New York or did you come here to play music?
I was born in Greenwich Village. My family lived there for a couple of years but my dad moved us all out to Bergen County, New Jersey. He thought like many do that it would be a better place to raise his kids. He was probably right. Anyway, as soon as I was 18 I moved to Washington Heights
How did you get hooked up with Blondie?
A friend of a friend told me that they were looking for a new guitarist. I’ll give anything a shot, so I went down to the audition, played a couple of songs and miraculously got hired . That was 12 years ago.
I’ve been listening to some of Blondie’s newer stuff like “The Curse of Blondie.” It’s a little different sound. How does it go in concert with the new stuff versus the classic hits?
As you can imagine people love the classic stuff and we also love playing it. But we need to play new material or we’ll shrivel up and die. We try to find a good balance between the two. Blondie fans are great because they want to hear new songs. They would riot if we didn’t play “Heart of Glass”, but they also expect new stuff.
How was it joining a band that had such a big rep? Were you a fan?
The whole mega star thing that Debbie has going was a little scary until I saw she was just a very normal, sweet person.
I think it kind of helped that I wasn’t a Blondie fan as a kid. I could just approach it as being in another band and try to figure out how to do a decent job and try to fit in.
Blondie is not at all just playing the old hits. They’re still growing musically and doing new things. How would you describe what the band’s doing?
The interesting thing to me about Blondie is how they are willing and able to play many different styles of pop music. When I had to learn all of the songs I was surprised that there were rock songs, disco songs, country songs, reggae songs, and so on. We’re continuing in that spirit. Chris Stein, one of the bands originators, has a great ear for melodies, so his rule is the song must have a catchy or interesting melody. If a new song we’re working on lacks that it either gets scrubbed or re-worked.
Besides playing with Blondie you are working with Mary McBride, writing movie scores, playing with the band Mudlarks and doing studio producing. What are you doing with these different projects and how do you have the time?
I just finished a new record with The Mudlarks. Its called “A Tender Age” and will be available pretty soon. I’m really proud of this one because its really my production. I’ve also been doing some commercial music here and there. I’ve done a couple of independent films and I think that’s where my future is. I have a knack for it and hope to be doing a lot more soon.
The sound tracks you’ve been writing seem very unBlondie? Would that be correct and what’s your interest in the different music?
The music I write for film is more acoustic and melancholy than anything Blondie would record. I’ve always loved sad songs and that’s what I like to write most.
When do you squeeze in time for training?
Riding is part of my life and routine. Its important to me and keeps me sane so I make time for it.
I moved to Brooklyn a couple of years ago and kind of dreaded training in Prospect Park. I thought it was going to be so dinky ! I fell in with a great group of guys: some racers, some tourists and some freds like me. We meet every weekday in the winter at 9:30 and ride until about 12:30. Some days are tempo, some are slow double pace lines and one or two days a week are slug fests. On Tuesday mornings we try to kill each other.
When the weather warms up I head upstate twice a week or so. I’m a little older now, so I don’t need to pile on huge mileage as my races are shorter. I work on more punchy stuff like jumping and sprinting.
Do you listen to music while riding? What have you been listening to lately? Do you listen to different stuff on and off the bike?
I really listen to all kinds of stuff. I love pop music, I’m a big country music fan, I like rap, a little opera. My friends tease me, but Beyonce is great for intervals. I find I can ride a lot harder when I’ve got my iPod going. I think its because I can’t hear myself breathing so hard. The trouble is you can’t hear the truck thats about to run you over either.
How did your win develop at Jiminy.
A decent break went up the road on the 1st lap with Keltic, Arc En Ciel and Bethel riders. There was still a lot of horsepower in the field so the break stayed at only about 45 seconds. On the last lap I was keeping an eye on John Funk and Dzmitry Buben, two really great masters and guys I thought would try to cross the gap. When Buben went, I jumped. Randy Rusk (Arc En Cel) sat on while Buben and I worked hard to get across. We caught the break and made it to the finishing climb. When Rusk attacked, I went with him. The rest of the break threw in the towel. With about 300 meters to go I just went for it and was so happy to win.
Your going to race at Bear in the 45+. Can we expect to see you on the podium? What are your cycling goals and how does riding fit into your life?
I’d love to do well in that race. Two years ago I had a good day and got second.
Bear Mountain is The World Championships for a local rider like me and the guys who have won it are my cycling heroes.
I usually go on tour in the middle of the summer so I train to be in shape for the spring races like Jiminy Peak and Bear Mountain. Axis likes to contest the Spring Series in the masters group, so I make that a goal also.
You start a big tour this summer. What are the bands plans? Are you coming out with a new album?
We’re going out starting in July and running into September. We’ve also been working on a new record and with a little luck will be able to put something out before too long. The songs are coming along great so we’re feeling very positive about it.
Do you find anytime to ride while on tour? Do you travel with your bike?
I always have a bike on the road and have ridden all over the world. Life on tour can be tough on your physical and mental health. Blowing off steam on the bike is mandatory for me.
While on tour I’m on my bike first thing in the morning and looking for the scenic route out of town. I’ve had real life affirming rides in Southern England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Australia, Canada, France and Spain. I’ve also been able to ride in just about all 50 states. I even got a speeding ticket on my bike in Chicago, 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. I was kind of proud of that.
How do the others in the band relate to your cycling?
Mostly with vicious teasing of my Lycra outfit.
One day we were playing a state fair in Wisconsin, we had 10 hours of sitting around to do before the show, so I hopped on my bike and did a long ride. During the show that night I was really dragging my ass and Debbie noticed. Afterwards she called me into her dressing room and asked “How many miles did you do today?” I told her the truth, ninety miles. She thought for a second and said “ keep it under seventy, I ain’t paying you to train !”
Do they think it’s totally off the wall to get up at 5am to race?
Not really . We keep some wacky hours out on tour. A five am lobby call to catch a flight is very common.
You’ve been writing some for Blondie. Can we expect to see some of your compositions on an album?
Fingers crossed – I’ll have a tune or two on the next record. We’ve been collaborating a lot lately and I think we’re going to have great record, a real Blondie record.
Listen to excerpts of Paul’s work .