As Bad Fashion, Austin Carpenter makes shimmering, guitar-centric pop songs

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"I was told I had to sell my soul just to make it big someday, but I guess that's how the world works, anyways." Austin Carpenter isn't looking to sell his soul anytime soon, but the quote is from a song he recently released for his solo project known as Bad Fashion. Carpenter, even at just 23, has embraced a healthy kind of que será, será disposition about putting music out into the world. "It's hard for me, when people ask what kind of music I play," he says. "I just want to tell people to listen and tell me what they think about it."

Carpenter, a Grosse Pointe native, received his first guitar at the age of 5. He was in a shambly guitar-punk band in high school and studied jazz in college. Bad Fashion wound up being neither punk nor jazz. His 2019 EP, Vulnerable, has six sleek guitar-centric pop songs that are so delicately coated in reverb and coiled with shimmery synth adornments that it's seriously soothing to the ears, while also galvanizing this sweet middle ground between night-driving-music and a chill-danceability. Carpenter says his influential reference points were Beach Fossils, DIIV, the Drums, and, to an extent, Real Estate and Tame Impala. But it really comes back to just making music that he wanted to hear.

"When my previous project (Mango Lane) ended, I really just wanted to do my own thing," he says. "There was a band before that, too, that was sort of psychedelic (Varsity Rats). I've admittedly been in too many projects! But I was inspired to start recording at home and just work on (music) by myself. I still want to collaborate more with people, but for now, it's definitely nice to just feel like you have full control."

Carpenter's more concerned about song structure — the actual building of a piece — more so than he would be about strategizing some swift path to fame. His care for the craft is now on paper, with a degree from Wayne State in music technology. He genuinely loves the production process, even if it also produces anxiety.

"I'll wake up at night worrying whether one harmony part is too loud," he says. "It can haunt you. But I always think of [producing] like painting a picture on canvas. You have all these plug-ins, just like different colors, and you can make that painting really mushy if you use too much."

That leads us to his two newest songs and his app, "Cure Your Writer's Block." He actually turned this in as his senior project and knew he had to work toward a copyright quickly when his classmates accosted him for the app code's programming language. "I wanted a simple way to look at [songwriting] differently — to figure out which key to play in, what tempo to follow, which chord progressions, and all these fundamental song structure parameters," he says. "It's all up to the interpretation of who uses it."

Carpenter is wrapping up some more new music to release throughout 2020, along with the launch of his new app. He's weighing the reality of a move out of state, but intending to perform locally as much as possible before then.

From the 2020 bands to watch issue.

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