Timothy Edward Carpenter dives into the self-discovery and reckoning of his deeply confessional sophomore EP ‘PREP SCHOOL,’ an achingly raw indie folk record that is as brutally honest as it is breathtakingly vulnerable.
Stream: “gradeschool” – Timothy Edward Carpenter
Think of Timothy Edward Carpenter’s new EP as four “schools” of thought, or four stages of growing up: The harsh, unforgiving journey from youth to young adulthood. Only when we look back on our childhood do we truly realize the definitive, lasting impact of those formative years on our future selves. A truly coming-of-age journey of self-discovery and reckoning, Carpenter’s confessional PREP SCHOOL EP is as brutally honest as it is breathtakingly vulnerable: A beautifully and achingly raw indie folk record tracking the moments and memories that helped make the artist the man he is today.
I was sitting in class
Getting used to my glasses
When I, I first drew my name
On the back of my lunchbox
Holes in my white socks
You said “I’d better get good grades”
All the other kids laughed
‘Cause my teeth had a gap
I guess, I’d never noticed it before
John and his friends
Knocked the wind from my chest and left
Me lying in the grass
And I remember when I said “It’s fine”
In all honesty, I lied
But didn’t know it then
That I’d never be the same
Independently released August 26, 2022, PREP SCHOOL is an intimate, wondrous, and welcome return from singer/songwriter (and Atwood Magazine artist-to-watch) Timothy Edward Carpenter, who just last year debuted with his widely acclaimed, equally introspective the boy from ohio EP. Formerly a leading member of Nashville-based, Atwood-acclaimed “folkicana” six-piece Edward and Jane – which he co-fronted with his wife, Emilie Jane – Carpenter has, for the past six years, been serenading audiences with inspiring songs of love and connection, pain and sorrow, introspection, healing, and so much more. The band – at one time one of the country’s foremost up-and-comers on the folk rock scene – announced their early retirement in mid-2020 alongside their aptly-titled third and final EP With You, Always, which was praised as a “haunting twenty-minute masterpiece of sound and color.”
In featuring Carpenter’s debut EP last year, Atwood Magazine praised the effort as an intimate indie folk upheaval and a breathtaking reintroduction: “A stripped-down reckoning of and with the self, the boy from ohio is a vulnerable record balancing turbulence and tranquility, reflection and observation as the artist searches for meaning, purpose, and understanding – both within himself, and throughout a lifetime’s worth of surroundings. His is the kind of honest songwriting that leaves us breathless, bewildered, and stirred inside.”
PREP SCHOOL arrives eleven months (and an extensive amount of further soul-searching) later, finding Carpenter telling his personal story even more explicitly than he did the first time around.
“Like most of my projects, it seems as though the idea arrives out of thin air,” the singer/songwriter tells Atwood Magazine. “Whether a song or record concept, I find myself doing something mundane such as driving or in the shower and suddenly it’s like all the pieces are right in front of me and I typically pull over or jump out mid-wash to write it all down before the idea escapes me. For PREP SCHOOL, I had already written “highschool,” previously titled “letting you down,” and had just written ‘gradeschool’ when I realized that these were the first two pieces of a whole. I instantly knew I wanted to title the record, PREP SCHOOL, as I went to a college-prep school growing up and felt it captured the essence of my private school experience. Following the first two tracks, I labored over undergrad more than any other track. It felt like it damn near killed me trying to pen some of those thoughts on to the page, perhaps because it is the freshest? I cannot be certain. And finally, “graduation?” sort of fell out of my head unintentionally. I wanted to give the record a thematic ending that tied up the concept neatly and left the listener wanting more.”
There is certainly a bit more production involved on this record, but I believe it to be a healthy and natural progression musically from my first EP,” he adds. “I feel as though in both projects the storytelling lyrical style is my sweet spot.”
PREP SCHOOL‘s four tracks truly dig through the trenches of self-reflection and memory, repressed and otherwise.
The EP opens with the dazzling “gradeschool,” a tender and gentle outpouring of autobiographical snippets that slowly track the artist’s development of a social anxiety. “Is it worth it to mention? My need for attention arrived around the same time I pushed a pin through my ear, grounded me for a year, and for what? I was just trying to fit in…” he sings candidly, drudging up the past and embracing the good, the bad, and the ugly. “And I remember when I said ‘It’s fine,’” Carpenter goes on to sing in a hauntingly emotional, stunningly heartfelt chorus. “In all honesty, I lied, but I didn’t know it then, that I’d never be the same.“
“‘gradeschool’ highlights a few of the most defining moments of my formative years as experienced almost entirely in the halls or playground,” Carpenter says. “The first encounter I had with bullying was in early middle-school when a peer said I had ‘buck-teeth.’ Prior to such an insult, I’d never given much thought to myself being ‘flawed,’ and while I brushed it off in the moment, I was no doubt both emotionally and mentally impacted by the experience – leading to my unpacking the memory some twenty years after.”
Carpenter is still dwelling in the deep end of emotion and experience in “highschool” when he opines, “It’s the strangest thing, to care what strangers think” – his personal favorite lyric on the album.
It took me an hour to send a text
That’s why it’s, hard to believe you’d leave me on read
Glued to my bed, “Was it something I said?”
I can’t really help how this fucks with my head
If I disappoint you, you might as well kill me
If you don’t, my mental state will
It’s the strangest thing, to care what strangers think
But it’s on my mind almost all the time
I was probably nine or ten
When this complex settled in
Now I wish I could forget
You how I’m letting you down
The EP’s back half is equally nuanced, with even more blunt self-expression and emotional bleeding. “undergrad” proves Carpenter at some of his most gut-wrenching as he admits,
It makes me sick inside
To think how hard I’ve tried
To feel understood
From the other side
I’d just turned eighteen
When it dawned on me
“I don’t know what I know about anything”
“I love the lyrics and production in ‘undergrad,’ but working with Collins McLaughlin (strings) really took the song to new high heights and sold it for me,” Carpenter says. “[This song] follows my experience at a small-town, Christian university in the deep south. Freshman year marked the first real feeling of independence. I was quick to believe the days of nearly-missed curfews and daily location check-ins with my parents were long gone. What I soon realized was how I merely traded a guarded and linear existence protected by evangelicalism and rules, for a world much larger than my own that seemed to have vendors on every corner offering their perspective of what to believe about faith, money, careers, etc.”
Like I imagine most twenty-somethings experienced, I was overwhelmed and discouraged to find how ignorant I had been (and still can be) and how little I really know about anything.
The EP concludes with the ethereal, minute-long finale “graduation?” – an at once comforting and unsettling conclusion that leaves the door open for further deep-dives, should the artist ever care to unravel himself once more and confront the ever-present past. “This final track serves as a sort of unresolved punctuation mark to the EP,” he notes. “Purposefully and somewhat dramatically cut short, my hope for this track is that it would serve as a reminder that the pageantry and tradition we identify with a ‘graduation experience’ is simply a construct intended to mark time and/or accomplishments.”
You gave me some advice
Cap and gown in single file
You said it was
“The first day of my life”
I wanted to believe you
I wanted to believe you
I wanted to believe you
And once PREP SCHOOL is over, we are, by some miraculous state of affairs, ready to tackle the insurmountable challenges of “real life.” Maybe that will be the title of Carpenter’s third EP; he leaves us to wander through our own vivid memories as this short, but deeply evocative record comes to a powerful close.
“I hope listeners manage to come to terms with their family of origin and formative years and ultimately love themselves for the person they have grown into despite any roadblocks along the way,” Carpenter shares. “I hope the stories resonate with listeners and allow them to feel comforted that though each of us is unique, we share many of the same experiences and not one of us is alone in that.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Timothy Edward Carpenter’s PREP SCHOOL EP with Atwood Magazine as the singer/songwriter goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his sophomore EP!
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Stream: ‘PREP SCHOOL’ – Timothy Edward Carpenter
:: Inside PREP SCHOOL ::
Written with my good pal, Robert Vincent, “gradeschool” highlights a few of the most defining moments of my formative years as experienced almost entirely in the halls or playground. Rob came to me with the melody for the song and I had mentioned to him how I wanted to write about a memory I had recently been mulling over. The first encounter I had with bullying was in early middle-school when a peer said I had “buck-teeth.” Prior to such an insult, I’d never given much thought to myself being “flawed,” and while I brushed it off in the moment, I was no doubt both emotionally and mentally impacted by the experience — leading to my unpacking the memory some twenty years after.
This is a song I’ve probably written three times over in the last few years. Long as I can remember, I’ve combatted feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure. If I’m being honest, one of my strongest motivators as a song-writer and performer is to accomplish something that others have repeatedly told me I’m not cut out for over the course of my life. The track doesn’t resolve, arguably because I’m still very much coming to terms with what I choose to believe about this part of me moving forward.
“undergrad” follows my experience at a small-town, Christian university in the deep south. Freshman year marked the first real feeling of independence. I was quick to believe the days of nearly-missed curfews and daily location check-ins with my parents were long gone. What I soon realized was how I merely traded a guarded and linear existence protected by evangelicalism and rules, for a world much larger than my own that seemed to have vendors on every corner offering their perspective of what to believe about faith, money, careers, etc. Like I imagine most twenty-somethings experienced, I was overwhelmed and discouraged to find how ignorant I had been (and still can be) and how little I really know about anything.
This final track serves as a sort of unresolved punctuation mark to the EP. Purposefully and somewhat dramatically cut short, my hope for this track is that it would serve as a reminder that the pageantry and tradition we identify with a “graduation experience” is simply a construct intended to mark time and/or accomplishments. Do we ever really graduate anything? Do events such as these actually propel us into the next evolution of ourselves? These are the questions I wanted to call attention to with this succinct album closer.
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