Kent musicians making their way in the world

Carson and Tess Henley don’t need Simon Cowell or Paula Abdul to tell them they’re talented.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, July 15, 2008 2:00pm
  • Life
Tess Henley

Tess Henley

Release their debut albums, perform live

Carson and Tess Henley don’t need Simon Cowell or Paula Abdul to tell them they’re talented.

The Kent-born siblings have taken matters into their own hands, each recently releasing a debut album and booking shows around the area to jump start their musical careers. And the soulful, piano-playing singer-songwriters plan on distinguishing themselves from any typical “American Idol.”

“We want our music to stand out from all the stuff you hear on the radio,” Carson said. “We want it to be better than that.”

Carson, 22, and Tess, 20, have been working in the studio for the past year and a half on Carson’s “Green Eyed Soul” and Tess’ “Easy to Love.” Now that the albums have dropped, they’ve been booking and playing gigs at festivals like the Taste of Tacoma and the Bellevue Strawberry Festival, hoping to build a fan base and get the word out about their tunes.

This isn’t the first stage or studio time the Henleys have seen. They’ve been immersed in music since before they were born. Their mother, Theresa Carnovale, was onstage with her dance cover band, Theresa Carnovale and City Life, while each of them was still in the womb.

“My mom got us started in music really early,” Carson said. “She started us taking piano lessons at the age of 3.”

Trained on piano at the Pacific Northwest School of Music since that early age, the siblings grew up performing in recitals, and Tess was no stranger to the singing stage. They and their younger sister Maggie all won Kentlake High School’s version of “American Idol,” proving their singing ability as well.

They slowly blended their classical piano skills with their own styles over the years and soon became interested in creating their own music. Their mother strongly encouraged them to start writing.

“My mom would always tell us that’s where the money’s at,” Tess said.

Carson said his sister was the first to develop a knack for writing, but he soon followed. They both began developing songs they were proud of, and their mother knew it was time to start laying them down.

They found Edmonds-based studio Soul Sound Audio and began recording with David Thomson, a young producer which the siblings said played a large part in their albums’ final sound.

”It went from being a few songs for a demo to becoming a whole album,” Carson said. “It just kind of snowballed and got more and more professional.”

The albums turned out well, they said, and they each have their own unique sound. Though they both share common R&B influences like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, the siblings differ in other ways. Carson’s style tends to reflect rock, pop and blues artists like the Beatles, Elton John, Gavin DeGraw and Marc Broussard. Tess, on the other hand, has developed more of a soulful sound from listening to artists like Alicia Keys, Inda.Arie and Music Soulchild.

Their styles mesh well, though, and they split sets together at shows, often performing duets with each other. The siblings said typical brother-sister bickering has sometimes broken out during long studio sessions, but they enjoy sharing the stage.

“We definitely have some instances where we’re upset at each other, but we usually find a common ground,” Carson said.

They said the whole process has been a family affair, and they couldn’t have done it without the support of their parents. They also made sure to mention their sister, Maggie, who co-wrote and offered advice on many of the songs on their albums.

“I’ll call her and say, ‘What do you hear right after this,’ and I’ll just read her the line,” Carson said. “And she’ll just spit it right out. She’s a genius.”

The Henleys are passionate about playing music for a living, but both have a backup plan. Carson recently graduated from the University of Washington with a marketing degree, and Tess will be a UW junior next year.

“Hopefully I’ll get to use (my marketing degree) to market myself,” Carson said. “I’m not really the kind of person to do a nine-to-five. That’s why I like music. Even if the singing thing doesn’t work, it would be awesome to stay in the industry.”

Tess, who is studying communications, is more set on making it as a performer.

“I don’t really know what else I would do besides music,” she said. “I’m just hoping this works out.”

The Henleys’ albums, “Easy to Love” and “Green Eyed Soul,” can be purchased at their concerts at the Bite of Seattle July 20 and the Seattle Municipal Tower Summer Concert Series Aug. 5. They will also soon be available online at, and

For more information and to listen to Carson and Tess Henley songs, visit and

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