Q&A: Carter Tanton starts fresh with latest album

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Carter Tanton holds a unique place within music, bridging the gap between sample based acts like J Dilla and singer songwriters like Neil Young.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Carter Tanton has managed to carve out a unique niche for himself within music. Despite giving off the appearance of a folk, singer-songwriter acoustic type, his music runs the genre gamut. His debut album, Freeclouds, has the makeup of an acoustic album with all sorts of other elements running through it: Rich, developed sample patterns are woven throughout his calming guitars with his soft, yet powerful, voice layered atop it. Electronic influences also run deeply through his music.

His live shows represent a far more experimental effort of dissonant, complex riffs, coupled with his voice that he uses as more of an instrument than a mechanism for story telling. His wide range of sounds makes sense given his wide musical influences which range from the slightly more expected Neil Young and Mojave 3 all the way to J Dilla and Baths. The Daily Texan caught up with Tanton for his show last week at Emo’s to talk about his new name and playing in New York subways.

The Daily Texan: What’s the difference between the Carter Tanton project and your old project, Tulsa?
Carter Tanton: If Tulsa had kept going, it would have sounded like something much more similar to this. Much more kind of layered sounds. We constantly get compared to My Morning Jacket and, you know, for a good reason. We kind of sound like My Morning Jacket. My new stuff is kind of embracing on one hand the more singer-songwriter stuff but also layered production, so I guess that’s the difference.

DT: Why did you choose to ditch the Tulsa name?
CT: Symbolically, it was like a fresh start. It’s kind of a natural continuation of Tulsa. For the last two years of Tulsa, it was essentially a solo project. I just wanted to have a clean break from it and become inspired, and sometimes, a name does that.

DT: I read that you would play in the subways of New York?
CT: Yeah, I did that for like six months.

DT: To practice?
CT: Kind of to practice, to keep my voice strong. It sounds really good in the subways. That’s where I kind of first got into reverb and like the sound of reverb on my voice. It was mostly to practice because for some reason, it felt more private to play in the subways than in my apartment and have roommates and neighbors hear me because the walls are so thin and everything is compact.

DT: You would play at strange hours of the night to avoid people?
CT: Yeah, I’d play at midnight to three usually, to avoid rush hour. In rush hour, people are going to push around and nobody’s gonna listen. When the train comes, you have to avoid playing for at least two minutes. It makes a lot of noise coming in, and then, you have to wait for it to leave, and it makes a lot of noise coming out. At night, fewer trains come, so you can play more. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made a lot more money playing during the day just because I feel like at night time, people could listen more.

DT: Playing in the subways is a unique experience for an artist not from a place like New York or Boston. How has that affected you musically?
CT: I learned a lot of covering songs, and it kind of got me on this kick of reinterpreting songs that I love. Cat Power’s cover record influenced me in that sense. She’ll cover her favorite songs, and really loosely interpret that song and make it her own right from the start. I’m not too interested in doing an authentic cover of the song. I learned a lot of covers in the subways because I wasn’t always comfortable playing my lyrics. I think I rely on covers a lot more than most bands.

Printed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 as: Genre-blending musician starts fresh with latest album