Rollo & Grady Interview :: Carter Tanton Of Tulsa

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Carter Tanton Of Tulsa

Tulsa’s 2007 EP “I Was Submerged” put singer-songwriter Carter Tanton on the map. He received high praise from Spin, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone Magazine. Tanton was not an overnight success story; he began writing and recording songs at an early age and even spent time honing his performing skills in the subways of New York. What Tanton will not admit is that he’s a truly gifted artist; he’s a skilled songwriter with a stunning and engaging voice.

R&G: What kind of music did you listen to growing up in Baltimore?

Carter: There wasn’t really any good radio stations in Baltimore. I learned about music first-hand from a few people who kind of served as mentors, just cool older people who wanted to show me some great music. One of those guys, whose name is Andy Bopp, put out a lot of records under the pen name Myracle Brah. Andy showed me a lot of cool stuff, like Big Star. I was listening to Big Star when I was like 14, just appreciating that on a whole wide range of levels, from the way the record sounded to the song writing.

R&G: You began writing songs when you were 14?

Carter: Yeah. I started writing songs at a pretty early age. I don’t consider them strong songs, but I always was writing songs. I put out three or four records by the time I was 22.

R&G: You used to play songs in the subways in New York. What inspired you to do this and what year was that?

Carter: That was around 2004. The first time I did it I just played a show at CB’s Gallery. It was the acoustic spot right next to CBGB’s. I hadn’t really told any friends about it and I hadn’t tried to get people out to the show, so nobody came and it kind of bummed me out. I felt like I’d wasted my time and the sound guy’s time. I’d always wanted to try performing on the subway, so on my way home from that show I had my guitar on me, so I got over that fear at that moment and just started playing right there. I did that for the next five or six months. It taught me a lot and that’s when I first started liking the sound of reverb on my voice, too, because it sounds really good down there in the subways.

R&G: You primarily played cover songs in the subways, correct?

Carter: I started playing covers in the subways because I was a little shy about singing my own lyrics and my own songs, even though I’d been writing them for almost ten years. Just not knowing who I was singing to and not knowing if they really wanted to hear me sing, I didn’t want to be throwing my own songs out there. Just a little too personal. I learned a lot of covers so I didn’t have to worry about my own material being made fun of or ignored or whatever.

R&G: Did you accept money?

Carter: I did. That was another reason why I played.

R&G: You talked about liking the sound of reverb on your voice in the subway. I’ve read that Jim James and Ben Bridwell used reverb in the beginning because they were insecure with their voices. Can you relate to that?

Carter: I’m not insecure about my voice; I like how it sounds in a small room with no reverb. I just think it sounds better. The way I like to sing is to have a lot of breath at the beginning of a note but I don’t really like holding on to a note. Reverb kind of does that for me, so I can shout the first split second of a note and then the reverb does the rest of the work. I don’t want the reverb to mask my voice so much as I just want to enhance it.

R&G: You have a unique voice. When did you realize you had a special voice and talent?

Carter: I don’t think I have a special voice or talent. I feel confident, but I don’t think I’m more talented or special than anyone else. I really like singing, and I think that’s what it comes down to. You can probably hear that in my voice, that there’s some cathartic thing going on when I’m singing that maybe people can relate to or be inspired by.

R&G: You’ve gone through some changes with the band. What can we expect on the next album?

Carter: Well, it’s going to be just me recording the record. I’m going to go out to Chicago and work with Brian Deck. That’s going to just totally turn everything on its head. I’m going to probably be playing all the instruments. It’s hard to say right now. I don’t think the guitars are going to be as loud and distorted. They’re going to be softer and probably spacier.

R&G: Brian produced the recent Califone and Iron and Wine records. That sounds like a perfect fit for you.

Carter: Yeah, everybody kind of felt that way, too. My label brought him to my attention, and that was my initial reaction, too. I listened to the Califone record and I was in love with what I assume he did for their sound.

R&G: Have you and Brian discussed any ideas for your upcoming recording sessions?

Carter: No, there’s been no pre-production to speak of yet. We just met when I was on tour in Chicago. But we haven’t really talked about much music, although I was talking to him about how I was indecisive about whether to bring the band out or come out on my own. All he could say was that that’s a decision I had to make, so he didn’t really sway me one way or another. He just said, “You gotta make up your mind.”

R&G: Why did you choose to record solo and not with the band?

Carter
: I think for the purpose of this record, I’ve been working on it ever since “I Was Submerged” was finished, which was almost two years ago. So the band’s gone through so many changes at this point that the only thing that feels steady is my involvement in the band. What settles my mind the most is my going into the studio on my own and trying to make it happen that way.