RESURRECTING THE WILD-EYED BOY Carter Tanton

A traumatic experience
with an indie label leads to multitasking with several indie artists – and,
subsequently, one of 2011’s best indie albums.

 

BY
MAX BLAU

 

On
David Bowie’s early classic album Space
Oddity
, There’s a somber, orchestrated song titled “Wild Eyed Boy From
Freecloud.” According to Bowie,
it’s a track “about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they’re left
outside.” He wrote the song to describe his own feelings of introspection and
isolation. It’s a song that explores our carefree curiosities in our youth and
the evolution of that into our fragmented adulthoods.

 

When
Carter Tanton was 15, he first listened to David Bowie’s outsiders’ ode. It
stuck with him over the years, both in terms of his own individualistic
exploration as a songwriter. “The way in which I interpreted his lyric[s] has
to do with preserving youthful inspiration, wild unadulterated joy and
innocence,” he explains.

 

It’s
that pure, unadulterated experience that has driven Tanton continue making
music.

 

His
latest album Freeclouds (Western
Vinyl; read the BLURT review here), his first recorded work under his own name,
finds the songwriter recapturing the magic of simply writing songs and the
sense of creative accomplishment that ensues. It’s a record full of sonic
diamonds in the rough of his shifting noise experiments, revealing an
infectious pop hooks before waning into the hazy walls he’s constructed.

 

More
than anything, Tanton’s work can truly be considered a labor of love after the
near half-decade struggle he’s faced in releasing a full-length effort. He
previously led the group Tulsa,
who garnered attention for their 2007 EP I Was Submerged. The group signed with
Park The Van records and began to work on their debut LP.

 

Tanton
spent two years writing and recording an album that never got released, teaming
up with Califone producer Brian Deck, whose work he admired given its adept mix
of both lo-fi and hi-fi recording techniques. Halfway through making the album,
however, his relationship with Park The Van went sour.

 

“Park
The Van stopped writing checks after only a few weeks and eventually stopped
returning everyone’s calls, Tanton explains. “Which left me with the
responsibility of financing a record which was only half tracked. I sold off my
own studio in Boston
to keep it going until even that ran dry. It eventually reached the point where
for six months I did not own the masters to the record.”

 

He
ultimately purchased his masters back from the studio, but the damage wrought
by the indie label was done. The process left Tanton stuck between a rock and a
hard place, having invested so much of himself into that record but having
little to show for it. The battle drained him of his creative impetus,
ultimately resulting in the disbandment of Tulsa and the anticipated follow-up record.

 

“I
still can’t think too much about this without going into my own private blind
rage. I was so inspired to make that follow up record,” Tanton vents. “I lived
and breathed it for two solid years, to the point where the stress of it all
began to suffocate.”

 

Left
without a project or direction, Tanton took to a variety of other projects,
including working as a producer for numerous acts, most notably Twin Shadow. He
also recently joined Lower Dens as a permanent member this past year, and has toured
as a guitarist with Marissa Nadler – in what became, incidentally, a
relationship more than what your average frontwoman and touring musician might
have.

 

Tanton
and Nadler worked closely together, as he essentially became her right-hand man
for her 2011 release Marissa Nadler.  “She allowed me to become very involved with
the songs, from helping select which ones to record to doing a bit of
co-writing,” he says. “We developed a trust that I haven’t reached with anyone
else where she really gave me carte blanche on the record.”

 

Working
in these different capacities helped Tanton to find his way back to his own
work. He tried to let go of his desire to write songs – something he had
started to resent at one point. It was in this uncertain place, caught in his
tumultuous love-hate relationship with songwriting, that Freecloud‘s opening track
“Murderous Joy” was born.

 

“It’s
about the joy I felt when I first began writing songs and how different I had
begun to feel in the months prior to recording and writing “Murderous Joy,” he
admits. “I had grown to resent how much music isolated me from my friends and
having intimate relationships… What was formerly all I ever wanted to think
about and spend my time doing was now like a scapegoat for how unhappy I was. The
song does not come from a good place is all I can say.”

 

The
song’s chorus returns to his Bowie
fascination, recalling that dualistic introspective immersion and
disassociation as he cries out, “I need just a little time to sing you a
line you won’t soon forget / about a wide-eyed boy and his murderous joy / when
words to a song he’d set.” Tanton’s album opener cathartically sums up his
songwriting struggle in one of the year’s best pop gems.

 

Freeclouds‘s nine other tracks
offer a collection of songs that spans as far back as his pre-Tulsa days. It’s
far from a cohesive record, something Tanton concurs with. It’s more
interesting in a way, offering a true first look into the development of a
promising songwriter’s evolution over the course of several acts, experiences working
with other talented musicians, label struggles and life in general.
“Horrorscope” emerged from the high-end Tulsa-LP sessions as the one song
Tanton and Deck successfully collaborated on. Tanton created “Gauze Of Song” on
the exact opposite end of the spectrum, recording a Tulsa demo in a garage. “Fake Pretend,” which
features Nadler, was reworked numerous times since Tanton originally wrote the
song as a “weepy ballad” back in 2004.

 

With
Freeclouds finally released, Tanton
finally has stepped forward, closing a chapter he’d like to forget and moving on
from the ashes of Tulsa.
Looking forward into the next year, he’s focused onto next year’s plans, which
included lots of touring, releasing a record with Lower Dens and finishing up his
next solo record.

 

“I’m
touring this record until March or thereabouts, then Lower Dens will tour the
new record,” he says. “That sits well with me. I’ll have made my new record by
that time and so hopefully it will be released as Lower Dens finish our touring
cycle.”

 

Tanton’s
finally got his groove back as he moves forward into 2012. A large part of
that’s due to the fact that he’s learned to roll with the punches, be it label
troubles or working all sorts. More importantly, he’s rediscovered the wild-eyed
boy within himself and rekindled the flame that’s kept his songwriting desire
burning as bright as ever.

 

“If
I wanted to stop [writing music] I could [have]… it was my choice to continue
with music or not,” Tanton concludes. “What started out as a pretty bleak
outlook turned into something powerful and reassuring.”

 

 

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