20 Questions: Carter Tanton

Evan Sawdey

He's been in a ton of noteworthy bands (Tulsa, the Lower Dens), has toured with Marissa Nadler, and now invites her to sing on his freewheeling, eclectic sleeper of a solo album, Freeclouds. In short, get ready: Carter Tanton is going to be a force to be reckoned with ...

Carter Tanton makes his living not making music with one band, but with several.

For the longest time, Tanton's name was freely associated with the likes of groups like Tulsa or the Lower Dens, and sometimes even with Marissa Nadler, whom he toured with, recorded with, and even co-wrote songs with. Yet after Tulsa's demise, Tanton wound up touring with Nadler, getting inspired, and before long worked on his wide-eyed, eclectic solo album Freeclouds. Although Nadler stops by to assist on "Fake Pretend", the whole album serves as a showcase for Tanton's many talents, as he swings between electro-acoustic hybrids ("Pasture Sound"), Mott the Hopple-styled anthemic ballads ("Saturday"), and synth-heavy beatscapes ("Landlines") without blinking an eye -- everything sounds completely in place and works as a unified whole -- it's a staggeringly gorgeous effort.

Having just wrapped up a tour opening for the War on Drugs, Tanton answered our 20 Questions, here revealing how photographers inspire him, John Lennon may very well be a personal hero, and how he'd probably never leave Karen Black alone at a gas station ...

* * *

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I was going to say the film Blue Valentine,which tore my heart apart, but honestly it was Bridesmaids. I saw that at 10AM with my friend James and ten other moviegoers. I resent the power rom-coms have over me.

2. The fictional character most like you?

I've always felt an alarming connection to Jack Nicholson's character in Five Easy Pieces. It would be too revealing to say why I relate to him, but that last scene where he hops into the truck and leaves Karen Black at the gas station shakes me up everytime. I first saw that movie in high school and his character seemed somewhat heroic and independent. But upon repeated views he seems less independent and more fearful. Amazing film, goddamn.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Plastic Ono Band -- John Lennon. I love it for so many reasons. Klaus on bass is such a cool switch from McCartney's basslines serving John's songs. This record is as brash and nasty as anything by the Stooges or the Velvets. John had just taught himself piano and he has a cool style. Real percussive, like on "Remember." This sounds like a record that had to get out of him and he's the greatest songwriter who's ever lived so, yeah, greatest record ever made.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars. If not for Hans Solo I would have said Star Trek but Hans was my man growing up. Insouciant to the core.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Mornings. Maybe that sounds like the beginning to a Hallmark card for the recently bereaved, but mornings are the most active time for me. A sense of renewal and anything being possible is heaviest then.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

It sounds a little pathetic but I was a long and stubborn holdout to digital recording. A luddite you might say. And while I'm not proudest of this say versus practicing basic human decency, learning how to work this way has opened up so many new methods and sound possibilities that I'm proud of myself for telling myself to shut the f--k up about analog authenticity, etc and getting down to what it's really about ... communication, whether digital or analog or hand pressed letters carried by the Pony Express.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

The records I make. I don't do much else except go for bike rides and that's nothing too special ...

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

The great photographers from the 50s, 60s, and 70s ... when the medium was still dealing with "Yeah, but is it really art?" BS. Diane Arbus, Winnogrand, Stephen Shore, [William] Eggleston, Robert Frank. They've shaped the way I see the world more than most others.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The Americans by Robert Frank and/or Deceit by This Heat. Both will forever be ahead of the times. Also they both take incredibly honest looks at human nature, neither cynical or saccharine.

10. Your hidden talents . . .?

I was quarterback for the football team in high school and also played third base so I can throw pretty well. It always takes people by surprise, it's funny. I'll bet you think I'm lying to you right now.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

"Don't get married young" -- my dad. I almost did six years ago. His words kicked in though and kept those plans at bay.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The best thing I've ever bought is my cat which sounds weird because to put a price tag on the critter is strange. But I got to bring her home in exchange for American currency ... she's increased a bit in value since then.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

Levi's. Easiest question yet.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Larry David, but only if I could also invite my dad. It would really just be an excuse for those two to meet. They see eye to eye on most of the life's most important matters.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

It would be crazy to go back and hop in the car with Woody Guthrie in the 30s. Catch a glimpse of his America.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Prozac's too much a commitment. How about a Xanax?

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

Well yeah, coffee and cigarettes. God, that sounds lame ... but I have walked through snowstorms before just for one cigarette and coffee, especially on tour, has now become essential.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Right now it's New York. I've been reading about urban density and it's positive environmental impacts. I bike everywhere when I'm not on tour and new York is rad for that. I love how much ground you can cover on bike in New York and how interconnected that makes all parts of the city.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I know you're just saving all your most bad ass policies and political moves for term number two. You are, aren't you?

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Writing words to the songs for my next record. I can't write music on tour but the words come easy while spending eight hours a day in the car.

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