Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Carter Tanton, the lead singer and principal songwriter of Massachusetts band Tulsa, crouched alongside a non-descript building in Manhattan this past October. The street was lit, but fairly dead, as most who were roaming that part of town were inside watching Chicago's Mannequin Men and hometownies The Subjects and End of the World perform. He was there to offer some randomness of playing and clappery to the Drug Rug set later in the evening, as a special guest performer, but earlier, he was folded onto that stoop that's likely had more disagreeable things splattered onto and washed off of it than anyone would care to know, talking about his cat. It's something so small and something so strong to hear Tanton, or anyone, lovingly talk about his or her cat, discussing how much he missed it while away on tour. Having nothing to do with the cat - but still in reference, a tandem of interplaying loose ends - Tanton had a delightfully spacey countenance, his eyes looked like moons, dark and empty saucers or tea cups and everything conjunctively led to one substantively deducing that everything was working overtime beneath his wispy brown hairs.
Listening to I Was Submerged, this assumption seems to be justified and quite possibly not just occasionally. It stacks up from day-to-day, all of the contemplation, all of the resilient puzzlement, keeps Tanton submerged (literally, not just figuratively), breathing through a straw that he keeps just above the water's surface. Sometimes, a sea gull swoops down and perches upon that open end of the straw and he struggles, choked off from his oxygen supply. These moments of struggle give him ample time to figure out what it all means - the end of which is an oily, elusive mirage, that lake in the desert that keeps moving and further away, like a taunting carrot and a cruel fucking joke.
Cut to another image of Tanton, when he and his band (drummer Greg Hatem and Erik Wormwood that day a few weeks earlier) were in Rock Island, being watched by John Vanderslice in our pizza parlor between glimpses of the Major League playoff game on the television and the following morning, recording what you're about to hear. He was strolling around the concrete grounds, hooking himself a coffee and just stretching out the legs, a practice that he said he likes to make a habit of. The thick rings below his eyes told the story that he shouldn't be awake yet, but his eyes never deferred to them. A calm and mysterious air about the young man - albeit one of true warmth and serenity - made everything seem faithful to a bigger story, as if we really were all pawns on a chess table, getting moved around by the unseen, and yet we retained the more glorious of rights in being able to slide ourselves in directions through willpower and positive thinking exercises.
Much of the material that Tanton writes for Tulsa is conditional, is specific and yet imprecise, as if it could change on a dime or remain locked in for eternity. There are the rules that he holds to: that life won't stop and the world won't end at the hands of any of the little dramas that seem so shattering in one's own mind. He befriends isolation and seclusion, understands them as possibilities and realizes that there are worse things - self-imposed or not. His is a mindset similar to that of Paul Giamatti's in "Sideways," he's looking for the break in the clouds, can commiserate with the choppy, gray turbulence and is on a tireless mission, that search for hearts of gold - one of which might be his own. It's a colorful world of sinners and saints - always one with the other as he sings in "Rafter," "Your mind is a newborn child/Disappointment drives it wild." The wooziness of the songs and the overcast skies of everything suggest that nothing is in fact easy or as simple as advertised - people change and not always for the better, but we have a responsibility to accept it without screaming our heads off about it. He is a man holding a bouquet of flowers and sticking his head into a lion's mouth, waiting to see what happens - maybe nothing, but he means well and hopes the big cat does too. He's surrounded by the general feeling of seeing an icicle sweating its body off, essentially dying a torturous death - the beauty and sadness in the destruction, sounding the warming of weather and hinting at the precluding peacefulness of frozen chill.