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Luxury Liners Mastermind Carter Tanton Talks Transition to Electronic Music

Luxury Liners
Shawn Brackbill

When Carter Tanton went looking for a new direction, he decided to trade in his guitar for a set of mixers and sound machines. Thus was born Luxury Liners, a departure of sorts from his work with Tulsa, War on Drugs, Lower Dens and Marissa Nadler.

In his various collaborations, Tanton had dabbled in electronic music, but it’s only since launching Luxury Liners that he’s truly been able to explore the possibilities of that musical style. On ‘They’re Flowers,’ released in April, Tanton experiments with different beats and sounds and even remixes ‘Caribbean Sunset’ by John Cale, creating a set of songs far different from those on his 2011 solo effort ‘Freeclouds.’

Diffuser.fm had the opportunity to chat with the Baltimore artist about his the advantages of making electronic music, the bands he’s worked with and what he finds most freeing about being Luxury Liners.

Let’s start at the beginning. What sparked the idea of Luxury Liners?

It was kind of born out of necessity. I was on the road for most of 2012, and I was working with a computer more or less. That’s how most of the songs started. It changed to sound of the songs so much that I thought it was really a different band completely. That’s when I started calling it Luxury Liners instead of just producing it under my own name.

What’s the story behind the name Luxury Liners?

I just thought it sounded good. I don’t know. It had been a pair of words that I’ve always liked the sound of. There’s a famous country song named that, and I guess that’s where I heard the words. So it was definitely listening to that song, and I liked the word “luxury.” And I also liked that double “L.”

You were in Lower Dens, and you’ve worked with War on Drugs, as well as a number of other bands. What are the challenges of doing this particular project on your own compared to working collaboratively in a band?

Well, this project, how I did it live was inspired by me playing different festivals, and I was seeing electronic artists traveling to these festivals and more or less having a case of equipment at most. And sometimes it would just be a sampler. I found that really inspiring to not have to lug a car load of equipment. Also, I found the idea of recording a record and then the live show you’re kind of dissecting the raw tracks that you recorded rather than finding the drummer and the bass player and the keyboard player and showing the them parts. You’re having more of dialogue with the tracks that you recorded, and you have the freedom as the composer to totally rearrange them and remix your own song for the live performance.

This is what draws me to this project. There are so many differences when you have to rely on other people physically being in a room. I think what doesn’t happen often when I’m working by myself and that sort of process is that you don’t get happy accident. With a band, I feel like that’s what you depend on. With a band, it’s like I have a song, and then the drummer takes the one beat that’s actually one you would consider to be the third beat in the measure and throws him off because he doesn’t really like it. So working on your own, you don’t really get lost. At least when I work on songs, I kind of already have the idea of how it should sound like. And the real work is just achieving that sound.

Did being in other bands and projects have any influence on your approach to Luxury Liners?

It’s nice to be in other people’s bands. It’s nice to serve another function rather than being the creator. I miss those things, and I hope to still do those things throughout my life.

You did put out ‘Freeclouds’ a few years ago. How is that different from ‘They’re Flowers’?

Luxury Liners is definitely more electronic. There’s hardly any guitar in this Luxury Liners record. That’s pretty much the starting point of the differences between the two. The solo stuff [under my name] is more singer-songwriter stuff, and the Luxury Liners stuff is a production. It’s showcasing ideas I have in production. The solo stuff is just arranging some solid songs on the guitar. But I’ll be making another solo record that will come out some time next year.

Since you went into a different direction compared to your solo work, are there any particular electronic artists that you found inspiration in?

Yeah I was listening to some people who are on that record label called Brainfeeder [Records] and that U.K. label Night Slugs.

What was the most memorable song to work on for ‘They’re Flowers’?

Maybe the first song, ‘Caribbean Sunset,’ because I remember think of three very distinct stages that ultimately got me to the version that you hear on the record. At first, I just had an MP3 of it because I liked the John Cale version. I just learned his version, and the rest of it had a harmony to it. And then I made the harmony vocal, the lead vocal for my version of it. Then I wrote this outro to it that changed the key of it, and then I added the beats and took out the guitar. So that’s kind of representative to how do a lot of these songs. But I started to sing them on the guitar, and then at the last stage, I take the guitar out and added beats. It became a whole other thing.

Anyone in the electro genre who you would like to collaborate with?

I’m thinking singers. I don’t really have anyone off the top of my mind right now. But I think I’d like to do some work with some vocalists. I do enough singing with my solo work that it’s good to work on this project where I’m just handling the instrumentation.

You talked about how you watched electronic artists doing their own live sets. Coming from a singer-songwriter background, how does this essentially change how you approach the live show?

With a band, bands I’ve been in, it feels natural to play the songs the way that they are on the record because it’s a collaborative performance that takes three, four, five people to make the sound. It’s a very organic thing. Whereas now, playing this stuff live, I could just press play and sing on top of it. But it doesn’t feel completely organic. I feel like I’m cheating everybody who is coming to see me live. I actually felt like I had to really remix the songs in a way that elongates my favorite sections of the songs. Basically, I felt like I had to make the songs longer and open up certain wholes in the structures and showcase certain parts of it. Also I had to take it off the computer and bring it onto my samplers because I don’t like having the computer onstage.

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