Back when I was a little kid and I used to hear my brother talk about “Led Zeppelin” and “Def Leppard” and “Thin Lizzy”, I always thought those were names of people, not a band. They just seemed like actual human names to my 8-year old ears. I think that’s just the kind of stupid thing kids think. Well, me as a kid anyways. Me as an adult several years ago heard the name Carlton Melton and I regressed back to being that Midwestern tyke wearing Husky jeans and Batman t-shirts. I assumed that Carlton Melton was just one guy that played alt-country music somewhere in the Midwest -or maybe Idaho- and drove around the country in an old station wagon playing small bars and folk festivals.
Man, was I wrong.
Turns out Carlton Melton is a three-piece rock band from the wooded hills of Mendocino County in Northern California. And when I say rock, I’m really undermining what it is these guys really do. It’s a mix of psychedelia, space, and a good helping of classic rock. Their superpowers lie in creating these massive musical spaces. A place where melody, atmosphere, and that great empty void where all those forgotten dreams and discarded thoughts end up. It’s a magical place where you can get lost and immerse yourself in some real ancient and mystical pixie dust. Drones and vibes from outer space are Carlton Melton’s playground, man.
Once I realized that Carlton Melton weren’t some alt-country troubadour traveling the highways and bi-ways of this great land with nothing more than an old Gibson Hummingbird and a professionally-tailored Nudie suit, I delved into their albums and was floored. Andy Duvall(drums, guitar), Rich Millman(synths, guitar), and Clint Golden(bass guitar, drums) don’t necessarily wear their influences on their sleeves, but you can definitely get hints of where their hearts lie in the musical world. Influences ranging from Hendrix(Millman), to Nick Drake(Duvall), to Spaceman 3(Golden), they cover a lot of ground. And their space for creation is just as unique as their sound. Up till their newest record, the band would come together in a geodesic dome, otherwise known as “the dome”, and would improvise sounds, jams, atmospheres into mind-expanding long form songs. The results were stunning. But for their latest LP, the excellent Out To Sea, they stepped inside a professional studio with their friend Phil Manley. The results are a more clear-eyed sound, but still just as mind-expanding.
The guys in Carlton Melton have a lot of dates and festivals on the calendar, but Rich Millman took some time to answer a few questions.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk about the new album ‘Out To Sea’. Production-wise, it’s the cleanest and clearest album from Carlton Melton to date. Can you tell me a little bit about the making of this album? Did you want to do things differently this time around?
Rich Millman: CM played some shows with Phil Manley’s Life Coach. Phil simply asked us if we would like to come by and check out his studio. We did and then booked a weekend in July 2014. We approached everything the same as any other time going up to Brian’s to record in the Dome. No rehearsals or demos. Everything was recorded as improvised during the session.
J. Hubner: The band has always recorded in your own space prior to ‘Out To Sea’. What was it like recording in a different environment this time? Did you work with an outside producer as well?
Rich Millman: It was the first time for CM in a conventional studio. This enabled us to play through louder, bigger amps. In the Dome everything is recorded with room mics so you have to be careful about volume or you risk blowing out the recording. With Phil the guitar volumes were turned up like a live gig. Phil picked up all the nuances of our sound. It was recorded and mixed by Phil Manley. Produced by Phil and CM.
J. Hubner: The guitars are massive on this record. Were you guys going for more of a guitar-centric record this time around? While synths are still there they seem more subtle this time around. Was that something you guys had in mind going into this record?
Rich Millman: I don’t think we were going for any certain direction or changes in sound. It just turned out that way during the mixing process. The synths are there on all or most of the recordings I think. We just didn’t hear a need to turn them up on any particular parts. Everything sort of settled into how it sounded live.
J. Hubner: As always, Carlton Melton mixes the heavier aspects of psych and space rock with the more dreamy, atmospheric ones. You open the album with two huge songs, “Peaking Duck” and “Wheel and Deal”, which when it first starts out it reminds me a lot of Zeppelin’s “The Rover”(a very good thing), then fall into a very peaceful, transcendent “Diamond in the Rough”. Who or what influences the moods on this record? Is “out to sea” a theme that runs throughout?
Rich Millman: For me the mood is always feeling excited to have the opportunity to hang out and record with these guys ( and Phil Manley on this occasion ). We never know how it is going to turn out or what will happen long term but I think we have been having a lot of fun over the years and it carries over onto tape.
J. Hubner: Is Carlton Melton a diamond in the rough?
Rich Millman: To some people maybe. Being part of it makes it hard for me to describe it in any way. That particular song definitely is because we did not remember recording it until Phil played it back to us. Andy came up with the title for that song.
J. Hubner: Gear-wise, what does the band like to use? Are there any essential guitar pedals that you can’t leave home without?
Rich Millman: I always seem to have a digital-delay pedal and Rat distortion going.
J. Hubner: What shows does Carlton Melton have lined up? Will there be some smaller dates in the States?
Rich Millman: CM is playing an all day event Sept 13th in San Francisco put on by The San Francisco Great Society http://www.sfgreatsociety.org/ Tons of bands we have never seen or played with before so I’m excited about that. Then off to UK and Europe for 3 weeks.
J. Hubner: If you had to choose, top two favorite songs off of ‘Out To Sea’? And why those songs?
Rich Millman: I like them all but if I had to pick two it would be ‘peaking duck’ and ‘it’s been summer all winter’.
J. Hubner: If someone was just coming to Carlton Melton for the first time, what album would you recommend to them as a good gateway record?
Rich Millman: ‘out to sea’ … That’s the gateway because there is more a coming!!!
You heard him. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of Out to Sea. I recommend listening to it on vinyl as it sounds absolutely stunning on vinyl, but get it in your ears anyway you can. If you’ll be in San Francisco on September 13 go check Carlton Melton out, courtesy of The San Francisco Great Society. All my UK and European friends, be on the look out for Carlton Melton. They’ll be blowing minds in your neck of the woods very soon.