As near as we can tell, the members of Carlton Melton are not Hopi mystics. But we haven’t completly closed the book on this possibility.
As we instantly fell under the spell of their latest album, “Photos of Photos,” we recognized much of what we’ve found so intoxicating about Carlton Melton from past releases. Indeed, upon our introduction to the band’s “Country Ways” and subsequent crowning as “Band of the Week” (what an honor!) back in 2011, we declared the band essentially impossible to dislike, given their essential raison d’etre – sensory-awareness space rock recorded in a geodesic dome.
But as the releases (transmissions, really) continued to meet our headphones with alarming regularity – particularly the “Smoke Drip” EP and the Aquarius Records compilation exclusive, reasonably titled “AQ Hits” – we eventually came to view the sonic spell weaved by the band with a kind of detached awe. The sound of Carlton Melton is born of equal parts hypnosis and heaviness, resulting in an enormous galaxy of sound, where surprising sounds rise and then fall, existing for a moment, for eternity, or quite possibility never at all.
And when we got about one track in to “Photos of Photos” … that’s when we focused on our suspicions about the band being Hopi mystics.
As near as well can tell, Hopi mystics did not record albums in geodeisic domes in Northern California. Hopi mystics did not blanket the earth with reverb, Echoplex, and sweet, sweet John McBain.
But in the terrifyingly efficient telepathy of Carlton Melton, there seems to be more than a pinch of the mystic.
“In [the] Hopi view, time disappears and space is altered, so that it is no longer the homogeneous and instantaneous timeless space of our supposed intuition or of classic Newtonian mechanics … [Hopi metaphysics] imposes on the universe two grand cosmic forms: manifested and manifesting (or, unmanifest) or, again, objective and subjective. The objective or manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future, but not merely this; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental — everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the heart, not only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature, and by an implication and extension … in the very heart of the Cosmos itself. The subjective realm (subjective from our viewpoint, but intensely real and quivering with life, power, and potency to the Hopi) embraces not only our future, much of which the Hopi regards as more or less predestined in essence if not in exact form, but also all mentality, intellection, and emotion, the essence and typical form of which is the striving of purposeful desire, intelligent in character, toward manifestation — a manifestation which is much resisted and delayed, but in some form or other is inevitable.” – Language, Thought, & Reality by Benjamin Lee Whorf.
Carlton Melton have achieved the most amazing result from their journey toward becoming Carlton Melton: They’ve become Carlton Melton. It was inevitable.
We feel fortunate to be able to live in a world where Carlton Melton continues to release (manifest?) music at a rapid clip, and just as fortunate to have Andy Duvall and Rich Millman from the band answer our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.
Have you ever personally known someone with the name, “Carlton”? What type of person were they and did they in any way influence the naming of the band? What importance do Country Joe & The Fish – featuring the original, outrageously beautiful guitar playing of one Barry Melton – play in the formation of both the moniker and the machine of Carlton Melton?
Rich: On the first night Carlton Melton recorded together, Andy and I talked about growing up in Delaware and we realized we both knew the same person named Carlton Melton. Andy attended elementary school with him and I played pee-wee football against him. He was a real bad ass that other kids looked up to. That night it seemed like a great name for a band and has stuck with us ever since.
Andy: It’s funny you mention Barry Melton; his son contacted me after seeing the band name somewhere. He asked me the same question – what’s up with the band name? He is a really nice guy; I invited him to one of our shows but I have yet to meet him. “Country Ways” – a definite nod to Country Joe and the Fish. During one recording session I remember one of us saying we sound like country music – “country” in the sense that we are coming up with this music in the sticks. True country.
Let’s step back from Carlton Melton for one brief moment and reflect momentarily on the time you spent in the band Zen Guerrilla. What did you learn most from your experience in that band? What was the most surprising, least-rapid to manifest benefit of the time you spent with that band? How, if at all, does the spirit of Zen Guerrilla continue to impact the music of Carlton Melton, either consciously or unconsciously?
Andy: The most important thing I learned from playing in Zen Guerrilla is to have fun. When it’s no longer fun, it’s over.
Rich: Over the years I think I have learned more what not to do in a band than what to do in a band. 1995 to 2000 were the best years for me being in Zen Guerrilla. We were tight musically and could play live anywhere with anybody. That was a great feeling. The spirit of that band carries on in the friendship Andy and I still have.
Let’s step back from Carlton Melton and Zen Guerrilla for one brief moment and reflect momentarily on your own early, musical evolution. What was the first music that you can recall being deeply moved by, whether it be excited, sad, happy, etc.? What do you think about that music today? What music was it that eventually “broke the camel’s back,” so to speak, and encouraged you to move forward with making your own music?
Rich: Andy and I bonded early on over a love for Jimi Hendrix. Andy saw me cover a Hendrix song on guitar at a party back in the day and then I think he decided I was cool. I think the 80s post-punk stuff – bands on record labels like SST, Touch and Go, Amphetamine Reptile – they showed you that you could be in a band, tour, put out records and somewhat survive. Growing up, the big arena rock bands seemed so out of touch and out of reach … just not a realistic option for playing honest music.
Andy: I remember always hearing Jim Croce on the AM. He – his voice – really struck a nerve with me when I was a kid. Also, my 2nd grade teacher, for whatever reason, would start each and every day by playing Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” on a turntable he kept in the classroom. To this day I love that song. I also remember really liking The Beatles when I was really young – once again, hearing them all the time on the AM car radio. I remember thinking the actual band was playing live from the trunk of the car.
Rich: Carlton Melton is filled to the brim with California sound and sunshine.
When did you first become interested in purely improvisational music? How do you think your dive headlong in to the creative process of Carlton Melton has impacted your ability to improvise – or, perhaps too grandly, to “be in the moment” – in the areas outside of musical performance? Artists from the Taoist and Zen Buddhist (but not necessarily guerrilla, though) tradition often speak of merging with their art through meditation – “To paint the flower, one must become the flower.” Is there a meditative state that you feel like you are a part of when recording or playing live with Carlton Melton?
Rich: It seems with Andy and I the music always starts off improvised. I have always played that way … jamming is how you get an honest feel for those you’re playing with. With Carlton Melton, it is meditative in the sense that we are only focused on playing music. There are no distractions except for maybe a dog barking. We are alone in the woods. That’s the Vibe.
Andy: Improv jamming was all new to me up until that first jam session in ’08. Rich and I have always had an almost telepathic way of communicating when it comes to playing music. I know when he’s about to go in another direction and vice-versa. And Rich and I have been playing music together now for 22 years. So it really all falls into place with Carlton Melton – there is hardly any communication when we record. The only communication is coming from the instruments. I definitely zone out when we record in the Dome; it’s so much easier to do so while playing a guitar rather than playing the drums.
Our ears tuned in to the frequency of your “Smoke Drip” LP immediately and we haven’t found the need to tune out since. What can you tell us about the creation of these songs? Is there ever anything that the members of Carlton Melton discuss explicitly in regard to threads or similarities of spirit that tie certain songs together? Meaning, is there a “reason” that “Smoke Drip” and “Against the Wall” share space together on vinyl, or it it just that “Smoke Drip” and “Against the Wall” share space together on vinyl?
Rich: We just try to add songs together that flow … sound good to us … nothing erratic. A lot of our favorite records and recordings have a nice flow to them. The sequence of songs is important. If something does not fit, we do not force it … we are confident that we can save the track for another time.
Please kindly indulge a 20-plus year fascination with Monster Magnet for one moment so that we may ask the following: So, John McBain, huh? No WAY. How did THAT come about? What is THAT dude like?
Andy: John is a great dude with a great ear. He lives in the Bay Area; I was rehearsing with him in 2008 with the Freeks and kept in touch with him ever since. I had a funny feeling he would like what we were doing with Carlton Melton.
Rich: John is an awesome guy. John is very talented. Musically, he fits in with Carlton Melton perfectly. I first met John in Seattle back in ’98 or ’99 while on tour with Zen Guerrilla.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Black Sabbath album and why?
Andy: The new Sic Alps is great. Purling Hiss, White Manna.
Rich: I find myself listening to a lot of experimental radio out here in California – like KFJC, a great college radio station near San Jose.
Regarding Black Sabbath , I would say “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” is top notch … sounds like Geezer and Tony hung out in some juke joints prior to recording that one … nice swing to some of the grooves. And to add pretty tracks like “Fluff” … that takes guts. I loved that about Black Sabbath growing up – they would always include quiet songs, acoustic numbers that would make the heavy stuff sound that much heavier.
R. Buckminster Fuller – some dude who had something to do with something called a “geodesic dome” – wrote the following in his book, “Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking,” from 1975:
“The youth of humanity all around our planet are intuitively revolting from all sovereignties and political ideologies. The youth of Earth are moving intuitively toward an utterly classless, raceless, omni-cooperative, omni-world humanity. Children freed of the ignorantly founded educational traditions and exposed only to their spontaneously summoned, computer-stored and -distributed outflow of reliable-opinion-purged, experimentally verified data, shall indeed lead society to its happy egress from all misinformedly conceived, fearfully and legally imposed, and physically enforced customs of yesterday. They can lead all humanity into omni-successful survival as well as entrance into an utterly new era of human experience in an as-yet and ever-will-be fundamentally mysterious Universe.”
Rich: Bucky touched and inspired a lot of people all over the world. It is nice to think that us creating music inside one of his creations can be heard and also touch a few people as well. I think he would have dug what we are doing.
What’s next for Carlton Melton?
Andy: A new LP/CD, “Photos of Photos,” comes out the end of September on Agitated Records, followed by UK /European tour in October/ November. We have lots of recorded material in the can, most likely another record (or two ) in 2013. No end in sight. Fun? We’re having a blast!
Rich: No work stoppage in sight. Carlton Melton plan to record and release music for the long term.