CARLTON – Stretching

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I’ve known Richard Wynne (Guitar/Vocals), Brendan McCusker (Drums/BGVs), and Brian Jones (Bass/BGVs) for nearly three years now, and they continue to delightfully surprise and amaze me with each song and album they write, record, and release. I can only say so much about an act so bright, so talented, and so promising before they’d cut me off; they’re three of the most humble yet well-versed musicians I know. The musicianship, technicality, and creativity I’ve experienced through this album (and through albums past, along with countless live performances) continues to blow me away. Not only is the release of this album very special to me because of our friendship, but I also had the pleasure of spending two weeks with Carlton back in August of 2012 as the band began recording ‘Good Hotel’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ as well as performing live in the Los Angeles scene. So, without further ado and praise, here is my review of “Stretching” by Carlton…

‘Little Miss Sunshine’ opens “Stretching”, the debut album by Los Angeles-based band Carlton, with a clever, simplistic (instrumentally) verse. The guitar’s introductory tone is very unique, drawing listeners in immediately; the full band then comes in after the first memorable chorus. The entire song is very catchy, the second chorus fuller and more upbeat. The chorus harmonies are fantastic and lead nicely intro the bridge, which in my opinion is the highlight of the song due to Wynne’s excellent performance guitar-wise. Just the right amount of melody and showmanship is displayed before all the instrumentation is brought down as the solo fades out; this then leads to expressive group vocals overtop drums. A perfect amount of tension is present as the final chorus comes back in to play things out a final time. ‘Miracle’ then follows; imagine sitting in a quiet room before this track comes on. Throughout the first verse you begin to feel the vibe, and when the chorus kicks in (literally) you can’t control yourself. The only thing that would feel right at this point would be jump out of your seat and dance. The second chorus leads to a half time bridge which showcases intricate hi-hat work coupled with an incredibly impressive dual run by bass and guitar. The new riff here has too much groove, and suddenly everything becomes full and all you want to do is sing along to the music. The instrumentation is brought back down to showcase vocals and insane bass play; the talent here is undeniable, their chemistry impeccable. Each chorus is easily remembered due in part to the fact that there is so much emotion on this track. 

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‘Lost My Friend To the Stereo’ begins quiet and subtle; the vocals are full of emotion and expression, each line a story from the heart. The background vocals are again stellar, and the band’s sound is very full with lots of instrumentation aside from your typical 3-piece band of guitar, bass, and drums. The lead guitar transitional line is rife with ambience, and the dynamics are phenomenal throughout this song. The harmonies and background vocals shine especially in the choruses and the guitar features more melodic, tasteful playing; Wynne’s unique tone reaching and tearing into you as a tension-filled transition leads to a final chorus. The drums go into double time to accelerate the song as it closes accompanied by a grunge bass and precise, memorable leads lines. An a cappella intro of group vocals opens ‘Good Hotel’, accompanied by a soaring, bouncing riff;  some verses are “down”, or partially “down”, this being one of them. The chorus vocals are incredibly intelligent and witty; this pop-oriented track and lead riff will stick in your head for days. The second verse begins with a running bass that is soon coupled with a guitar pattern. The second chorus is again where everything comes together, soon followed by a ton of emphasis on the group vocal sections from the intro, that are repeated at opportune moments. ‘Sex Taxi’ opened with a rhythmic riff and a pre-chorus that teases listeners. The chorus comes in to take over and entice them even more over thoughtful, outside-the-box drum patterns and play. The second verse is very ambient, the story line progressing quickly. Later, there is a change of pace as the song gauges towards into a more aggressive feel; the the bridge is incredible, showcasing possibly some of the best writing on the entire album. The band is so instrumentally and vocally sound it’s stupid, with incredible attention to detail. So upbeat, so catchy, so memorable; there is nothing not to like about this song, or the whole album in general. ‘Big Deal’ is from another planet; no, really. What else can I say? They utilize pauses to their advantage, the bass excels, they say exactly what they mean with their heartfelt lyrics…what more do you need? The band uses spacey, other-worldly sounds to deliver a new sound and vibe, conjuring expressive, passionate emotions to close the album in a big way. The band’s biggest and longest song, ‘Big Deal’ features excellent performances by each instrument; lyrically, everything is intelligent and captivating, nothing cliche about this album, especially not the lyrical content. I could go on for days writing about this album and I still wouldn’t be able to capture it as accurately as I’d like to. There is so much going on in each song; I encourage and recommend you experience this yourself to understand what this band is all about. Everything is so calculated and rehearsed, everything is mixed with the utmost care, the dynamics throughout are complimentary and dramatic, and the production is just phenomenal. The band has spent many years painstakingly preparing to make a record like this, and the year’s work directly behind this album is easily evident. Carlton has reached great new heights, reinventing themselves in a way only they could, while staying true to what makes them so unique and different, both individually and as a band. “Stretching” is available on iTunes as of today, October 8th, 2013. Enjoy our exclusive interview with each of Carlton’s three members below! >>>

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You all have spent an enormous amount of time writing/rehearsing/recording “Stretching”; what does it feel like to see everything coming together now that you are completely finished with the album?

Brendan (Bre): “It feels amazing! We’ve been working on this batch of songs for the better part of a year now, and it really is awesome to be finally moving forward with releasing it. “Stretching” was originally like 11 songs, but we narrowed it down from there to the few we wanted to release first. Not that those other songs won’t see the light of day at some point! But even just finishing up these 6 was a serious amount of work.”

Richard (R): “It’s unbelievable. About a week or so ago Brendan and I were sitting in a car with some friends and they decided to play it front to back. It was pretty eerie for both of us hearing all of the little finishing touches we put in. Sometimes when you work so much on something you almost lose touch with the idea that it never even existed in the first place. To take these songs from ratty little demos and ideas to a fully orchestrated production is one of the most rewarding feelings we’ve ever had. Especially considering the suicidal recording schedule we were on. Just stupid stuff like Brendan obsessing over his drum takes, Brian recording bass at 4 am while everyone else is passed out, and doing a lead vocal literally the day of mixing….the record makes it all worth it.”

Carlton has been working in Los Angeles for over a year now together as a band; what are the biggest differences between your new lives on the West Coast versus growing up near the nation’s capital?

Bre: “The difference between the coasts is pretty significant. One immediate thing I think we’ve all noticed is the number of major tours that leave from this area. Two players with similar playing ability in both cities have quite a different set of opportunities available to them.”

R: “We learned how to take the bus. There is nobody that cares about you out here. If you want something you have to take it. There are shady characters everywhere marveled by the idea of “making it” in LA and you have to know who to trust. For us, that was easy because we had each other; but I’d say we’ve seen some things we weren’t really used to seeing even in a studio setting.”

Brian (Bri): “The two scenes are difficult in their own ways. Being a band in the NOVA area was difficult because there was very limited access to industry and it’s hard to grow past a certain point. A lot of bands (including us) just kind of plateaued in that scene. LA is great because there’s a lot of industry people that know how to get to that next level, but there are also several who say they know how to get to the next level, but are mostly totally incompetent weirdos that have suspiciously huge social media followings. We’ve dealt with several people like that. The tough thing about LA is getting those people who do know what you’re doing to hear you.”

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What events or situations inspired the naming of your debut album?

Bre: “I think I read a “how to” book my dad gave me on stretching a couple years ago, which I thought was pretty hilarious. Just the fact that someone wrote a book about stretching, which some other group of people deemed worthy of publication…that’s pretty great. I thought about that title for a while and then when we were bouncing names around over a year ago, it came up organically. It really fits what we did on this album. There are a couple songs and musical moments that are really outside of what we would have done on a past album. I think specifically the last track meshes with the name of the album quite well.”

R: “Unfortunately, it’s metaphorical. We’ve been playing together for God know’s how long and when you’re best friends, you grow together. Carlton is addicted to growth. We’re constantly trying out new sounds and new ideas to move forward individually and as a band. Carlton is the muscle and this release stretched it to places we have never been to.”

Bri: “I think we took a lot of chances on this record. This was our chance to kind of restart as a band and take no prisoners. We had to go big or go home. We had to STRETCH outside of our comfort zones.”

You all just returned from your first major tour of the West Coast; could you tell us about your time on the road, and how the band has continued to develop and grow through this experience?

Bre: “That tour was awesome! Everyone that we met was rad, and the venues and crowds were really receptive and warm, San Francisco especially! It solidified parts of our live show that were looser before. Also, I know there was one dude in particular on the tour whose warmup routine was quite inspiring – I think we all took a lot from that – athletically speaking.”

R: “There are songs we play now that come across completely differently live. You really learn on the road. You learn how to function as a band and everybody takes on a role in the day to day. It may not be preferable but it’s natural, and that comes across on stage. We’ve been playing together since we were kids… finishing each other’s sentences for years… but the live chemistry we have still freaks me out to this day.”

Bri: “The time we spent on the road was some of the most fun we’ve had in a really long time. We didn’t really know what to expect but we got to play a couple of really great shows, and one really terrible show. Our show in San Diego was to about 25 people and Brendan’s kick drum head broke at the beginning of the set, completely killing the vibe for the rest of the set. But hey, we got through it. It was just very frustrating. On the other end of the spectrum we got to play to a ton of awesome enthusiastic people at Slim’s in San Fransisco. That was probably our best all around show.”

Who is Contest Williams? Could you explain his involvement with the band?

Bre: “Contest Williams is a dude that hangs around us trying to give us advice all the time. I’m not really sure where he lives, but I am pretty positive I met him when he was working at the Del Taco near my house. His vibe is really strange all the time, and I don’t know anything about his personal life. Sometimes he makes these cultural references that none of us understand, and when we google them it’ll be some pop culture thing from the 1920’s or 30’s. I wish him the best…I think he’s a good person…I just honestly don’t know him very well and don’t think I want to know him very well. Also there’s no way that guy actually knows Pau Gasol. I just don’t believe that.”

R: “He met us at our Chic-Fil-A residency a few years back. It was always a bad, bad gig but that particular time they had employed a guy in a cow suit to do the worm in front of the stage. We had to get a photo with him afterwards and he told us we were hot. Said he could take us to the top. Apparently the top is like 2000 views on youtube and never getting a call back from the Troubadour.”

Bri: “We met Contest at Guitar Center in Sherman Oaks. We had to get a replacement part for our recording rig. He was outside busking, rapping his songs with a Zune and a Micro Cube trying to find some more artists to manage. Upon meeting us, he was immediately hooked on our whole vibe. He promptly had us sign a bunch of papers and next thing you know, we were signed. He’s been real weird to us ever since.”

Carlton released their cover and accompanying video of Frank Ocean’s ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ earlier this year; who did you work on the video with, and how did that collaboration come about?

Bre: “The video for “Thinkin Bout You” was made with our good friend Daniel Belkin. Dan’s an old friend of the band (from back East) and has been an incredible source of energy and creative inspiration over the years (Belkin has directed the last three Carlton videos). He gets our aesthetic better than almost anyone we’ve worked with, and we hope to do a lot more videos with him in the future.”

What does the rest of 2013 hold in store  for the band collectively?

Bre: “2013 is nearing a close, but we’re gonna spend the last few months pushing our release to as many people as possible! The name of our game is trying to get our music in front of people, so however that’s possible – that’s what we’re going to do. I think 2014 is gonna be a really important year for this group, so setting that up in the last bit of 2013 will be key.”

R: “2013 is an extremely exciting year for Carlton. Our album comes out October 8th, we have numerous music videos on the horizon, and we just put out our first original video for ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. We’ve been keeping it independent up until recently, but right now we’re leaning towards the label route. We’ll see where that takes us.”

Bri: “We are really stoked to be really obnoxious about this album to everyone we can possibly be obnoxious to. That’s probably going to be the first thing. We plan on playing a bunch of shows. We feel like this is Carlton’s year. We know something big is going to happen soon, we’re just really excited to see what it is.”

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