January 31, 2012

Interview with Minnesota band Tarlton

I'd never been to an apartment concert before. Walking into the homey, yellow-lit rooms where Talrton, Zoo Animal, and Project Film would be playing a house concert on  Friday January 27th, I felt like an outsider. But once Tarlton began to play their set, the rooms, the lights, the people, everything, felt just right. Composed of just two people, a bassist and a singer-songwriter/drummer/electronic keypad player, the entire apartment became a reservoir of soft, intimate sound. The music was soothing, warm, and beautifully composed--all the more astounding considering the fact that it was only made by two people..

Minneapolis-based musician and producer Brett Bullion founded Tarlton. Remarkably laid back and insouciant, Bullion very kindly granted the MAROON  an interview about his work and music.

When did you first form your band and how?

Well, I have been playing music since I was a kid, and I started playing professionally around Minneapolis when I was sixteen. I met a lot of really great people that were about eight or ten yearS older than me and I kinda took music lessons from them. But they were really cool dudes and they took me under their wing.They're into really cool music and that's where a lot of my influences came from. And I had a band going with that and it was going really well and we put out some records on some labels, and then that ended and I was really bummed out about it, but you know, you just keep making music. Tarlton started out basically as a solo project, and for all intents and purposes it still is...the short answer is, roughly in 2005 is when that happened.

What was your first musical instrument?

The drums—uh well, I took piano lessons for a little while but really the drum set.

Who are you listening to now?

I've been listening to a lot of Mark Kozelek, you know that guy? Sun Kill Moon? He's really cool, he's a singer from San Francisco, and fronted a band called the Red House Painters. He's one of my favorite songwriters.I produce records for a living [and] I run a studio in Minneapolis, so I spend a lot of time listening to my clients.I just try to put on iTunes shuffle and listen to tons of shit in the studio. Lots of stuff. Lots of Chad Blake....he's cool.

How do you get started with the song-writing process?

Um, it's usually just like one melody. It's like a melodic idea and a lyric idea that come at the same time. So maybe I'll do one idea for a little hook or something and then I just kind of have fun and sing it in the car and drive around late at night and it becomes a verse or a chorus and I take it from there. And usually it's just been what's piling up in the back of my head and whatever I'm thinking about. You guys study English, so you probably read a lot about a lot of different writers...Writers and musicians' life work is kind of based around the kind of life-long tensions they've always had. Maybe they grew up and saw a lot of whatever, whatever they really saw there's always some kind of catalyst for—I don't know—shit that humans have. What was the question? How do you write your songs?...You just have stuff that revolves around what you think about and you try to just go after that.

How did you get involved with Project Film and Zoo Animal?

Project Films—those dudes know Ian Anderson at my record label, Afternoon, and we just kind of met. I was looking to play Chicago with some other people...And Zoo Animal, I produced a Zoo Animal record in my studio for Holly...but we've kind of just known each other from being around Minneapolis and she's always been one of my favorite songwriters.

How would you describe your musical style?

I think it's like a dude that sucks at guitar—a dude that's pretty good at drums and studio stuff, that's trying to compensate for the fact that he can't play the guitar. I do all that stuff with the pads because I like melodic concepts but you know, with drums you can't always get there. They're a very melodic instrument if you play them in that way but they're not very, you know, as tonal as you need, obviously, for a harmonic instrument...So it's just kind of a weird blend of stuff I've always liked. I love drums, I like drummers, and I love electronic music, but then I love acoustic singer-songwriters. So I'm trying to just get away with all of that at once.

Lastly, what other plans do you have for this year?

Well, I just built a studio in Northeast Minneapolis and I'm trying to get that finished...produce a bunch of records and hopefully get the next Tarlton thing all recorded. I've got the whole thing written, I just need to get it recorded.

Are you planning on playing other cities?

Oh yeah, we're on tour right now, we're doing Iowa City tomorrow...Kansas's just, you know, a little Midwest right now...

Check out Bullion’s music at