Fantasy has always appealed to Samwise Carlson. The young singer-songwriter's stage name, Tispur, came from a type of character he created in the video game The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
"Every time I'd make a dark elf character, I'd name it 'Tispur' because I thought that sounded like a dark elf name," he said.
For a while, Carlson was so engrossed by fantasy stories, he confused fiction with fact.
"I spent a long time when I was a kid being homeschooled and reading a lot of fantasy books, playing fantasy video games--just living in a fantasy world until I was 18," he said. "And I literally believed you could be whisked away to Narnia or whatever."
Carlson may know better now, but his music has that sense of magical transport. His cryptic lyrics, melancholy melodies and angelic vocals have made Tispur one of the most mesmerizing local acts in recent years.
Tispur's debut album Sleepy Creature (Obsolete Media Objects, 2017) was released on April 24. Featuring pristine production by Brett Hawkins and contributions from musicians Jake Saunders, Kathleen Williams and Riley Anne Johnson, it promises to be one of the best local releases of the year. Physical copies of Sleepy Creature aren't available in Boise yet, but listeners can stream or download it on Tispur's Bandcamp page.
"It kind of was hard-hitting for me," Carlson said, "being homeschooled and living in a tiny town and then trying to navigate through existential dread and what's happening to our planet. So blending the two, which I do a little bit in this album--it's magical, but then there's songs like ['The Hills are Alight'], which are very much about the eventual demise of our planet."
Born in Mission Viejo, Calif., Carlson lived with his family in southern California before moving to Rigby in 2007.
"We lived in San Diego for a couple years after Mission Viejo, and we had friends there who moved to Boise. They just raved about Boise, and my parents were like, 'Well, maybe we should move to Idaho.' So they just did it."
The open spaces of Rigby gave Carlson lots of room for his mind to wander.
"I definitely went out to the fields and played pretend," he said. "I mean, I did that until I was 16--just, maybe, weird behavior for a 15- or 16-year-old, to go out in the field with sticks and a fake shield. I had a younger friend who was 12, and we would just go out there ... and pretend to be adventurers."
Carlson's childhood wasn't just dreams and roleplaying, though. When he was 8 years old, his father bought him a guitar.
"I still have it. He thought it was a kid's guitar, but it's actually a travel-size guitar. ... I think that really helped me continue because a lot of kid's guitars are just so terrible."
Carlson eventually grew tired of living in Rigby--"I came to the conclusion that I can't believe in certain religions," he said--and moved to Boise. He began performing at The Crux's open mic, which allowed him to befriend musicians like Bronwyn Leslie and Brett Hawkins--the latter who, in addition to recording Sleepy Creature, formed the psych-pop band Ancient Psychic with Carlson and his brother Taylor Hawkins.
Meanwhile, Carlson and Leslie co-wrote "White Widow," which Tispur released in 2014 and re-recorded for Sleepy Creature. Listening to the song now, he doesn't consider it their best work.
"We were... really high when we wrote that," Carlson said. "The lyrics don't make any sense. That's OK, though. I mean, it's kind of a cool song--I like it still--but I do recognize that those lyrics aren't the best lyrics."
Despite his misgivings, the elliptical quality of "White Widow" and Sleepy Creature's other songs is one of the album's main charms. The lyrics seem to suggest various scenes and characters and invite listeners to fill in the details.
The name "Tispur" itself has had a similar effect.
"A lot of people think of 'whisper' and 'tickle,'" Carlson said. "They say, 'Is it a mixture of tickle-whisper?' And I'm like, 'No, but that's cute.'"
Tispur will get the chance to mystify and enchant more audiences. Carlson is currently on a 21-date tour with new local act queen boychild. After they return to Boise in late May, Carlson hopes to organize a proper release show for Sleepy Creature. He's also working on a "magical realism" concept album about atheism and existential dread.
"I guess it's typical 23-year-old kind of stuff," he said.