Love those “Trusty Chords”
This particular interview was a bit difficult to set up. To get these five gents in a room, hovering over a cell phone or office type phone on speaker, then have them answer questions about their ‘process.’ It was a good interview though. They are a very talented band and don’t really fall into traditional genre’s. Instead they pull from just about everything and they’re visual artistry employed in their videos is admirable and inspiring. They hit the road this season, maybe they’ll be in your town soon. The played San Diego recently and apparently they are now on Atlantic Records and will be doing showcases at SXSW next week. I will have to go check that action out, hopefully there will be free beer, you’ve got to follow the free beer when in Austin. Some folks say its about the music but its not. Those people lie. Its interesting how they mention the use of facebook (when facebook was still college/high school only) as a marketing tool. This band has fully embraced new tech since their inception and it has worked out quite well for them.
What do five students from the University of Michigan have in common? Music, a strong appreciation of orchestration and a good sense of humor are the ingredients that make up pop band Tally Hall. Their sound is somewhere on the weird road to The Beatles, Frank Zappa, early Elton John, Weezer, They Might Be Giants and the Bare Naked Ladies. Tally Hall’s sound could be described as a jumble of words and complimentary influences thrown into a stew of clever songwriting and stellar musicianship.
Formed in December of 2002, Tally Hall began writing songs, playing together and doing shows around Ann Arbor, MI. They did this all while attending class, recording their songs and doing their own videos-as well as building and maintaining the band Web site and making T-Shirts. Their music is quirky but not steeped in kitsch. Though their sound is fun, it is by all accounts ‘pop music,’ and the inherent talent of the bands five members is immediately obvious upon first listen. Recently, themusicedge.com caught up with Tally Hall and conducted a phone interview (or attempted to rather) with all five members (at the same time) to understand the way the band makes music, how they got to were they are and how they go about doing what they do.
*In order to avoid confusion on the part of the interviewer, “Tally Hall” will represent the collective voice of the band.
Shane: How far along are all of you in school?
Tally Hall*: Three of us are seniors, one of us is a junior and one of us is a sophomore. We’re going fulltime with the band in May. The plan is to do some touring.
S: How did the Tally Hall meet?
Tally Hall: Most of us met in college.
Joe: Rob and Zubin grew up together and were in a band together in high school. Andrew met us in college and he’s from New Jersey, but the other four of us are from Bloomfield, MI. Ross and I weren’t friends; we still aren’t friends in fact (laughing). That kind of aggression in our band has really paid off. You can tell in our music, its very aggressive (more laughing). We’re transforming into screamo.
S: Were any of you involved in school music or did you take lessons?
Tally Hall: All of us did some music in high school, orchestra and band.
Andrew: I’m studying music composition now and everyone else is involved in music some way. Ross is in the marching band.
Ross: I’m a music lieutenant.
Andrew: We started the band as a hobby and now it’s sort of taken off. So once we get full time I think we will be doing quite a few different things.
S: The video for ‘Banana Man’ is great, who put that together?
Tally Hall: Those are all Joe’s brainchildren.
Joe: I’m a film and English major.
Andrew: Zubin is our Webmaster. We all sort of pitch in and do different things.
Ross: I think we’ve been really lucky in that everyone in the band can specialize in certain things.
Tally Hall: We’re like the A-Team!
Rob: Ross is just a clumsy bystander!
Tally Hall: He’s the Steve Urkle on our A-Team (laughing)!
Zubin: Or maybe he’s Balki [from the television show Perfect Strangers]?
Rob: Ross has just become the butt of every joke. But he laughs with us – but he might be crying inside.
S: On a more serious note, what were some of the benefits you guys have gained from being involved in school music? More specifically, how have those things benefited your band?
Andrew: (mumbles something inaudible)
Rob: Andrew was distracted by the Wurthers Original Candy he is eating.
Andrew: (mumbles again)
Rob: He’s frazzled by the Wurthers.
Andrew: I learned how to write classical and contemporary classical and that is what my main focus has been. My main passion is rock, but I’ve always been sort of forced into the classical idiom and have always sort of rejected it but its influence has helped. It’s helped my confidence in playing. When you play rock music, there’s a certain type of energy that is undeniable in that genre of music. I think recording is also more involved with rock music. You can do pretty much anything you want in a recording.
Ross: Our musicology professor wrote a book about how recording is the new poetics of rock. Sheet music doesn’t do justice to rock music.
Andrew: With rock music, there have been a lot of advances and they continue to do innovative stuff. With classical music they’re still playing the same stuff they were playing 50 years ago.
Tally Hall: There’s no reason you can’t incorporate classical influences into rock music and make it part of the art.
S: With regards to recording, is that a technique you learned along the way by doing your own demo’s (Partyboobytrap EP and Welcome to Tally Hall EP), or is that another area of study for one of the band members?
Joe: I’ve actually mastered Final Cut Pro, which is video editing software. I used it to record all of our demos. It’s supposed to be for video, but I developed an unusual technique by doing high-quality recordings by building a metronome track in an iPod (it’s sort of complicated) and I had been experimenting with that and when it came time to do the Tally Hall recordings I went with that.
Rob: The Tally Hall recordings sound pretty professional to our ears (I think). We recorded them in the attic of our house and laid them down one track at a time. We were turning off the refrigerator and the lights to cut back on the fuzz – it was a very low-tech operation relative to the product that came out of the session. We were proud of the process.
Joe: We recorded everything through my camcorder. I had a microphone and a ‘line in’ jack. It was grueling.
S: How does the writing process work for Tally Hall?
Rob: We have three different songwriters in the band: Joe, Andrew and I. It’s about equal numbers of songs. I think each of us have a uniquely different style.
Joe: My style is I have a song in my head and I can’t get it out and I put a lyric to the music and do a rough demo in Final Cut or Garage Band and then show it to the band. I usually have specific ideas for the song. I put it together pretty meticulously before I present it to the band. Rob is a little bit looser.
Rob: I usually start with some sort of concept or basic idea and it ends up becoming part of the hook or the chorus and then I come to the band and everyone fills in their parts. The harmonies are usually worked out well in advance. It’s more of a fusion of musical ideas versus Joe who comes with these finely tuned versions of songs.
Joe: And for Horowitz (Andrew) he just shows up at practice and a song just comes out of him.
Andrew: I usually come up with songs in spurts (giggling heard from band). I’ll sit down for a couple of hours and just come up with something. A lot of the songs grow when they get to the band, and we’re all pretty harsh critics within the band. There’s been times when any number of us has brought a song to the band and we’ve decided that it needs a lot of work.
Rob: We’re hypercritical of each other.
Joe: We don’t like filler. I think that when we get into a real studio we’ll try and make every song it’s own little masterpiece.
S: What are some of the lessons you all have learned playing together as a band?
Zubin: First thing we learned was to work with each other. All of us have pretty strong personalities. We all have busy schedules; we’re all tied to other commitments. Basically working together and as a group tends to be more of a compromise in order to be successful. Would anyone like to add anything?
Joe: I’ve learned a lot about how other people work and how to compromise in a group setting. Not to be cliché, but learning how to write and create songs as a group…And making Zubin answer the phone.
Ross: That is sort of banal. (Pauses) By the way I didn’t mean the question was banal, I meant his answer was banal.
Rob: We have an intra-band conflict over the pronunciation of the word ‘banal.’ (Arguing over the word ensues)
S: What are some things that you guys rely on dynamically during live performances?
Ross: I think we rely on each other to make sure we really have everything down before we play. The last thing I want to worry about is whether Rob is going to hit a note, or whether Andrew has his parts down on the keyboard, or if Joe is going to remember the lyrics. I rely on everyone else to be on the ball when it comes time to perform.
Zubin: I’m going to add something to that. Because we spend so much time together and because we are all such good friends, I think that adds something to our performance. It’s an almost inside joke type banter with each other. It keeps things relaxed. A camaraderie of sorts.
S: In what ways has the Internet helped your band?
Tally Hall: We couldn’t have done it without the Internet.
Rob: There are a few major Internet factions that have been able to help us along. The first is that Zubin designed an awesome Web site using flash. Our Web site is awesome. Joe’s videos on our Internet site have allowed us to attract a lot of people and they’ve allowed us to branch out and reach other Internet hot spots. The ‘Banana Man’ video was on a site called albinoblacksheep.com that got a ton of hits. Because it was on there it spread to a lot of other blogs and forums. Online networking communities, mainly Myspace.com, have enabled us to promote ourselves online effectively.
Joe: TheFaceBook.com (it’s a college specific Web site like Myspace.com) is a local site that I went through and added a ton of friends to and we’d email everyone when we had a show in Ann Arbor.
Rob: And themusicedge has been helpful, we’ve had a lot of downloads off of there as well.
Andrew: We figured if we let people download our music for free, and if they liked it, they’d pass it on to friends. So, in that way it’s been a great success.
Rob: We should mention one other Web sitethat has been helpful to us called indie911.com. They allow us to stream our material for free and that’s where a lot of people say they first hear us. They also give us a little bit of money for radio play. It’s not much but it’s still pretty cool.
Tally Hall is a band that is utilizing every resource available to make their presence felt in the world of music. From the Internet and benefit shows to song competitions like BMI’s John Lennon Scholarship Competition, which garnered the band a first prize for their song “Good Day,” the possibilities are virtually endless for a band with the right amount of patience and ambition. Tally Hall will be touring this summer, so keep your eyes open. This might be your last chance to catch them in a small, intimate setting.
For more information, please visit www.tallyhall.com
Another vault feature from 2004. This was before MTB became the underdog darlings they are today. I had been a huge fan of Botch and Sharks Keep Moving and when I first heard Highly Refined Pirates I was impressed. I remember Paul at Double Entendre in Denver not being too stoked with their blatant lyrical male chauvinism but being a fan of Bukowski I thought it was clever and mostly character driven. You should do yourself a favor and go and pick up Planet of Ice. It rules.
Minus the Bear hails from Seattle, WA, a place well known for its slew of innovative bands. Not the kind of bands every grandmother and flannel shirt purchaser of the early nineties knows about though. Bands of the North West coast like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Murder City Devils, Undertow (RIP), Pretty Girls Make Graves, Integrity (RIP) and many more notable bands that have scarred the underground, ripping open new wounds to let in the knife of creativity that so often stagnates in the emergency room hipness of New York City and Los Angeles.
Minus the Bear, a veritable host of past indie rock members from bands that had great influence like Sharks Keep Moving (Jake-Vocals, Guitar) and Botch (Dave-Guitar) and Kill Sadie (Erin-drums, Cory-bass). Dave was a trombone player in the 6th grade and Jake was an avid fan of music from an early age, his influences were from his older brothers friends.
“I took lessons for about three months or so, but that was about it. I never really learned how to sight read or anything.” Dave says on his early years as a guitarist, prior to playing guitar in Botch when I caught up with the band at local San Diego live music hot spot, The Casbah.
Jake had a similar upbringing in the guitar world, “I started playing when I was about 12. The lessons I took, I would just bring in some Metallica songs and the Teacher would just show me how to play the songs.”
Minus the Bear was started as a side project of all the members and initially was just an outlet and break from the other bands they were in though eventually it culminated in a fulltime band as the other bands dissolved.
Minus the Bear’s music is what the logical progression of musicians from former bands should be, progressive. In that it’s not just a new name with the same sound, or some alliance of musicians that just want to redo what they had done in their former bands. Relive their glory days so-to-speak. According to Dave, “it’s a different kind of energy (from Botch). You can still get the same kind of intensity out of it whether its playing and going ape sh*t like in Botch or if its playing in Minus the Bear where its more feeling.”
Don’t count Minus the Bear out from the 9-5 world. While the young insta-punk bands get signed with major label contracts, cash advances and paid tours and merch, Minus the Bear continues to “keep it real” although, admittedly, they would like to see that aspect change.
“We’re trying to (transition) make this (band) a full time gig, but the level we are at isn’t such that, we can make it as a full time band,” says Dave.
As far as major label signing goes, Jake speculates, “Any deal with any label regardless if it’s an Indie or a Major, it just depends on the deal. If the deal is good and the contract is good than we would consider that. If we like the bands and music the label puts out then we would definitely consider it.”
Minus the Bear rock the Casbah in San Diego and continue on their West Coast Tour then finish and move on to play five dates in Japan. Dave is one of the most amazing guitarists to see live and without the light show from the Botch days hindering the performance viewing, it’s worth a look.
Check them out at http://www.minusthebear.com
So i’ll be leaving on a jet plane, bound for Austin, TX. The good old bastion of liberal thought in the middle of Texas, home of steers and apparently queers but i’ve heard they are only in East Texas, the steers that is. Man, R Lee Ermy is lame but his Full Metal Jacket character is awesome. look for new picks and more bullshit written by me soon. Gotta start using this thing more often. time is so scarce these days…i’ll be checking out Boris, Jesu, Against Me!, Mastodon, Gallows; hopefully i’ll see The Stooges and possibly Spoon. Pending how much work i have to do. check out my new web project over at HYPEzine.com.
Its a labor of Love.