Tartufi is not your typical two-person band. Hell, it’s not your typical four-person band. It’s not even your typical eight-person band. Well, fine, that’s hyperbole, but the eight-piece band would need to have a glockenspiel player. If there’s no glockenspiel, so help me…
Without this, I am pushed headfirst into an anger-blinded rage
Tartufi formed as a power pop trio in San Francisco, releasing an I-have-yet-to-find-a-copy-of-it Westward Onward, EP in 2002 followed by their 2004 album So We Are Alive and their 2005Trouble EP before changing directions, both sonically and member…ly (wise? Member wise? It’s not like I’m a writer or anything, can’t be expected to know these fancy words). In 2006, Tartufi, now soley consisting of guitarist/vocalist Lynne Angel and drummer Brian Gorman, released Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, no doubt inspired by the They Might Be Giants classic song, “I, Palindrome, I” (citation needed). That album, which was featured in my first comprehensive top albums/top songs of the year list (let’s here it for lastfm journals, everybody) showed a complex sound that many critics have (correctly) asserted sounds almost more like a full orchestra than the work of a duo. Navigating along multi-track songs with more musical twists and turns than Lombard Street, Tartufi transformed into a unique musical experience that miraculously is translated almost exactly to their live shows.
And, let’s not forget, their most recent album Nests of Waves and Wires was featured on my top 10 albums of the year and top 50 songs of the year. I caught up with Tartufi with a few questions about how Tartufi came to be. And also, beef jerkey. Seriously, these guys love their beef jerkey.
Tartufi will soon release Goodwill of the Scar, a vinyl single track EP. Their website can be found here.
Boring standard question first- why don’t you give us a rundown of the origin of Tartufi.
Technically, Tartufi began in 2001 and was a very different creature from what it is now. I joined in 2003 and soon after we began dipping our toes in the mighty waters of touring. At a show in North Carolina, while wearing $2.99 old man masks that we bought at Walgreen’s; it became clear to us that our band mate, who was embarrassed by us, was not going to last long.
After releasing a full length and an EP, she quit and Lynne and I were in the fortunate position to design the band and its sound exactly the way we wanted. We debated about hiring another member, but were kind of burnt by the experience with our former band mate and didn’t want to deal with another ego, so we opted to explore technological options to fill out our sound. (Enter multiple Loop Stations and 1000 watts of amps prepared to rip faces off at any given moment.) We went a little overboard at first.
I joined the band a few weeks after their first show as the bass player but soon began playing guitar and singing as well. We went through a whole lotta drummers. Some exploded. Some left because they were intimidated by how good we were. Some we “lost”. Brian came on to the scene and proved that he could reform after exploding, was extremely intimidated by us but could still hang, and had one of those tracking device implants you get at the vet so if you lose your puppy you can find it again. Band Puppy!
When I first listened to your second album, Us Upon Buildings Upon Us, I was surprised when I found out there were only two members in Tartufi. I was even more surprised to find out that your live shows sound much like the recordings. How does your approach towards your songs change from playing at a live venue versus recording in studio?
Our recording process is a much more patient contemplative process than our show, which is an intense, choreographed workout. We try and honor our recordings, but in no way feel bound to them on stage. Sometimes the recorded version of a part of a song is the only time that we ever arranged and played the song that way. There is a part in the song Engineering that on the recording is based entirely around layers of polyrhythmic snapping. Though we play that part live, it’s free from any West Side Story snappery and has ended up becoming somewhat of a dancey funk part. Somewhat.
The experience of listening to a great album on your headphones is so different from a live show experience. I think we let parts breath a bit longer on our recordings than we do live. If we gave them the same space on stage I think I’d get bored. We try and play very close attention to the dynamic arc of our set, balancing the intense, heavier rhythmic feels with our more ambient melancholy parts. As audience members we want to be surprised so we try and pay attention to our set as if we were watching it. If at anytime while working on our set we start to get bored we figure someone in the audience would be as well and then push to change directions, cut parts, or add new elements to better the experience for everyone.
In the recording studio we tend to go a little woo woo. We really try to load as much onto each track as we can and experiment with different placements, tones and instruments. We generally will write a song and rehearse the live version, then go into the recording studio and track the song, totally effing with the structure and sonic impact. Then after the record is done, we go back to the studio to try to relearn how to play the song as close to the recording as possible. Stop laughing. It makes sense to us.
What was the biggest challenge in changing from a power pop band to your current, more complex style?
The biggest challenge wasn’t the music or the huge learning curve with our gear and new playing relationship, but with people’s expectations of the band (whether imagined by us or real). We had already made a decent name for ourselves on the local SF scene and with the reinvention of Tartufi, without changing the band name or adding new members, it seemed to us as though there were many folks who were expecting, maybe hoping, for us to fail. It took us a few years, I think, to get over the sense that we had to prove ourselves. That certainly was a driving force for us, but after a while it was distracting and I’m glad that we have moved beyond that feeling.
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to handle how much fun we were having. No – wait – the biggest challenge was having all the laser surgeries to remove our old band-mates name from our chests. No. The BIGGEST challenge was figuring out that I alone was responsible for brushing Brian daily…or his puppy hair just gets everywhere. Ok – honestly I think we still face our biggest challenge today: The Demons Who Live In Our Gear And Make Weird Things Happen Like Feedback, Radio Noise, And Random Static. We have spent years and years trying to figure out how to sound as clean as we can, considering how much is coming through the amps. It has been an uphill battle but luckily we have jetpacks.
Do you still have fans show up to concerts with song requests for “Windmill” or “Window Machine” and other earlier songs?
It happens, but rarely now. Usually people who know our ancient material have followed us through our transformation and understand that those songs were written when the band still had its training wheels on. The more complicated and embarrassing requests for us are when people call out for songs off of a more recent album that we either haven’t played for years or have never played since it was recorded.
One time I was driving along and heard this killer song on the radio. I thought to myself, “Man, that’s a great beat; I want to write something like that.” Then the vocals started and I realized that I in fact had written something like that- it was one of our songs that I had completely forgotten about. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to how much writing Lynne and I do, or how little I remember.
How long did it take you guys to really master the looping techniques you employ?
I would say that we are still learning. Lynne is absolutely amazing with her pedal work- easily the most proficient of any guitarist that I have ever seen, but it is very much like any other technique or instrument in that one has to constantly be searching for new ways to utilize it or all of your music will end up sounding the same. We are always adding and subtracting from our rig to try and create new options for ourselves. Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes we are just making noise.
“Master”! Well – you are too, too kind Sir! It took us probably 2 years to get comfortable with the loop stations, one more to hit second base, and an additional year to gather up the courage to ask them to be in a committed relationship.
A live Tartufi concert is a pretty impressive feat. Describe the technical setup you guys have for each show for those reading that haven’t been able to see you live.
We perform with a drum set, 1-2 guitars and 1-2 basses (depending on the set), 2 keyboards, a glockenspiel, drum machine, several percussion instruments, several microphones, 30+ effects pedals, 2 mixing boards, a 2×15 cabinet, and a 2x 12 cabinet, that all run through a Blackstar head. We have figured out how to connect each instrument, including the acoustic drums, in such a way that we can send any combination of instruments and effects to our Loop Stations. Though we use a few prerecorded samples, 95% of our show is entirely live- there is no click track, laptops, or sequencers, Lynne controls the pedals and I control the timing. Ba-boom.
What’s your favorite type of jerky (beef, venison, bison, etc)?
Our favorite was this amazing beef jerky that we found by chance on tour at a roadside shop in Texas a few years ago. It was incredible. Unfortunately we can’t remember we the hell we were and have been on the quest for the perfect jerky ever since. We thought we came close on this last tour when at 8 in the morning I found some small batch jerky at a truck stop that had all the makings of perfect jerky. I woke Lynne up and we both ate a huge piece. It was delicious. It was also habanero jerky and nearly killed us.
Soon thereafter we played in Ohio and an amazing new friend had spent 3 days preparing deer jerky especially for us. That was definitely the nicest jerky gift we have ever received and mighty tasty too.
I do not discriminate when it comes to jerky, just not too moist and I would prefer if it didn’t taste like blood, a scab, or a booger.
I’ve seen you guys play a concert in a chapel on Good Friday. What do you think is the strangest venue you’ve ever played a show in?
I can’t really think of anything that was too far out there. We have been honored to play some amazing stages and certainly have had our share of places that were unbelievably disgusting, but nothing too strange.
Well – these days, venues have to be more and more creative in terms of what folks can afford and can bring a consistent crowd to. We have gotten pretty used to the more alternative venues and have found that those shows tend to be more fun and laid back than the standard club show. We have played a ton of warehouse spaces, a few barns, some backyards, a basement bar on 47 acres of 4-wheelin heaven, quite a few churches, many teeny tiny radio stations, a few coffeehouses, a couple of restaurants (some glad to have us…. some not so much so), a bunch of theaters, one wedding, a few college cafeterias, a couple of frat houses, a ton of gallery spaces, a few record stores, a VFW hall, a bunch of festivals and countless clubs. The stranger shows tend to have more to do with situational issues than with the space itself. Just ask Amarillo, Texas.
What’s the story behind the rock and roll school for kids (Rock Band Land) you created?
I will let Puppy Brian take this puppy.
BRIAN: Rock Band Land was created years ago when I was a pre-school teacher and frustrated with the music that was considered “appropriate” for kids to listen to and participate in. So I wrote a curriculum that brings kids (ages 4-7) together in groups of 8, they form bands, write original rock songs, record their song with professional musicians, and then perform it in front of a crowd of screaming family, friends, and fans. Lynne and I started the school with another performer friend and we’ve been running the school for 2 and a half years now and the songs keep getting better and better. It’s great fun.
Currently we are working with two bands, one is writing a song about a tiger family that trashes Darth Vader’s House while he is shopping for a new light saber. When he comes home they flee and he wishes they were still there because he’s really lonely. The other song is about a Cyclops who throws trash on a village. The people employ a superhero lion and cheetah to fight the Cyclops. They bury him in trash and then recycle him into calendar artwork.