It has been said that 80% of bands do not make it past the 4-year mark. Of the remaining 20% to continue on, 90% of those acts never see the light of day beyond a decade. Daunting figures indeed. Using these numbers as a measuring stick, then TAUK can be included in the conversation of musical statistical anomalies. This is when you consider how three members of the prog rock-fusion-jazz-funk-just-about-everything-else-under-the-sun quartet out of New York have essentially been together (even if in a roundabout fashion) for the better part of fifteen years now. Although drummer Isaac Teel officially joined the band in January 2012, guitarist Matt Jalbert, keyboardist A.C. Carter and bassist Charlie Dolan have been performing alongside one another since the middle school daze of their youth. Even as each strolled down their separate collegiate paths, the three always made it a point to re-engage the musical conversation they’d sparked during their formative years. Whether it be keeping in touch long distance or playing on holiday breaks and during the summer months, there was always a strong push to see what was on the other side. Perhaps akin to that junior high sweetheart who somehow blossoms, dare I say, into a soul mate? You know, the one you exchange a first kiss with, awkward heavy petting etc. Then, through forces of nature, you somehow find your way back to one another after sowing your seeds of wildness and Lord knows what other defilement during those years of “higher education.”
For TAUK, their wild seeds have been cross-pollinating and sprouting at breakneck speed since reconvening post-college and adding Teel to their hot and heavy mix. In fact, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to say the burgeoning four-some is primed these days to become the “it” band of the jam scene circle. A group who is currently riding the sweet spot of flying under the radar just enough to continue fleshing out the kinks while at the same time amassing a superb resume. One which includes touring with the likes of Umphrey’s McGee, The Funky Meters, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Papadosio, Lettuce, Dopapod, and moe. In addition to their stout road credentials, TAUK already has enhanced their musical pedigree even more through their collaboration with well-regarded producer Robert Carranza (Mars Volta, Jack Johnson), who last year oversaw the release of their 3rd studio effort, Collisions. Where the achievement truly lies in this effort is the unmistakable solidification of TAUK’s identity as a unit. It was B.B. King who once stated “Notes are expensive, spend them wisely.” This notion goes hand-in-hand with the fulfillment of space, which is how this album makes its deepest imprint with the listener. Collisions is a resounding affirmation of perhaps the band’s strongest of strong suits – instead of spastically fucking around in a musical sandbox, they’ve wisely taken up residence in a sonic Zen garden of sorts. TAUK’s sound resonates in its unflinching dexterity to create just enough space where the quartet’s interplay can fluidly pattern after and seamlessly build off of and around one another while transcending into new dimensions. Indeed, the days of heavy petting are long gone.
TAUK will be performing at the Wakarusa Music Festival this June for the first time ever and is the spotlight band for this week’s blog. I first spoke with the guys last fall before Matt Jalbert and I picked things up this past week:
Here’s a lil icebreaker for ya. When we spoke at Harvest last October, we got on the subject of basketball. You guys are devout fans of the New York Knicks. Without holding back, how are you feeling these days about your good ole Knickerbockers? Are you one of those fans that have been wearing a paper sack in shame over your head during the season?
I’ll never feel ashamed of rooting for my team. Never. A true fan sticks it out through the rough seasons. It makes it that much sweeter when the team is good again, which is hopefully sooner than later. That being said, this season has been horrible. I just feel lucky that we have shows on a lot of the nights they play so we don’t have to actually watch. The whole band are big Knicks fans and we’ve essentially stopped talking about them for now.
Speaking of basketball, you guys emphatically stated at Harvest that you would take on ANY band in your scene in a game of basketball. Here’s actually a little slice of what you said:
Matt: Outside music, we have a lot of similar interests that keep us on the same page. Mainly basketball, food and Mario Kart really keep us bonded. Maybe not the Mario Kart as much, but definitely the basketball and the food. And we challenge any band to basketball. We’ll put it out there right now…
AC: TAUK will take any band in this scene. End quote!
Isaac: And the shit-talking commences (laughs).
There’s no turning back now. Looking at the Wakarusa line-up, regardless of the genre or basketball proficiency, I want to know right now who you will challenge to a game of pickup basketball – NO HOLDS BARRED. Also, what musician at Wakarusa would you recruit to be your basketball coach for the game?
Well staying with our gut, we’ll take on any band at Wakarusa. We just took on Umphrey’s last week, and I’m glad to say we’re currently 1- 0. Dopapod is next – that game should have happened already. Just find us a ball and a basket. Beyond that, we’re ready for the Roots, as long as Questlove is our coach.
I’m going back to basketball one more, painstaking time here. You know, “the band is a team” is definitely a super played out cliché, but still 100% true. Nevertheless, when it comes to TAUK as a band, a team, what are your biggest strengths and what are your biggest weaknesses onstage at this time in your maturation?
As cliché as it is, we think of ourselves in that way a lot. Everybody has to bring something to the table and be willing to do what’s best for the team. We come in as four individuals, which can lead to a lot of different opinions on things. But we’ve only gotten stronger at figuring out how to work together whether it’s on songwriting or following each other at a live show. The comparison is really accurate. If I’m having a rough night, my sound is off, or I’ve made a couple mistakes, I know that the rest of the band is gonna be trying even harder to make up for it and get me back in it. I’d say that’s one of our biggest strengths. We’re always looking back and finding weaknesses in ourselves. That’s how we improve. Whether it’s making tempos more consistent, stressing dynamics, communicating better onstage. On any given night any person in the band will tell you something they could have done better. We know we’re not perfect. There’s still a lot we need to work on.
While we’re on the subject of strengths/weaknesses, I have a loose Miles Davis quote that Matt Butler of the Everyone Orchestra once shared with me (and I’m paraphrasing here): “There are no mistakes, only opportunities. If you think you made a mistake, just make it again and then again after that. And then it’s not a mistake – it’s a beat section or it’s a melody.” Being a purely instrumental group, it practically goes without saying that you are heavily reliant on putting yourself out there and just going for it during your live sets. How does the spirit of what Miles said directly apply to TAUK’s approach to the live experience?
It’s one of the human elements of being a live band. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s what makes it real. You listen to a lot of those Miles albums and guaranteed most of the musicians will tell you they made mistakes all over the place. But they’re not really mistakes. It’s part of the music. Part of the experience. I think that’s what Miles is getting at. If you could already play everything perfectly, then what’s the point of improvising? You gotta put yourself out there and see what happens. That’s what makes it exciting. Sometimes you pull it off, sometimes you fall flat on your face. Sometimes you think you fell flat on your face and you listen back and realize you pulled something off you weren’t even trying to. As a musician, sometimes you put a lot of pressure on yourself and you get so caught up in trying to do something right that you don’t even notice that what seems like a mistake to you actually comes across as something incredible to the listener. Neither person is right, it just is what it is and you learn from it and keep going.
“When it comes to connecting with your live audience, what kind of lasting experience are you trying to create for them on any given night?”
I think what’s real important for us in the live shows is the dynamics. When I go see a show, my favorite shows are when the highs are really high, but then you also can get brought real low and it makes those highs higher. So it’s really important to us to not just pick our bangers and just play all those right after one another. You got to have a good balance. Give a good showcase because every show there’s probably someone seeing you there for the first time and you want to give them a little taste of what you can do from a lot of different angles.
As far as playing live, please share with me a seminal moment during a time when you four were playing together. It could be any show, in the studio or even a rehearsal for that matter. Tell me about that magical, kind of transcendent moment or experience where things just clicked for you four and how it felt down to your core.
Every night we get a chance to find a moment that is unique, brings us to a new place, and gives you a feeling that can’t really be put into words. It comes down to a lot of factors. The crowd, the sound, how everybody is playing and communicating. But when all of it clicks – that is what we do this for. You grow up listening to your favorite music and it does something to you. When you find that band that you really connect with and it gives you this feeling of invincibility and transports you to another world, you know you have to find that feeling as much as possible. Then as a band when you feel that again at a show and you can see in the crowd that people are in the same place, you want to get there all the time. The first time we played FloydFest was one that sticks out for me. It was just one of those times where the band was totally thrown off by how amazing the crowd was and it just put us in this groove right away and we carried that energy for the whole show. We just played in Asheville with Umphrey’s McGee and it was theirs and our first arena show. The crowd was just as pumped as we were and it was just one of those sets that just flew by and was exciting from start to finish.
There is always that big enchilada of a musical conquest out there for any band. Sometimes they achieve it (Phish Y2K NYE @ Big Cypress) and sometimes they do not (Pete Townshend’s failed Lifehouse project with The Who). What is one of those big, lofty, super-creative ideas that you daydream about as a musician and/or collectively as a band?
Right now we’re focusing on one thing at a time. Continuing to write new music, getting our name out there. There’s still a lot that needs to get done in our minds. That being said, we’ve talked about starting our own festival. Our buddy Ben already has the beer brewed for it in our name. But down the road I can definitely see us tackling something much bigger.
You guys have been on the road with Umphrey’s McGee of late. How has this time touring with such heralded veterans as UM been extra special? How have they taken you guys under their wing and imparted their wisdom on you?
We’re heading into our last shows with them on this run and it’s just flown by. It’s really been such an incredible experience for us for so many reasons. The exposure it’s given us is amazing, but we’ve also been learning so much from them as a band. Seeing a band that’s been doing it for as long as they have and still take every show to heart is inspiring. Every day they are practicing and trying to pull off the best show they can. They’ve all been incredibly supportive of us and really trying to help us out which has been such a blessing. Every person is focused, from the crew to the band, and that’s exactly what we try to do.
Last question – who are your peers these days within TAUK’s “music scene?” Who do you respect and admire the most?
There are so many amazing bands out there right now, especially in our scene. We’ve been lucky enough to be sharing the stage with a lot of them lately. We ended last year with a bunch of shows with Dopapod. Those guys are seriously talented musicians and one of those bands that pushes us to keep getting better. We had a couple shows with Papadosio and are looking forward to more coming up in April. And of course right now we’re at the last week of our run with Umphrey’s McGee. We feel so lucky to be in this family of bands and musicians. What’s incredible is that all of these bands we’ve come across root for each other. Every band wants big things for themselves, but it’s also been about helping each other out and sharing it. That’s what music is supposed to be about.
Interview by: Matthew Cremer