INTERVIEW- On tap: Toeing the line with Tilly
It's high time we admit that shameless marketing ploys are important fixtures in pop music today. The faked homosexuality of Russian duo t.A.T.u. and all the turntables recklessly spun by scads of late-'90s rock bands have their place in the history books. One hopes, however, they're far from the chapter on the Stratocaster Hendrix burned at Monterey, and are instead sharing space in the footnotes with the amputated arm of Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen.
Whether Tilly and the Wall are making a bid for the appendix or for a chapter of their own remains to be seen. Their debut album, Bottoms Of Barrels, is awash with a conveniently marketable indie-pop optimism and the gobs of preciousness you'd expect from a band hand-picked by Bright Eyes mastermind Conor Oberst for his Team Love label. All they have to do now is wait to see whether the decision to supplant traditional percussion with an amplified tap dancer sinks them or sets them apart.
Ridiculous? Of course. Contrived? Maybe– but for what it's worth, singer Derek Pressnall insists that the addition of tap-shoe wearing Jamie Williams is part of a perfectly natural evolutionary process. Either way, it's all perfectly charming. Go ahead and scorn the tap dancing as a marketing angle if you want, but there's still the pesky problem of all those clever little hooks and harmonies that can't be explained away quite as easily.
The Hook: How much of the band's success do you think you owe to Conor and Bright Eyes?
Derek Pressnall: I think it's helped us, just because Conor and Bright Eyes have gotten so much national and worldwide attention. We were the first artists on Team Love, and I think people respect Conor as an artist and are open to his opinion on bands and artists he likes.
The Hook: Unlike most bands, you have a mobile "drummer" who's not tucked away at the back of the stage behind a wall of machines. How do you use that freedom during performances?
Derek Pressnall: I think visually it's much more interesting to watch a dancer than a drummer. She's dancing in between songs, she's able to move all over the stage. It helps create a vibrant energy that maybe we wouldn't be able to get with a drummer. And I think soundwise, it has a totally natural organic feel that's different from a drummer. It gets really animalistic on stage.
The Hook: How on earth does a pairing like this even come about?
Derek Pressnall: Jamie played guitar originally, and we started working on these songs she had that I was helping her arrange. Nick joined on keyboard, so I took over on guitar. And then Jamie started tapping because we needed a beat. It wasn't something we really thought about.
The Hook: Was there a pivotal point where you guys had to decide whether to go forward with the weird lineup?
Derek Pressnall: The moment came for me at the second show we played, maybe for 300 people. We were opening for Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes and the Apples In Stereo. The crowd embraced us just like they would embrace a band with a drummer. There came a point where we were like, "Okay, are we going to do this?" At that point we didn't even think about drums; we were already set in our ways.
The Hook: What else does rock music need, aside from more tap dancers?
Derek Pressnall: If you're giving your 10 percent to the world, it's going to be 10 percent that's different, because we're all different people. Anything goes in music. F*ck it – pick up anything you want and play it.
The Hook: So could you make a Tilly and the Wall record with totally different instrumentation?
Derek Pressnall: We've joked about playing a live show like that– or at least one song, a cover song, all switching instruments. We've thought about actually doing that live. As far as actually making a record goes, yeah, I think we could do it. I'm still trying to get used to the guitar!
The Hook: Do you feel like there's a degree to which novelty could be reason enough to do something unexpected in art, just to be progressive?
Derek Pressnall: Maybe. I think with art you can do anything, whether it's for novelty, or something personally, or to try to change the world.
The Hook: Which drives you?
Derek Pressnall: I think a little bit of all of those. That's a hard question. It's just a part of being alive; you're never going to have an answer.
Tilly and the Wall and Pony Up perform at the Satellite Ballroom Thursday, October 26. $12/$10, 8pm.
Tilly and the Wall