What better way to stomp out the anxiety than checking out the Omaha, Nebraska based pop-rock band Tilly and the Wall? The five-piece band are currently on tour for their fourth album, Heavy Mood, and I spoke to them on the phone as they drove towards Seattle. Bay Area residents can catch them Thursday night at San Francisco’s own Great American Music Hall, with band member Derek Pressnall’s band Icky Blossoms opening.
Tilly and the Wall are most well known for their tap-dancer as percussion, in place of a drummer. Additionally, they are one of the most fun bands to see live. Expect coordinated dance routines, the most bright and playful self-made clothing you can imagine, and anthemic choruses that the whole audience will be shouting along to, as balloons and often confetti are strewn out into the crowd.
Their record label, Team Love, has this to say about the band's new release: “With the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement almost upon us and a divisive presidential election right around the corner, the quintet has re-emerged decidedly wiser and more mature, but with all its child-like exuberance intact, to offer musical and moral encouragement to these heavy times. At this juncture, Tilly and The Wall represents not one party or ideology, but its own radical movement, apolitical but fervently pro-people, reasserting its belief in the power of love, friendship and brash anthemic choruses that we all can chant, clap and stomp along to together.”
Their song “Nights of the Living Dead” from 2004’s Wild Like Children certainly served as a cathartic anthem during the high school years of my friends and I, and their albums Bottoms of Barrels and O offered many more fierce, while tender tunes of fighting to thrive, embracing the crazy-side, and loyalty to friends and to yourself. If you are feeling down, Tilly is the perfect band to blast in your room and have a mini-party-- watch out--your housemates may jump in on it before you know it, their music is quite infectious.
The band gained a larger fan base through a diverse array of television appearances and the use of their songs in various movies--from performances on Sesame Street to Beverly Hills 90210, this group of friends from the Midwest have made quite a splash. Additionally tap dancer Jamie Pressnall married singer and guitarist Derek Pressnall and the couple are now raising children. Singer Kianna Alarid Cameron also married and is now raising children.
“The Sesame Street appearance was great because both Kianna and I have both been teachers for elementary school-aged kids at some point! My little cousins texted me when they saw it. We even had a couple who came to one of our shows recently because of discovering us on Sesame Street. At another show, a girl of maybe 3 or 4 came to our show with mom, and was showing off her tap dancing at the front. It was so cute,” laughed Neely Jenkins, the band's bass guitarist and vocalist. All members sing, and Nick White plays keyboard and piano. They also include ample use of shakers, bells, a recorder, tambourine and more.
“We were so excited when they invited us to perform live on the new Beverly Hills show, because Kianna and I used to get together and watch it in college, way back in the day, the old school Beverly Hills. We hoped it would be at the music venue bands would always play at in the original, but it ended up just being set at a party. It was funny seeing the way they filmed the scene-- all the drinks were fake and they told all the kids to pretend we were their favorite band in the world. Most of them had never heard of us and were told 'They are your all time favorite band! Act like you are having the best time ever!' Some fans definitely learned about our band through that show.”
“Three of our members being parents and having kids has definitely changed things for us,” Jenkins explained. “Originally we tried to take the kids out on the road--but that was a lot more difficult than we expected; it was a little too much. We all agree that family is the priority. It’s number one. It works out we are all such close friends because we work around schedules and make it our best. We are flexible with everyone’s schedule for when we practice and shoot a video. It’s really a great experience seeing them start their own families.”
“We are all songwriters,” Jenkins explained. “We all start making our own songs and then we bring them together, discuss what we want out of the song, and everyone makes their own parts. From there we record demos and then work on any needed changes before recording the song.” So this rambunctious and romantic band do not just look the part-- they all have stories to tell, and music to set to the flood of words they have to share. This album was recorded with Mike Mogis in Omaha (music producer and Bright Eyes band member, one of the original founders of Saddle Creek Music). “We finished the recording process in December of last year. We went out to Omaha a couple of times, since I live in L.A. now.”
The band also collaborated with Nick Zinner on this album, guitarist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “It’s really fun to have musical friends and always being able to give each other creative input. To record with such great musicians allows us to hear what they think before the recording is complete. We really got our start through Conor Oberst. He was the one that wanted to take us out as a band. We got to play our first show in front of hundreds of kids because of him. It’s amazing to see how successful so many of the Saddle Creek bands have become. Oberst has started to tour all the time now, that is always exciting.”
Speaking of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, one review of Heavy Mood described their music as what the soundtrack to Maurice Sendak’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” would sound like. But wait-- Karen O and the Kids already recorded a soundtrack to the recent Where the Wild Things Are full length feature film. The exuberance and freedom expressed by their music certainly has a lot in common with the rock-pop of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “We all admire Karen O’s work for sure and would love to collaborate with her in the future. As far as new releases we are really enjoying the new Bat for Lashes, it would be great to tour with them.”
While the Pressnalls and Alarid Cameron get settled into family life, Nick White moved to Los Angeles to join his friends' band, the Young Veins, and Jenkins began teaching Taiwanese and yoga. “When I moved to L.A. I was looking for an education job, but they are kind of hard to find in California right now; and when I was recommended the job I was so excited because I was able to go to Taiwain to meet my students [she now teaches them online]. It works out very well to be a yoga teacher and a writer, because yoga allows you to empty out what you don’t need from your mind and find ideas; the two work well together.”
Time After Time: That one time they Sang with Cyndi Lauper
“I grew up watching MTV, I thought that was really cool, and basically when I met people from Omaha I just started playing music! When Tilly played in Japan at a festival, Kianna and I were waiting offstage while Cyndi Lauper was performing--she said she needed some girls to help her out onstage, so we went with some other girls. That was amazing, Kianna and I were both crying and laughing and singing and dancing all at once! My favorite part of being a musician is just being on tour. It’s so fun to see how excited people are at our shows. The joy on people’s faces, as they have fun with their friends.”