and the Wall: Beyond Novelty
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: May 31, 2006
The idea that
Tilly and the Wall is considered sort of a novelty act is nothing
new to the band's keyboardist Nick White. He knows that to most
people familiar with their music, Tilly is "that band with
the cute tap-dancer."
be hard for Jamie, because she's the one that has to talk about
tap dancing all the time," said White about Tilly vocalist/tap-dancing
percussionist Jamie Williams. "We're just so happy with how
she does things. I think however people take it, we're fine with
Fact is, in
a world of literally thousands of indie bands, Williams' tap-dancing
has been an attention getter. Her tap shoes are a carry-over from
her and bandmate Kianna Alarid's short-lived former band, Magic
Kiss (In fact, they also could be heard in Williams' first
band, Park Ave., that featured a young
Conor Oberst and Clark Baechle). Tap dancing was the perfect accoutrement
to their self-released DIY-flavored 6-song demo, Woo!,
recorded in Oberst's basement. Oberst knew a good thing when he
heard it, and Tilly's official full-length debut, Wild Like
Children, also became the debut release for his Team Love
rousing tap-fueled song cycle, beneath Wild's novelty veneer
was tuneful, honest and at times, deceptively somber song writing.
Track "You and I Misbehaving," for example, captured teenagers
struggling with the idea of growing old. Actually, all the songs were
about struggling -- with growing up, with "love," with themselves,
told in a way that related to anyone who was on the outside looking
in during their high school years. Add a sense of youthful defiance
and Tilly was this generation's Holden Caulfield.
Now after almost
three years of successfully touring Wild, Tilly is back with
a new album -- a little older, a little wiser, and much more professional
sounding, thanks to the Mogis brothers -- AJ in the studio and Mike
on the mixing board. But while Bottoms of Barrels is a natural
evolution of the band's sound, the tap shoes are still there. In
fact, they've never been more in-your-face.
to make the tap dancing even more dynamic and percussive,"
White said. "When we started, Jamie was dancing on the floor.
There was no dynamism. Now she dances on top of a hollow wooden
box that's mic-ed. The sound is much fuller."
It isn't just
the tapping that's unique about Tilly. Few (if any) bands can boast
having three women vocalists -- Williams, Alarid and former Park
Ave. member Neely Jenkins. Guitarist/vocalist Derek Pressnall rounds
out the five-piece. Tilly's girl power has had an impact on its
in the crowd that there are tons of different types of people, but
the vast majority is younger girls," White said. "Maybe
that has to do with the tap dancing. Girls take dance lessons and
can identify with it. Maybe it's that younger girls relate to bands
with girl singers. I'm not sure why it happens. We get spoiled because
they're always so enthusiastic and we feed off the crowd's energy.
I don't know what we'd do if we were playing to a roomful of middle-aged
get spoiled because they're always so enthusiastic and we
feed off the crowd's energy. I don't know what we'd do if
we were playing to a roomful of middle-aged guys."
in the band roots for the underdog. The 'we' is everyone in
the band and whoever relates to us."
part of their appeal also certainly comes from the music's inspirational
message. On tracks like "Sing Songs Along" on the new
album and "Nights of the Living Dead" from the debut,
Tilly isn't so much singing to the crowd, but singing with them.
Lines like "So puff out your chest in some weird dusty fight
/ We're taking no part in your cracked antique life / We're believing
everything that we have heard / We're taking our turn with the kids
that don't learn" are an underachiever's call to action.
in the band roots for the underdog," White said. "The
'we' is everyone in the band and whoever relates to us. We don't
want to exclude anyone. It has to do with the name of the record
(Bottoms of Barrels) -- they're the ones we like best."
Quite a different
message from the glitzy, materialistic, Barbie-doll world of pop
divas like Christina, Britney and Jessica. Who would you rather
have your daughter identify with?
the same way," White said, adding that Tilly's music also is
a painless entry into indie music for kids who grew up with radio.
an easy jump for younger kids just finding out about independent
music. It's not a hugely different kind of music. I don't think
we sound like Britney, but if you heard Britney and then our band,
it would be an easier transition than, say, if the first indie band
you heard was Smog."
White said their
musical evolution was inevitable considering how the new record
came together. Tilly spent part of 2005 as a band in residence at
the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. "Being at the Bemis
allowed us to immerse ourselves in art and culture and really try
to go with whatever we were feeling rather than in any one direction,"
White said. "This album feels like a collaboration, a collective
of artists working together while being different than one another."
centered 'round a worn pair of tap shoes. What a novel idea.
Published in The Omaha Reader May 31, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.