TAUKA lyrical discussion regarding the all-instrumental band
CD: Sir Nebula
Record Label: 1320 Records
by Sal Serio
TAUK are a compelling and unique rock fusion quartet from New York City, that have built up a following of faithful fans via their dedicated touring schedule and explosive performances. TAUK will be bringing their live show to Madison’s Majestic Theatre on Thursday, March 9. Maximum Ink’s Sal Serio recently spoke with guitarist Matt Jalbert for the following interview. TAUK also features A.C. Carter on keyboards, drummer Isaac Teel, and bass player Charlie Dolan.
MAXIMUM INK: TAUK is obviously a band that colors outside of the lines. Not only is this an all-instrumental band, but there is no obvious genre definition, with elements of prog, funk, electronica, dance, and hard rock all rolled up within the TAUK sushi roll. What are both the luxuries and the disadvantages of that approach?
MATT JALBERT: I appreciate you acknowledging that! (laughing) A lot of times we get asked how to define our music, and that’s a hard thing to do. When we approach it, there’s really no guideline, no rules for what we’re doing. Which is how we like to keep it. As individuals I think we all have different tastes and different styles that we bring to the table. When everyone is bringing ideas for songs, and covers, and ways to play songs, what culminates from that is a mix of different backgrounds. It’s exciting to see where that takes us, as opposed to shaping it with something definitive in mind. We see that as an advantage. There’s no rules, nothing stopping us from doing [anything]. Everything is fair game [which] means the possibilities are endless. There are a bunch of instrumental bands out there, doing cool stuff, and there are a lot of people that want to listen to instrumental music, and go see it live. But, it’s definitely not the “go-to” for a lot of people, when you think about what the biggest shows are happening in town, most of those bands are going to have vocals. But for us, it’s not discouraging at all. Just the fact that we’ve gotten to where [we are now] is really encouraging. It’s eye opening too, to get feedback from the people who come see us play, and say it’s refreshing [because] we’re doing something different. There’s something in there that they’re latching on to.
MI: I first became aware of TAUK at the Summer Camp music festival about 5 years ago. And I see there are festival dates still in the band’s itinerary, like Deep Roots coming up this June. Obviously the beauty of a festival gig versus a club date is a built in audience, but also there’s sometimes a distance from the people experiencing the music which is much more immediate and identifiable at a more intimate show. What do you like about each?
MJ: We’re aware that the festival crowds are different, just by the nature of what the festival is offering. For one, it’s exciting because you’re surrounded by a ton of musicians, and it’s a good opportunity to reconnect with people who are out there doing the same thing we are. It creates a unique energy [and] each festival does that in a different way, depending on the location and line-up. But, with that, I think a lot of people are going in there because [their] favorite band is playing, and that might not be us. However, if they’re at our set, we see that as an opportunity to hopefully gain some new fans. We approach those sets to wow people in a different way than we might in a club, where we have longer set times and can stretch out more. At festivals you’re in “go mode”, you might not get a proper sound check [and] you’re just running out there, setting up, and going. So, it’s a different vibe, but we love them both.
MI: Is the hospitality better at a club or a festival?
MJ: It depends on the club, and it depends on the festival! (laughing)
MI: I believe that the last TAUK concert in Madison was you opening for Umphrey’s McGee when they did an all-improvised set joined by Joshua Redman. Would you ever consider doing a completely improvised set?
MJ: We saw them do that, and it was really cool. They went down different roads than you would usually see in their set. Obviously we’re [both] bands familiar with improvising, but it’s usually within the context of having songs with a place to go, a destination. But just going in open-minded like that is really cool. It’s not something we have immediate plans for, but nothing is [outside the realm of] possibility for us.
MI: Is Umphrey’s fearlessness in that regard inspirational to you?
MJ: Yeah! That’s what I love about certain bands, and especially with them, their fans know they’re a band that takes what they do very seriously. And to just go out there and not play their compositions, it’s a ballsy move, and also goes to show the trust they have with their fans. The open mindedness of their fans… that’s just a really cool thing too, being able to play in this scene where people are willing to go with you and appreciate that fearlessness, respecting that there might be a couple moments where it seems like you’re about to fall on your face. But, the best bands are the ones that can turn that in to a really cool musical moment.
MI: ‘Sir Nebula’ is TAUK’s 3rd studio album, but there are also many live releases. I think that the ‘Sir Nebula’ tracks capture the live TAUK sound very authentically. How did you get that same energy in to the studio? How is working with producer Robert Carranza?
MJ: It’s something we’ve gotten better at each time we’ve gone in to the studio. It comes from being comfortable [which] allows us to get outside of our heads a little bit. There’s a certain amount of pressure when you go in to the studio. You want to get things right, but that can come at the cost of zapping out some of the raw energy that you have when you play live. The more that we’ve gone in to the studio together has allowed us to trust each other and trust ourselves. Like, we know how to play these songs, we know how to play in the studio, let’s just go for it, and not be trapped inside of our heads trying to perfect things the whole time. Of course, you get to do overdubs and polish it up, and that’s a whole other world. There’s so much to explore there. Every album, we want to try different things. Robert is such a huge part of that. We’ve been working with him for so long now [that] he knows our band inside and out. He knows what we’re going for and knows how to push the right buttons. Like, if we had a take that didn’t have energy, he knows to [tell us to] set the instruments down and step away. Or, he might just know the right thing to say to push us in a certain direction. So, even beyond his knowledge of music in general, and mixing, and how things fit together, just knowing us and how we’ve grown throughout the years lends itself to our albums growing as well.
MI: How has the reception been to ‘Sir Nebula’? Do you feel there’s momentum building with each new release?
MJ: Yeah, and that’s something that’s so important to us. We always want to feel like we’re taking steps forward. We definitely felt that with ‘Sir Nebula’. We got some really good feedback from our fans, and [won] new fans. People really seem to enjoy it. It’s still us, obviously, it has the sound that is the core of what we do, but it also has different elements to it. That’s always the most important thing, to be growing as a band and pushing ourselves to do new things. It’s not like we’re going to go and record our next album and say that’s it, that’s what we’ve been trying to do these past ten years. It’s [more] like we’re super proud of this [but] what can we do next?
MI: As an all-instrumental band, have you had the opportunity to do soundtrack work? Does that interest the band?
MJ: It’s a world that we’re hoping to get our foot in the door, and start exploring that avenue, some day. We’re just waiting for the right opportunities. Personally, I love movies in general, and the right soundtrack just adds so much. It’s a different emotional connection to the music, visually having something with it, telling a story. I think with our music, [having] no words, there’s still somewhat of a story being told throughout the song. So, taking that idea and applying it to an actual story, be it a script or something, interests us a lot.
MI: There seems to be more awareness among younger music fans of the prog and fusion icons of the 1970s. I point to the movie about Jaco Pastorious, and the continual nod to prog in live settings, with covers by Spirit, Yes, Pink Floyd… there also is an awareness of more obscure stuff like Can. I’ve interviewed both Jon Anderson of Yes and Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, who have acknowledged this and have been encouraged by it. Is classic prog and/or fusion something that fuel’s TAUK’s music?
MJ: Absolutely, and we’ve noticed that as well. It’s exciting. I listen to tons of different music, but a big part of what inspires me is looking at bands that have done a similar thing, like Weather Report, or Can like you said… or even Yes with tons of instrumental sections. I love music that takes me in to another world. I’m actually curious as to where this resurgence is coming from. Maybe it has something to do with the Internet and more access to music via Spotify or whatever. Maybe there’s people going down that rabbit hole, [since] you don’t have to go to a CD store and pick something up to actually listen to [it]. It’s also somewhat surprising, because a lot of that music [has] songs that are way longer, verging on ten minutes and stuff, [because] there’s the mentality that people just want to hear something with a hook that’s a couple minutes long, and “don’t make me think too much”. But, to know there are people out there, seeking that journey of putting on my headphones and this band’s going to take me in to whole other element. There’s really not anything more powerful or exciting than that. To see that music making a resurgence, especially among younger people, is encouraging, because we take a lot of elements of what we do from that music. Knowing there’s a market for that is something I hope never goes away.
MI: What should the Madison fans expect at the Majestic on March 9?
MJ: You won’t be bored! (laughing) When we’re on a full headlining tour, we’re approaching every night as unique and different. And every night we put everything we have out there. All our energy goes in to the show. There’s going to be stuff that makes you dance, and stuff that makes you rock out. We cover a lot of different ground and we like to put on an exciting show.• Purchase Sir Nebula on Amazon.com
• Download Sir Nebula on Amazon.com