Cream Cuts

BY Cam LindsayPublished Sep 27, 2008

If Tussle’s first two albums were characterized by anything it would unquestionably be their relentless ability to keep a groove alive and electric. After some line-up changes between albums, they have reconfigured their sound to include a lot more space and spontaneity. At their core, I have always considered them a disco band that brought in dub and post-punk influences but with third album Cream Cuts, I’m not so certain. The die-hard rhythm section of Warren Huegel and Tomonori Yasuda is still the asset but electronics crew Jonathan Holland and Nathan Burazer appear to be masking and disjointing the hypnotic pulse that feeds their "groove.” Telescope Mind hinted at this direction but tangents like "Third Party” and "Personal Effects” go deeper into the unknown, pulling out a more experimental personality. The punk funk of "Abacba,” for instance, revives a past rhythm of theirs and adds blocks of clapping drums, synths and a climax awash in effects, while "Meh-Teh” uses Krautrock as its muse, churning out an unwavering Teutonic beat that’s met with a basketful of overtones acting as pylons. Cream Cuts signals there is more to come from Tussle’s experimental itch but as long as they keep that groove alive, I’m all for whatever they throw into their music.

What led to the departure of Alexis?
A long hard decision.

How did his departure shake up the dynamics of the band?
Well, its been more than two years now since Alexis left Tussle and Tomo joined us. Tussle as is having fun exploring new ideas, we all look forward to our practices and love playing shows. We have great group dialogues while composing freely sharing ideas and perspectives.

How has Tomo filled in for him? What has he brought to Tussle so far?
Tomo is a multi-instrumentalist master. We love working with him, he is a great collaborator his style is very playful and fun.

Cream Cuts feels a lot less organic, and a little more electronic and experimental than Kling Klang and Telescope Mind. What would you say is the result of this progression?
I dunno, some people have said the opposite we sort burned out on the ESG and Can references. We consciously decided to make something that didnt sound like anything else. Having Thom Monahan produce the album probably helped push the experimental aspect. The album is more electronic than the previous albums.

Was there much of a discussion about where you'd go with this record? Yes. We talked about it more than we did on the last album and decided we wanted it to NOT sound like ESG or Can. We wanted to use the studio to really experiment with the creative process. And have our references or influences be less transparent and more blended.

I've always associated Tussle with finding and carrying a groove. Is that how you start your music, by jamming till you gel together? Or is it less organized than that?
Yeah, basically jamming is usually the starting point. We record our practices with a small digital recorder (Edirol) and make sketches with a computer (in Logic), cutting and pasting a sort of roadmap and work from there.

I read a review in Dusted that complained the band's "ambition keeps you from jelling" and that there's a "nagging sameness" in most of the songs. I get what they mean as far as the sameness goes since your music is often repetitive (which is one of the reasons why I like it so much), but I don't see that as such a bad thing. Care to comment?
Hmmm. I don't read Dusted, so I am not familar with the context of their complaint or there angle on music. Of course, our music isn't for everyone. We make sounds that we want to hear in the world, and we are happy with our output. You can't satisfy everyone all the time and I think that it's obvious that is not our concern. Repetitive music is especially hard for some folks to hang with but when its done well it can be really amazing, hypnotic and even mind altering. But you have to sort of surrender to it.

What made you decide to work with Thom Monahan, a producer who's best known for working with much folkier acts like Silver Jews and Devendra Banhart? How did he respond to music of such a different breed?
The first time I met Thom he was wearing a Killing Joke shirt. So I knew that he was more that just a indie folk guy. He also used to play in the Lilys back in the day. I was also excited at to work with him because we were not his typically sort of band to work with and we wanted to do something different too.

You brought back Andy to help out with the recording. What made you work with him again and how exactly did he contribute? Andy DJed our record release show for our last album, Telescope Mind. But by that time we had the new (and current) line-up and played all our new songs and maybe only one or two songs from TM. That was Andy's first time seeing us with the new line-up, he was enthuasistic and encouraged us to record the new songs with Thom Monahan in L.A. Andy and Thom were initially going to co-produce Cream Cuts but Andy ended up going on tour with the Shins and had some other tours going on so turned out that he helped out with the album when he could which turned out to be just in the beginning, specifically on "Meh-Teh." He was a sort of conduit between Thom and Tussle in the early part of the process.

I imagine this is a question that you're tired of answering, but have you ever considered adding a vocalist?
We talk about it from time to time. We talk about working with voice more than we talk about adding a vocalist. We are open to working with the right vocalist but when it comes to vocals, we are extremely picky. Especially in dance music, the result of adding vocals can just totally kill a great song. So far it just hasn't been necessary. But anything can happen. On the next album we want to try and break our own imaginary rules. Maybe some Arthur Russell inspired stuff would be cool to try next time, but tussle style.

Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip collaborated on "Titan." What was his role in the song?
We got to know Alexis Taylor when we toured with Hot Chip in 2007. After the tour I sent him a rough mix and asked him to add whatever he felt like adding. He ending up adding a bunch of stuff, gongs, chimes, bells - mostly percussion. We weaved it what we could, but ended up not using some things.

How true are the live performances of your songs to the album recordings? Do you take any liberties when you play live to take certain songs in different directions, maybe even some improvisation?
We have been trying to build in moments of improvisation into our songs when we play live. I feel like some parts of our songs are elastic and can strecth out further if its just sounding to hot to stop. We have been trying to pull off a few moments as they appear on Cream Cuts, some things work well and others we have altered to better suit the live setting. For example we are doing the night sounds of crickets and circada as it appears on "Titan" but not doing the drum circle thing as much anymore.
(Smalltown Supersound)

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