Noam Galai, AOLTalking to Tilly and the Wall feels more like talking to a family than a band. After 10 years together, the group of five are tight-knit and welcoming, relating stories and exchanging knowing smiles with an ease that one mainly sees within a band that's truly happy. Of course, two of their members, Jamie and Derek Pressnall, are really family, but the band as a whole has been challenged by the constraints of growing up and being parents.
Jamie, who recently had her second baby, has been a lynchpin for the band since its inception as the resident tap-dancer, handling most of the percussive elements in place of a traditional drummer.
"For this record, I was sampled in it a lot and my parts are like really repetitive and really rhythmic and really simple. I was pregnant and on bed rest while we recorded it, which is why I was sampled," she says with a laugh.Both Jamie and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kianna Alarid were pregnant during the writing and recording of the group's fourth full-length Heavy Mood, which came out earlier this year. But despite their growing families, all the members of the band reflect a commitment to pursuing their own artistic passions in addition to being parents.
"Like having a kid, some people go this route where they focus on the child, all their life focus on the child. And obviously that's part of it, but it has sort of been an eye-opening thing like 'OK, I have to do my thing right now," Kianna says. "Because it's urgent that my daughter has a mom that shows her exactly what she should do, especially as an artist. If a child sees that you have something to say and you're creating art and releasing it all the time, then that's what she's going to grow up to do."
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Even as they become parents, the band members still know how to get down and party. Reflecting on their past touring with Conor Oberst, a great friend and huge supporter of the band from the beginning, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Neely Jenkins relates a near uprising at a show in Ohio.
After the musicians unfortunately arrived late to the venue, the workers ended Oberst's set early by literally pulling the plug on him. Both the crowd and Oberst rebelled against this perceived injustice, a situation that quickly escalated.
"So Conor goes to the front of his stage with his acoustic, and he's like 'I'm just going to play for you guys. Move forward so you can hear me.' So he just plays and it was awesome," Jenkins says. "And we were all drunk and we went out on stage and started chanting about how we were never coming back to this club because they were treating him bad and trying to kick him out. Then we tried to escape the chaos and went out into this alley, but all the kids came out there too and still wanted more! So Conor was like, 'Hey, Neely, want to get up on top of the van and sing a song?' And I was like, 'fuck yeah, I want to get on top of the van!'"
The story concludes with the typical police shutdown and an unfortunate loss for Oberst, who misplaced a personal item in the midst of the confusion -- a paper bag that contained checks, cash and a handle of vodka.
"Conor calls and was like, 'Hey, is there a paper bag full of like money and alcohol and checks?' And we were looking around and we were like, "No, we don't see anything and they left like thousands, tens of thousands of dollars in a paper bag, with a bottle of vodka sticking out the top. Cash, checks, party in a bag. On the side of the road," Jenkins relates.
Despite his affinity for rebellion and partying, the band also cite Oberst as an irreplaceable factor in their success. His record label, Team Love, has put out all four of their records and gives them complete artistic freedom to create whatever music they feel reflects their vision. Not only that, but touring as his opening act won them plenty of fans.
"He was so supportive and has helped us every step of the way," vocalist/guitarist Derek Pressnall says. "He's always been a really great friend, one of our first fans really."
Kianna adds that freedom in the recording and writing process has been incredible. "They don't care what we're doing. They're like give us an album, we'll put it out. They trust us."
"He popped in during the recording session and was like, 'This is interesting!'" says keyboardist/pianist Nick White, who has also toured extensively with Bright Eyes, Oberst's primary musical project.
As the group starts reminiscing over more memories of recording and writing songs, or when they first met Oberst in the midst of the blossoming Omaha music scene, it becomes almost impossible to trace the thread of their shared conversation. One thing they agree on is they never saw themselves as artists or formed with the intent of making music a lifestyle -- it just happened organically.
"The way we came up, like we are not like 'musician' musicians. I don't know how we became a band, really. I mean it was like we were just fucking around and hanging out with each other. We weren't like, 'Ah, I'm fucking good at the guitar,'" Derek says.
Kianna echoes his sentiments, sharing her struggle to define herself as an artist, but with this most recent album finally owns it.
"I never ever would call myself an artist. I felt very awkward when somebody would say 'as an artist ... ' I would even say in interviews, 'Well, I'm not really an artist.' I just wouldn't own it because I didn't know what it really meant and as you realize that it is what you do, you realize what power it holds -- that you can actually infuse your soul into something and communicate to a different person. So I feel like with this album, you can tell that we have a message and we have a platform that we've built over 10 years."
After a decade, Tilly and the Wall have cemented their message as a band that is unafraid to change and unafraid to remain undefined. Even as they continue to grow into their roles, the possibility for artistic metamorphosis remains the one constant in their sound.
"This album just feels like a continuation," White says. "I don't think the root of the band's sound has changed, but the way it's executed has changed. We established that we're not afraid to do any style song. Nothing is off the table for the band."