Tallahassee remains Boston’s indie-rock-meets-alt-country Providence-transplanted quartet with their second album Old Ways. Describing Old Ways as, “a close friend you’ve just met,” their adventurous new record will be released May 7 with a release show at The Sinclair on May 3. Allston Pudding recently sat down with Tallahassee’s Scott Thompson, Brian Barthelmes, and Matt Raskopf about the album and their release show.
Allston Pudding: Why did you decide to call the new album Old Ways? Is this idea sort of an overall feeling within the album or was there an intentional reason for that?
Scott Thompson: Well, there’s a song [on the new album] called “Old Ways”—it’s a little a cappella song.
Brian Barthelmes: As we were playing these new songs live to sort of flesh them out, probably near the end of the heavy writing portion [of Old Ways], Matt and I had decided that we wanted to learn to sing like brothers. So we were hanging out with Coyote Kolb and playing music with those guys. The whole night, we were like, “How can we sound like brothers? I don’t quite get it!” So we got home and then randomly started writing the harmonies [for the song “Old Ways”]…As a subtext to all of that, the idea was that these songs were meant to be heard live. Music used to be, before recording, a live thing, so I think a lot of it had to do with the process of what this album was, too.
ST: I just loved the title of that song and I was like, “We should call the album that.” It sort of seems like it’s an archaic expression. It isn’t, but it gives you the impression that it is. I felt that it also hinted at some of the lyrical themes on the album without being really explicit—like didactic, but hinting at those themes. But it also stood on its own—[the expression] is pleasurable to see and to say and all of those things.
BB: I’ve always been a nerd for where the history of something comes from. When naming an album, so many names get tossed out there, and then you start thinking, “Well, what is that? Where did the name originally come from? How does that tie into everything else?”
ST: Brian and I wanted to call the album, “Tallalujah,” because we thought it was hilarious! (Laughs) We also thought the album was a great celebration of the band. But everybody else hated the idea!
Matt Raskopf: I was actually on board with that! (Laughs)
ST: That’s right! Matt was actually okay! But the others can be pretty vocal when they want to be. So, as a consolation, we made this little acoustic album that’s sort of a special present to our fans and they let us call that Tallalujah.
Was there any sort of sound that you guys were going for with Old Ways? Is it different than your previous album, Jealous Hands?
BB: Yeah, big time.
ST: We have lots of different sounds! In some ways, the album’s all over the place. We were reacting to the live show, which kept evolving after we released our last record. We were changing all the songs to try to make them more of a transaction with the audience, picking up on their energy and trying to give back in-kind. When we were writing the songs, I think we subconsciously reacted to that experience of playing live.
BB: Not even just subconsciously, though. I think we realized later on when we started playing with Jealous Hands that we hadn’t so much fleshed out those songs live. As we were writing Old Ways, we were playing these songs live because we were excited about them and people were excited. We had a show at the Middle East maybe two days before we headed down to do the instrumental recordings and the hope and the idea was that what people were responding to was so much directing what we were reacting to. It was like, “Okay, what is it you are reacting to before we hit the studio to make sure those parts are really fresh.” It was a lot more communal than Jealous Hands. Jealous Hands was a little more intimate. We were writing a lot and getting to know ourselves. Old Ways was a big reaction to the community that has supported us, that we have played for, that have played for us.
So would you guys say that this an album best heard live? Is your preference that these are songs you’d like to play live for people?
BB: Yeah, I think so. And loud. Maybe half of the songs on Jealous Hands were songs we wouldn’t play live. They were these great intimate moments where Matt might be on the piano and there might be really hot electric guitars with light fingerpicking. They were these really intimate exchanges that, live, it would take a really peculiar set up to do well.
ST: Yeah, the songs on Jealous Hands might not work at Great Scott.
BB: But this record, the songs were meant to be live songs. When we had done Jealous Hands, Scott played a lot of different instruments, so there was banjo overdubs organ overdubs lap steel. On Old Ways, we focused on what we do live because it’s been so pleasurable. So this record needed to stand on just the four parts we have on stage. In that regard, it’s the best capture we could do of the live show that had come to be. We didn’t expect to become a rocking and rolling band that loved doing live stuff. And when that happened, we were like, “We need to capture that!”
MR: I think it’s important to note, from the drumming perspective, I was on a pretty hefty tour of my own back in 2010 leading up to doing Jealous Hands. I had just joined [Tallahassee] and then I left—I thought I was going to be fired! (Laughs) But luckily they still wanted me to be in the band. So I get back and it was very much like, “Just add to the songs [on Jealous Hands] in this short amount of time.”
ST: Yeah, he didn’t always get to be in on the ground floor.
MR: From that perspective, with Old Ways, I was like, “All right! Time to do what I like doing and put where I’m coming from into the mix!” That was a big catalyst for the sound and the energy. It helped figure out what we like doing live. It was more about what we enjoy doing.
BB: Instead of bringing a song that was, like, A, B, bridge, sealed, signed, all of that, it was more like—here’s an A section with a possible B, but I don’t know. Then we’d come to Matt and start playing off of his rhythms and adding these kind of live energies that only a real live, big drumming drummer could do. So that helped form the change a lot.
Do you have any favorite songs on Old Ways? What would you say your favorite song on the new album is?
MR: I love “Minor Blues IV” in particular. I had a lot of Levon Helm influence in my life then.
BB: That was right around when he passed away.
ST: (Laughs) What? It sounds like Nine Inch Nails! He’s totally bullshitting!
MR: (Laughs) I’m not bullshitting! It’s the truth!
ST: (Laughs) They’re all my kids, though. It changes—my favorite depends on my mood. I like the first song, “Old Brown Shoes,” a lot. “Best of Days” is really good. For us, the lyrics in “Best of Days” are kind of about the band and it gets us right here (fist to heart).
BB: For me, while my favorite rotates, “Best of Days,” has stayed as the song on there that makes me say, “Wow. Look at this thing that we accomplished.” It’s funny because there were a lot of complications in trying to piece that song together. There were a lot of breaks.
ST: That’s a good point. “Best of Days” showcases the collaboration a lot and how much work everyone put into it.
BB: Matt’s also a really lovely piano and guitar player. During the preproduction part of Old Ways, Matt had written this prelude. It’s this really wonderful thirty-second guitar thing that leads into “Best of Days” and it’s really gorgeous. It’s not just the song “Best of Days”—there’s this whole section of prelude that’s a movement before the song. I find it to be really gorgeous because it’s the most fully representative of all of us. The bass line in it is very vocal and everything has its own little space but shares the song simultaneously.
MR: It’s a cool moment in the record, now that I think about it. [The prelude and “Best of Days”] fall in the spot of the album where it’s the pinnacle of the album’s story. It’s seventy percent through—what’s that called?
ST: The golden ratio.
MR: The golden ratio! Exactly! It falls right there!
ST: But we didn’t plan it that way. Have you listened to the album?
I have! I had a chance to listen to it a lot actually. I like it a lot and I think it sounds different from Jealous Hands. I can totally feel exactly what you guys were saying—the feel with Jealous Hands was a little bit more intimate and Old Ways is, like you said, it’s louder, or meant to be heard louder.
BB: One of the funny things was that Jealous Hands was recorded in ten days in California at our buddy’s studio. That particular experience was a wonderful thing where I’m making eggs every morning and coffee and we’re swimming in a pool—that’s sort of this one kind of experience [in recording an album]. Then, on the other hand, we recorded Old Ways in three different locations over a year and a half. The emotional labor that went into this record was far more dense and thick and deep. There were difficult times in between the sessions. [The song] “Old Ways” and the prelude both came during preproduction that occurred right as my father-in-law was dying. There’s even stuff on there that was recorded before any of the sessions were meant to start. Sonically, that thing covers a lot of places in our lives. No matter how intense ten days are, they can’t cover the same kind of ground that a year and a half can, of being with your best friends and sleeping in vans and having family members die. That’s just something ten days normally can’t do.
It sounds like a pretty intense recording experience.
BB: Making albums always is, though. It’s funny to look back. I remember when Matt and I first got the masters back. Scott had done most of the work on the mixes because he’s done engineering and had the ear for exactly how to get the sound we were all going for. So we kind of gave space to him and trusted that he knew what to do. When we listened to the masters, Matt and I were so overwhelmed. It was for that reason that we realized, in the forty minutes or so [of music on the album], a year and a half of sound and emotion and lyrics of your life just passed by. A lot of things occurred during that process.
To maybe talk about the song, “Old Brown Shoes,” is that the first single off the album? I know there’s a video out for that one.
MR: You weren’t supposed to see that!
ST: That’s private! (Laughs) Yeah, that’s the first single.
So can you tell me a little about the video? It’s kind of lo-fi and kind of silly.
ST: Yeah, we hired our friend who’s specializes in lo-fi tomfoolery. His name is Arthur and he’s a drummer for this great band called Last Good Tooth. We’ve known them for, like, the entire life of our band. If our bands were kids, they grew up together.
MR: They’re on tour with Brown Bird right now!
ST: They’re really great. You should look them up. But, basically, we drove to New York. Our friend is building a studio there, but it’s still in this very nascent state. We bought this green fabric and hung it up, put some on the floor.
MR: And then I went out to Framingham and, in one day, I found a 75-dollar, 1989 VHS camcorder, fully ready to go, even in a case! (Laughs)
BB: It was funny because… with having cameras and video equipment accessible, it’s very easy to make a video of you playing live and add a little narrative and have nice shots with a portrait lens. Those things come as a fairly easy thing to do. I think a lot of our thought was, “How can we put some cool limitations on what we do that will force us and Arthur to be very creative with these fun things?” Using a VHS and a homemade green screen just made for—let’s just do funny things! The record is very serious and all of that, so it was nice to add this.
ST: Because we’re not serious! (Laughs)
BB: Yeah, we’re like, fucking off and having a good time! (Laughs)
ST: We’ve made serious videos before, some of which really are private, because they’ve turned out too badly to be released! (Laughs) But we’re just trying to have a good time. We came up with a list of ideas. Some of them we used and some of them we just came up with on the spot. I’ve been telling people it’s like a seventh grade sleepover meets cable access. With lots of glitter.
BB: I think we’re going to have Arthur do some more that aren’t quite as awkward humor but are still playing with some of the things he does. I don’t know if I’ve pitched this to Scott yet, but for a while I’ve wanted to do a thing called Rock and Roll Basketball.
ST: Yeah, we came up with that idea in the van!
BB: So check it out: the new idea is… We make a music video to it!
ST: Yeah, that was the idea we came up with in the van!
BB: Well, originally, it wasn’t a music video. It was just a series of tournaments. The idea was—us versus Coyote Kolb, winner plays Last Good Tooth, winner plays Brown Bird, winner plays whomever. Now, do a music video! Anyway, fun ideas! But we’re going to get our friend to referee it and have him smokin’ and drinkin’. But we’re actually going to play, so there’ll be an ESPN scoreboard with the scores and everything. So maybe, in a video or two, that’s the next one we’re going to try and hash out.
So Old Ways is out on May 7. And the CD Release Show is May 3 at the Sinclair. What are some of the supporting bands on the bill?
MR: Hallelujah the Hills. Do you know them?
ST: Yeah, they’re really good!
BB: Yeah, they’re great friends of ours.
ST: Yeah, it’s all friends’ bands. Coyote Kolb is also playing and they are awesome. They’re also participating in the Rock N’ Roll Rumble this week. They played last night. I don’t know how they did yet, but I’m sure they killed it. Then there’s this band Larcenist, who we’ve known for the past few years.
BB: It’s nice because we’re at a point in playing now where we have really talented friends. It’s really nice to play shows with your friends who, musically, you love, and as people, they’re just wonderful. So it really is a celebration. When we moved to Boston from Providence out of necessity of trying to earn money and make a living, those were kind of the first bands that we met and, just as people, loved. There’s also Coyote Kolb? They’re a great blues, ’70s rock band. They’re just wonderful performers and, as people, they’re wonderful. They’re souls are really great. The same with Hallelujah the Hills. It’s great because there’s a mix on that bill. Hallelujah the Hills is doing some of the great ’90s indie, lo-fi stuff. Coyote Kolb is doing the heavy blues, rock-and-roll thing. Then Larcenist kind of has a more acoustic Americana rock, like the sort of place where we came from. The bill is fitted out with a lot of different aspects of what we are, what we were, what we’re going to. While they’re not all exactly in a similar genre, they all relate in this really great palette. I think that’s the really weird thing about us. We don’t really know where we fit. To have bands that we love as people and respect is really exciting.
MR: Within each band, there’s great band chemistry. We’re like, “Oh, we like that band because they’re like a little mini family.”
ST: Having to stand through four bands is a difficult proposition and it almost doesn’t matter who the bands are. When you play around, you get paired and sometimes it’s an awkward bill. But when you get to make your own show, you get to play with awesome friends and that’s good for the audience, too! It’s like a present to the people who come.
BB: And Hallelujah the Hills is doing a 7-inch release of two new songs and two re-done songs. So they’re doing a mini-release that same night, which will be really exciting and cool. And then we’re toying with the idea of doing a projection of the raw footage of the “Old Brown Shoes” video behind us as we play.
That sounds fun! Like outtakes?
BB: Yeah, there are pictures of just, like, pizzas going into blenders and rotating for thirty seconds. (Laughs). So we have to watch it while we play to make sure we can pull it off. But I think we’ve always loved just a special night that only happens once. I was telling Matt that it’s exciting for me as a performer—I love the idea that I can interact with what’s happening on the projection, interact with the stage, and interact with the crowd. It gives me another element. I may be tuning and Scott’s head is rotating behind me. (Laughs) It’s a cool thing, to experience that at the same time the crowd is. It brings us all together in this. It’s like, “Huh. Well, that’s there. That’s a pizza rotating! Wow!”
Do you guys plan to tour with this?
ST: Yeah, we kind of came up with the plan when we were at South by Southwest to do maybe more three-day weekends because things are going pretty well in Boston and New York and Providence. So we want to get to some other cities like that, like Philadelphia and D.C. So we might do another ten-day tour later in the summer, but I think, for right now, we’re going to focus on hitting up some of those places.
MR: Yeah, western New York, too, and Ohio.
BB: We’re just kind of extending. We’ve been on a consistent basis of hitting this big chunk of New England and then shooting up to Vermont sometimes or Portland, Maine, and then heading down to D.C. and those areas. We’re going to start doing that more regularly. We’ll hit D.C., Baltimore, Charleston, Richmond, and down in that pocket. Then we’ll hit Rochester, Albany, Cleveland, and up in that section. Then we’ll hit up Vermont and New Hampshire. We’ve been up to Montreal and have some good connections there. I think in the next couple of months, we’ll be focusing on those and going back there instead of just touring to one place. We’d like to get to know cities and be there every month or two. I think that’s the plan in the next few months. Then we might hit the road to Chicago and the Midwest and the South in the summer or the early fall.