When the members of Tauk lost their singer, the three remaining members took a risk and decided to continue to write their melodies and become an instrumental band, instead of look for a replacement or halt their dream all together. It’s undeniable what did come from the loss of their lyrics turned out to be something that worked better than any of them could have ever expected. The quartet, who all grew up in New York and went to college for music there, have developed their experimental jam sound together and made a conscious effort to create a unique live show every time they play. Already booked for a few summer music festivals, Tauk will be making their rounds for the next few months, bringing their feel-good vibes to a city near you. Substream got to talk with bassist Charlie Dolan about their plans for 2014 and how it’s not what you say, but how you play.
Substream Magazine: So give me some history on you guys. How did Tauk become a band?
Charlie Dolan: Matt, AC and I met in middle school and started playing together around 7th grade. We did a talent show together and had a band with a couple friends. Once 9th grade came around, we recorded a CD for service project and sold it for charity and we’ve been playing together ever since in jazz bands and pit bands. We’ve always wanted to play music together. The three of us really never stopped, even when we went to different colleges, we would come back on breaks and play shows together. Recently, this form of the band started when Isaac joined the band together about two years ago.
SM: Where did the four of you go to college?
CD: We all went to school for different aspects. We would come back on our breaks and show each other what we learned. It helped us develop our style. I went to NYU, AC went to Northeastern, Isaac went to The Drummers Collective in New York and Matt went to UVM in Vermont. We were all over the place. We would still write while we were in school and we would notate all the parts for each other. We don’t really write as much like that anymore, but we did that so we could learn them together.
SM: There’s been an amazing rise in rock instrumental groups over the last few years like Pelican, Explosions in the Sky and Animal Collective. What drew you guys to this kind of music?
CD: We had a singer, and when he left the band, it was just natural for us to keep writing and playing music. We were looking for singers because we thought we needed a singer. We kept writing melodies and thought it was working pretty well and taking a life of its own. We tried it out for a year and kept developing our style and it ended up working out for us.
SM: Who are some artists you listen to for inspiration?
CD: We all listen to plenty of instrumental music. We’ve all been listening to jazz since high school and there are instrumental bands that we do look up to now. Knebody, Herbie Hancock, Explosions in the Sky, Battles are all bands we like.
SM: What can be some of the challenges writing a song without lyrics as compared to one with them?
CD: For us, the most important thing is melody to draw people in. I know a lot of instrumental bands can get stuck in a groove where they’re just jamming. We really try to make the composition where the song and the melody is the most important part. I think that’s why we draw people in because we focus on melody. Even if you have a crazy time signature or a complicated instrumental piece, if you have a melody that can draw people in, that’s what will get you there.
SM: Tell us about Homunculus and the process you guys went through writing it. Were there any differences composing that compared to your EP?
CD: On the EP we actually had a different drummer. It was right around the time we had just lost our singer and we just started doing the instrumental thing. We hadn’t really played many shows at all and we knew a sound engineer who had a studio in Columbia, PA, basically in the middle of nowhere. We just took a few weeks, went in there and experimented. We had free range to do whatever we wanted and that ended up being this new instrumental sound.
Then Isaac joined the band and took it to a whole new level for us. He brings in this whole gospel/R&B thing and it really added a lot to the sound. For this last album, we were working with the same producer, Robert Carranza (Mars Volta, Jason Mraz) and he has a solar studio in LA. We came in with about half the material already written and then just a bunch of ideas, and it was cool to do that because we had stuff to fall back on. There was solid stuff but then there was all of this other stuff we liked but didn’t know what to do with. It was the first time we were able to shape songs in the studio like that. A lot of the songs that we didn’t have together are probably my favorite songs that we have now. It’s really changed our writing process that we’re carrying over to the next album
SM: What’s your favorite song off the album?
CD: It’s tough to say because I really love this album, but I think “Dead Signal” is my favorite. I still get really excited when we play that one.
SM: What will you guys be bringing to the table on your next recording that you haven’t before on your other works?
CD: I think we’ve embraced this more danceable, groove-oriented direction. We still have our melodies but there’s a lot more electronic sounding music. We had some of it on the last album, but I think we’re really diving head first into it this time. We’re working with a lot of electronic sound, but still trying to keep it organic. A lot of bands try to do that cross-over EDM stuff and we’re trying to pull from that while still maintaining our identity.
SM: New York is notoriously large and difficult to break into for bands, but what’s your favorite thing about being from and regularly playing that scene?
CD: New York is a really tough market to get into and build steam in, but there is so much good music and the listener has a developed sense of music. You’ve always got to be on your toes because you can’t play the same show every time you play here. You have to bring it every time and you have to bring something different. It’s got a different energy than a lot of other places and it brings that out of us. For some reason, every time I play New York, I’m never used to it. We’ll play all around the country, but every time I come back to New York, it feels different.
SM: What’s your favorite venue in NY?
CD: The last two shows we’ve done in New York, we played the Knitting Factory, which, we used to play the old Knitting Factory all the time. We were on a really long tour for about six weeks, it was our last show, and it was amazing. You know, when you’re on the road for six weeks, you have your ups and downs, but then we came there and everything worked out and sounded great.
SM: Speaking of hitting the road, you guys are about to get back out there again. What are some of your plans?
CD: We have a long run of stuff coming up. We’ll be hitting up the East Coast with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and then we’re going to Colorado, then heading south and working our way back up. As soon as we get back, we’re flying to Los Angeles to start recording our new album, which right now, we are in our studio in Long Island working on.
SM: What are some places you’re hitting up on this tour that you’ve never been to before?
CD: A couple, yeah. We’ve never played in Colorado and everyone has told us we have to. Were doing five shows out there with a band called the Funky Meters who have been a big influence on our band. It should be a good introduction to the west coast.
SM: I saw on your Facebook page you just announced you’ll be part of the Mad Tea Party Jam in West Virginia this June. Are you excited?
CD: Yes, that one is going to be awesome. A lot of our friend’s bands are playing there and it’s going to be a great festival. I really like small festivals like that because people get really excited for the music and stay really intense. We’ve played a few small festivals before and I always feel like you build really great regional fan bases that way. People always remember and talk about it.
SM: Do you have any other festivals lined up for this summer?
CD: Yeah, were doing FloydFest in Virginia, which we did last year which was really awesome. Another called Blossoms Blooming, which is also a small festival in West Virginia. Then there’s Domefest, which is run by our in friends Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, which is also in West Virginia.
SM: What would you say is your ultimate goal for this band?
CD: I don’t think record sales are ever going to be a big part of our future. I would love to sell a lot of records, but I wouldn’t bet on having a hit single. We’re a live band and we really put a lot of effort into our studio. We see our CD as a commercial for a live show. We need to grow as a touring band and I would love to play Madison Square Garden someday or have our own festival. That’s one of our big goals, to have our own festival in the next few years. We have a name for it, but we don’t have the rest (laughs.)
SM: What are you going to call it?
CD: It’s going to be Tauk-tober Fest. We have a friend who brews beer, so hopefully he can get that going so we can do a joint music and beer festival. I would love to do it in New York. It might be a little cold there in October, but there are some great sites in New York. New York is ideal because that’s where we’re from. Having a festival like that is great because it’s branding for yourself and it pushes the band a lot further. So many bands have their own festivals now and I can see what it does for them.
SM: Do you have any other plans for 2014?
CD: Last year we recorded most of our shows, so right now we’re sifting through all of it and picking our best takes and hopefully put out a live album. It should be out before our next album.
SM: If you could say something to your fans, what would it be?
CD: What’s amazing is that we haven’t been touring that long, and we’ve had some great experiences. We’ve got some really dedicated fans and we appreciate them so much. They’re really pushing us to keep going and it’s making the word spread faster. I hope they keep doing it because we’re seeing it and it’s the most rewarding part of touring. It’s been our dream for the longest time and seeing it happen is so surreal.
SM: Awesome! Thanks so much Charlie, good luck this year.
CD: Thank you!
Homunculus is available on iTunes now!
Interview by Stephanie Roe