New York jam-rockers Tauk happily take the indie route

SoundSpike, August 16th, 2010

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Tauk press 2010

Groovy is a very loaded word. Often it connotes either finger-snapping hipsters in black turtlenecks or hippie mamas doing the Deadhead slo-mo in purple tie-dye and kinky grey locks. But sometimes groovy is just, well, groovy. Case in point: Tauk.

A relatively new band sprung like a pearl from Oyster Bay, NY, on the northern edge of Long Island, the fusion-fueled Tauk takes its name from Montauk, the exclusive enclave at the easternmost tip of the Hamptons. The band wasn't inspired by the summer stomping grounds of posh folk from New York City so much as Montauk's rich history of conspiracy theory, fringe science and its place in classic rock music. See: The Rolling Stones' "Memory Motel" and Billy Joel's "Downeaster Alexa," both written in and inspired by Montauk.

They call themselves a "rock band," but that description only scratches the surface of Tauk's complex sound, which roams all over the musical landscape. In terms of influences, Tauk lays claim to Phish (check) and Radiohead (not so much), but there's a definite resemblance to the stank of the Chili Peppers, the swirling arrangements of Mike Keneally and the soaring vision of another of their heroes, Stevie Wonder. By turns jazz, funk, pop and the headiest of jammy fusion, Tauk is kind of in its own category.

"Undoubtedly, we're experimenting with a lot of stuff," says Alessandro Zanelli, the band's vocalist and lyricist. "Creatively speaking, this is a sound that we're developing and that we're always going to be continuing to develop. I guess in that sense, that's sort of what makes it interesting for us. And we hope that's what's going to make it interesting for other people to listen to us."

Also interesting is just how young everyone in the band is, especially considering the confidence and authority that grounds the songs on their first album, "Brokedown King," released this July. Zanelli, Matt Jalbert (guitars), Charlie Dolan (bass), Alric "A.C." Carter (keyboards/organ) and Adam Akpinar (drums) range in age from 22 to 26-years-old, some of them so fresh out of college the ink on their diplomas has barely had time to dry.

But then, they've been working together for almost 10 years. "A.C. and Matt and Charlie have been playing together since middle school," says Zanelli, who joined the group in high school, as did Akpinar.

After high school, they all majored in music at college, and that classical background is part of what elevates Tauk from a simple jam band to a group of trained artists pushing the boundaries of genre and expression. Not as easily explained is how they managed to continue working together as a cohesive group despite the fact that they each went to a different university.

Enter the Internet as the great unifier, despite it being frequently called to the stand as the cause of the fragmentation of modern society. The guys used Sibelius, a musical notation software program, to e-mail bits and pieces of songs back and forth to each other as they wrote the bulk of what became "Brokedown King."

"There's no question that it was hard," Zanelli admits. "It was very difficult, and I must say it's a lot easier working on our new songs now that we're together, in the same room and everything."

So who writes the songs, then?

"It's very collaborative," Zanelli says. "Basically, someone comes in with the skeleton of an idea, but by the time we all get our hands on it, it morphs and changes and just becomes a group thing."

That "group thing" got a little bigger with the addition of Grammy winning producer Robert Carranza (Jack Johnson, Mars Volta), who guided the evolution of "Brokedown King" through three separate studios. Sections of the album were mixed and recorded at Jack Johnson's Solar Powered Plastic Plant Recording Studio in L.A., at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, and at One East Recording in New York City.

"You hear all these horror stories from bands, but [Carranza's] touch is that of someone who is very gentle," Zanelli notes. "He basically said, "These are your songs, so what do you guys want to do with them?" Obviously, there was some guidance involved, and if he had an idea he'd share his thoughts, but he pretty much became part of the band. It wasn't like he was the producer so he was going to tell us what to do. It's like, here's Robert Carranza, and we're making an album together."

Since then, they scored opening gigs for O.A.R, played the Gathering of the Vibes (alongside Buddy Guy and Bob Weir and Ratdog), and headlined a Dave Matthews Band pre-party cruise. Next up is a cross-country tour with Tea Leaf Green and Mike Miz, as well as some gigs in the works aimed at places like San Francisco, Boulder, CO, and Los Angeles.

And how about that ever-elusive record label deal?

"I think we'd rather not have a label," Zanelli admits. "I think we like being able to make decisions ourselves as a band. However, we understand that getting more input from people who have experience in the music business is important. I think a little bit of a mixture of both is key because it's more about the mentality and less about the label."

Is this reflective of the changing face of the music industry?

"I see that a lot of groups are able to self-produce their albums and put their stuff out there, and I think that's great," Zanelli says. "It's very interesting, the new direction that things are going. In this day and age, being able to put yourself out there without a label is just great. It gives everyone an opportunity, and it gives everyone a fair opportunity as well."

Which brings things back to the Internet and how Zanelli believes it has helped level the playing field in a lot of ways.

"It allows for a lot of expression and ultimately, that's the most important thing," Zanelli says. "Human beings are able to get their artistic ideas out, whether it be through music or art or whatever. I think the internet has helped a lot with that because it puts everyone at almost an even plane. And I think that's important for art. It just allows more people to express themselves, and that's always better because it feeds more ideas into the community that is art."