Eleven Probing Questions With Road Warriors TAUK

By: Carmel O'Farrell (@carmelocorn) | Photos: Kristine Condon (@kristinebobean)

TAUK first caught my attention back in 2013 at Summer Camp Music Festival.  They played an energetic set opposite Trey Anastasio Band as buckets of rain drenched Three Sisters Park.  While most of the festival crowd gravitated to TAB, it was fairly obvious to those of us drawn to check out something new with TAUK: they were the real deal. Since then, I've seen the band grow into a hard-hitting instrumental machine that tours relentlessly and dominates every stage they grace --- from festivals to Chicago's intimate Tonic Room.

The past three years of road work has fueled undeniable growth, in the band's unique sound as well as their fanbase. It is no longer the fact that are young and "up and coming" that gets my attention in what TAUK has to say, but their attention to detail and desire to take risks that keeps fans coming back for more. 

TAUK's newest studio creation, Sir Nebula, is a reflection of this growth -- it's the band finding that extra gear in the studio that has served them so well on stage. The band is now about to embark on a headlining tour that spans the nation from Pennsylvania to California.  Guitarist Matt Jalbert recently took some time away from pre-tour rehearsal to catch up with me to chat about the new album, TAUK's relationship with Umphrey's McGee, as well as share some thoughts of nugs.net's recent collaboration with MTV LIVE.

1) So you guys are about to hit the road for some pretty extensive touring across the country. Tell me a little bit about how you prepare for something like that.

Well, we are pretty pumped. We have a lot of new material with the new album out and everything. I think this tour is going to be awesome for us because before we'd been opening for lots of other bands and mixing in lots of festival sets too, so this is going to be a really good opportunity for us to have a long stretch of time where we are headlining shows pretty much every night.

It will give us an opportunity to delve into that world, open up and play longer sets, sometimes two sets, and just try out a lot of new material. It's been awhile since we've been on the road like this with festival season and everything so I think we are all pretty ready to jump back in it where we are playing shows every night. 

2) Do you feel like those short festival sets restrict you versus a full show on your own?

For sure. You know I think our approach is definitely different depending on when and where we are playing... how much time we have.

Sometimes you do get a longer set but a lot of times we're playing like an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes, so for us, we kind have to make that decision of are we going to jam more this set and play just a few songs or are we going to play a really tight set where we go through a bunch of songs, high-energy and compacted into this tighter time frame? 

So it definitely restricts you in a certain way but it's also kind of cool for us to just get in and get out and put all our energy into a shorter amount of time. 

3) TAUK is pretty well-known these days, but it wasn't always like that. What did you enjoy most about breaking into the jam scene and what would you have done differently?

I think we feel very lucky to be where we are right now. The early years were definitely tougher. Just getting on the road at the beginning and playing wherever we could play. Wherever we could book a gig and getting our name out there definitely took awhile and it's a good feeling to see it finally paying off.

This is our first headlining tour where we are able to go around the entire country and all the way to the west coast where we feel pretty confident people throughout the country know who we are and will show up to the shows. But all those early years where we were playing to just a few people were great experiences too and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

I don't know if we would do any of it differently. You know, I think our outlook is that you kind of have to pay your dues and that is all part of it. It is a learning experience and growth experience in the early years. We just wanted to get out in front of people -- meanwhile we are learning and growing as a band.

We were learning about different crowds, talking to people, meeting people who are at our shows and getting feedback like "it was awesome when you guys did this" or honest feedback like "you lost me a little bit here." All that helped us throughout the years to figure out how we can put on a really tight show and how we can get better. You know, that process will never stop. It's nice because it feels like it keeps going up and that's the way we want it.

4) So with that said you guys have hit some pretty big milestones with playing Red Rocks and Jam Cruise. What is left on your bucket list?

We've definitely been pretty lucky with Red Rocks. We've played it twice now so I think the next logical step is to go in there and headline it one day. It is such and incredible, awesome place to play.

The first time was with Umphrey's and the second time was with String Cheese Incident. It is such a magical, perfect venue... and then you see the headliners go on and it gets dark and the lights come out and it's a whole other ballgame. So that is definitely on our list for things to come. So yeah you know playing more venues, maybe going to other countries... just continued growth is our main goal. We just want to keep expanding musically, where we play and who we play to. 

5) Tell me about Tauk's relationship with Umphrey's McGee. How did that first form and how did Tauking McGee come about?

Those guys have done such an amazing thing for us and really helped us out. You know this whole tour we're about to go on is definitely a direct result of that tour we did with them when they brought us out to the west coast. After doing a short run with them, they asked us to come back out with them on the road.

The whole experience was amazing. To see a band at that level take us under their wing and we learned so much from just watching them on a nightly basis. Just how they do what they do and how hard they work even for being at the level that they are at. Those guys are making time to practice every day and every show is different which is really cool to see.

One of the cool things that has come out of it is TAUKing McGee. It is just kind of a cool situation we created with both bands when we started to play together towards the end of that tour. We were like we should keep doing this together and then we got the chance to play an afterparty at North Coast Music Festival this summer. 

6) So tell me about the new album Sir Nebula and how does it differ from the others?

It feels good to finally have it out. We spent a lot of time towards the end of last year and early this year getting the whole album done. It definitely feels like the next step for us and captured us where we were as a band at the time.

I think we were expanding our sound a little bit and this album is a little bit spacier but still has a lot of rock and dance elements to it. We kind of ended up with more material than we usually do when we go into the studio which is a good reflection of where we were at creatively. Everyone was bringing stuff to the table and everyone was pitching in with the writing process. It feels good to finally have it out and be able to play all these songs live because we hadn't really been playing them live before the album came out. So we are excited and the reception has been good so far.

7) Were any of these compositions created on stage in front of an audience?

Maybe more so on stage during sound check and that sort of thing. It is hard to remember specifically. There might be some vibe stuff or a groove here or there that we kind of settled into on a jam but it is hard to think of a specific moment. There were definitely some times where we would be jamming at sound check or just messing around.

One I can think of specifically is the song "Where You Are." Isaac [Teel] and I were just on stage one day and messing around as we were setting up. We just started playing and it developed into this little idea. We recorded it and a couple months later we pulled a song out of that idea. So it isn't on stage really during an actual show but bits and pieces from being on the road and being around each other so much. You know playing music every day, messing around, and recording stuff definitely led to some ideas on the album.

8) Since you're an all instrumental band, how do you come up with names for your songs?

It's always a little different. Sometimes it just comes from the fact that one of us has a song idea they want to send out, like a recording or sheet music that they will email and it has to be called something. Then when we get to rehearsal we can be like "oh let's play 'Darkwing' or  'Waver.'" So it just has to have a name.

A lot of times we will send a song over and be like "that's the name for now but once it's finished we will call it something different" but then we just end up keeping the same name. That happens quite a lot. Other times it's just random stuff from conversations, jokes around the band, or something. A couple words will seem to fit the vibe of the song and that just leads to a song name. 

9) While you guys often get labeled as a "young band" Sir Nebula comes across as mature and thoughtful. How has TAUK grown since your first album Homunculus?

It's nice to hear that. You know we hoped that comes across a little bit because we have been doing this for a number of years and throughout that time we have matured both as people and as a unit just how we treat each other and how we treat the whole situation -- how seriously we take things and grow.

We've also developed musically, I think, and part of just maturing in the sense of having these years of experiences behind us now. Being on the road and, more specifically, this is our third full-length album together. When we went into the studio to do Homunculus there was a lot of figuring things out as we went along, like what is this process and how do we create an album?

I think this time around it definitely felt like we had a way better sense of going into the album, the process, and how we work best going into the studio to record. It felt like there was less figuring out and more dialing things in. Like being able to say "this is what we want to do and we know how to do that." So just that focus, you know, being able to jump in the studio and get in that mode. I think we are a little bit more used to it now and it definitely felt that way throughout the process. I think it kind of opened things up for us musically where we were comfortable enough in the studio where we were experimenting and pushing ourselves a little bit more in a certain direction which was a result of all that experience we've had in the past. 

10) How long did the process take?

We spent about a week with Robert Carranza who was the producer. We had song ideas and everything so he came out before we got into the studio for rehearsals for pre-production. We had some songs that were finished and a couple that had been played live already.

Then we had other stuff where we were still bringing in ideas for unfinished songs. So he came in and we all just hunkered down for a week or so to finish the writing process so when we actually went into the studio we knew 90% what was going to go on the album. You know there is still that spontaneous thing that happens that you can't really plan and you kind of want that spark to happen too. But then we went out to his studio in LA where we all recorded together.

But the idea going out there was to really get the drum sound and we kept some other tracks and everything but that was where we really wanted to get out drum sound, at his studio. Then from there we put on overdubs and everything, keyboards and guitar comes after that. This was really the first album where we went in and didn't tour in the middle of recording. We kind of just went into it beginning to end with the whole album in one swoop.

11) It kind of seems like a new dawn for the jam world with nugs.net signing up with MTV LIVE. How does this change your vision or goals as a musician in this genre and where do you see yourself five years from now?

Well, you know, it just comes down to accepting the fact that we are in an industry that has been in this crazy period of change and I don't know if that's ever going to stop. So seeing something like MTV showing live shows is a great thing.

I remember growing up I got the tail end of the MTV/VH1 days where they were still showing music videos and showing concerts. I remember seeing a Phish show on VH1 on Friday nights so I think that is really cool. It is just an opportunity for people to be able to watch a show or get linked up to music.

In terms of where we will be in five years, who knows? Because the industry kind of shapes things in a certain way and I think our job and our opportunities are kind of tied in with that. What is going on and how do we present ourselves in the world and even the industry how it is today will change. Facebook always changes its framework so we have to respond to that and then iTunes and Spotify with people streaming our music, we have to respond to that too.

From our point of view, we just look at it as what are our opportunities and how can we take advantage of what's out there? That will all be different in five years and hopefully we can adapt to it. 

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