|Thursday, May 28, 2015, 12:48:02 AM|
Thursday, August 05, 2004
Tilly and the Wall: Tap dance fever
Tilly and the Wall marches to the beat of a different drummer
By Newt Briggs
Tillie and the Wall is a children's book about a talking mouse who lives in a field next to a long, high wall. According to conventional rodent wisdom, the wall is impenetrable, and as author Leo Lionni notes, most of Tillie's friends aren't interested in finding out what's behind it anyway. After all, life is comfortable in the meadow, and it hardly makes sense to foul up a good thing with a bunch of pesky questions and snooping about. Of course, it would be a shame to reveal the end of the story, but suffice it to say that Tillie and the Wall is a tale of nonconformity, persistence in the face of adversity and social rebellion. Basically, it's The Truman Show covered in fur.
And if any band was going to name itself after Lionni's book, it makes sense that it was the Omaha, Neb., five-piece fashioned out of the smoldering ruins of Magic Kiss and indie-rock luminary Conor Oberst's Park Ave. Since forming in 2001, Tilly and the Wall has taken an uncommon approach to all things musical, fiddling with everything from recording style to instrumentation. Most notably, the band has done away with traditional percussion, opting instead for a rhythm section made up of a tap dancer on a custom-made sound box. At first, it sounds like a gimmick, but judging by Tilly and the Wall's debut longplayer, Wild Like Children, it's an artistic digression that--metaphorically speaking--offers the band a glimpse at the other side of the wall.
"It's not really as deep as all that," says 26-year-old singer/songwriter Kianna Alarid, one of Tilly and the Wall's three lead vocalists. "It's more like we didn't have a name, we needed a name and we ended up picking that name. I mean, we loved it, but it wasn't like, `Oh my God, we found the perfect name ever. This represents everything we stand for.'"
Given a little more time to think about it, however, Alarid warms up to the potential symbolic significance of the name. "It's a story about overcoming and fighting the man and being creative," she says. "So I guess it's sort of like fate that we ended up with that name."
Certainly, the literary moniker has appealed to fans, who--despite occasionally mistaking one of the girls for Tilly--have embraced the band with the kind of fanatic devotion seemingly reserved for religious fundamentalists and artsy indie rockers. "I think we appeal to people who are sort of like us," says Alarid. "It's the kind of people who aren't afraid to dance and make a fool of themselves--people who don't give a fuck about what anybody thinks."
The same kind of attitude informs Tilly and the Wall's unconventional musical style. Besides the tap dancing and intermittent bursts of clapping, the band's only other accompaniment is an acoustic guitar and a keyboard. The remainder of the sound is created by the many-layered vocal parfait of Alarid, singer Neely Jenkins and guitarist Derek Pressnall. On stage, it's an unusual sight--all five standing out front and one of them stomping on a homemade plywood box. For those who get it, though, it's the sound of amplified adolescence, the musical reflection of the ecstatic shouts and lonesome sighs of teendom.
"This is just what we do," says Alarid. "Every night is kind of like our first night out performing. I mean, the audience might like us, they might think we're totally goofy, they might think we suck--I really don't know. All I know is that the people who end up liking us instantly become our little soulmates. They, like, totally get us."