As they advance their already innovative blend of music, TAUK is doing whatever it takes to become your favorite band this year
“I think the music is taking a great move towards a more dance-y kind of feel,” says Isaac Teel, drummer for TAUK. It’s late July and we’re talking on the phone while he and his bandmates are driving back to their home state of New York, preparing for the release party of their newest album, Collisions, which will take place this weekend. The instrumental rock fusion quartet hailing from Long Island has made constant waves with their genre-smashing sound since they released their first album, an EP titled Pull Factors, in 2011.
Over the next half-hour, Teel is gracious with his time and eagerly answers questions about TAUK and Collisions. Since I first met the band in 2013, their collective, youthful energy and unique musical talent jump off the proverbial page. All twentysomethings, one gets the feeling their musical prime is still many years ahead.
“There’s a lot of different genres colliding into one thing, and I believe that when you collide a couple things, it becomes something else,” he says. “It doesn’t just change what those things are individually, it becomes something, all of it, it’s all brand new and the same.” Here we are discussing the band’s music, the album name and cover art for Collisions (drawn by graphic artist Jeff Jordan), which is an apt description for all three subjects. Even with the varying influences and styles between each band member, Teel says the musical partnership within TAUK is seamless and understood.
“There’s a language that happens between the four of us when we play, and even when we jam out, that’s very unspoken and not forced, and that’s how that happens.”
In addition to Teel, TAUK consists of guitarist Matt Jalbert, bassist Charlie Dolan, and Alric “A.C.” Carter, the group’s keyboardist. Jalbert, Dolan and Carter formed the group when they were middle schoolers in New York City, inspired by the likes of Hendrix, Cream, Phish, and others. When college came calling, the three band members took off to different schools; Dolan attended NYU, Jalbert to the University of Vermont, and Carter to Northeastern. Although they were apart, their love for the band overcame the geographical distance. In their free time, the group sent each other music and played shows together on breaks from school. Performing with other musicians while they were away at separate colleges strengthened their perspectives, with each bringing a new point of view back to the band.
After college, a friend of Jalbert’s served as TAUK’s vocalist, later leaving the group. Hoping to find a new singer to fill the void, the group kept writing melodies into their songs. Over the next year of experimenting with solely instrumental tunes, a collective realization crept into the minds of the band members: their instrumental music plan was working.
At the time, the group – also working with another drummer prior to Teel’s arrival – had written enough material to make a record, and recruited renowned New York sound engineer Dave Natale for production. Dolan knew Natale while interning at Radio City Music Hall while he was in college, and the group built a rapport, having invited him to some of their shows. Natale dug the band’s music and invited them to his studio in Pennsylvania, where they could experiment with their sound and harness their music in the studio. What came out of those sessions was Pull Factors, the band’s first studio album, released as an extended EP.
In early 2012, Teel joined the group after going through The Drummer’s Collective in NYC, one of the top educational programs for drummers and percussionists in the world. He’d grown up in a family of musicians and performed in the church, cultivating his love of soul, blues, and R&B into his playing style. Bringing his unique personal voice into the band, the genres exploded.
Boosted by a new drummer providing a new level of creative energy, and an increased touring schedule, TAUK hit the road, opening for and sharing stages with such musical acts as moe., Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Tea Leaf Green, Perpetual Groove, O.A.R., 311 and Toubab Krewe.
Making the most of each opportunity playing before larger audiences and encouraged by the bands they were supporting on tour, TAUK’s confidence and creativity kept growing – they were ready to make their next album.
The group tabbed noted producer and four-time Grammy Award-winner Robert Carranza, known for his work with Jack Johnson and The Mars Volta, for TAUK’s first full-length studio album, 2013’s Homunculus. Unlike their exploratory period writing the material on Pull Factors, this time around the group set out with a plan of recording songs for an LP. The end result was a tight-knit collection of 10 tracks, shorter in length than those on Pull Factors, yet bursting with grooves and melodies.
Relentlessly touring Homunculus around the United States, TAUK continued winning new fans from their high-energy shows at club venues and festivals, by word-of-mouth praise as well as spreading across social media.
With no need to fix what wasn’t broken in the first place, the group reunited with Carranza for Collisions. “I think that what helped us a lot with [Collisions] is that we did a lot of pre-production before we recorded the album. Robert came out to New York for about a week-and-a-half, before we had a two-and-a-half month run, and we ran through the songs. We chopped them, we put them in a grinder until we were completely happy with them, and then we toured them.”
Touring behind the new songs planned for Collisions helped the group once they recorded that material for the album. “We toured, playing some of the more complicated songs,” Teel continues, “so we could be comfortable once we got into the studio. After that two-and-a-half month run we had those songs under our belts, so it was easy going into the studio for production with Robert, and he knew.”
Pre-production was something the group had not experimented with on their previous material. Teel adds that the band’s pre-production work on Homunculus “was more of a ‘we go into the studio, we have a couple of songs here, we have a couple of melodies here, that we can put together…’, but with Collisions we dug those songs in the ground and buried them, brought them back up and resurrected them, and really took them apart and decided what all we wanted to happen with that music.”
“That was key for this album because of timing as well. Because we have a two month run and then we had a certain pocket or window that we had to get into the studio and bang these songs out, you know, so I think that really helped with it.”
Teel notes the group has built a great relationship working with Carranza on Homunculus and Collisions. “Robert is awesome with experimenting with things in the studio, even if it’s not something we’ve done before. He’s great at coming out with ideas and allowing us to be weird, I should say.”
When I ask about the group’s influences on Collisions, Teel ponders the question for a moment, before he replies. “I think we all draw from a different source,” he muses. “I would say that collectively we’ve all been listening to a bunch of different things. We’ve been listening to some Robert Glasper Experiment, more of a jazz piano but he’s been doing more of a hip-hop and R&B kind of thing. Radiohead…there’s this artist called Captain Midnight that we really enjoy out of Atlanta. I know for myself that I really enjoy soulful music and gospel music and hip-hop, so I try to add that element to the band. Our influences that we draw from definitely have these inklings and droplets in the music.”
While their time in the studio has developed with each new album, the group’s songwriting and arranging remains an open, organic process within the band. According to Teel, any one of the members start playing in the studio, at any given time, the other members instinctively join in, and the impromptu jam becomes a TAUK song.
“I think we all have an idea of how we relate in a language to each other musically,” says Teel. “Somebody will be playing in the studio, and one by one we’ll trickle in, and so it just becomes an organic jam and I’m like, ‘Man, hold on, hold on, you guys keep playing, I gotta get my phone. I gotta record this!'” Teel exclaims, laughing. “That’s pretty much ‘a day in the life’ of our writing sessions.”
Such a means to their collective madness enables the group’s seemingly limitless creativity, according to Teel. “We come up with ideas and we have little licks here and there,” Teel says of the band’s songwriting process for Collisions. “Some of the songs…actually, one of the most epic songs on the record, I think, is called “Collateral”, and that literally derives from a joke. Me and the bass player, Charlie, were sitting on a couch in the studio and A.C. and Matt, the guitar player, happened to be on the drums, and they were just jamming out. I heard something in there, like, ‘what are they playing?’
“So I walk in with my iPad, just to film the silliness, and derived that song. It just randomly happened. So I think some of us came in with the melodies that we really liked, and I think the core of this album was all of us collectively writing it together, sitting down, and saying, ‘well, I think this beat should go here, this melody should be done here, we should do this here.’ That’s one thing about the band I really enjoy, is that there’s no headiness, there’s no ‘I want this and that’s the final be-all’. Everybody is collectively saying that we want the music to be the best it can be. That’s huge in our writing sessions.”
For Teel, he admits TAUK’s progression from Homunculus to Collisions is an important shift in their music, one which he feels should pack more energy into the band’s live shows.
“I think Homunculus was a heavy rock and a heavy, sort of math rock kind of thing, when you stick in time signatures and stuff,” says Teel. “There’s still that element when it comes to the new album, Collisions, but I think this album has more of a dance feel , more of a bounce to it…I think we’ve taken some of the best elements of Homunculus and just added a dance-y feel to it, and a more melodic feel to it.”
While the band continues evolving their sound, the stages and venues the group now plays have also grown, as have the crowds the band performs in front of while touring around the country. TAUK is currently into the middle of their festival season. Among the festivals which the band has performed since releasing Pull Factors are Bonnaroo, Gathering of the Vibes, Hangout Music Festival, Summer Camp, Snoe.down, The Allman Brothers’ Peach Fest, Harvest Music Fest, Hudson Music Project and FloydFest, where the group is playing this week.
” We’re looking to finish this festival season really strong, and hit the road and just have a good time,” says Teel. With TAUK playing in front of larger crowds at the festivals, does the band feel more pressure on their performance in such an environment? “Well, I’ll speak for me, and I’m pretty sure [the band] will concur with that, that every show, no matter where we’re at, we need to bring our Number One game, because you never know who’s in the crowd, and because you want to bring it yourself. You want to make sure you’re getting better every show.”
While Teel and his bandmates are just as eager playing in front of dozens as they are before thousands, he feels there’s a certain thrill for the band playing in front of a crowd that shows up ready for their music. “For instance, the Hudson [Music Project, held in NY], we played at 1:30 in the afternoon,” Teel recalls, “and we thought that people would just not show up at all, you know, there’d be like a couple trickle in, but we had a full house. It was amazing to see how the energy from a crowd can fuel us. It’s amazing how they can just see – we both feed off it. I think it’s a mutual thing from the crowd to the band, from the band to the crowd – how we feed off each other’s energy – and just take this whole organic thing to the next level.”
“I think that with music festivals, there’s an All-Star game kind of feel, if I may,” he continues, with a laugh. “You never know who’s going to be in the crowd. Most likely some of those people haven’t seen you. Most of those people are just there to see the bigger acts, or they’re there to see another band up there…You never know…You want to shock people, you want to ‘wow’ them, to the point they’re like, ‘Wow’, to the point where they’re like, ‘You guys are my new favorite band.’ That’s what I shoot for at the music festival, when we’re performing.”
Teel’s energy and confidence embodies the band and their workmanlike attitude for bringing their best out of one another as well as the crowd. He adds that the group keeps their audience front and center in their minds while performing. “There’s a certain people who just stand there and nod their head, and they’re getting the music, they understand. And there’s some other people who dance, but they can’t really dance to odd meter, odd time signature stuff, so we try to make whatever we play singable, Number One, with the melodies and dancing, Number Two, with the new bounce and feel that we have going on.”
The hometown album release show for Collisions takes place on Saturday at The Knitting Factory in the group’s stomping grounds of Brooklyn, and the thrill doesn’t escape Teel or the band. ” We’re really excited to release this album,” Teel says. “I think that the world has been waiting for this album and we’ve been talking it up so much, and have been playing the music – these tunes – so much, that people are like, ‘Well, when can I get that song? Where can I hear that? and ‘When can I hear that on Spotify?’
Similar to the energy shared between TAUK and the audience at their live shows, Teel admits the band is planning the same shared vibes with fans on the release of Collisions. “With all the artwork and all the merch that’s going to come with it, and the album release, we’re happy to just put this music out as a gift to the world, and to ourselves as an accomplishment. I think that once it’s out, we’ll get some good reviews – hopefully,” he adds with a laugh. “We’re super-excited to have the album release party on Saturday for our home fans, the home crowd and family and stuff like that, so we’re feeling good right now.”
TAUK continues their musical evolution with each new jam, with each new album, with each new show. Their commitment to one another and their love for music provides a backdrop for a wide open road in music.
In closing, knowing Teel is a New York Knicks fan, I ask for his thoughts on star forward Carmelo Anthony re-signing with the team, committing to the future with new team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher. “You know, I’m excited for Carmelo signing with the Knicks. I’m excited about that. I think we have a pretty good squad right now. I don’t know about a championship run, but I think we’ll do something,” Teel says, referring to his beloved Knicks. “I think we’ll do pretty well.”
With what Teel and his TAUK mates hope to achieve with Collisions, he may as well be referring to his band’s future.
Our thanks to Becky Sahm and Rebecca Kovach at Big Picture Media.