By Jim Schutze
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Tilly and the Wall's members have always mined childhood and adolescence for inspiration, as evidenced by the youthful exuberance of the band's live shows and the hormonal, emotional turbulence documented in its lyrics. In fact, Tilly's 2004 debut LP was fittingly titled Wild Like Children, and the band even takes its name from a children's book.
Now, four years later, the band has just released its third album—officially untitled, but usually called O for the circle in its cover art—on Conor Oberst's Team Love label. The somber first track "Tall Tall Grass" seems to hint that this extended childhood may be closing, noting, "Now that I'm grown, there is no tall, tall grass to hide in." But the next track—first single "Pot Kettle Black," which combines stomping rhythm, a vicious guitar riff and a he-said-she-said lyric—shows the band hasn't quite put away childish things, thank God.
As so many bands do on their third albums, Tilly has expanded its sound, playing with drum loops and adding new sonic textures to the tap-dancer percussion for which the band is known.
"Obviously, I think we're evolving as a band, which is natural," says singer/bassist Kianna Alarid. "But also, at the beginning, we started recording in a basement, and we didn't really have those options. Each time we've recorded, we've gotten to use a better space... We used this opportunity to bring to life all the things we've talked about doing."
Some of those ideas include the multilayered recording of Jamie Pressnall's tap solo on the album-closing "Too Excited" and using a stomp troupe for the bold percussion of "Pot Kettle Black." Also encouraging their adventurousness was the producer, Mike Mogis, whom Alarid describes as a "mad scientist," contributing ideas and filling in gaps with suggestions for guitar or Mellotron parts.
"It wasn't like he shaped any of the songs; they were all completed," she says. "But we knew he would be the one to listen to it and say, 'This could use this.'"
For its first single, the band chose "Pot Kettle Black," which was inspired by a situation Alarid was dealing with at the time. Rather than get into a cycle of accusations, though, she wrote the song to vent about the destructive nature of gossip. Many of her recent songs, including the recent single "Beat Control," deal with that particular situation and others like it, she says. More than just venting, though, she wanted to write something that others could relate to.
"People are going to talk about you, and it's fine," she says. "I'm 30, and I know how life goes now. But people like a teenager or somebody who might be feeling really down by someone spreading rumors about them or lying, I would love to help them and let them know it's OK."
Along with teenagers, "Tilly kids"—as the band calls its fans—may soon include the preschool set. The group recently recorded a version of the alphabet song and shot a video sequence for Sesame Street that's set to air in the fall.
"It was a lot of fun," Alarid says. "The guy directing it was talking about how he'd recently been watching Sesame Street from our generation, and just how trippy it was... That stuff is really weird, but it connects with kids somehow. So we were talking about it, and he was like, 'We're just going to make this as weird as possible.' And we were like, 'Yay!' So we don't know exactly what it'll be, but we did stand on little green-screen shapes that he said will look like vortexes [and] that there would be images popping up next to us."
So can audiences expect to hear it on the band's current tour?
"Uh, no," she says. "I think the ABCs would get a little old."