Looking Back: An Interview From September 2005

Tally Hall news is slow these days. It’s got a lot of people wondering what’s going on with the band. Not just a casual “what’s going on?” but a more profound “What is seriously happening?” is being asked a lot. But all we can do is sit and wait.

So I came across an old interview I thought would be nice for us all to look back on. It was conducted at a pivotal point in their career. They just graduated and/or quit school, they were recording their first album on a newly formed indie label; essentially formed FOR Tally Hall. No one knew what was going to happen and everyone was putting everything on the line. It’s as if they wrapped up this interview and all took in a big breath and held it.

In many ways, they’re still holding that same breath, with the way things have gone in the last 5 years since then.

Normally I’d just link to the article, but I also want to preserve this, so I’m putting it here, word-for-word, and hoping that everyone’s OK with that.

Making Music, Finding an Audience, and the Need to Download: ‘Tally Hall’ Speaks Out
Originally published September 30th, 2005 by C. Gudz for Panorama Magazine.

Who or what is Tally Hall? Formed in 2002, Tally Hall is a rock band from Ann Arbor, Michigan with an amusing approach to making music. Although their quirky name might confuse you at first, there is no mistaking this band’s raison d’etre. These boys just want to have fun.

The band is comprised of five guys with equally sharp senses of humour; Andrew (21, keys/vocals), Joe (23, guitar/vocals), Ross (20, percussion), Zubin (21, bass/vocals), and Rob (22, guitar/vocals) use their youth and their energy to create new and clever sounds, unafraid of breaking and mixing genres.

Tally Hall credits their website for attracting a broader audience and keeping existing fans informed, entertained and excited about the band on an ongoing basis. TallyHall.com features music and video for download with much of the product stemming from their own stylistic hands.

Their perspectives on sharing and making music intrigued us, and in this revealing and sometimes hilarious interview, they tell us how Tally Hall approaches their collective intellectual property.

TIG: On your website you call yourselves a “wonky” rock band. How would you describe your music and your purpose?

Andrew: There’s no best way to describe our music, and so we use wonky. We try not to confine ourselves to any style and write what we want. If someone is in a country mood, they might bring a banjo to a rehearsal and play a song they have been writing. Recently we recorded a New Orleans-style jazz session and an Abbey Road-style Beatles tune back-to-back in a couple of days. Our purpose is to write and perform music that we’d want to hear; we’re very fortunate that other people like it as well.

Joe: We’re interested in following trends. But paradoxically, most musicians say they’re not interested in following trends; in fact, they deny trend-following at all costs. Therefore, we ultimately set the trend by following new, non-existent “trends.”

Rob: My mother always told me that wonkiness is in the eye of the beholder. We call it wonky, but you may call it strange, quirky, unnerving, disciplinary, hogwash, pungent, or egg-cellent. We make music that we like; with five different opinions and three very different songwriting styles, what “we like” ends up being a pretty unique entity.

TIG: You are currently recording your first album, how are you planning to distribute it?

Andrew: One thing we’ve done particularly well is to fully utilize the Internet to our advantage. We had a minor Internet video hit with “Banana Man,” and it made it possible for a ton of people to hear our music. We plan on distributing our album through our website and hopefully our record label will do a good job distributing our album elsewhere. One of the advantages of our label is its affiliation with Teacher’s Discovery, which sells teaching supplies to classrooms. Teacher’s Discovery has the resources and power to connect us with larger distributors.

Joe: Hopefully as widely as possible. Ideally, we’ll distribute through international retail outlets, such as Amazon.com, Best Buy, and the glorious iTunes Music Store.

TIG: What are your thoughts on the issues of copyrighted material and downloading?

Andrew: Without the ability to download music, Tally Hall would be nowhere. We are an example of a band that survived because of people downloading our music. For a band looking for exposure, allowing people to download and trade music is essential.

Copyright was designed to encourage creativity, and too often we see it being used as a creative limitation. If someone wants to take the time to download our music illegally, I appreciate his or her desire to listen. If they like the music and can afford a copy of the CD, I would hope they’d contribute by buying the CD. The artists being hurt by illegal downloading are the ones with poor product. If you have a good album, people will buy it. Maybe today’s artistic standards are a contributing factor to the shrinking CD market. Maybe the recording industry needs to take a step back and reevaluate itself.

Joe: Illegal file sharing has both contributed to and detracted from the music industry. It’s definitely had a negative effect on sales, but it’s also broadened horizons; people suddenly have access to volumes of music that would have otherwise been out of reach. Before, when people simply wanted to listen to music to see if they even liked it, they had to first acquire the physical album. File sharing networks shadily solved that problem, but legal developments, such as the iTunes music store, which allows music previews, have helped bridge that gap.

Ross: I feel that if you respect the artist enough to endorse him/her/them then you should show that by legally purchasing the CD. But also that sharing music can be a quick way to spread the word about someone you like at first.

Z: Because music is often used as a background or mood setter, whether culturally or in commercial media, the artist, the art, and the labor behind music making are too often forgotten. I say this because I have mindlessly downloaded music myself. Obviously, as a musician I will not say that illegal downloading is acceptable; the industry and its employees depend on selling tracks. But while it shortchanges musicians, the Internet has also helped to further music as an art form. Before services such as the iTunes music store, artists would sell a full-length album with only one or two well written songs and thirteen or fourteen fluff tracks. Because songs can now be downloaded individually and legally, artists cannot simply lump in the filler material and must truly work through every song.

Rob: We would never have been able to get to where we are now without free distribution of our music. Our notoriety has been gained almost completely by sharing our audio and video creations with the Internet community. That said, we’re getting more serious about the band these days, and we’re hoping that it will be fruitful enough to buy us food and shelter. So, we have to be a little more careful about freely distributing our music. But we still give away songs for promotional purposes. It’s a fine line – the Internet is an invaluable tool, but it has to be used carefully and prudently if a musician is to avoid starvation.

TIG: Do you think sharing and downloading music is a fad or here to stay?

Rob: It’s surely here to stay. People will be doing this until there’s an even quicker and easier option.

Zubin: To me, asking this question is like asking if music is a fad. If someone can get something for free instead of paying for it, then they will find a way—especially with such anonymity. The key is to make paying 99 cents more convenient.

Joe: It’s here to stay, but I think legislation and technology will evolve to accommodate it. The industry is sweating it right now, but it’ll ultimately prove to be a “Good Thing” for music.

Andrew: I don’t see it going away. Sharing and downloading music is the present and future.

TIG: How do all of you agree on how to distribute, publicize and market your music? Have differences in opinion come up?

Rob: We are a team, and we work together to come up with a publicity/marketing plan. The label helps a lot with that, too. Differences of opinion are constantly there, but that makes our strategy stronger. If we were all like-minded, our plans would be less well-developed. Disagreements are great!

Andrew: We have differences of opinion all the time. But we listen and reason with one another. In the end, we’re usually able to come up with something that everyone agrees upon. We have a very strong aesthetic awareness within the group.

Zubin: Thus far, all marketing, distribution and publicizing have been on the internet and at live shows. Differences in opinion arise when we deal with what we should give away for free and how we should present ourselves, but we usually come to a consensus…the label will obviously help with this.

Joe: Before anything is released or posted on the website, we all have to give it the thumbs up, but we’re generally on the same page.

TIG: You have a very cool website. Can you attribute gaining more fans to your web presence?

Andrew: Our web presence is everything! A band won’t get too far without a website.

Zubin: Completely. Our livelihood depends on the Internet. Our broadest audience sees only tallyhall.com. So, the website and our videos must keep fans interested.

Joe: Without the Internet, we’d definitely be done by now.

TIG: On your site, you feature four audio files. What is the goal of making some of your music freely available?

Rob: The thinking is that free mp3s will do us more good than the money that would come from stringent CD sales. People can only download a few songs, and, if they like ‘em, they’ll be more likely to share them with friends.

Zubin: Although we have gained popularity locally, we still need to spread the word. Giving away some tracks free will hopefully ignite the wildfire that will one day become Tally Hall. That’s the idea anyhow.

Joe: We’re just getting started, and we want as many people to have access to our music as possible. However, one problem with giving away free music is that it automatically devalues the product; to a certain extent, it undermines the work that went into it. Making good recordings is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming; that’s why the file sharing revolution frustrates so many musicians. When I pay for a product, I listen very carefully, usually several times, because I want my money’s worth. But if all I have to do is click on a link, what’s so special about it? Nothing’s at stake for me as a consumer, so the music doesn’t get as much attention.

TIG: Do you want to remain independent or are you looking for the ‘big deal’?

Joe: A “big deal” would be bodacious, because it would mean major distribution, a solid booking agent, and more exposure. But if a major record label wants us to homogenize our product, it’s bootless.

Andrew: We’ll always keep our options open, but at this point, we’re excited about our new relationship with Al and his staff at QuackMedia. We have a lot of smart and creative people involved with the release of our debut album, Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, and we’re confident that they’ll do a great job.

Zubin: We want to make music. We have no obligations to stay independent, but also don’t want to go big just to go big. Whatever will help us to make the best art we can while putting food on the table is the option we will go for.

Ross: Big deal baby

TIG: You all seem to have other interest and career pursuits. Would you give that up if Tally Hall required you to be a full-time rock star?

Zubin: I am taking a year off, if not more, to become a “rock star.” I have put my collegiate career plans on hold already.

A: I was always planning on becoming a musician. Tally Hall is designed to allow us a creatively open environment. We play what we want and write what we want. We record videos that are fun and interesting (and sometimes challenging). We perform and meet a ton of people and receive e-mails from all over the world. What more could I ask?

Joe: Personally, the key to thriving as a Tally will involve artistic integration; no matter what, I’ll continue directing, editing, acting, writing, philosophizing, inventing, and engaging in general tomfoolery. I like the idea of putting together a Tally Hall TV show, or directing Tally Hall music videos. Or writing a Tally Hall Cereal Cookbook. Tally Hall is not just a band; we’re a group of friends and artists. I’m in Tally Hall because it’s fun, not because I want to be a “rock star.”

Rob: I was planning on attending medical school this fall. I spent the last few years getting into medical school, then I decided to defer this year. The school was very accommodating, and understood that I wanted to try these full-time rocker shoes on and take ‘em for a little walk. I’m excited to see how I fare over these first couple years of musicianship.


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