Interview with The Tartans !

This indie pop group comes from LA, California. “The Tartans” is formed by Brian C., Jesse, Lon, Yvonne and Brian Y. “Full of soul and full of fun” (as the YAY! Records have described them), they use 6 & 12 string guitar, bass, drums, glockenspiel, melodica, harmonica, keys, saxophone and next to their nice, melodic and most soothing vocals, they make one of the best indie pop tracks I have so far heard. I could easily compare them with The School or Pocketbooks, also with Hari and Aino or Liechtenstein. Yet, after taking a better look, they have a unique and special way of playing. All the above stated names deserve a place in any indie pop “podium” and The Tartans would most definitely fight for the Top 3 positions.

They are pretty new on the music scene, but as you’ll see, their talent will take them a long way for sure. The music they make and their musical tastes are way too good, so why should they ever stop?! You’ll probably want to check this statement. Can they be that good?! If you haven’t yet heard of them or are not quite familiar with their sound, they have released a couple of singles which are all available for listening on their MySpace page. At the recommendation of the The Tartans, I invite you, while reading the interview with the guys, to listen to one of their tracks. You can listen to it here: [display_podcast] west-of-la-brea

You’re going to “meet” each member, as they have so kindly switched questions around, in order for each member to get to answer a couple, which made this interview so much better. You’re going to read about how they came together, about their NYC and San Francisco Popfests experience, about a couple of their songs and the stories behind them, about their musical tastes and also, about their future endeavours. Let’s meet the Tartans:

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* The above photography is available thanks to Dylan Gordon, http://www.d-m-a-x.com/ !

Zme: Your name has been on the lips of everyone I know (who listens to pretty much the same music) lately… not only that, but also on the favourite tracklist of other bands I’ve interviewed. So I must say that you are already on my „wall of fame”, right next to other talented indie pop representatives such as Hari and Aino, The Concretes, Grizzly Bear or Headlights. Congratulations for your so far released material!! It’s gorgeous! What do you think, in this order of ideas, makes the band so special? What does „The Tartans” have that makes it so good? Except talented members and good use of instruments?! Any special ingredient?

Jesse: Beer and tardiness.
Yvonne: Haha, and I think the fact that we are all good friends converging to do something we love makes the end product (hopefully) worthwhile! We have similar enough tastes to agree on what is pleasant, yet enough diversity to keep things unpredictable. And yes, it’s true – we do love beer!

ZME: Tell us a little bit about how „The Tartans” was born – what was the concept behind it? How did you guys come together? Were you old friends that suddenly decided to make a band?

Brian C: Lon and I started working on a few new songs of mine as another band we were playing in was on its way out. Jesse and Yvonne entered the fold shortly thereafter. Jesse was easy to convince; Yvonne took a little more coaxing. Fast forward a few years, and Lon is rear ended on his bicycle by a careless motorist, and is unable to drum for a couple months. Brian Young kindly steps in to fill in on drums, with the possibility that we might need him for the east coast tour around the NYC Popfest ’09. Lon ends up being well enough to play by then, and Brian joins the group as our multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, playing saxophone, guitar and keyboards.
Yvonne: I think we may have tricked him into joining. I hope he’s not upset, ‘cause we’d do it all over again!

ZME: I must ask – does the name of your band have anything to do with the rocksteady group of the 60-70 from Jamaica? I know your music is totally different and you most probably wouldn’t pick their name when asked about your musical influences, but the names must have some connection. If not, tell us how you got the name and why?

Yvonne: No, there is no relation between us and the Jamaican band. Although we like 60’s rocksteady and ska well enough, none of The Tartans actually had any involvement in naming the group.
Lon: Our friend Mabern has been known to make up band names when he is bored on the clock. He comes up with material for groups ranging from indie pop to New Jack Swing…he thought The Tartans suited us well.
Brian C: We are also asked frequently about the Scottish connection due to the name, so I guess we’re a little bit of Kingston, Glasgow, and Los Angeles – and proud of it, too.

ZME: You’re located in L.A. How did that influence the music you make? I mean – sun & beach all day, the Hollywood vibe and its so often commercial, very cheap and shallow products etc. Apparently, this hasn’t so far influenced you at all. Do you think that it might, at some point? Also, considering the crisis everybody is facing right now – Would you ever give up the quality of your musical releases for the sake of fame & fortune and all that American clichée?

Lon: We don’t really turn to the city itself for inspiration. We’re more influenced by the music we like than the city as a whole.
Yvonne: Though Los Angeles street names do figure their way into our song lyrics!
Brian Y: We don’t really adhere to the part of LA culture that you describe. We just try to do what we do amongst likeminded people.
Yvonne: LA is such a big place that there’s so much going on beyond what’s publicized in mainstream media.
Jesse: As far as selling out goes, never! We’ve already turned down Nike commercials!

ZME: Except „soul stompers and six packs”, what other influences does the band have? Please give us a couple of band names, or solo artists. Also, mention what instruments best characterize the band. Which is most representative?

Yvonne: Aside from our taste in soul 45s, we often favor records that are a bit rougher around the edges. Girls At Our Best! Do we sound like them? Not really.
Brian C: We’ve been likened like to The Pastels, Orange Juice, The Vaselines, and even Aztec Camera, though they’re my least favorite Postcard band. That might upset some people, including members of my band.
Lon: In terms of what instruments are characteristic: 12-string guitar, glockenspiel, and, as of late, saxophone. We swap instruments a lot, and I think the different members’ approaches to each instrument influences the sound greatly.
Brian C: I think it’s all about the bass and the drums, and I can get away with saying that because I seldom play bass, and never play drums!

ZME: My favourite songs are „Your favourite song” (well … the title was so suggestive, that I couldn’t leave it out), „My Baby Doesn’t Care For You”, „West of La Brea” and „Cats of Camerford”. I would love to hear the story behind each and every song – how they came together, why those lyrics, why those specific instruments etc. But I’m sure you have a lot on your plate right now so just pick two from the four I mentioned and give us the gist. I’m making it too easy .

Brian C: As far as the music goes, we typically start with either a guitar part or a bass line and everything else comes together in mysterious ways. Lyrically, we can be inspired by books we’ve read, something memorable that a friend said, any number of things, really. In the case of “Cats of Camerford,” there’s no real symbolism there. It’s really just the story of my indoor cat getting out one night, and meeting feral cats in the alley a block over. Maybe a bit of hyperbole for the sake of the story, but it’s a pretty straightforward account.
Yvonne: Our friend invited us to a gallery show a bit further west than I tend to travel, and I replied that I’d go west of La Brea for him. We’d been working on the music for a song without lyrics, and this bit of inspiration was enough to help us flesh out the song minutes later. Brian and I sat down with a pen and our friend Mabern, who we mentioned earlier, and worked on some verses.

ZME: You’ve only released singles so far. Is an album in discussion? Are you planing on doing one, or are you going to keep releasing singles, one by one?

Yvonne: We plan very little, really. It’s rather embarrassing, but true! We’re not against LPs, but have just been asked to record singles thus far. I do enjoy the concept of releasing a few singles followed by an LP compilation, in the spirit of Love is All and caUSE co-MOtion! 7”s are charming and especially dear to us too because a few Tartans do dj and we prefer to roll up to a venue with a tidy box of 45’s…

ZME: I’ve noticed you had three shows lately – they were all on the West American coast. Not even around all the States. When can we expect to see you in Europe, then? Also, and this might be pushing it a little … but humour me … when could we expect to see you in Romania or somewhere close to it?

Lon: The economic toll of traveling makes extensive touring pretty cost prohibitive! Going on the west and east coast tours alone were enough trauma to our pockets books, but we are quite flattered that you’d like to see us in Romania someday!

ZME: You’ve attended the NYC and San Francisco Popfests. Tell us how that went. How was it to perform next to all those talented pop bands? I’m particularly interested in whether you performed before or after Northern Portrait or Suburban Kids with BN or Springfactory. I’m asking this because I would love to hear your opinion on the pop bands from Sweden. How do you see the music coming from these bands in comparison to yours and other American pop bands. Are there more similarities than differences between the two countries?

Lon: At the NYC Popfest we were on an amazing bill with Cats on Fire, Liechtenstein, and Radio Dept.
Brian Y: I’ve been wanting to see The Radio Dept. play for years, so it was a highlight for me to be on the same bill as them!
Brian C: Aside from Cats on Fire and Liechtenstein, I was also particularly impressed with SKWBM! They closed out the NY Popfest, and it was a non-stop dance party, though we felt that we, along with our Angeleno friends who traveled with us, outdanced the competition. Where were your dancing shoes, NYC?
Yvonne: I was somewhat intimidated to be playing with bands who I admire so much, but everyone was very lovely. We even did a bit of shopping with Cats on Fire, who are so stylish in both the visual and aural senses! There must be something in the water in Sweden and Finland…

ZME: Please mention 10 other indie pop/rock bands you like listening to when you’re at home, relaxing, or working, or doing chores, etc.

– Talulah Gosh
– Orange Juice
– Jens Lekman
– The Pastels
– Dolly Mixture
– June Brides
– Aislers Set
– The Smiths
– Househunters
– Dum Dum Girls
– Belle & Sebastian, and many more…

ZME: Let’s imagine the perfect party. Mention 10 tracks you always want to hear, in order for the party to be a successful one:

– Kleenex – Hitchhike
– Family Fodder – Debbie Harry
– Sunny & the Sunliners – If I Could See You Now
– X-Ray Spex – Warrior at Woolworth’s
– The Exciters – Blowin’ Up My Mind
– Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Seven Days too Long
– Girls at Our Best – Getting Nowhere Fast
– Orange Juice – Rip it Up
– Sea Urchins – Pristine Christine
– Too Much – Silex Pistols….of course a perfect party would have about a hundred more classic jams!

ZME: If you could choose the list of performances for a festival, whom would you love to see performing, next to your name? You can ignore time frames and choose bands that aren’t performing anymore. Give us just a couple of names…

– The Mo-dettes
– Television Personalities
– The Go-Betweens
– Cats on Fire
– Liechtenstein
– caUSE co-MOTION!
– Magic Bullets
– Love is All
– The English Singles
– The Wake
– Henry’s Dress
– Maria

Thank you very much guys for taking the time to answer these questions for us.

If you like what you’ve just read, which I’m sure you do, you’re probably going to want to get some of their tracks. You can purchase their already released tracks on YAY! Records . Also, as I have previously mentioned, you can also listen to some of their tracks on their MySpace, where you can also find additional info on the band, latest news on releases and concerts and many more.

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  • http://www.paintthewordsinpastelblue.blogspot.com Marion Hodges

    I would like to attend that hypothetical festival even though Orange Juice, and the Pastels seem to be conspicuously absent from the line-up…

    Nice interview Alex, I think I managed to learn a thing or two, and I generally see at least one of these people at least once or twice a week.

    Also, that dance party set looks like a good one for a future Hungry Beat!…

  • http://alexpetrache.ro Alex

    thanks for the comment. i’m glad you liked it. some nice interviews will follow up, so keep reading :) cheers!

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