Sunday, July 25, 2004

Hi, I'm back.  No design changes.  No format changes.  The only real difference is that I'm going to give up pretending that I'm a twenty-something year old with time to post every day.  From now on, this is going to be one of those annoyingly sporadic blogs.  I'm thinking one/two posts a week.  We'll see.

It's tempting to re-start with something dramatic, but instead I'm going to go with Kevin Tihista.  I've long believed that people don't buy music by bands/artists with unpronounceable names, so the first order of business is that "Tihista" is pronounced to rhyme with "siesta" as in "Tee-esta."  I now know that it's a Basque name.  The Basque language is a weird language that's not related to much of anything, so it makes sense that the pronunciation is so strange.

Prior to his solo career, he was involved with various Chicago acts, including Veruca Salt and Tobin Sprout, but no one (in the grand scheme of things) paid any attention to him until his major label debut record, Don't Breath A Word.  It came out of left field in 2001 on a subsidiary of Atlantic and a surprising number of people missed it at the time, though most reviews were good-to-great.  I was lucky enough to hear it in a record store and snapped it up on the spot.  Fans of orchestral pop (I'm one) and Elliot Smith should have been elated, but the major label thing didn't work out, the album turned into one of those used-bin fillers, and I was fairly sure that Kevin Tihista would take his place beside Yum Yum in the pantheon of unexpected orchestral pop from Chicago that fails on a major label.  (Ok, Kevin is better than Yum Yum who I'll talk about shortly).  From the first album, here's  Sucker.

Luckily, the nice people at Parasol rescued him, rereleased Don't Breath A Word, and then put out a second album called Judo which has a very similar feel:  as I understand it, the tracks for the two albums were all recorded around the same time and only divided up later.  For a while Kevin had a website at and was posting unreleased tracks and so on, but it abruptly vanished.  After several bouts of unsuccessful googling, I assumed that I'd heard the last of him.

Once a month or so, I do a check-up on defunct bands that I'm still curious about.  I google "Dustdevils" and "Daughters of Albion" and so on to see if there are any new developments.   Happily, the most recent time I did this, I learned that Kevin had a new album that came out this month.  It's called Wake Up Captain, and I'm happy to say that it's another winner.

It'd be easy to miss in a record store.  It looks like this:

and, while nobody asked me, I'd say that, if you have a difficult name and a low profile, it might be wise to put a little more thought into the promotional potential of your artwork.  I actually asked him about this and, to paraphrase, he's not exactly thrilled with the CD booklet and it's not really his fault.  In case you're wondering if I've altered the colors or anything:  no, the text is every bit as hard to read in real life.  When you go to buy this, better to just ask for "the CD with a capsizing ship on the cover."

The main new development is more imaginative production that moves beyond the standard orchestral pop strings 'n' horns.  On Family Curse (which reminds me a bit of blur's Clover Over Dover) there's even some noisy swirly guitar at the end.  I honestly like just about everything on the album, so the second song isn't chosen as a highlight, but rather for variety.  Here's Oh, which was one of the songs that Kevin said he liked best (be aware that the tempo of this song picks up after about a minute).  I'm sensing more assurance in both the performances and the production on the new material, compared with his earlier albums.  While his first two records sounded like they were inspired by some classic 70's pop, Wake Up Captain comes close to sounding just plain classic.

I had emailed Kevin some questions and he responded really quickly and was extremely nice:

Is "Kevin Tihista's Red Terror" a band yet, or are Ellis and Tom Clark still officially just helpers on the album.  Do they play with you live?
I do have a live band, although I have played with Ellis and Tom a couple of times. Mainly it's just me and Ellis in his basement studio playing the instruments to a click track.  Then Tom will come in and lay down the drums and then we just hire whatever strings or horns that we need.

Are any of your additional musicians involved in anything of note? 
Yes they are.  Two of the guys, Steve and Gary Vermillion (who are identical twins) have a new band called "Pheasant."  They were also in a band called "Front of Truck."  Randy Diderich is in a band called "Sunday Runners."  He was also in the band "Front of Truck."  We have all been in Tobin Sprout's (Guided By Voices) band.  They still play with him, but I don't.

The website doesn't seem to exist anymore (I had been checking it regularly...when it vanished I assumed you'd left the music biz, so the new album was a great surprise).  I see that it's mentioned in the new album's liner notes.  Is a website on the way? 
I let my website expire.  It was so out of date and I hated the way it looked. A new one is in the works.

Any touring plans?  I've read that you're not very comfortable with live performances:  true, false, working on it?  Coming to the east coast anytime?
The only touring plan I have so far is that I am probably going to England sometime between now and the end of September to do some shows.  Yes, it is true about the stage fright thing but only about 75% of the time.  I have been known to walk out of classrooms if ever called on to read, but once I am up there I am fine. It's just getting up there that's hard (sometimes harder than others).

It's tempting to compare your music to Elliot Smith's, since he's the person who readers are most likely to know who worked similar territory.  Is there anyone you prefer to be compared to?  Eric Matthews?  Older orch-pop bands like The Millennium, etc.?  Yum Yum?  (ok, don't get mad about that last one, but is there orchestral pop running through the veins of Chicago?).    
The only Elliot Smith song I had ever heard was called "Miss Misery" which I liked.  When my first record came out, every interview or article on me had his name in it, so I steered clear of his music because I just didn't want to know how similar we were and I didn't want to be influenced at all by his music.  Like thinking "I said that," or "I wish I had said this."  So I made sure not to listen.  It was only after he died that Ellis played a record for me, and to be honest I just didn't hear that big a resemblance.  The only thing I think we had in common is that we are both crybabys.  I felt he was a far better songwriter than I was.  It made all the comparisons very flattering, to say the least.  But, I still refuse to listen.  The only Eric Mathews I know is the stuff he did in a band called "Cardinal" (a side project with Richard Davies of "The Moles") which has amazing arrangements and mind blowing harmonies.  Please get this record (they only made one).  I have never heard of The Millennium, but will check it out.  Although I know Chris Holmes I have never heard "Yum Yum."  
I also hear some attempts to put the Beach Boys' sound into a less-whimpy context (as on the song Sweet) which I like a lot.
I can't stand the Beach Boys.  It's not that I haven't tried:  I have bought and sold "Pet Sounds" three times.  I think we just happen to like the same instruments.  
The melody on Family Curse actually sounds a bit like a blur track (from Parklife) called Clover Over Dover and the song ends with a guitar rave up that Graham Coxon probably wouldn't have objected to...anything to that or just one of those things?
I just listened to "Clover Over Dover" by "blur" to make sure i didn't rip them off.  I think I am pretty safe on that one (I won't tell them if you don't). 
In general, you seem to branching out a little bit on this album.  Is this because the material is new, or are these older songs being produced differently?  Both?  Neither?
Some of the new record is old stuff.   "It's Over" and "Yummy" were from the "Don't Breath A Word" /"Judo" sessions.   I have a pretty big stockpile of songs that I can pick from.  The next record [yay!] will probably have two or three songs from those sessions or this last one, from which I still have six or seven songs to choose.  Some songs I put on the waiting list.

You can buy Wake Up Captain directly from Parasol (I've ordered from them often in the past and they're great to deal with) and there are more sound samples on their site.  The more I think about it, the more I wish I'd asked Kevin if he likes Harry Nilsson, as a lot of the material on the album reminds me of that too.  Someday we'll find out who his influences are (besides Cardinal -- btw, he's right-on about that album being wonderful).

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