Bay Area duo Tidelands is set to release a new EP, Old Mill Park, on March 3. The new record – the band’s first since their 2012 sophomore full-length We’ve Got A Map – was recorded and mixed at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, and includes six tracks of irresistible orchestral indie rock. Today, The Bay Bridged is pleased to premiere album single “Dog Named Bart”, which features vocal contributions from none other than Tiny Telephone owner John Vanderslice and singer-songwriter Debbie Neigher.
As they have before, singer and guitarist Gabriel Montana Leis and drummer Mie Araki solicited the services of Magik*Magik Orchestra on “Dog Named Bart” and throughout Old Mill Park, bolstering the recording’s feeling of vastness and possibility – and the unrelenting and undeniable hand claps don’t hurt either, of course. It’s a love song, but Bart isn’t the one falling in love – he’s just the metaphor for a relationship’s stability that Leis adroitly points to when professing his love to his special someone.
I recently caught up with Leis over email, and we talked about Old Mill Park’s more stripped down origins, returning to Tiny Telephone, rekindling collaborations with familiar friends, and the band’s EP release party at Oakland’s Underwood on March 7. Read our conversation below, where you’ll also find the stream of “Dog Named Bart”. Order your copy of Old Mill Park on Tidelands’ Bandcamp page, do it quick – you don’t want to miss out on one of their beautifully hand-stamped limited edition CD covers.
The Bay Bridged: Your new EP, Old Mill Park, was recorded and mixed by Ian Pellicci at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco, just as your two previous albums (We’ve Got A Map and If…) were. Why do you keep going back to Ian and Tiny Telephone – what draws you to that recording environment?
Gabriel Montana Leis: There’s really a few factors that keep us going back. First off, working relationships are built and developed over time. What might’ve taken us four hours the first time we worked with Ian now takes one. We have developed a workflow that is both creative and efficient and results in sounds we like at a pace that keeps us within our budget. Secondly, Ian is a badass. Thirdly, Tiny Telephone is amazing. The instruments, gear, rooms, and vibe are all top notch. It’s also a creative hub and amazing resource of both people and ideas. Look at the collaborations on this record; Jaime Riotto, who plays bass on Old Mill Park, is an engineer at Tiny. Debbie Neigher we met while we were each recording our first records there in 2011, her in studio A, and us in studio B. Arranger Minna Choi was introduced to us by John Vanderslice, and has an office inside the studio. JV himself sings on the track “Dog Named Bart”, as does second engineer Shawn Alpay. Lastly, until just last week when I moved across town, Tiny Telephone was situated just a few blocks from both my home, and Tidelands’ rehearsal studio. Convenience cannot be underestimated.
TBB: Tiny Telephone founder and owner John Vanderslice actually had a great influence on the recording of your new single “Dog Named Bart”. Can you elaborate on his involvement with that track and what it was like to have JV working with you in studio?
GML: Although the results I think are dramatic, the actual collaboration was very casual. I had an idea for group vocals on that track, and as the other capable male voices hanging around the studio, both JV and (second engineer) Shawn Alpay were recruited. But John just being himself in a studio environment is a very dynamic thing. As we began the vocal tracking he pushed and directed the process in slight but significant ways, altering the phrasing of the vocal lines we all sung together, as well as working with Ian to pitch shift the vocal takes, which is a process where the tape is actually slowed down or sped up and the vocals are tracked at different speeds resulting in a very unique chorus-ey effect.
TBB: Debbie Neigher also guested on the track. You’ve recorded with her before, releasing an EP together on Redgummy Records. What spurred this collaboration to occur once again?
GML: The easy answer is that I love her voice and she said yes. We needed one more female voice to match with Mie’s for the female group vocals on Dog Named Bart, and she was kind enough to volunteer her talents.
TBB: You recorded the basic guitar, upright bass, drum, and vocal tracks live in the studio as full takes. What spurred this change from previous work where you were utilizing looping to greater extent?
GML: Live looping and ambidextrous multi-instrumentalism is the foundation of what Tidelands is. It’s how we get such a big sound with just two people. But looping has a tendency to become a crutch, and I’ve often been disappointed when bands I like start leaning too heavily on loops or sequences or pre-recorded anything. I wanted to make a record full of songs that could stand alone with just an acoustic guitar and my voice, even though that was never the plan for the recording. It was really just a way to push myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself into writing better tunes.
TBB: “Dog Named Bart” and Old Mill Park see the return of your collaboration with Magik*Magik Orchestra, which brings such a richness to Tidelands’ songs. What does MMO bring to the table that keeps you coming back for more?
GML: Minna and Magik*Magik* bring absolutely anything and everything to the table that I could possibly dream up. This time around it was a string quartet and a solo trumpet, but in previous recordings we’ve had as many as 11 players at a time performing with us with everything from a chorus of female vocalists to a bass clarinet. Minna is an ultra talented arranger and conductor and I consider it a great honor to have had the chance to work with her on three separate projects.
TBB: The Old Mill Park record release party is March 7 at Underwood in Oakland. Why did you choose that venue, and do you have any plans for more shows in the near future?
GML: I’m honestly just looking for something different than the standard 35-minute set at a local venue on a three band bill. I’ve had 20+ years of those types of shows, and I’m not knocking it, but I’m definitely looking for different experiences at this point in my life. Cafe Underwood is owned and operated by my friend Dominic Scala, himself a talented drummer and musician, and just opened a couple months ago in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland. I think he did a beautiful thing with what was just a short time ago a completely vacant space. As far as I know we’ll be the first musical act in the cafe and I’m thrilled to perform in a more casual setting where we can stretch out and enjoy an evening of music with our friends and fans and whoever happens to stop in for a beer or coffee. I don’t have any other shows on the calendar just now, and I’ll be a first time father come June, so I wouldn’t say my priorities have shifted away from music, but they have shifted a bit away from the business of music, like booking more shows. But I feel pretty certain that some new and exciting performance experiences will find us, and we’ll stay ready until they do.