Proffering far-off reverb psychedelia like it could ever possibly be in style before going back out, North Carolinian six-piece Tasha-Yar‘s first release, the live album/DVD combo First Landing, is analog head-trippery that stands in line with a long tradition of sono-cosmic exploration. The band, arising after a several-member split from US Christmas, are still really just getting started. Their first studio album is either currently in production or finished, depending on who you ask.
The sounds on First Landing are raw and nascent; you can hear in this month’s podcast that Tasha-Yar are still very much in the gas-cloud stage of their formation, but the sounds are formidable nonetheless, and in anticipation of the inevitable full-length, I thought I’d see if the band would be willing to submit to the Six Dumb Questions treatment as a way of introducing them to anyone who might be willing to step through the airlock and take them on.
Tasha-Yar is comprised of Joe Sample (vocals), Tom Devlin III (synth), Chad Davis (guitar/synth), John Presnell (bass), Tim Greene (drums), and Ben Teeter (guitar/vocals/synth). Only the last three participated in the interview, but as you’ll see, that’s plenty. Enjoy.
1. How did Tasha-Yar get together? What’s the band’s relation to US Christmas?
John: Tim, Nathan [Hall] and I formed Christmas in ’02. Later, Matt [Johnson] joined, then Chad and then Ben. When we got back from Europe last year some long-simmering issues finally boiled over. Tim, Chad, Ben and I left. After a while the four of us started playing together again. We added Tom and then later Joe.
Tim: When that version of U.S. Christmas disbanded, it wasn’t like the four of us immediately decided to form a new band together. Chad spat out this really cool project called Agrabatti after supper one night, and we all jumped in on that for awhile. We were all getting used to the reality of not playing the same songs anymore, but we still enjoyed making new music together. Tom was with us a lot, and he was always such a big part of our old band, running P.A. and playing sax on the Hawkwind thing, so we stuck him on synth and overall sound development, tire-pressure analyzer. At first we had no name and no singer, but we started having songs, new and fresh, coming from all angles. Then came Joe. We all knew Joe could sing well and that he looked a little crazy. Well, Joe got into it and we picked a name for the band that will probably get us in trouble one day. It’s perfect. While we were doing all this, we heard that Matt and Nate were keeping U.S. Christmas going. They got some really choice musicians involved, and I bet the new stuff will be good. I think they call it USX now. I hope we don’t hear too many comparisons, though. We’re just a rock band, we are, and I’m not good enough to go out there and try to sound like somebody else. If we make up a song and we like it, we’re going to keep it. We sound the way we sound, the way we like it. Cover art and fliers we’ll try to make look different, to a point, but the music will just come up from somewhere like it always has.
Ben: After the ol’ heave ho from Christmas I remember going to Chad’s and he had began working on a rendition of “Ejection” by Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters –fitting, no? I think I did some synth stuff on that, maybe some backing vocals. I believe that was the beginning of Agrabatti. Not long after that me and Chad drove up the mountain to jam with John and Tim. At first we were jamming on some Agrabatti tunes, then we started building up some new songs with a feel all their own. I suppose this was about the time Tasha-Yar came into being. We asked our long-time friend and conspirator Tom Devlin III to play modular synth in this new project, and soon after, we requested the services of one Joe Sample for our vocal pleasures. We wrote a shit-ton of songs in a small period of time, recording the lot of them to a small multi-track microphone Chad purchased from the best of buys. We picked out some tunes and set out to make a setlist. Tasha-Yar played our first show in Boone, NC, at our friend’s record shop, mainly to an audience of friends. We took some songs from the live set and some of the demos we recorded and put together the First Landing album. We ended up taking the DVD from the first show and including it in with the album. Then we went to Chad’s and started recording our studio album. He is a studio wizard. I’m not sure from what demon he gets his power, but I can guess. Any album with him behind the console will sound good. That’s the story in brief.
2. How did your love of classic psych develop?
John: My background comes more from Pink Floyd and a lot of the bands from the ‘60s [more] than Hawkwind and their kin, though I do like a lot of that stuff. To be honest, I never really differentiated between “psychedelic” and other music that I love.
Tim: I saw Edgar Winter and The James Gang when I was in the sixth grade.
Ben: Analog synths. My dad used to play me Pink Floyd early in life. I went to Amsterdam in 2000 and Tom Devlin III gave me Tomita‘s Pictures at an Exhibition to take with me. The synth work knocked me on my ass. I started listening to Air a lot, and old soundtracks. Horror flicks. Bought a Korg Mono/Poly from Chad and got turned onto Goblin. It changed me — true, true. Got a Modular Synth and started geeking out with knobs and wires. At some point in there Chad had turned me onto Hawkwind and that had a severe impact on my sanity. Then the floodgates burst open: Brainticket, Arzachel, Ash Ra Tempel. The sounds we created as U.S. Christmas were inspirational to me at the time as well. I’m still on a constant mission to find Old Future music.
3. How much does Tasha-Yar have recorded at this time, and are there any plans for a release sometime soon?
John: We have First Landing which is a live/rehearsal jam collection which comes with a DVD and we have completed recording on our first studio release. We’re finalizing the art work and some things and should have it out in the next couple of months.
Tim: We have the mostly live recording, First Landing available, complete with a live DVD, and we’re sitting on a real good studio album with no name. But I’m mostly looking forward to the next phase, with Joe settling in with us and the next batch of songs starting to take form.
Ben: First Landing is our first release. Groovy artwork with a DVD and CD attached to it. Comes with a case. Wrapped. We have the studio album finished, we’re just finishing carving the artwork. Actually it might already be done. Let me check…
4. Do you consider Tasha-Yar a jam-based project? Is most of your material born out of spontaneous jamming, or is it more written out beforehand and then brought in and expanded on?
John: I don’t think of us as a jam-based project, especially in a “jam band” kind of way, but we do improvise a lot. The songs can come from either direction. Some songs are brought in and others are shaped from improvisations.
Tim: Both. About half of the first album is spontaneous, just because we know each other so well. And some of the songs (all of the DVD) were brought in by someone and put together by the band. A big portion of the lyrics are Joe’s, but we don’t give him the blame for all of them.
Ben: I have to agree with the rhythm section on this one. We all know each other so well we know before the other farts. Joe sometimes gets visuals from the sounds and writes down words when he can find a pen. Sometimes lyrics are brought in, other times they just come. Same with music, but when the six of us get together it becomes a beast all its own….
5. Tell me about living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In what ways does the scenery or the general environment play into what you do musically?
John: Subconsciously, mostly, I think. It’s in our blood.
Tim: I’d like to live at the same elevation on the West Coast so I could watch football at 10:00AM. This area seems to produce some really top-notch musicians and pretty people to look at. There have been some really good bands formed from the Catawba River, which runs through all of our lives.
Ben: Growing up around here I spent a lot of my time in the woods. I’m sure the others did the same. It’s almost like a right of passage if you’re from here: exploration. Going up and down the mountain is a constant here as well. Epic looking landscapes. Wooded areas in which you can imagine ancient passages may hide. Most likely you’ll find a moonshine still or pot farm and not a door to an alternate universe, but imaginations flourish in this atmosphere. That’s the thing. Without an imagination and a little common sense it’s just a bunch of trees and some mountains. Where boredom lays imagination eats.
6. Is Tasha-Yar going to tour?
John: It will probably be mostly regional and local for the immediate future. Probably.
Tim: Yes. Crash cymbals, bongos, the whole deal. Station wagon.
Ben: We’re currently on tour in our mind and yours until further plans show themselves.Mackory Falls, North Carolina, Tasha-Yar, Unsigned bands