Tall Firs are a Brooklyn band that has really calming vibes but also a low-level heaviness sort of thing going on. If I were a really lazy writer who relied on clichés, I would say that Tall Firs’ music has a “sense of hushed intensity.” I guess I just kind of said that anyway, but I got away with it by putting it in quotes. Nice. There are three guys in Tall Firs. Aaron and Dave have been friends since the era of high school, LSD, four-track recording, and audible tape hiss being a sought-after thing. Ryan, who plays drums as good as anybody else in New York, has a big beard and joined them last year. He’s in the band Celebration too. Tall Firs just put out their second album on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace Records (oh, and Aaron is Sonic Youth’s sound guy, not that that matters, but we would be remiss if we didn’t say it, because it sounds like a cool and fun thing to be). The new LP is called Too Old to Die Young, it comes out this month, and if you like feeling good and warm, you should get it. We know that the guys in Tall Firs are big-time music-aficionado type dudes, so we asked them each to tell us about a record that they listened to a lot or took some kind of inspiration from while writing the songs on their new record. We went to their practice space in Williamsburg (Ryan lives there too and I don’t envy him because it’s COLD), smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey, and they held up records they liked and talked about them. Every time one of them says, “This is such-and-such record,” you have to picture them holding it up in the air like a trophy.
Photo by Noah Wall
Vice: OK. Inspirational record. Go.
Dave (guitar, vocals): So this is Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled album. The cover is him sitting at his kitchen table. This album applies to the first and the second Tall Firs records, I think. Aaron actually gave me this album, maybe back when we were making the first record. I pretty much wore the grooves out of it. It was right when we were doing a lot of folk stuff. Then when we met Ryan, before he started playing with us, we connected over this record really drunk one night. He’s usually into more avant-garde stuff and Townes was like our middle ground. Even though there has been kind of a resurgence in people being into him in the last few years, I think Townes is still a little underappreciated.
Ryan (drums): I picked a record that came out in maybe ’93, when free jazz was getting its foothold in indie rock. This is the duo that kind of did that—Matt Shipp and William Parker. This one is a redoing of that Gershwin song “Summertime.” I moved to New York because I heard that there was music like this that was alive here. Like I was into jazz, but I didn’t know that free jazz was still going on. I first heard this just after I had joined At the Drive In, who I played with for a while. I was really torn because part of me was like, “Jazz is all I want to play,” but then I was back doing the same kind of punk-rock stuff. Once I got out of At the Drive In, I was like, “Fuck this, I’m gonna go play free-jazz music in New York.” I thought I knew what to do, but it was like two or three years of constantly studying and playing, like having to reassess and tell myself that I still didn’t know what I was doing. I’m still on that search in terms of playing drums. As far as this out-there kind of stuff I do with Tall Firs, we all collaborate on the editing and arrangement of songs to make them less verse-chorus sort of things. This Shipp/Parker record has a common theme that keeps coming back, so it’s very listenable but at the same time very weirdo. For us that’s tied into having a certain quality to our music, using the recording studio to let something have depth and weirdness for its own sake.
Aaron (guitar, vocals): This is an album called Diamonds and Gems by a band called Soft Location. When I was writing the press release for our new record I tried to write a list of bands that capture this feeling like, “Everything is totally fucked-up but I’m kind of cool with it.” It’s kind of a bittersweet vibe, I guess. Michael from Awesome Color handed this to us—he released it. The Awesome Color people are really tapped into the Detroit scene. They know every side of it. They’re pals with Wolf Eyes and they’re pals with these Soft Location people who are doing a way-softer thing. So anyway, we got this record just when we were finishing up our new one. Most of our songs were written but the arrangements weren’t nailed down and to some extent the vibe hadn’t been created. And actually, we all got into this record separately from each other and then realized we all really loved it. Sometimes if we need to get somewhere together as a band and it would be a little more expensive to rent a car and drive than to take a plane or a train, we’ll do the car anyway because it means we get to hang out in it and listen to music. Ryan and I will be, like, fighting for the iPod jack.
INTERVIEWED BY JUNE SPRIG
Too Old to Die Young is out now on Ecstatic Peace.