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Ttotals interview with Brian and Marty

When is Nashville going to give it a rest?  The last few years Nashvegas has just been getting bigger, better and louder with the help of bands like Ttotals it’s easy to see why it’s become one of the United States centralized music locales.  It seems only fitting that two-piece Ttotals should share the town with Jack White’s Third Man Records headquarters as well as the now legendary Black Keys.  Besides a base in the blues and the minor fact that there are two members in each group though that’s where the comparisons end.  Drawing from a much more colorful and psychedelic pallet to create the Ttotals’ sickeningly original brand of “Outer Blues” they personify the perfect loud-quiet dynamic that fewer and fewer bands pull off without sounding like plodding un-original garbage.  Brian and Marty have been active in the scene down in Nashville for years, raising cane in bands, even finding themselves side-by-side in the last one.  Ttotals though have their own sound untainted by attempting to sound like anyone you’ve ever heard before or writing music for anyone but themselves, a wild and free sound performed with just enough precision and sludge to make for a perfect mix.  So turn on, tune in and Ttotal out your melon with Brian, Marty and myself!

How and when did you two meet?

Brian:  We played in another band together called The Heathern Haints before forming Ttotals.  That was 2007 maybe, when we first started hanging out.

Marty:  When we played in the Heathern Haints I played a keyboard I bought off a guy in front of a methadone clinic.  He wanted fifteen dollars for it.  I told him I'd pay ten.  He tried to haggle with me, but I pointed out that we were in front of a methadone clinic, and that he was by no means the biggest hustler on the block.  We settled on ten bucks.  The Haints had a drummer but he was a hippy and got a scholarship to a program that offered a dual degree in kombucha making and macramé twisting, so he had to follow his dream and we started Ttotals with me on drums/drones.  That same hippy then later dropped out of the school.  Something about "grades" being a tool "The Man" was using to keep him down, and he designed the cover of our Silver on Black album in exchange for some rolling papers and half a tofurky.

Brian:  Wow!  You really took it there didn’t you?

Why a two-piece rather than a traditional trio or something?  There weren’t a lot of two-piece bands around ten years ago but it’s becoming a popular choice these days, did you draw inspiration from any other duo’s when forming Ttotals?

Brian:  Finding people to play with is really hard.  We did have a third member.  He was called the Peav.  He was just a guitar set to drone and feedback.  We tried to find human members, but no one really fit in so we decided to try a few songs as a two-piece and it just stuck.

Marty:  We tour as a two-piece so we can keep the money.  But in the studio we use a ten piece supergroup of some of the finest studio musicians known to man.  I spend more money on tambourine parts alone than most people make in year.

What are the biggest upsides to working as a duo?  What about the biggest downsides?

Brian:  You only have to coordinate between two people.  Downsides?  Only two drivers while we’re on the road.

Marty:  I have a deep and abiding mistrust of "others".  I can keep an eye on one dude, but more than one can get the jump on you.

Do you come from musical households?  Where any of your relatives musicians or extremely interested in music?

Brian:  Not really.  My mom does play a little guitar.  My parents are super supportive of us and what we do.

Marty:  My family’s all musicians.  They hope someday I will take up music as well.

How did you first become introduced to and interested in music?  When and what led you to decide to start making your own music?

Brian:  There was always music playing and around the house.  I was exposed to music at a very young age and always wanted to make my own music.

Marty:  As a small child I was introduced to Hendrix, which got me into guitar, headbands and purple.

Are either of you in any other bands at this point?  Have your leased any material with any other bands?  If so can you tell us about that?

Brian:  Just this band at this time.  I couldn't make much of a commitment to another band.  It just would not be fair.

Marty:  I do some side work writing commercial jingles and I make stuff where I play all the instruments, but I never put it out.

When and what led to the formation of Ttotals?

Brian:  We both played in another band together called the Heathern Haints.  The drummer left in late 2008 and we formed Ttotals in early 2009.

Marty:  See answer number one.

What does the name Ttotals mean or refer to?

Marty:  I have no idea...  I wanted to call the band PO Box Gloryhole.

Brian:  It started out as a typo and kinda stuck.  Also since we use delay on vocals it just came natural when I would talk between songs, but people couldn't tell what I was saying any way.

Can you tell us who some of your major musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than just as individuals?

Brian:  Spacemen 3, Velvet Underground, 13th Floor Elevators just to name a few.  We kind of bring a whole lot influences to the table.

Marty:  I like Keith Moon's drumming a lot, he did a good job.  Mitch Mitchell was really good too.  The notes Miles Davis didn't play are a huge influence on me as well.

I am absolutely loathe to describe, label or classify music!  How would you describe Ttotals sound to our readers that haven’t heard you before?

Brian:  We call it the "Outer Blues".

Marty:  We're going for a black metal sound; we're just really bad at it.  Thankfully the psych folks have taken pity on us.

Let’s talk a little bit about Ttotals songwriting process.  Is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a finished riff or idea and works that out with the rest of the band or is there a lot of jamming?

Brian:  It's definitely a collaborative process.  I usually come up with the basics of new song.  And then we kick it around, take it out on the road and usually after all that it solidifies into finished song.

Marty:  I don't write exactly, I'm more of an arranger.  I try to imagine the parts of a song like furniture in a living room.  Then I imagine Don Henley's living room, and I make it not like that.   Brian hates Don Henley.

Brian:  Yeah I really dislike the Eagles.  Even mentioning them makes me want to fly into a rage.

What about your recording process?  Do you all enjoy getting into the studio to record?  Do you spend a lot of time preparing to go into the studio or is it more of an organic recording process?

Brian:  We love going into the studio.  We've done a lot of recording with our friend Tate Eskew.  He's pretty much the third member of Ttotals.

Marty:  Tate's wife Amy made us fudge once around the holidays.  I love her.

Kimberly Dawn Recordings released the ultra-limited Annimal Skkulls a sixty CD-R edition in 2010.  How did that release originally come about?  How was the album originally distributed?  What does the title Annimal Skkulls mean or refer to?

Brian:  Frank of Kimberly Dawn is a really good friend of mine.  We had some recordings lying around that we did with Jeremy Furgeson of Battletapes and approached Frank about putting it out.  Annimal Skkulls refers to the art work for the CD-R.  It looks like white animal skulls on a green background and the spelling is just a play on our name; the double consonants.

Marty:  That's a bootleg.  You owe me five dollars.

Brian:  I already paid you for it the other night when I bought you cigarettes.

Can you tell us about the recording of the Annimal Skkulls material?  When was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  Where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?

Brian:  Battletapes is a studio near my house in Nashville and Jeremy is an old friend.  Jeremy’s a great guy.

Marty:  While we were recording that stuff this guy I know kept calling me up wanting advice on how to deal with his crackhead girlfriend.  I told him he should leave her be, but he didn't listen, and ended up disappearing.

None of the songs from the Annimal Skkulls release have found their way onto any of the subsequent releases.  Are there any plans to re-issue this material physically of via any sort of digital distributor like iTunes or Bandcamp?

Brian:  Those songs would eventually be part of the Drum Is Our Parent 12” yellow record.  It was put out in the summer of 2010, now sold out.  No plans to reissue, but a few songs will make it back on our full-length album coming out in 2014.

Marty:  How do you edit your bio on Spotify?  I got some stuff to add.

You released your debut 12" in 2010, Drum Is Our Parent.  It was all hand screen-printed and features some seriously killer tracks.  Can you tell us about the recording of that material?  Did you approach it differently than other recordings knowing it was going on vinyl?  Who recorded it?  When was it recorded?  Where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used?

Brian:  That was recorded over at Battletapes with Jeremy Ferguson.  It was released as Annimal Skkulls and then it was re-mastered for vinyl and the songs put in a different order for Drum is our Parent.  All the covers were screened by me in our practice space.

Marty:  I call it the yellow record, 'cause it's yellow.  They ran out of the paper we used to make the covers, but there's a rumor that a handful of the records exist without the covers...  Record nerds assemble!

Brian:  There are a handful left, but it’s pretty much gone forever.  Who wants a record without a cover?  We've been playing some of those songs on the road, Take Care of Me and String of Life, and breathing new life into them.  Those will probably find their way on to our full length in the near future.

Then there was the Live At Grady’s cassette tape from No Kings Tapes.  The live release is becoming a more viable option like it was back in the 60’s, can you tell us what led to the decision to release a live album?  Why that particular in-store?  How was that album recorded?  Was there a lot of micing going on or was it a soundboard tap?  Who recorded it?  Who mixed and mastered Live At Grady’s?  It had a great blown-out yet totally legible sound to it that I seriously dug!

Brian:  Live at Grady's was recorded at Grady's Record Refuge in Ventura, California.  We played there on our west coast tour in the summer of 2010.  Everything was done by Grady.  Grady is awesome.  He also played in the legendary free-rock band Liquorball and now he’s in International Hello; both killer bands.

Marty:  Also a bootleg.  Now you owe me ten dollars.  Do you have PayPal?  It's really great.

Brian:  I already told you I paid for it when I bought you cigarettes.

You followed that up with the self-released Silver On Black 10” in 2012.  Why self-release the album?  Was that album limited or is it still in print?  If so how many copies was that limited to?  Is the album title a play on words?  What does silver on black mean?

Brian:  Well, we didn't have a record label at the time and we wanted to release something else.  We were getting down to the last few copies of Drum Is Our Parent, we were also invited out to record with Tate at this time and decided those songs sounded so good they needed to be out.  Silver on Black just refers to the colors of the record.  It's still in-print but we are down to the last fifty or so copies.  It came out as in edition of three-hundred in 2012.

Marty:  The hippy did such an awesome job on that cover...  I'm gonna get a tattoo of that.

Can you tell us about the recording of the Silver On Black album?  Was it very different that the recording session(s) for Annimal Skkulls?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Brian:  Tate has an awesome studio called Zero Art Studios.  He got in-touch with us and invited us to come and record with him.  Tate has great ears and has been our studio collaborator and producer for all the recording we've done since 2010.

Marty:  That was the first time we recorded with Tate, and that's when Amy made us the fudge.  She put it in these like Christmas-y little baggies.  It was so good.

Twin Lakes Records just released your debut 7”, Spectrums Of Light.  Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of the recording process by this point if there’s been any?  Where was this recorded at?  Who recorded it?  What about the equipment used for recording?

Brian:  We were approached to play Twin Lakes showcase at the Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Fest in Washington D.C. after our friend Megan dropped out.  They turned out to be really great guys and had some great bands on their roster.  We also did these songs with Tate.

Marty:  That showcase was at The Velvet Lounge in D.C.  The last time we played there I puked in a trash can at the end of our set...  I don't feel bad about it.  I had a rib dislocate at the end of our set.  I like to think me not puking when we met Michael of Twin Lakes was key in building a great personal and business relationship. 

How’s your relationship with Twin Lakes Records?  Do you plan to continue to work with Twin Lakes Records in the future?

Brian:  Our relationship with Twin lakes is excellent and we plan to have our full-length come out on Twin Lakes in the U.S. and Sonic Cathedral in England.  It’s still being negotiated, but we hope it happens.

Marty:  Even though they continue to ignore Brian's demands for narcotics and groupies, which he refers to as "tour support", I've found them to be lovely.

Are there any plans for a full-length follow up or any other releases at this point?

Brian:  We had a song out on the Psych For Sore Eyes compilation that came out in February (2013) on Sonic Cathedral.

Marty:  We start work on the full length this winter.  That's the first available date when both Michael McDonald and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter are free.

Having worked with two record labels at this point and also having self-released your material what are the major upsides and downsides to working with a label?  What about self-releasing your own material?  Do you prefer to do it yourself or with the help of a label backing you?

Brian:  Twin Lakes has been great to work with and very supportive.  It's definitely a mutual endeavor helping each other out as much as possible.

Marty:  If they make another Silent Hill game, I wanna be on the soundtrack.  I would blow that negotiation so bad, but the right guy with the right label...  Think about it.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

Brian:  We are actually out on the road as we answer these questions by e-mail.  A week around North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, looks like October is going to be very busy for us too.  Stay tuned for that news.

Marty:  I want to do a tour of old abandoned motels across the U.S. most of them don't have electricity though.  And diesel generators smell pretty bad, so I dunno...

You’ve played with some awesome bands, can you tell us about who some of your personal favorites that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Brian:  Bands we play with quickly become very good friends.  We are ever expanding our community of friends and want to see our friends succeed and if we can help out in any way we do.  We feel a special bond with our friends from Richmond, The Diamond Center, our friends from Philly Creepoid and our new friends from Mexico, Lorrelle Meets the Obsolete.  Shana Falana has quickly found a place in our hearts as well.  Love her and Mike.  Nervous Ticks, Dirty Dreams and Moonrises all have places in our hearts.  All those bands and people are super killer and worth checking out.

Marty:  I don't trust musicians.

Is there anyone you dreaming about touring with in the future?

Brian:  We would love to do a tour with The Black Angels or Spectrum, either of those would be awesome!

Marty:  If I'm gonna dream, I'm gonna say zombie Skip James.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live performances that you’d like to share with our readers?

Brian:  I once almost fell off a stage down in Florida.  I also accidently hit our friend Ryan Muldoon in the head with the headstock of my guitar.  I felt so bad.  He stepped behind me to take a picture and I spun around to sing and hit him square in the middle of the forehead!

Marty:  When I dislocated my rib in D.C. I started crying and called my mom.

Brian:  After he stopped crying.  A girl walked up and wanted to party with him.  She just didn’t realize at that moment he was on the phone with his mommy.

There’s something irreplaceable, almost magical about physical releases for me.  Having something to hold in your hands, artwork to look at and liner notes to read, it all makes for a more complete listening experience.  At least it does for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?

Brian:  I’m a huge record collector and love holding records in my hand.  Getting to look at them and listen to them is always a great experience. When we’re out on the road I’m always record shopping.

Marty:  I'm kind of all the way, one way or the other.  Give me a record or give me a download code/Spotify.  When people give me a CD I have to struggle not to look like they handed me a turd.

Do you have a preferred release medium?  Some people love the pop and hiss of vinyl but there are still plenty of CD junkies out there and a growing minority of people who love to jam their cassette tapes!

Brian:  I have a special love for vinyl and think that’s the way music needs to be listened too.

Marty:  Do people still do wax cylinder recordings?

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Brian:  I have a pretty big record collection.  It's murder having to move them, but I won't ever get rid of them.

Marty:  I lost a pretty nice collection in a fire years ago...  I'm afraid to love again.

Like I said I love my physical releases.  But as vinyl gets to be more and more popular there’s no way I can lug around my turntables, led alone my record collection, with me all the time so I do admit to loving my digital copies.  They let me listen to things where and when I want but the digital era is wreaking havoc on the pre-existing music industry.  On the other hand digital music has exposed me to a wide array of music I would have most likely never have otherwise heard.  As an artist during the reign of the digital age what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Brian:  We do have download codes with our releases starting with Silver on Black.  Tate talked us into doing it with that release and then giving the customer a choice how to download it.  Bandcamp has been pretty damn huge for us as a place to for people to buy downloads and physical copies from us.

Marty:  I love using streaming services like Spotify when I rock out in the car.  Records tend to skip there.

In hopes of keeping up half of the amazing musicians out there right now I try and find the next amazing thing.  Who should I be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of before?

Brian:  Definitely give Dirty Dreams a listen.  Bows and Arrows and Forward Edwards are real great too.  Also check out this killer band of fifteen year olds called Ogg.  Those kids are amazing.

Marty:  I told you I don't trust musicians.

What about nationally and internationally?

Brian:  Steve Krakow's new band Moonrises are really good.  Our new friends from Cincinnati, Electric Citizen are real good.  The Electric Citizen guys put on the awesome Cincy Psych Festival.  Lorrelle Meets the Obsolete are a rad band from Mexico that we played with recently in Memphis and they were also part of the Psych for Sore Eyes comp.  We’re hoping we get to tour with them soon.

Marty:  At my age, I'm really kind of ashamed that I don't have a passport.  I need to get on that like really bad.

Is there anything that I missed or you’d just like to talk about?

Brian:  Hmm.  I don't think so.  Thanks for asking us to do this Roman.  It was awesome fun.

Marty:  There's this place by my house that sets up adoptions for stray cats and dogs.  It's called Love at First Sight, and I always get sad when I walk by, because I want a puppy really bad, but I travel so much I'm not sure I'd be able to give it enough attention.  I always walk by and look in the window though, and it kills me.  All those hopeful puppy eyes looking up at me, thinking I might be the one to take them home; it just destroys me every time.  I mean, screw the cats.  I don't like cats at all, but the puppies...  I have to struggle holding back the tears.  If it weren't for the band, I could get a puppy.  Music is a terrible thing.

(2010)  Ttotals – Annimal Skkulls – CD-R – Kimberly Dawn Recordings (Limited to 60 copies)
(2010)  Ttotals – Drum Is Our Parent EP – 12” – Entheosound (Limited Edition yellow vinyl hand screen printed covers)
(2011)  Ttotals – Live At Grady’s – Cassette Tape – No Kings Tapes (Limited to 50 copies)
(2012)  Ttotals – Silver On Black – 10” – Self-Released (Limited to 300 copies)
(2013)  Ttotals – Spectrums Of Light – 7” – Twin Lakes Records (Limited to 300 copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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