Dntel: My Firsts
Jimmy Tamborello on His First Pet, First Crush, and Early Musical Experiences
Jul 16, 2012
My Firsts is our new email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.).
For our inaugural My Firsts we talk to Jimmy Tamborello, who records as Dntel. Tamborello grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and first garnered serous notice with the 2001 Dntel album Life Is Full of Possibilities. That album's "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" featured vocals by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and that partnership blossomed into The Postal Service, a full collaboration between Tamborello and Gibbard that resulted in the acclaimed 2003 album Give Up. Tamborello has consistently put out Dntel records since and the latest is Aimlessness, released last month on Pampa Records.
Read on as Tamborello reveals his first amphibian, first girl he loved, the records his dad played for him, and his childhood love of monster movies.
I think it was a really tiny frog. I don't remember what its name was. My main memory of it is its tiny skeleton stuck to the bottom of a dried up aquarium out in the backyard after it died. I don't know why we didn't bury it.
First time you had to go to the hospital?
When I was little I rolled out of bed in my sleep and cracked my chin on a brick bookshelf. I remember crying a lot but mostly because I was embarrassed to go to the hospital in my pajamas.
First time you fell in love?
I was in love with a girl named Ashley for all of elementary school. I was a big nerd and only ever loved her from afar. I don't even know what love meant to me at that point. When I hear "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle it still triggers a memory of being at a pool party that she was at.
First record your parents played for you?
I don't have a clear memory of an exact introductory record, but all through my childhood my dad played saxophone and he would practice with these play-a-long records. The one I remember most was Giant Steps by John Coltrane.
First album you bought?
I don't know the exact name but it was a Halloween record that had spooky sounds and then "Monster Mash" at the end of it. Until junior high I was more interested in movies than music so this choice makes sense.
First favorite band?
Michael Jackson and El Debarge were my favorite in elementary school. I liked Pet Shop Boys and New Order, too. I remember having sheet music of "West End Girls" and "Bizarre Love Triangle."
First concert you went to?
I think it was Midnight Oil at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I have a vivid memory of steam rising off the singer's bald head. I might be getting the timeline wrong but I feel like going to that show was my gateway into being obsessed with music.
First book you read outside of one assigned for school?
It was a non-fiction book called Monsters From the Movies. Maybe I listened to my Halloween record while I read it. There were a couple pictures in it that really terrified me but I liked to look at them. The main one was a still from a movie called I Walked With a Zombie. It's just two women looking at a dead goat hanging from a tree. I think the other one was the vampire from the '20s version of Nosferatu.
I started out using my dad's home studio equipment, a Roland D-50 and R-8 drum machine. The first thing I got that was my own was a Roland S-50 sampler/sequencer.
First band you were in?
I think the very first attempt at a band was a friend and me improvising vocals over Casio preset beats and basslines. It was all really jokey ranting. It was called Mr. Elgnub, which was Mr. Bungle backwards. Maybe the worst band name ever!
The first attempt at serious music was around the same time, with that same friend and one other guy. It was a moody techno pop band called Limitation of Liabilities. Our hits were "Crushed Love," about running over an ex, and "I Wish I Lived In Heaven," which featured sax by my dad.
First recording device?
A Tascam 8-track cassette recorder.
First bad review?
In high school we had this joke band called the Chia Band. It was really bad, noisy rock where we sang about pop culture stuff and for some reason sang about fish a lot. We'd send tapes to local radio stations and papers and try to get mentioned. The music writer at the weekly in Santa Barbara (The Independent) liked us and wrote a string of nice things about us in his column. I remember he compared us to Sonic Youth at one point. I think he overestimated our intentions. Then we sent him a video of live footage and a goofy fake interview and he realized we were just kids making dumb jokes and he wrote about his disillusionment in the column. I remember being excited sending him the video, waiting for him to write about it, and then being at a coffee shop and opening up the new issue and getting crushed. I think my reaction was pretty similar to the way I deal with bad reviews now-frantic frustration for a few minutes, then laughing with friends about it but still being a little discouraged, then letting the bad feelings fade away over the next couple days.