Tilly and the Wall
Bigger, Better, and Same as It Ever Was
Nov 29, 2012
Tilly and the Wall have always confounded the normal dynamics of a live show. The Omaha-born band might even be having more fun than you at their shows. And what’s more, this is true of their albums as well. All of their endeavors, including their latest release, Heavy Mood, have been guided by one simple objective—fun.
After their last record, 2008’s O, the group (Neely Jenkins, Kianna Alarid, Derek Pressnall, Jamie Pressnall, and Nick White) seemed to go on an indefinite hiatus. Marriages ensued (one among Tillies—Derek and Jamie), babies were brought in to the world, and life took different members to different cities, but the same organic connection that first brought them together as Tilly and the Wall persisted. It was really only a matter of time before the ground started batting around the idea of a new record—and how fun it could be.
Neely Jenkins spoke with Under the Radar about the break, her new love for Los Angeles, and the “magic” of Tilly and the Wall.
Michele Yamamoto (Under the Radar): Hi, Neely.
Neely Jenkins: Hi, Michele. How are you?
I’m well! How are you?
I’m doing very good, thank you.
Are you guys all in Omaha yet?
Yes. We all got here yesterday. Well, I mean, we slowly came into town. I got here first. Then Nick came in the next day. Then Derek got here last night.
How does it feel to be all in one place again?
It feels really good. We all got together yesterday to have dinner over at Jamie and Derek’s house and catch up. It’s nice.
So, have you guys been rehearsing?
Our music? Or just working in general?
Well, I was thinking more about the upcoming tour. It starts next week, right?
Yeah! Kianna is in Kansas City, and Jamie and Derek obviously live here. They had some practices together. Nick and I decided to wait a little bit closer to tour time before we came. So, they got together and kind of worked. And then Nick and I tried to do our own stuff together. Starting tomorrow, we are doing photos and starting to hash everything out for getting ready to tour again. Very exciting. It has been so long.
I know, four years, right? Since the last album?
What’s happened in those four years? I mean, I’m really glad you guys decided to reunite, but I kind of want to hear about the blackout period for us.
Oh yeah, sure. So, let’s see. Gosh. Well, Jamie had Willa…so, that kind of puts a hold on things when there are children involved. That happened. I moved to Los Angeles. Nick’s actually been up there for a couple of years. I’ve been teaching yoga for kids and adults out there…Kianna has also had a baby. And Derek’s been touring with his new band, Icky Blossoms. So, everyone’s kind of spread out and doing their own thing. We still always kept in touch. We’re still very good friends. And you know, we started talking about how it would be so fun to do another record. It just all fell together. Nick and I came back, and we wrote songs with everybody, and then went into the studio and recorded them. And now, we have a new record coming out. So, pretty exciting stuff.
How long was the writing process? Did you guys just decide you were gonna make an album and then sit down to write? Or was there writing going on this whole time?
There was writing going on, I think, basically the whole time. And what we do, in our band, there are five different songwriters. So, everyone kind of writes their own stuff and then brings it to the group and then everybody adds on what they want to add on to it. So…it was all stuff that we had kind of worked on in the past. Like, “Oh, I kind of like this one, I want to work on it.” You pick what you think is best…ones that you feel you want to bring, and you just start to hash them out.
So, the writing hasn’t changed a lot.
No. Not for me, personally. I don’t know if other people…you know. It’s always like something comes to me when I’m in my car, when I’m getting up in the morning. But as far as the whole group process, that’s been the same.
Aside from obvious reasons, how has having babies in the band really changed the dynamic for you guys?
As far as tour goes, I feel like that’s going to change things a bit, but as far as practice goes so far, it’s…about figuring out the parents’ having downtime. It’s when Jamie’s gonna be sleeping or when they have someone to watch over them when we practice. It’s been great, though. It’s actually worked out really well. We’ve got that open communication like, “This is when I can do this,” or, “This won’t be the best for us.” But it actually has been fairly easy.
And so…what are you gonna do with the babies on tour?
They’re coming with. So, Kianna’s little one and Jamie and Derek’s, Willa, their oldest is going to be coming with us. And I’ll be nanny unless we’re working.
How old are they?
Gosh. I think Willa is three? Three-and-a-half? And don’t quote me on that because I’m really bad with ages. And both Max, who is Jamie and Derek’s littlest one, and Laurie, they were born just a month away from each other. And I feel like that was…November.
Oh wow. Babies! Like baby babies.
They’re under one.
How is life for you in Los Angeles? Does that affect your writing at all? Or the way you look at music?
Yeah, it really does. I’ve always thought it was interesting, the kind of music that comes out of a certain place. And I am so in love with Los Angeles right now. I never thought it would be a place that I would like so much, but I have just grown to appreciate so much about it. I just love driving around and seeing the trees, and there’s just so much fruit that grows on them. It’s always so amazing to me. And being surrounded by mountains makes me a happier person. Since I do spend a lot of time in my car now because that’s kind of the way you get around Los Angeles…it’s almost strange. You have a certain kind of free time that you don’t really have when you’re at home, which sounds a little bizarre.
No, that makes sense.
I can work on a song while I’m sitting in my car. So something, some little tune will come to me and, having an iPhone—I know you’re not supposed to have those in your car—I’ll just hit record on my phone, that way I can keep it with me. Being in my car so much more, you find different ways to entertain yourself, keep yourself distracted from the traffic, and focus on positive things. Working on songs is a great way for me to keep myself busy. Does that make sense?
That makes perfect sense. I’m actually from L.A.
Oh! You are?!
Yeah. So, it’s really nice to hear a positive review from someone moving here because oftentimes it’s not very good.
Oh, I love Los Angeles. I just think it’s great. I love the energy that I get from there, I love the people that I meet. And it’s so great because since I’m so new there, there’s always something to search out or find. Someone will say, “Oh, we should go check out this.” I just love exploring it. I’m in love with it.
That’s so nice to hear. I assume, for some reason, that you’re in the Silver Lake area?
Yeah, I live in Los Feliz.
I feel like that’s where most artists and musicians end up when they come out here.
Are you calling from Los Angeles?
I am. I work in Culver City.
It’s so fantastic. A lot of friends live in Echo Park and Silver Lake, so there are a lot of venues around there, too. So, it’s nice to not have to be driving and driving.
You can get a lot done over there instead of having to cross town. How is it different from the Omaha scene right now?
I’d say with the Omaha music scene, it’s a smaller place. So, you kind of have more dibs on each other. You know what’s going on. I feel like, in Los Angeles, I’m still meeting people. People hang out with tons of people who have lived in Omaha, grew up in Omaha. I still spend a lot of time with them out there, which is hilarious. I feel like there’s a really close knit group [in Omaha] that’s all kind of grown up together. Whereas, in Los Angeles, some of them have grown up in Los Angeles, but there are a lot of people who have moved there from other places. So, I don’t know if they have the history as much as Omaha. But I don’t know thousands of people out there. I know lots of people [in Omaha]. I’m still meeting friends. From what I see, there’s a lot of people who move out to Los Angeles, and try to start their careers out there. So, it’s kind of newer.
Did you record the record in Omaha?
Yes, we did. We recorded with Mike Mogis.
Has he worked on your other records?
He did this record with us. He did O. And Bottoms of Barrels was in Lincoln. That would more AJ [Mogis]. And then, the other one, Wild Like Children, that was done with Steve Peterson and Conor Oberst. They recorded us in a basement. So, that was a little bit more lo-fi.
Which is pretty lovely still. What is it like putting out a record in 2012 versus 2004?
It’s so different because I feel like when we put out O Facebook was just starting to like…at least, I just didn’t know much about Facebook back then. And now, it’s all this extra media that goes along with the release. There’s the Twitter account, there’s Facebook, there is Tumblr involved, there’s Instagram involved. So many people use that as a reach out to their fans. It’s just something that we didn’t do before. So, it’s been a really big learning experience for us all. And it’s been really a positive one at that. Because I love to read Twitter and see what people are thinking. The contact through that, it’s something I’ve never really done before. So, it’s been a good experience. And press is a lot different too, now. Just with changes through the use of the computer. I feel like things are just evolving more towards that. It’s really different.
Are you involved in the social media aspect? Is there one member that dominates it?
We all have our own little part of it that we take care of.
What part do you take care of?
I do the Twitter account. I Tweet. Which I have never done before.
But you like it?
Oh, I was so intimidated by it. I’d heard everyone’s been Tweeting. I got on a couple times, personally on my own account, and it just wasn’t registering with me very well. But then I had some friends sit down and they were like, “Oh, this is what you do. And this does this. And you should listen to what these people have to say, they’re hilarious.” So, through the guidance of good friends, I’ve made my way down the path.
Twitter is pretty complicated when you just get started on it.
And I still don’t even know if I’m using it the “correct” way.
I mean, there’s not really a “correct” way, is there? I’m pretty bad at it myself, so I can’t judge on that. I think some people are just made for social media.
So, there was a very interesting quote on the Chicagoist today. They mentioned that what Tilly does is “create meaningful dance music that relies on human sweat, and not computer bits and bytes.” I’d love to get your response to that.
That is fantastic. You know, when I first started sitting down to practice out in L.A. before I came back, I reviewed our records. And I’d forgotten that we had so many songs. It’s been such a long time since I’ve visited them. And I started thinking about the evolution of Tilly. Starting with the basement and then slowly coming out of the basement, and growing into the studio. And I just feel like we all have grown into such different people. We’re still the same people at the core, but we’ve all had these pretty amazing, life-changing experiences. I just feel like we take what we have from our soul and that’s what we put down. This is how I’m feeling or this is what I believe. And in an interesting way, all five of us, all coming from different areas and backgrounds, all have the same joy of each other’s music. So, with that coming from us to our love of music and taking what each other has, it just comes out organic and natural. You’re right, we do have electronics on our record, but from that first record, it’s still something organic that just comes from our heart. And for some weird reason, working together when we all put it together. At least, that’s what I believe. We’ve kind of found this magic within each other, and it comes out…like Tilly.
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