Thee More Shallows

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

I’ve been following Thee More Shallows since their first album A History of Sport Fishing. The band, who was at the time Tadas Kisielus and David “Dee” Kesler, had just changed the name from Thee Shallows to Thee More Shallows. All thanks to some fellow San Franciscan named Brian Gregory who had a band The Shallows and hired an attorney to intimidate Kisielus and Kesler. It turned out that this Brian guy and his Shallows project released a whopping one album under the moniker.

So, over the next few years TMS recorded, played, worked, recorded, played…all the time building a studio in Oakland that would serve as a training ground and help the band earn cred and build relationships with other locals who were doing the same thing.

Their new album Book of Bad Breaks, released April 24 through Anticon, catapults the band into a percussive, dramatic place where the training has paid off. The soundscape is there. The meaning is there. The vocals are there. It’s a glitch pop sound, if you will.

If you like Xiu Xiu, but not the at-times drawn-out noise rock, you’ll love TMS—think of the band as a younger sibling who hasn’t seen half the family commit suicide yet. Thee More Shallows is expert at taking an upbeat, and at times spastic, keyboard idea, couple it with several simultaneous beats and place it over an airy soundscape.

The instant hit on this album is “Night at the Knight School.” The song’s intro reinforces the aforementioned Xiu Xiu comparison, then gets gangsta. But not like gangland gangsta—just the beat. This is my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite track on the album. I know, it’s kind of weird, but she’s a great barometer of what’s good.

I had a chance to exchange a few words with TMS frontman David “Dee” Kesler last week. We talked about the band’s new album, the current European tour, recording tricks and Brazilian transsexuals. Read on:


Ground Control: How’s the first tour on your new label, Anticon?

David “Dee” Kesler: It’s better than our last one. In fact, every one of our tours has been incrementally better than the last. It’s hard to know whether to attribute that to the new label or to return trips to cities.

GC: Do you find that European crowds respond to your music better than American crowds? And what is the most receptive venue or city you’ve played?

DK: They are more receptive. It’s a combination of interest in the exotic, state sponsorship of the arts, and the promoter-based system. It has nothing to do with our music. Belgium, in particular, was pretty great. People seem more interested in showing you, literally, with hoots and hollers, that they’re into what you do. We don’t play dancing music, so the occasional hoot and or holler is what we live for. There we got them in spades.

GC: You started on More Deep Cuts, but have really expanded on the new album, the band’s percussive sound with double time and tribal beats. Some of the beats are what I’d almost consider 'gangsta.' Any particular reason for this direction or is it the artistic progression of the band?

DK: The band is me and two multi-instrumentalists who are mainly drummers. For More Deep Cuts, the process was me bringing them in for sessions, having one or two cracks at a song, then working on it myself. For this record, songs were written to their strengths as drummers, and they had a lot more creative say. We wanted to propel up the songs with beats we’d enjoy playing live. And so far, it’s been fun! The gangland element comes from Odd Nosdam, the Anticon producer/arranger with whom we’ve done other projects. He works mainly from vinyl breaks, so when we’d have a particular part where we wanted a drum machine, we’d go to him and replace it with a drum break off a record. We did most of the programming and sequencing ourselves, but his basic sounds are—just like he is and just like we are—STRAIGHT UP STREET.

GC: What’s the typical process of writing an album; how long does it take?

DK: It’s different each time, in order for it to stay interesting. I have, however, noticed that I write mostly during the month of May. And the entirety of this record was written from May 1 – June 16.

GC: So, you have your own studio (the 3431 in Oakland), and there’s quite a roster of bands that record there. Can you describe the place and some of the benefits (besides the obvious ones) of having a studio? And where did you learn about recording?

DK: We learned by making the studio. We listen back to our earlier recordings and laugh at how bad they sound. The main benefit of having our own studio is that it offers a place for us all to meet and learn from each other. Apprenticeships in music are so important. If you’d allow me a moment of self-indulgence to give some advice to the kids, I’d say, 'Kids, make sure when you’re starting out you surround yourself with talented people, and actively pursue and try to hang out with people who are making what you want to make. You can spend years reinventing the wheel when it just takes a day of watching somebody else to build an entire car, or an awesome homemade tour van, made entirely out of household appliances. Kids, take my advice and use blenders for the rear axle.'

GC: Not to give away your secrets, but what are some of TMS’s principle instruments (keyboards, synths, etc.)?

DK: My favorite thing is the digital distortion that comes from running a guitar or keyboard into Pro Tools at 200 times clipping. Other than that, it’s all songwriting. The main instrument this time was a Casio HT-700 that we stole from a friend. If you can find it on eBay, you should be able to get it for less than $60.

GC: The new album’s sound quality is phenomenal. How long was the post-production and what are some of the tricks to accomplish this sound?

DK: We recorded it all ourselves, but didn’t want to mix it this time. We went to the amazingly talented Eli Crews at New, Improved Recording. The edits and arrangements were done, but he put his ear and equipment to the task of making all the instruments have their own place in the mix.

GC: What is some background you’d like Ground Control readers to know about TMS?

DK: Not really. We try to be blank slates, and have people put on their headphones or come to a show and have a personal reaction to our music. We have egos, and are definitely driven to perform, but with every record we try not to let ourselves interfere with whatever the song is saying. So yeah, nothing. Maybe say we’re Finnish twins and a transsexual Brazilian?

GC: So the first 100 preorders of the new album through your label get a bonus CD with the entire album in a scaled down format featuring a Casio, guitar and vocals…really, only 100?

DK: We might sell it online in the future. But for now we wanted to make it a fun rarity for people who follow us.

GC: Do you have any multimedia projects in the works? Enhanced CDs, DVDs or videos?

DK: We’re doing a video for "The Dutch Fist" during the first week of May. And are talking with Ravi Zupa, the amazing Anticon video artist, about a video for “Knight School” or “Eagle Rock” later this summer.


Thee More Shallows is David “Dee” Kesler, Chavo Fraser and Jason Gonzales.

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