Look past the flannels, spectacles, and beards: there’s a nimble virtuosity. We nerd out with the Atlanta crew.
On first encounter, it may be easy for a casual listener to write off Little Tybee as another indie/folk act from the south, but hidden among the violin and acoustic guitar, flannel, beards, and laid back southern demeanor—oh—and no less than five pairs of squared plastic framed glasses, is something much more complex and engaging. Compositions that shirk categorization. The sextet from Atlanta, Georgia have been developing their genre bending sound over the course of nearly seven years, three albums, and countless tours across the States. It’s time to start paying attention.
The group first appeared on my radar when virtuoso guitarist Tosin Abasi of metal band Animals as Leaders shared some of Tybee’s early music on Facebook, most notably to highlight the unique and quite frankly mind blowing abilities of fellow eight-string guitarist Josh Martin on the track Hearing Blue. These guitars have long been associated with heavy, punishing, metal riffs or wicked guitar solos. Much in the ethos of Little Tybee, Martin took his instrument and saw something different there. His rapid-fire percussive tapping was bafflingly precise, free of errors, and communicated through a crystal clear, glass-like tone. It was exciting, energizing, but somehow hypnotizing. Much of that can be credited to delicious grooves crafted by bassist Ryan Donald, drummer Pat Brooks and pianist Chris Case, not to mention the warm glow of Nirvana Kelly’s violin and the elastic croon of vocalist Brock Scott.It’s easy to get lost in Josh’s playing, but the other members of the band are quick to pull the curtain back and reveal a much more refined and arranged sound, a sound that is very much dependent on every member of the band. Although each member of Little Tybee could stand as a musical force of nature on their own, as a unit, the group stands to create some of the most promising and truly original music of our generation. Above is the premiere of More Like Jason from Little Tybee’s upcoming self-titled album. It’s a track that revels in its expansiveness, nimble guitar lines, Brock’s soaring falsetto, and what could be described as the first gypsy-prog breakdown I’ve ever heard.
Noisey: This is the bands fourth full-length release, what has the road been like leading up to the soon to be released self titled LP?
Ryan Donald: We've been at this for almost seven years now, which is absurd to think about, and it's been a good test to see if we're all really in this for keeps. Once we got off the ground and started touring, we had to accept the fact that, not only would we never be one of those bands that would get a large amount of notoriety very quickly, but also that this was just a fun way to travel while trying to at least break even and maybe learn something about life along the way.
Creatively though, our sound is always evolving in a fluid manner, so it was really tough to pin us down (and therefore add us on to bills) in the beginning. Our ever-elusive genre description forced our fans to simply play our records for their friends instead of trying to verbalize a description.
A trademark of many of your songs is the complexity of the musical arrangements, how do the songs take on this form?
Josh Martin: It starts with a single idea. If someone is trying to deviate or redefine the idea we survey their conviction and everyone else’s reactions and talk it out. Democracy is hard work, and consensus based decision making can be the most time consuming way to make decisions. If there’s one simple way we could describe this process it’s, the more members you have, and the more interesting/creative ideas each one is trying to incorporate, the more time you have to put in to make it work
Chris Case: There's a collective spirit of experimentation and searching for parts that will both expand the horizon of the track and preserve the intent behind the songwriting.
Ryan: One of our songs, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” started as a writing “micro practice” with myself, Brock and Josh. As we worked on it that night, the second half of the song started morphing from a down-tempoish jam into the grooving 16th note feel that it eventually became. I was the only member of the rhythm section there that night, so I figured, “Why not try this?” and it changed the whole course of the tune. Regardless, we found that these “micro practices” made it easier to discover what a song’s true nature was a lot quicker than before, so when it came time to start layering everything together, the road map of each song was more fully realized.
Josh has been receiving some recognition for his unique playing and technical prowess, has this impacted the course of the band?
Josh: The response to our new instructional content [for Ibanez] has been overwhelmingly positive and we are honored. I think so many people in different genres are craving new sounds. I’m not reinventing the wheel by any means, but I am consciously looking for things that haven’t been overrepresented on the instrument. Walking the line of doing this without compromising musicality is a complete mess. Sometimes putting more work into developing a technique for a particular part makes it harder to realize that it never belonged in the first place.
Being able to stand out in these ways has afforded us indispensable support from the guitar community. In a world where talent scouts no longer exist, it’s amazing to see multi-national companies like Ibanez, Dunlop, Fodera, and Aguilar reach out to underground acts and offer them instruments as well as a platform to advertise. They have fulfilled a role for us thought to be extinct.
Do you find the added level of complexity in your music alienating or engaging for new fans?
Ryan: The new fans are definitely ready for it, as they’ve discovered our band in its current state. Our hope is that our tried and true fans will accept the new material. Throughout our slow build as a band, our individual instrumental voices came increasingly to the forefront as we became not only more comfortable with each other’s playing styles. It’s not about showing off. It’s about pushing the limits of what’s acceptable within the framework of each particular song. This new record is not only our most complex in terms of the intricacy of each member's parts, but it’s also the most cohesive in terms of how we arranged those parts in each individual track. Hence, why we self-titled the record. We truly feel as if this is the first record we’ve released where we’re able to say, “We are Little Tybee and we have arrived.”
What's with the radios?
Brock Scott: My father was a sextant navigator for the trans Atlantic shipping industry during the 1970s. During his travels, my father carried this transistor radio along with him to listen to music. He gave me this radio a few years back and until about 6 months ago it was a nice but silent mantle piece. When trying to come up with a symbol for our new album, something about the design and history of the radio appealed to me. It encompassed everything that I felt Little Tybee represents. Transistor radios were the first portable music listening devices. I imagine how exhilarating it must have been to hear a song for the first time while traveling to an exotic location. We take this for granted today but I feel a sense of connectedness to the experiences the owners of these radios must have had when they first came out. I wanted to capture that sense of wonder and pair it to our music.
To your fans, Little Tybee is notorious for collaborating with other artists in new ways, such as the one shot one take puppet show music video for Boxcar Fair, can we expect similar collaborations on the next album?
Chris: Our experiences self-producing content have brought us into partnerships with amazing artists from a wide array of fields. Collaboration has always been an integral part of the Tybee aesthetic whether that's taken the form of visual artists creating unique posters or videographers and engineers lending their talents and equipment to the cause. We are always on the hunt for new opportunities and while some bands might see a day off on the road as a chance to relax, we are more likely to hustle up some bizarre location for a one off video shoot. Ultimately we love doing this and working to make the most out of the tools and community we've been blessed to be a part of.
Little Tybee Tour Dates
JUNE 10 - KNOXVILLE, TN - JIG AND REEL
JUNE 11 - NASHVILLE, TN - THE BASEMENT
JUNE 16 - TYBEE ISLAND, GA - TYBEE SOCIAL
JUNE 17 - SAVANNAH, GA - THE JINX
JUNE 18 - GAINESVILLE, FL - THE ATLANTIC
JUNE 19 - ATLANTA, GA - PARK TAVERN
JUNE 26 - DENTON, TX - HARVEST HOUSE
JUNE 27 - AMARILLO, TX - THE 806
JUNE 28 - SANTA FE, NM - GIG PERFORMANCE SPACE
JUNE 29 - PHOENIX, AZ - LAST EXIT LIVE
JUNE 30 - LOS ANGELES, CA - THE EDISON
JULY 1 - PASO ROBLES, CA - TOOTH AND NAIL WINERY
JULY 6 - PORTLAND, OR - DOUG FIR
JULY 7 - SEATTLE, WA - TRIPLE DOOR
JULY 9 - SALT LAKE CITY, UT - THE DAWG POUND
JULY 13 - KANSAS CITY, MO - RIOT ROOM
JULY 14 - DAVENPORT, IA - REDSTONE ROOM
JULY 15 - MILWAUKEE, WI - CACTUS CLUB
JULY 16 - CHICAGO, IL - TONIC ROOM
JULY 17 - GRAND RAPIDS, MI - FOUNDERS BREWING
JULY 19 - ANN ARBOR, MI - KALAMAZOO
JULY 21 - TORONTO, ON - SMILING BUDDHA
JULY 22 - MONTREAL, QC - BAR LE RITZ
JULY 23 - BURLINGTON, VT - HIGHER GROUND
JULY 25 - NEW YORK CITY, NY - ROUGH TRADE
JULY 26 - PHILADELPHIA, PA - BOURBON AND BRANCH
JULY 27 - WASHINGTON, DC - GYPSY SALLY’S
JULY 28 - RICHMOND, VA - HARDYWOOD PARK CRAFT BREWERY
JULY 29 / 30 - FLOYD, VA - FLOYD FEST
JULY 31 - RALEIGH, VA - KINGS BARCADE
AUGUST 6 - BIRMINGHAM, AL - SECRET STAGES
Pat Shahabian is a seriously dope drummer. Follow him on Twitter.