Tortoise :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Sitting on a green room couch at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles, Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer John Herndon nod in sync when it's ventured that the band’s new album, The Catastrophist, is rooted in the sounds of Chicago.

It goes beyond geography. The group’s seventh album, and first since 2009, it's also the first released with two-fifths of the band – Parker and Herndon – living in Los Angeles, while Dan Bitney, Doug McCombs, and John McEntire live and work in Chicago, where the band was formed in 1990.

But even beyond its membership’s living arrangements, The Catastrophist is a hometown record, owing its roots to a commission by the City of Chicago to write a new work reflecting the band's ties to the city’s jazz and improvised music scenes. “We got commissioned to write a suite of music by the city of Chicago [in 2010] and that kind of gave us an excuse to work on some new material,” Parker says. “We had all of that music, which we had performed several we had a pretty solid foundation with all of this new material.”

The Catastrophist is in line with the band’s legacy, exhibited on classic records like Millions Living Will Never Die and TNT. There are pulsing soundscapes, like the Devo-inspired title track and the brief “Gopher Island,” and moments of taut interplay, like “Ox Duke” and “Tesseract,” but the group’s sense of humor and playfulness is always at work. On two songs, the instrumental band employs vocals, with Todd Rittman of U.S. Maple and Dead Rider on a cover of David Essex’s 1973 glam standard “Rock On” and Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo singing “Yonder Blue,” a gorgeous, soul-inspired song.

Tortoise :: Tesseract

“We’d been talking about having guest vocalists on a record since the beginning of Tortoise,” Herndon says. “How or why it happened this time is probably because…[we thought] shit or get of the pot, really.”

The songs recall the band’s last collaboration with a vocalist, 2006’s The Brave and the Bold, on which the band transmuted material by the Minutemen, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, Melanie, Lungfish, and more with the help of Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Originally, the group approached art rocker Robert Wyatt about collaborating, but the Soft Machine legend politely declined.

Only the good shit. Aquarium Drunkard is powered by its patrons. Keep the servers humming and help us continue doing it by pledging your support.

To continue reading, become a member or log in.