NadaMucho.com Interview – Tullycraft
Q&A with Chris Munford & Sean Tollefson
By Eric Tognetti
When you think of Seattle’s contributions to the indie rock world, a lot of bands come to mind: Death Cab for Cutie, Young Fresh Fellows, Modest Mouse, Silkworm, the Posies. And that’s just a start.
One name that hardly ever gets mentioned is Tullycraft. In fact, when I recently sat down with Tullycraft’s singer and songwriter Sean Tollefson and guitarist Chris Munford, they noted that nobody seems to even know they’re from here.
If you aren’t familiar, Tullycraft puts together a nearly platonic ideal of three-minute pop songs: catchy, funny, and intelligent in the most accessible way possible. In the 90s, college radio caught on to Tullycraft, and songs like “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid to Know About” and “Twee” became underground hits.
Chris and Sean were kind enough to meet me at a Ballard bar. Here are some highlights from that two-hour rambling conversation. As I sat down at the table with the first pitcher of beer, they were already talking about the new album-
NadaMucho: So, you guys were talking about the new album. What the story with that?
Chris Munford: It’s happening.
Sean Tollefson: It’s slowly happening.
CM: Let’s keep the story short. It’s happening.
ST: It’s happening. It’s happening, isn’t it?
ST: We have a bunch of new songs. We did recordings before we went to Europe, a long time ago. In the middle of the summer we did a bunch of recordings that we were just hoping to get good-good drum takes out of. Because usually what we do is we save the drums and save the bass and then build.
ST: That’s all we were hoping for. But we might have to redo some of the stuff we did that summer, because not all of the takes were perfect. So-it’s slow going, right?
CM: Yeah. We’re going into the studio to record a few things. So it’s getting done as it gets done. I mean, instead of going in and being like, “It’s a set, let’s do all the songs like it’s a set,” we end up doing each song like a single. We’ll work on one song at a time and put different things on it. I don”˜t know, maybe it’s the same process everybody goes through, but it gives us less of a uniform way of going about each song.
ST: Yeah, so things come out sounding a little bit different because they were done differently. “˜Cause I know some bands that say, “We’re gonna rent the studio for three days and we’re gonna get in and we’re gonna get out and have a finished product.” So the songs end up sounding the same because you use the same mikes on everything- So, it’ll come together.
CM: It’ll sound like a Tullycraft album.
ST: I’m happy with the songs, if they can get fleshed out and made into what I think they can be.
CM: Yeah, there are a couple of really good songs on there. Like one of the songs we recorded, we changed how we play it. It’s a real-kind of a, what do you call it, grandscape rock song. It definitely has this bigness to it. It sounds pretty cool. And then there are some, like, twee electro ditties.
NM: Is there a tendency to do that? To make things bigger as you work together longer?
CM: Some of the songs have a couple of keyboard endings, and it just, you know, sounds cooler when it’s louder. In a way, not being limited by-some of the earlier stuff we had was more-it didn’t have the electronics and stuff. Like when you listen to the first album-it’s not flat, but it’s very much guitar-based and drum songs.
ST: That’s all it is, actually.
CM: So the later stuff, we were like, “Let’s put more layers of keyboards on there-“ Like, on City of Subarus, we recorded that in a house, so we just had more time and more things to plug in- I mean, that shouldn’t have been released as an album.
ST: It shouldn’t. We made a lot of mistakes on that one.
CM: I think the songs are good. It’s just the recordings are bad. I feel responsible, “˜cause I was like, “I’ll record it, you guys. Don’t worry about it-“
ST: There was a lot of pressure at that time to release a follow-up, “˜cause Old Traditions did fairly well, and there was kind of a buzz, and we felt like, “We gotta get this out, we gotta get this out-“ And we just kind of got it out. Now I look back and I think there are some things I either wouldn’t have included or would’ve done differently. But the third one we took more time.
CM: But I guess that’s kind of what we are now: a self-recorded band. But I think part of the aesthetic now is to have it sound weird in a way. You know, weirdly recorded.
NM: Tell me about being from Seattle. I mean, hardly anybody knows you’re from here. And it seems that you’re so much less well known here than you are, say, on the east coast.
ST: Yeah, nobody knows us here. The first records got released on a label out of Boston, which made everybody think we were from Boston.
NM: So they had connections and did a lot of promotion locally?
ST: Yeah, yeah. And that was a blessing and it was a curse. Because that’s the biggest college market in the whole country, and we got a lot of radio play. So we kind of got that college thing going, but people just assumed we were from Boston forever, and maybe still do.
NM: For instance, I just learned maybe a year and a half ago that you’re actually from Seattle, when you played that show at the EMP. And it was billed as “local band Tullycraft-“
ST: And you had no idea, right. Plus we just don’t play out all that much. We don’t pursue it all that hard, in that we’re not like “We gotta get a show-“ Like that show, they came to us and they said “You want a bunch of money?”
CM: And we were like, “Well, I guess for a bunch of money, we can play.” I guess I just look at it as longevity. We’re never going to have that immediate burst, maybe, that other bands have.
ST: We’re more like the slow burn.
NM: To follow up on that, though: You’ve been around long enough and you have enough stuff and you’ve influenced enough people that you have a tribute album. Have you heard it? Do you like it?
ST: Well, like on “Superboy and Supergirl,” it grows on you. He gets a lot of the words wrong. And at first, I was like, “What the eff-“ But it grew on me, though, it did.
CM: I’m not sure OUR albums have grown on me yet.
ST: We listened to it in the car on the way to San Francisco, when we were playing the pop festival.
CM: No, we listened to it on the way back. Because I think we would have cancelled the show if we’d listened to it on the way there. But it was fun, listening to a song like “8 Great Ways,” where they were so accurate. Even all the little glitches. I was like, “Aw, they left that little bad, mis-tracked vocal in there.”
ST: It was good, though. It was flattering, don’t you think?
CM: Yeah. That even 12 bands had heard of us, and much more that they had learned to play the songs. I haven’t even learned to play the songs yet.
ST: No, no.
CM: Which explains why we don’t play out often.
NM: Which leads me to a question I was going to ask about your live shows: You guys seems to start and stop a lot and start songs over. It almost seems like it’d be wrong if you played a tight set.
ST: So it’s okay?
NM: Oh, yeah.
ST: “˜Cause we beat each other up. We get in fights in the car on the way home. I’m like, “You fucker-“ That EMP show we had a lot of fun, though. I mean, we played terribly, but-And we had a lot of fun at the Sunset. Playing with the Lucksmiths. They’re really nice guys and we’re friends, so there’s a lot of camaraderie. They’re the only band that, see-well, there are these pop festivals, and they have these sort of indie rock sporting events, and we sort of pride ourselves on the fact that we come in and dominate. “˜Cause indie rockers, they can’t do anything. They can’t dribble- We come in and kick ass. But the Lucksmiths are ATHLETES. We played soccer with them one time, and Frisbee–like 500–and they were just dominant.
CM: Honestly, it’s just because indie bands are just total wusses. They’re the kids who were scared of the ball. Dodge ball for them is a discussion in their therapist’s office. But the Lucksmiths were actually not quite as scared.
ST: So, I respect them for that.
CM: And NOTHING more- (laughs)
ST: No, they’re a great band.
NM: Tell me about the European tour you did last summer.
ST: It was excellent. I thought we were going to show up and there’d be nobody, but the shows were absolutely crazy. And everyone seemed to know everything, which was amazing.
CM: We were touring in Scandinavia, where the countries are smaller, and they’re more homogeneous. And their local things are bigger, and they’re willing to accept things that are smaller. It’s like they’re looking for the alternative. The last show we played at was the Emmaboda festival. Well, it was the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs as the headlining band, and they got like 5,000 or 10,000 kids out to some field to see them. I mean, it’s amazing what a following there is there for the more obscure stuff.
ST: We pulled up to this festival with about 15 minutes until we had to go on, and Sleater-Kinney is on stage before us. And when we went on stage, we didn’t think anyone would know us, but they just erupted.
NM: Wait, did you just say that Sleater-Kinney went on before you?
ST: Yeah, which made me go, “Uhhhh-.” But the crowd was great, like a thousand of them were singing every single word to every song. That was really amazing. For that moment, we were like, “Wow, we’re rock stars right now.” Just for that sort of thing alone–to be like, “Wow, that’ll never happen again”–that made it worth it.
NM: Tell me what happened to Crayon (Sean’s first band). It seemed like you had a little following going, and then there was no more Crayon.
ST: We were about to go on tour with Cub–like a Canadian Go Gos–who were really popular. And Brad, the other guy from Crayon, wrote me a letter that said “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He didn’t like touring that much. The six weeks just got under his skin. Brad and I were not close at all. I mean, we’d go eight hours in the van without speaking. And then after that, Tim from Harriet Records called and said, “Do you want another reason to hate Brad? I just got off the phone with Sebadoh and they want you to tour the west coast with them.” And back then Sebadoh was huge. And he thought we could get someone else or talk Brad into coming back. But Jeff and I had already racked our brains, and I said, “We can’t. We just can’t.” I was really mad. So it just died.
So then what happened is that we were at a bar on Capitol Hill, and we ran into Gary from Wimp Factor 14. And I said to him, “Hey, you, me, and Jeff should get together and do something.” “˜Cause Tim from Harriet Records had said, “We’ll put out whatever you do next,” because Crayon sold pretty well for him. Back then Harriet’s main bands were the Magnetic Fields and Crayon.
And–check this out–our very first show was a three-band bill at the ReBar, which was Snowboy, Tullycraft–I have the review and everything to prove this–and Incredible Force of Junior. So Harold from Snowboy ended up being in Tullycraft and Chris here is from Incredible Force of Junior. It was like a convergence.
CM: And nobody would have known it at the time.
NM: Are you guys Twee? I don’t think you are, but I read all these reviews that say things like “Tullycraft carries the banner for Twee-“
ST: No. That’s one thing that I get a little bit defensive about.
CM: If we were British, we’d be Twee. Because we’re American, we’re just fruity.
ST: Well, you’ve seen us on stage. We rock a little bit. It’s a little punky, isn’t it?
CM: Yeah, punky with an “ie” and a heart over the “i.”
ST: I mean, you use distortion, right?
CM: The weird thing is, we get lumped with Twee, but the bands that ARE Twee we kind of make fun of. I mean, live, we tear it up a little bit. Jeff’s a really rock drummer, Sean–when he’s not thinking about it–is a pretty rock bassist. The “Twee” song is a bit of a poke at ourselves and a bit of a poke at the term.
NM: So, how’d you guys get identified as Twee?
ST: It’s that damn song. That song is kick-ass because it was a hit. But then it killed us at the same time. But, you know, “Pop Songs-” is sort of the same way.
NM: It’s funny, because both of those songs are the ones where you throw in a lot of obscure music references.
ST: Yeah, “Reference Rock.”
CM: It’s funny, because it used to be obscure stuff.
ST: It’s not anymore. But at the time, the Halo Benders was obscure. And Neutral Milk Hotel had put out just that one thing.
CM: Yeah, check the dates. Sean, you should be a talent scout for Sub Pop. Seriously, you’ve got a great sense.
ST: But we pulled “Pop Songs-“ out on the European Tour, because the kids there don’t know that we never play it. And we hadn’t played it for years, so–it was funny–I had to open one of the CDs in the van that we had there to sell at shows so that I could re-learn the lyrics.
NM: So, I have some questions here that other people wanted me to ask.
CM: No, Sean doesn’t have a girlfriend-
ST: Yeah, I’m a single man now. (ED: or he was in February, anyway). I’m single ladies. You know where to find me.
NM: No they don’t. They don’t know where you’re from.
ST: Right, they don’t know where I’m from.
CM: They’ll be looking in Boston.