An online variety show series sounded like a good idea — at least when a member of Ann Arbor’s Tally Hall came up with it. Then the quintet set out to actually do it.
“We didn’t realize the level of intensity it would take to produce 150 minutes of content — especially this content,” guitarist Rob Cantor says with a laugh. “It’s location-heavy, prop-heavy — as a result, the production required is insane.”
But, he adds, it’s worth it.
“We quietly pride ourselves on being a little atypical when it comes to bands,” explains Cantor, one of four Tally Hall members who grew up in Bloomfield Hills. “We’re interested in any idea — musical, video, anything, really. We’re always looking outside what’s considered to be the band’s territory.
“There are a lot of people doing stuff on MySpace or YouTube, but nothing like this.”
"This" is Tally Hall’s Internet Show, or T.H.I.S., which debuts Monday (Sept. 15) at the band’s official Web site, www.tallyhall.com. Combining madcap comedy a la Monty Python’s Flying Circus, existential antics of “The Monkees” and “Laugh-In,” and a brand of hip that’s both slick (think late-night TV) and cute (“The Muppet
Show”), T.H.I.S. is a joint venture between the band and its label, Atlantic Records. The 10 episodes, each 10-12 minutes, will stream sporadically during the next few months, and the group is making its second appearance on CBS’ “The Late, Late Show” with Craig Ferguson Tuesday (Sept. 16) to promote the launch of T.H.I.S. “It’s the opposite of ‘Seinfeld,’” guitarist Joe Hawley, who was a film major at U-M when the band started, says of T.H.I.S. “That was a narrative show about nothing; this is a sporadic show about everything. It’s kind of vaudevillian. It’s a variety show with Attention Deficit Disorder.”
And while it’s a more ambitious kind of “side” project than most bands undertake, drummer Ross Federman explains that “Tally Hall is just a crazy place with all sorts of different ideas thrown together. The word ‘no’ isn’t in our vocabulary — at least until we’ve tried it.”
As the name of the band and its album — “Marvelous Marvin’s Mechanical Museum” — indicate, Tally Hall is well-rooted in Oakland County. Cantor and bassist Zubin Sedghi graduated from Lahser High School; Hawley and Federman went to Andover. They were all involved in music and musical theater; Hawley even took a part in a school production of “Oklahoma” to impress a girl he had a crush on.
The roots of Tally Hall, however, were planted in the fall of 2002, when the four had moved on to U-M and a friend asked Cantor to perform at a show she was presenting on campus. Cantor, one of three premed majors, recruited Sedghi, who to that point had never played bass, and keyboardist Andrew Horowitz, a New Jersey native who had attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
The gig included a song called “Just Apathy” that wound up on “Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum,” and afterward the trio, according to Horowitz, “felt like this was something we wanted to keep doing,” eventually recruiting Hawley and Federman. The group adopted a fashion concept — white shirts and different colored ties for each member — and took its band name from the now-closed Farmington Hills boutique mall.
Nevertheless, Cantor says, the band “always felt like a hobby or side project to us. We figured it was a lark that would be fun for a while in our undergraduate years, before we had to get serious about real life.”
But Tally Hall found a following for its cheeky and mostly light-hearted brand of pop, first in Ann Arbor and then around the Midwest.
Horowitz won the 2004 John Lennon Scholarship Competition for “Good Day,” which became the opening track on “Marvin’s ...” when it was released in November 2005.
The group struck an independent deal with Quack! Media for the album, which sold about 10,000 copies — helped by a clever Internet video for the song “Banana Man” — before Atlantic scooped up the band last year and allowed it to re-record “Marvin’s ...” in New York with co-producer Chris Shaw.
The album hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since it’s re-release in April; it’s sold about 2,800 more copies according to SoundScan. Hawley, meanwhile, says the members of Tally Hall “feel very ‘indie band,’ still. We all still live in Michigan. We’re still basically doing most of the work, creatively, ourselves. So to us things haven’t changed that much.”
Tally Hall is, however, gearing up for its next album while T.H.I.S. rolls out. Hawley says the group has “a lot of new ideas floating around” and predicts that its sophomore effort “will be a lot more mature” — a notion Horowitz seconds.
“We haven’t released anything in a couple of years, and we’ve all been writing little by little,” the keyboardist says. “I don’t really know where we’re gonna go sonically, but we know we’ve all grown over the past few years. Our new songs are definitely more sophisticated; they’re less like kids just writing music for fun and more headed towards where we’re at this point in our lives — which is very different than four or five years ago.”
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