Tye North Espouses A Theory of Everything
Bass player Tye North has kept himself occupied in the year and a half since he departed Leftover Salmon. He has toured with both Comotion and Porterhouse, recorded with Keller Williams, gigged with Danny Barnes, performed as a member of the Zambiland Orchestra and even assembled his own trio. While he has a number of projects in the works, he may be most excited about Theory of Everything. This band debuted at the Boulder Theater on September 7, 2000. Since then a rotating roster of players has taken the stage as TOE with the band’s core currently consisting of North, Dave Watts & Ross Martin. TOE has two gigs in the coming days. On April 30 TOE will perform at the House of Blues in New Orleans (the band’s first gig outside Boulder) with long- time members Michael Kang and Kyle Hollingsworth. On May 25, TOE alumni Jessica Lurie and Robert Walter will rejoin the group at the Boulder Theater along with members of Mike Clark’s touring band and the proverbial special guests. The following conversation touches on all of the above
DB- You have quite a bit going on but let’s start with Theory of Everything. The upcoming gig in New Orleans will be the band’s first outside of Colorado, right?
TN- Yes, we’ve only played four gigs at the Boulder Theatre but we want to do more. I’m doing a lot of the organizing, pushing it along with Dave Watts and Ross Martin. The three of us played a lot of gigs together in Boulder and all those Nederland Acid Jazz gigs, We all know each other pretty well. It’s really fun to have a bunch of guys from Boulder that know each other who can’t play much at all because everybody’s touring. It’s really fun and different. Everybody has their own tunes and we think about some covers and there are no rules.
DB- What was the initial concept behind TOE?
TN- It was simple. “Why don’t we get these musicians in Boulder who are never together, who are all in touring bands and know each and throw them together.” It started as that and it went really well so we did it again. Living in Boulder was fun. It was a good community of musicians there.
Actually we’ll be back in late May at the Boulder Theater with Robert Walter. He came in once before and played his ass off. Jessica Lurie wants to do it too. She did the last one and she’ll be out with Mike Clark. So the bands are going to get together for one big old pick as Vince would put it.
DB- You mention that TOE emerged out of the Boulder music scene. When did you first meet some of the other players?
TN- I think I met Kang about 94. Maybe he'd been in the band a year and they were starting to do their thing in Crested Butte. When Keith was getting a bass he was asking, “What do I do, what do I get?” I didn’t know what was going on because my head was spinning at that time too. I was learning a lot and Keith was kind of doing the same thing.
DB- He credits you as an early and ongoing influence
TN- When you’re learning stuff together as just a couple of dopes in the mountains that’s a good bond.
DB- Do you have plans for TOE beyond these two gigs?
TN- Originally it looked like we were going to do a tour in January. We were rounding third base and it almost happened but maybe it will in the fall.
DB- What sort of rehearsals do you put in with TOE?
TN- We’ve done pretty well. I’ll get in at the beginning of the week and we put in three days of full rehearsal. We actually do a new gig every night, that’s the goal. The last four gigs we’ve played two new sets of music every night. So right now weve had eight sets of stuff.
DB- In terms of the music you draw from, there’s a wide range: Keith Jarrett, Zeppelin, Little Feat, Marvin Gaye, Bela. What is the group’s overarching musical philosophy to the extent that there is one?
TN- We don't even really think about it, we’re just doing tunes we like. Sometimes we’re trying to write for each other too. I have one that I did last time. I know that’s how Kang does it with Comotion, he’s thinking about all the guys in the band. Comotion is kind of the same way too, it’s so new that there’s no problem creating entirely new material all the time. It’s really hard when you’re in a band to try to get new stuff. You rely on what you have and you’re really good at it. Sometimes not practicing is not a disfunction, it’s just a way of life because you have so much other stuff going on.
DB- Is that in part why you decided to leave Leftover?
TN- Oh, not at all. It was a life choice for me. I had been doing it for a long time and I needed a change. I think when those guys were in their late twenties they did something of the same. So maybe it’s a period when people want things to do a ninety degree turn.
It’s really terrible about Mark. He sure taught me a lot and we had good bond. He was just about the best banjo player on the planet. There were only a few guys I think of who were technically better than Mark on the banjo. As far as speed he could play anything though. He had quite a fruit pie wrapper collection as well [laughs].
DB- You’re the second person to mention that to me in the past week or so [Laughs]. I know this is a hard time for some people
DB- Well Mark’s passing really had an impact on people on a number of levels.
[A brief pause, digression and then the interview resumes]
DB- Let’s rap a bit about a your early development on bass. You taught yourself how to play?
TN- Pretty much.
DB- And you were trained as a luthier?
TN- I did an apprenticeship with a guitar maker. I built an instrument and worked on a bunch after that, about the time I started with Salmon. I was working and I would build stuff if I wasn’t playing gigs but fortunately a great gig came along
DB- Do you still build instruments?
TN- I’ve been looking at stuff for the past two years, just kind of looking at the instrument (laughs) There are kind of eight half-done things. It’s actually pretty taxing on your hands and lungs and one little accident and you can’t play gigs.
DB- Did that influence your playing at all, knowing an instrument so intimately?
TN- Not really. It mostly was learning about how luthiers are as people and you learn that kind of personality. It’s like getting to know a musician’s personality. Eventually to get the kind of instrument I wanted I went to Modulus where they make a lot of them the same with a certain design and a graphite neck that I couldn’t make.
DB- Let’s jump to some of the other musical projects you’re working on today. You’re doing some dates with Danny Barnes?
TN- I’m playing a couple of gigs with Danny in May. He’s been on the road real hard with the Codgers, with Keith Low a great bass player and Jon Parry. Danny hires me around here. We’ve played a bunch the last couple years.
DB- What do you play, Bad Livers stuff? His more recent material?
TN- Any and all. Danny wrote all the Bad Livers stuff. His song list is almost a hundred and his new record is so amazing. It is to me like John Hartford’s Aereo-Plain is to the seventies bluegrass guys like Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. They kind of look at that record as their Kind of Blue. This record is like that, that kind of songwriting. I think Danny is going to be in a Smithsonian collection. When you look at those you don’t know the names of all the guys but is music is just, “Whoah!” He’s a great guy and I just love his music.
Sometimes we’ll also do a gig with a drummer and do Bill Frisell tunes. Danny plays with Bill Frisell and has the charts. He also has some weird Monk charts. Danny can play Monk on the banjo it’s really amazing.
DB- And you also do some gigs with your own trio, right?
TN- I do that sometimes with a few different people. There’s a drummer here in town named Jeff Anthony, a phenomenal drummer, Jeff Sipe caliber but younger. He’s on a couple of cuts with Sheryl Crow. I’ll also play with a guy named Asher Fulero who does down tempo and drum and bass kind of stuff. He’s a kid who lives music and wants to hit the road. He’s gonna be somebody to watch for sure.
DB- You described Jeff Anthony as Jeff Sipe caliber. I’m curious, was it a challenge when you first began playing with Sipe in Leftover?
TN- It was almost hard at first, and then it got real easy. He’s just an open, wonderful person, a lovely guy so that made it easy. He’s amazing drummer, really a master. I haven’t played with DeJohnette yet but … Actually my dad’s a drummer too [Roger North] and really good at that old school but when you have a certain kind of love there’s no pressure, it just happens.
DB- Speaking of your dad, do you ever perform with his current band?
TN- A couple times of year I’ll sub for the group he’s in. He was in the Holy Modal Rounders for about ten years and then they kind of became the Clamtones with this guy Jeffrey Fredericks, and did some incredible Americana stuff. Now there’s this third generation called the Freak Mountain Ramblers, currently the coolest rock and roll Americana, electric bluegrassy band in the northwest. It’s a very unique band. Freakmountain.com check it out, my dad does the site. Anyhow, I sub for the bass player when he’s out with Michael Hurley.
DB- That must be pretty cool, North and North holding down the bottom. Hey, another project you worked on was Keller Williams’ new release, Laugh. Describe that experience.
TN- I’ve only been in a couple of studios like that, so I tried to relish it. I really like Keller, he’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s a really good person and loves to play. We sort of halfway learned the stuff before we got there and some of it we learned there.
DB- Do you have a favorite track?
TN- I like “Hunting Charlie.” I think that one’s pretty cool. But I really like a lot of them, some of them are really funny.
DB- Do you think that’s any shot that you and Dave will do some shows with Keller as a trio?
TN- Maybe at some point. I know that would be fun but right now what Keller's got ain’t broke [Laughs]. It would be fun to tour with some other guys, though. I’ve been trying to work out some stuff out with Sipe but he has a new baby boy and he’s been home for a little while . Bu maybe this summer we’ll tour with Zambiland a little bit. We want to call it the Zambiland Core of Engineers. Kind of like TOE we’ll see who’s available.
DB- There’s a whole Zambiland ethos about rehearsal, right?
TN- Yes. No rehearsal, just the concept. It’s like John Zorn's Cobra in its organization. You have commands for different groups and subgroups. Plenty of hand signals. No writing, just playing and listening. It’s wild.
DB- There are some pretty amazing bass players who are a big part of Zambiland. Ricky Keller, for instance, I’m a big fan of what he does. Is it hard to negotiate space when you’re out there with him?
TN- Yeah, Ricky’s a great bass player and a wonderful person, an incredible conductor. He probably has the best ears in the whole building. He hears everything and knows what’s going on.
We don’t play together, though. When he plays I'll get out of the way and do something else. He plays bass a third of the night but he generally likes to conduct more, and play French horn too. At the Atlanta Zambiland there are so many bass players that you’ve got to learn to step off and then kind of get in line. It works in cycles and there’s a fun cartoon atmosphere to the whole night.
DB- And yet another project you’re involved in is Porterhouse?
TN- I did two tours with them. Joey calls me for gigs sometimes. His man Dan [Scollard] the bass player threw out his back and was hurt for a little while and he needed somebody to help him out. We’re friends, Joey’s a great guy and I like the tunes. He calls me when he’s in town and he knows I’m around and I’ll play if Dan can’t do it.
DB- Given all the musical settings we’ve just discussed, I’m curious, where do you find yourself most comfortable?
TN- TOE is the most fun. We can go through our tunes to see if they work and have fun with that but also do things that make people go nuts. That’s kind of the entertainment for the people who can see it. After years on stage, sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s like be a fan of music, but I can still recall when a band would go into a tune and I’d just yell, “Yeah!”
The whole thing is also tied into the Boulder scene. Boulder has this happy fun thing but people work hard and play hard. It ends up being a music scene kind of party. There’s a vibe almost like High Sierra
DB- Speaking of which, I know a lot of people were really digging the bass workshop you did there last year with Marc Friedman and Arne Livingston.
TN- I think Marc kicked our asses that day. Sometimes you don’t know if people are going to recognize it but I did [laughs] Arne is so good too.
For me the treat was seeing the organ thing which was ridiculous, hilarious, so creative [Melvin Seals, Robert Walter, and Dave Pellicciaro] Three of the same thing no matter what can be real interesting. We did the same thing at Telluride- that was fun but also wet and cold. Telluride will also put three people together. Sometimes you get there and find out you have a workshop [laughs]. They put Futureman, Darol Anger and myself together for a workshop. Futureman set up Sipe’s drum kit and played drums and his drumitar and he also had his hand drum behind him. It was totally ridiculous. There’s a DAT out there somewhere