by Zev Powell
Tinnarose have already been compared to Fairport Convention and Fleetwood Mac. It’s easy, Devon McDermott is the standout female vocalist leading guitarist Morris Ramos and bassist Drew Shlegel. Their timbre definitely teleports me out of the lo-fi fuzz psych rock so common in Austin and takes place in more chamber and baroque pop circles. And I suppose that is emblematic of the individual talent and increasing synergy that listeners can hear on their sophomore album My Pleasure Has Returned.
In lieu of tagging the recording as soft rock—as a counterpoint to hard rock I think there’s always more nuances to a “soft rock” band, and it’s a traffic hour tag that doesn’t do any band justice—I pull out elements of a different psychedelic revival than Austinites are accustomed to. I hear Gal Costa in Devon’s vocals, resonating Musica Popular Brasileira albums of the ’60s. The opening track “Hello My Son” establishes the male/female harmonic quality and hints of The Decemberists and The New Pornographers—bands that have covered Heart and Boston on stage. That sentiment is only amplified by the chamber arrangements of strings and horns that give color and depth to the album. “My Pleasure” feels like straight Dolly Parton and it is immediately followed by the symphonic Queen-esque opening of “Cherry Blossom Time.” Yet if you check them out live, they can rock a stripped-down four person show on any size stage. A frightening amount of ground is covered, but Tinnarose are just as interested in the art of a complete album as any ambitious musicians.
So, if you are a devotee to the garage rock version of Austin psychedelia I encourage you take a listen to the intricacies and the substance as juicy as a glamorous rose. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.
Read on about the chat I had with the bandmates of Tinnarose themselves. We all come from R&B, baby.
Zev Powell for Ovrld: What are your personal music histories that brought you here today?
Devon McDermott: I went through a classical upbringing but my affinity has always been towards folk music. I’m primarily a vocalist, but can pick up most instruments to write songs, a master of none.
Drew Shlegel: Devon and I moved to Austin from our native Baltimore because we didn’t want to be confined by the scene around us. Austin was different in 2008 than it is now. It was more affordable and it was before Tinnarose was really our intention. We met up with former member Seth Sherman when things started to come together. Morris came in on guitar and lots of different song-writing collaboration started to take place. Lots of intense emotions came through.
Ovrld: And you were always a bass man Drew?
DS: I got Led Zeppelin IV on tape cassette in eighth grade when I decided I wanted to be like John Paul Jones. I took a job on a farm that summer so I could afford my first bass and amp.
Ovrld: Morris, you came from a different world than these two.
Morris Ramos: I came up the I-35 corridor from San Antonio, played the french horn for eight years growing up. The scene in SA was all metal, so I went up to San Marcos to play in a prog rock group. Eventually I was introduced to Drew and Devon.
Ovrld: Where’s the drummer at?
DS: We are actually in a really good place where we can have a rotating roster of drummers at our disposal, making sure the shoe fits.
Ovrld: Where does the band name Tinnarose come from?
DM: We made up a name! It’s so hard to use words that everyone already recognizes. We all really love this band called Rosebud. It’s the namesake of our invented name.
Ovrld: Were there any other names that were under consideration?
MR: Warm Salad, I think it was.
DM: Well the ‘tin’ of Tinnarose comes from tintinnabulation which means the lingering sound of a bell after it has been struck.
DS: Tin Tin reminded me too much of a cop dog.
DM: Rin Tin Tin!
Ovrld: Drew, you work for Nine Mile Records?
DS: Yeah, Rick Pierik was the guy that I met when I dove into the industry. Rick is the NMR man. We used to have awesome SXSW parties on Rainey Street. It allows me to get my feet wet and keep my contacts and stay in touch. It’s good to help other bands that are working as hard as you.
Ovrld: Do you end up touring with other NMR bands?
DS: It never really works out that way. When we go on tour we need the recognizable local band to pull in a crowd. The hope is to eventually get a big band to take us out on tour with them. That’s definitely next for us.
Ovrld: On Bandcamp you are self-described as psych-folk. What does it mean to y’all?
DS: We didn’t go into any recordings thinking ‘let’s be psychedelic,’ it’s just what we relate to the feedback we’ve been hearing from listeners. It was blowing my mind that we were being called psychedelic because I think of garage rock and Thee Oh Sees…genres only seem to be accurate to who is doing the labeling.
Ovrld: Do any favorite bands make their way into your sound?
MR: We all pull so much inspiration individually that it’s hard to tell when it comes together. We could start listing bands.
Ovrld: How about being in Austin? As opposed to Baltimore or San Antonio?
DM: I don’t think we have an “Austin sound,” it’s more about the way we carry ourselves and go about our business that is a product of our environment.
DS: Totally, I notice it more so when we leave Austin on tour. We come back into town and have an outpouring of creativity. It feels like the leaving and returning that does that for us.
DS: I don’t see it as competition. There’s a whole lot more to choose from when you are booking shows or recording sounds. We are definitely working towards a community.
DM: Everyone is going to see each other’s shows in a supportive family.
Ovrld: You just got back from a tour, how was it?
DS: We started in St. Louis, pouring down rain, it was game seven of the world series so no one was out watching music.
DM: And the next night we were in Chicago just after the Cubs had won, completely different scene. That’s when it felt like the tour really started.
Ovrld: Why do you get good response in particular cities that you stop in?
DS: It’s no coincidence, we put in our research before we go out to make sure we are stopping in the cities that make the most sense. People rave about Chicago. We got really into Whitney, there’s a scene similar to what we do. It was totally normal that there was a great crowd there.
Ovrld: Any horror stories? Onstage, offstage?
DM: Only two bad things happen…
Ovrld: Only two! That’s enough already.
DM: Our spare tire was stolen in Chicago by some thieving experts.
MR: It’s a big operation to steal these spares.
DM: We saw AAA struggle to do it.
DS: They wanted that tire. And they got it. And then my bass broke in Boston. This guy in Chapel Hill drove to the show just to let me borrow a bass.
Ovrld: What do I get out of seeing Tinnarose live as opposed to listening to the album?
MR: It’s a rock and roll show when we do it live. The energy on the album is definitely softer, strings and horns.
DS: Not one show is exactly the same. One of the things I am most proud of as a band is our ability to play to any room. We can play a quiet toned-down set when it’s a smaller venue, with no less emotion than when it makes sense to turn the amps up and hit the crashes harder at a different club.
Ovrld: Launching into the album, what is My Pleasure Has Returned?
DM: It’s a rebirth of our band and feeling good about our transition out of a really rough time. We had to move on without a really good friend.
MR: How do you keep going without an integral member and still be able to pull the sounds from those previous songs along with the band as we keep growing as Tinnarose? That’s what we were going through. My Pleasure Has Returned made sense as a sophomore album name.
DS: The theme of this album is very positive. The first album was still us, It’s not so much of a departure as it is a step forward. I hope the next record feels the same way.
Ovrld: What was your musical plan going into the studio?
MR: There was a general and broad sound we were going for and we really had to nurture it. So many of our songs come together because I come up with a structure and Devon comes to me with perfect lyrics.
Ovrld: Devon, do you find yourself writing lyrics as poetry? Or are you writing for songs?
DM: I like to pull from the jibber jabber I’ve written down as far back as years ago and pull it out for songs. I have lots of scribbles.
MR: And I write the opposite way with melodic ideas and find myself thinking “shit, where are the lyrics for this?”
Ovrld: How was it recording? Working with Fat Fuse?
DS: Man, we might have been one of the last records recorded at Good Danny’s Studio. We were so lucky, we got this chance to do huge production.
DM: The day the strings came into the studio was awesome. It took them two hours to lay down four or five perfect tracks.
DS: These guys have worked with David Byrne who is my artistic idol.
MR: When I wrote the song “The Mamas and The Papas,” it definitely came from an R&B band from the 60’s, but I’m not going to tell you who.
Ovrld: Mysterious man! That’s great!
DS: String arrangements span so much time and space. You can find it in country, rock, old Ray Charles…
Ovrld: Did you ever have to take your foot off the pedal, back up and make sure the whole production wasn’t getting too grandiose with all of the talent you had access to?
DS: We knew we had to translate this to a live show. We wanted people to be in awe. We let the producers know that we had boundaries, we want to be able to take this to the stage.
MR: I think we chose wisely and dropped the songs that didn’t quite fit in.
DS: We had the privilege of playing with the SXSW Indie Orchestra last year and were accompanied by a whole orchestra and choir. “Mountain Song” is the song we played there and the eleventh song that we ended up dropping out of the ten songs that made the album.
Tinnarose’s performance at this year’s Indie Orchestra Night
Ovrld: It seems like audio visual is coming into play, the music video for “Love is For All” is prominent. I also noticed on social media that you give lots of attention and thanks to people that play you on the radio. I think that’s a really cool and unique thing these days.
DS: If someone is willing to share our art we owe them our gratitude. It takes time to figure out who is playing us.
DM: There’s this DJ in Madison, Wisconsin who keeps tweeting about us. It’s so flattering.
Ovrld: Well, it’s even rare to be living in a city in this country that will play indie music these days that’s not just top 100 radio. Living in Austin, KUTX is an obligation to comprehending the city and feeling like I’m here.
DS: Radio is tough, but so are music videos. National press is barely premiering videos out there. It’s all on the publicity of the bands and pushing material themselves.
Ovrld: “Love is For All” is the single and is peppier than the rest of a primarily down tempo album.
MR: That song was an unfinalized demo long before the album came along. It was written in an hour. We were writing parts for it while we were already in the studio.
DM: It definitely happened right after marriage equality went through in the summer of 2015.
MR: “Don’t worry about the future, forget about the past.”
MR: It was definitely the album closer. We put a lot into track work.
DS: We love albums, not just singles. How will side A feel? We want people to flip over to side B. When we are in the van we don’t listen to playlists.
MR: If listeners don’t make it to the end then their perception of that album is just the first three or four songs.
Ovrld: “Out Here In The Streets” is the last song on the album I want to talk about, the clarinets are just so… gosh.
MR: It’s funny because I hate clarinets, especially at a high register. Drew and I were fighting over it, and the clarinets got tucked perfectly into the recording and we ended up loving it. Thanks, Drew, for pushing that so hard.
DS: Christopher Cox from Fat Fuse has such a great network to reach out to. Genevieve Clarkson showed up as a friend of a friend of a friend and now she plays tuba on our album. These classical musicians are a product of how phenomenal and accessible Austin is as a city.
Zev Powell is a creative problem scientist. To find out more about him, check out his website.