The totally mesmerizing sounds of Ttotals are made by only two people in total. The numbers aren’t the story, in and of themselves – rather, it’s how the Nashville-based duo apply their minimal membership to achieve maximum impact.
It’s a spaced-out, ghostly sound, driven at its core by the deadly crimes against hearing that we all know and enjoy, spawned from from overdriven guitars and abused drum kits. Tucked between the cracks of this sound are the echoes and whispers and cries of their supersonic forefathers/mothers and future generations of travelers – echoes, whispers and cries that we hear as loops, reverb and feedback. “Portrait of Man” – a song from their knock-out release “Drum Is Our Parent,” twelve inches of cool, cool yellow vinyl – begins with what sounds like a bit of chanting, before sliding easily into its comfortable rhythm and then takes a detour to the third ring of Saturn before bringing us back around (as Saturn is wont to do).
They call it “other blues,” and who are we to argue? Singer/guitarist Brian and drummer/wacko Marty were kind enough to answer our questions and get us all ttotally up to speed.
What is Ttotals able to accomplish as a duo that would not be possible as a larger entity – or, phrased another way, what flexibility is offered to you as a duo? Do the two or you have experience playing in other bands with a higher head count? How did those experiences color your ambitions with Ttotals, if at all?
Brian: We tried a few people out and they just didn’t work well for one way or another. We just found we could accomplish exactly what was needed with just two of us. Also we think we bring something rather unique to the table and work really well together. Early on we had an idea to use this thing we called the “Peav.” It was a Peavey hollowbody guitar tuned to drone and feedback. Marty manipulated its feedback with foot pedals. Now we use samples of this old Italian suitcase organ we have. It sounds really neat. Especially when Marty does his magic on it.
Marty: How many dudes do you want in the van? ‘Nuff said.
Is there an etymology to the name Ttotals aside from it being a unique spelling? Does the word itself hold any significant meaning for yourself that you can relate to us?
Brian: It started out as a misspelling, but we liked it so much we kept it. It is pronounced “Totals” in case anyone needs to know.
Marty: I was beaten up in middle school by this kid who had a horrible stuttering problem. One time he and his friends got hold of me in the bathroom after school and he almost “c-c-curbed” me on the edge of a urinal, but I got away. The band name is for revenge. F-F-Fuck you, Chad. This is what you get when you pick on people smaller than you. They start bands.
Brian: We gotta find this Chad guy.
Who are the people who you consider to have been instrumental in your own personal musical evolution? What sounds or artists made the most impact on you during your adolescence? What place do those sounds have in your mind presently? Do you feel your relationship with or passion for music has changed significantly over the past five years? Ten?
Brian: Growing up? I was listening to a mix of SST bands and a lot of 80’s English bands. Jumping back and forth from Black Flag to The Cure, The Smiths and also early Rolling Stones. Plus smoking pot. Then came college and working at Tower Records where my pay checks were mainly spent on any record I could get my hands on. There I gorged myself on Spacemen 3, The Velvet Underground, The Strapping Fieldhands and The Dead C. Tuned into a lot jazz records as well and experimented more with psychedelic drugs. Nowadays I’m pretty much the same. Scrounging around for record gems, but minus the drug use. Those sounds I have digested over the years are always present in some shape or form in my mind. Waiting to come out in a song. Passion of music for me has not changed since my high school days. Where I wouldn’t eat lunch and took the money my parents gave me for that and spent it on records at the end of the week. I guess I have been lucky, too. My parents have supported me at every turn. I’m very lucky in that respect. We have a great place where we can nurture what we do.
Marty: This may be unrelated, but don’t you think Billy Squier’s stuff would be amazing if it was, like, way less produced? I always thought it would be awesome if they did, like, a dry mix of him. I overdosed once at a Truman’s Water show.
To our ears, there’s a detached quality to the overall musical presentation of Ttotals – as if the music is being beamed in from an alternate dimension, and the vocals from an even more alternate dimension beyond that. Realizing the preceding sentence makes little to no sense, we should say we mean this only as a compliment. Apart from your influences or desires musically, how do you think the music of Ttotals relates to your personality in general? Is there a certain feeling or atmosphere that you are actively trying to capture or recreate?
Brian: Myself, I feel as if all these sounds surround you and engulf you. Sometimes things are more apparent and sometimes you have to dig to get the meaning. We don’t want to carry a sledgehammer with us. We want you to take/get your own meaning from our sounds and words. We know what they are and mean to us, but draw your own conclusions.
Marty: I tell people our band sounds like God breathing, but I mean it in, like, a really humble way, y’know?
Can you elaborate at all on the inspiration for and creation of the song “Upon Some Action”? It’s a stunning track, propelled by its duality – somewhere between the motorik and the shamanistic (again, to these ears).
Brian: It’s one of our oldest and earliest songs. The words mean this to me. All these past glories and/or defeats don’t mean as much or carry as much weight as they once did. We all grow and accomplish things at different rates. The earth keeps turning, the light keeps coming. Nature and the seasons are growing and changing around us. So just live and open your heart and you might just learn and do some things. Never quit learning and growing. The music, we like to make it go somewhere, so our natural tendency is to take you to outer space. Hence our term the “Outer Blues”.
Marty: I saw this band once at a festival called Shitty Beach Boys, and they did really shitty Beach Boys covers. At the end of the set, one of the guys yelled out, “Next year, shitty Kraftwerk.” I hope he meant it.
What do you feel is the difference between the recorded output of Ttotals and what you try to bring to the live performance? Is there a difference at all? In your mind, what are the essentials for a captivating live performance, and by extension, what are the elements that should be avoided at all costs? Which performances that you’ve seen in the past year or so have been most compelling to you, and why?
Brian: I have always been a fan of both of us getting in the same room to do what we do. I will always want that more than piecing out and doing a little bit at a time. There is no feeling, energy or interplay that way. All of the recordings have been done this way thus far. The 12″ was recorded at our friend Jeremy’s place, Battle Tapes. We have been recording with him for years and he gets exactly what we do. We have written tons of new songs and are just waiting for the chance to record them. Tom Lax, are you listening, or, in this case, reading?
I just saw The Swans and they completely blew me away. They were huge sounding and just left cinders and rubble. It was amazing. Oneida are killer live. So much energy. I first saw them at the last Terrastock in Louisville. I had been a fan for quite sometime, but oh man, after seeing them. I walked right up afterwards and bought “Enemy Hogs” from Bobby. If you are an Oneida fan you know what I’m talking about. I saw Spiritualized a few years ago in Atlanta and it’s the closest I will ever get to seeing the Spacemen. It was a religious experience. No pun intended. Pete Kember once played Nashville and I was in such fan worship mode I made a complete freak of myself. Mr. Kember has not been back since.
Marty: Live smells way different.
What music have you been listening to lately?
Brian: I am always seeking out bands and records to buy. One of my first conversations with you was about Skinnies in Norfolk (Virginia). We were playing some shows up here during the summer and had just come back from Skinnies with a stack of records. I also have a radio show on WRFN, Radio Free Nashville, which is a Low Power Station in Nashville. I do a modern psych show. I get to play and show off my record collection. Yeah, I’m so hip. Haha.
Marty: Nice try, RIAA. I’m not telling you anything about that copy of New Order “Substance” I got off the Pirate Bay. I like Miles Davis ‘coz he always looks tough, even in slacks.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that you are starting up a new company that specializes in “psychedelic breakfast cereal”? We understand the first two releases are “Ttotals Flakes” and “The Flower Travellin’ Bran (Flakes).”
Brian: I almost pooped myself. I was laughing so hard. Flower Travellin’ Bran. They are in the shape of little naked Japanese dudes on a motorcycle. Or you can be like Bill “Spaceman” Lee and just sprinkle weed on your cereal or pancakes and eat it (Bill Lee was a pitcher for the Boston Redsox in the 70’s and 80’s). That’s it! When the U.S. government legalizes pot, we will sell a cereal with an additional package of pot to sprinkle on top.
Marty: Drug abuse is no joking matter, and neither is breakfast.
Dale Carnegie (big-time stoner rock fan, we hear) is quoted as having had said the following:
“You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.”
Your thoughts? What is the most encouraging comment you have ever received in relation to the music of Ttotals?
Brian: I am always amazed at all the kind and generous people we have meet while doing this. Everywhere we turn there is someone saying something kind or wanting to help us out. I feel you get out whatever you put in. We just want to make friends and bring our sounds to whomever is open and wants to hear them. Always spreading our sense of community beyond our everyday lives. At least, that is what it says on our blog.
Marty: Last summer when we played in DC, I had a dislocated rib, and it got way worse as the set went on, finally, like, flopping around under my skin. At the end, I was disoriented and dizzy from the pain, and ran off the stage to puke into a trashcan. Later, outside on the street, a drunk girl who’d watched us play came up and said, “Oh, you’re hurt? We just thought you like to party hardcore.” She then sort of tried to flirt with me, I think.
What’s next for Ttotals?
Brian: Being asked to play Austin Psych Fest. Having a record out on Siltbreeze. Hint, Hint. In reality, getting out and playing more and more. Record the new material. And if no one wants put it out, do it out ourselves. Just keep everything going. Do what we do.
Marty: I’m working on a script of a reboot of “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park,” only written for me and Brian instead of Kiss. I get to be Gene Simmons.