This year The Tartans seemed to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the Los Angeles four-piece was there, and almost casually released two of the best singles of the year: My baby doesn't care for you on Cloudberry and Cats of Camerford on Yay! Records. But who are The Tartans?
Hello Tartans! When and how did the four of you start making music together?
Brian: Lon and I started working on some new songs together just as another project we were involved in was ending. Then we recruited Jesse to help us flesh out our sound, and attempted to get Yvonne to join us, because she played many instruments well. However, she insisted she had no interest in being in a band. We waited in some bushes outside her house with baseball bats in hand before we convinced her to participate in the band.
Both your name and music would suggest a Scottish background. Is there indeed a Scottish link or is it just a randomly chosen name?
Brian: Our friend, Mabern, used to compile lists of band names for imaginary bands of all genres while he was bored at work. On a list of names for genres as diverse as New Jack Swing and Fantasy Metal, contained within were a few names he thought were suited for a band with our sound. So, we went with The Tartans. At the time, we thought it had a nice ring to it, and weren't deliberately referencing anything Scottish pop. Though I am a Cunningham, and we do love Postcard Records, so it's hard to argue it!
The trumpet added to Cats of Camerford changes it from a very good song to a perfect song, just like the glockenspiel in My baby doesn't care for you adds that nice extra touch. Partially due to these nice arrangements, your sound reminds me of sixties Motown and nineties Belle & Sebastian. But you might have had something very different in mind. How would you describe your own music?
Yvonne: Yes, we do love sixties Motown and nineties Belle & Sebastian. I think we're informed by many of the same sounds that influenced Belle & Sebastian in their early years, like Love and northern soul 45s.
Jesse: We are the sound of an elephant sitting on another elephant's shoulders whilst riding on a motorbike, while a seal bangs a wooden spoon on a skillet and yells, "Harold! There's no motorbiking in the apartment!" That's me paraphrasing...
Brian: ...if you know what character he's paraphrasing, you win the privilege of us sleeping on your floor when we come to your town.
What bands did you listen to as teenagers?
Lon: Iron Maiden, Dead Kennedys and the Crass Records catalog.
Jesse: Mostly post-punk, then punk, hardcore and some hippie business.
Yvonne: I liked some bad-ass broads, like Pauline Black from The Selecter, and Ari from The Slits. But I also had a softer side - I loved The Pastels and Nick Drake.
Brian: I was pretty obsessed with American groups like Sonic Youth and Pavement in my early teens, but by 16 I had a great passion for The Smiths like any good teenager, but also stuff like Talulah Gosh. My expensive addiction to rare soul 45s thankfully didn't hit until I had at a least a very modest income.
Can you try to describe how a Tartans song develops from a first idea to the final finished product? How does the songwriting- and recording process happen?
Brian: There's no exact formula for how our songs develop. More often than not, it starts with a guitar part, and the rest is filled in around it. My Baby started with a bassline I wrote. What About You started with a bassline Yvonne wrote. 1939 started with a couple chords Jesse was casually strumming one night. We flesh out our sound with whatever instruments are at our disposal - and hopefully we're proficient on them!
The music world has changed a lot over the last decade, mainly due to the introduction of the internet. Although it's a positive thing that good music from all over the world is easily available for those who know where to look, a negative seems to be that for the less actively searching masses it's becoming harder and harder to find something worthwhile within that overwhelming supply of bands. How do you try to make yourself heard these days? How do you find out about interesting new bands yourselves? And what do you think are current bands that deserve more of our attention?
Brian: We're not very good at self-promotion, so we're fortunate that Eric from Yay! and Roque from Cloudberry happened to notice us and enjoy what we do enough to release our music. As for finding new music myself, there are certain labels - Slumberland, Yay!, What's Your Rupture, et cetera... - whose new output we'll always check out. We seldom seem to have that magical moment where we go to a live show and are blown away by an unfamiliar band. As for current bands that deserve more of your attention - some favorites include Jeremy Jay, The Monolators, Cats on Fire, Magic Bullets, Liechtenstein, and Catwalk.
How is the Los Angeles pop scene at the moment? Do you feel part of a scene at all?
Brian: There isn't really an indie pop scene in Los Angeles, though that's not to say no good music is being made here. Nothing so unified as a 'scene', though. The closest we come to being part of any scene is our involvement with Yay! and all the Oxnard bands, who are about an hour's drive away from us.
On the sleeve of your Cloudberry single Roque printed a quite fierce message against the Series Two Records label. Did you have a bad experience? Or was this only a personal message from Roque? What happened?
Yvonne: We have nothing to do with the message printed on the sleeve contained in our single, nor do we have any history with the Series Two label. We cannot speak on behalf of Roque, though we are quite supportive of him and appreciate his desire to spread our music to new audiences.
Are there plans to play shows outside the Los Angeles area? On your myspace you express the band's shared love for bicycles. There are probably more bicycles than people in Amsterdam... A good enough reason to come over to Europe I'd say!
Yvonne: We'd really like to venture overseas and across our own country one of these days, but the obligations of daily life and finances have a way of complicating things. If time and airfare have a way of cooperating, we'd love to tour Europe by bicycle with our instruments strapped to our backs.
Lon: We might have to borrow drums and amps, though!
What's up next? Do you have future releases planned already that we can look forward to?
Brian: We're always working on new material. We have another single on Yay! in the works, but we've only just finished two of the three recordings. It should be out by springtime.
The Tartans myspace
1. The Tartans - 1939
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2. The Tartans - My baby doesn't care for you