Finding success isn’t always about who you know, or how great you are, or how hard you work, but simply being in the right place at the right time when all these factors come together in perfect harmony. Or at least, that seems to be the case for Tallhart.
The rising Tampa Bay alt-rock four-piece and multi-Best of the Bay award-winners formerly known as Marksmen are enjoying a career high that started when they toured with Texas indie pop outfit Eisley last September, continued in February when they became the first official band signed to Rory Records (the newly-launched Equal Vision imprint run by Say Anything’s Max Bemis), and came to a head with the release of a stunning six-song EP, Bloodlines, in April.
I met with drummer Reed Murray last week, and we chatted about how far the band has come in the three years since the musicians, now all in their mid-20s, first got together.
Singer, lyricist and guitar player Matt Segallos and guitarist Christopher Brickman met Murray at a Starbucks where he was working in 2009. They were collaborating on some music and invited Murray to play after learning he was a drummer. “I said no at first,” he laughed, and explained that between work and school, he didn’t think he could commit. But Segallos and Brickman were persistent and in the end, the decision was simple: “I liked them, we practiced together and it felt right.” Bassist Glenn Espinoza joined shortly after and they self-released their first recording, The Blue and the Grey EP, in early 2010. DIY full-length Sister of Mine followed in 2011.
Meanwhile, the musicians built up a rep with lots of local gigging. “We played pretty much any show we could get an offer on,” Murray said. Small venues like Crowbar, New World and the Local 662 — which hosts Tallhart’s CD release show this Saturday night — recognized their growing talent and dedication, and continued booking Marksmen both as support for national acts and with other emerging locals. They even caught the attention of FM rock radio station 97X and earned spots on both its Freebie Weebie and Backyard BBQ stages last year.
However, it was Murray’s singer-songwriter girlfriend Christie Dupree — younger sister to the Dupree siblings of Texas-based indie pop band Eisley — who helped get Marksmen onto their first national tour. Not that they didn’t deserve it, but they weren’t expecting it, either. “They [Eisley] liked us, wanted to help us out, and asked us if we wanted to go on tour,” Murray explained. “We never even asked them about it, or pushed it. People might say things like, ‘I guess you gotta date the right people to get where you’re at,’ but Eisley wouldn’t have taken us out if we were a terrible band. Or at least, I would’ve hoped they wouldn’t.”
The good fortune that continued only proves Tallhart was indeed worthy, and it began when Say Anything frontman Max Bemis joined wife Sherri Dupree for a few Eisley home-state dates and caught his first taste of Marksmen’s music. He stayed for the whole set. “Basically, after he saw our band play, he called up Dan [Sandshaw, of Equal Vision Records], and told him, ‘You have to sign these guys, you’re an idiot for not doing it sooner.’”
Marksmen had to change their name before the official signing to avoid any copyright infringement issues, since ‘The Marksmen’ had been claimed and the original band still had legal rights to it despite being inactive for decades. The new name, ‘Tallhart,’ was inspired by George R. R. Martin’s epic high fantasy novels-turned-HBO-series, Song of Ice and Fire. “We were in the van one day, in the middle of a short tour, and we were trying to figure out a name, and we were just getting tired of it,” he explains. Segallos was reading one of the books at the time and threw out the name of a fictional noble family taken straight from the page he was on. It stuck.
Tallhart recorded their Rory/Equal Visions debut in Tampa; the drums with Underoath’s Tim McTague at his downtown Tampa studio, and everything else with Dean Tidey (Feeder) at Red Room Recorders. Bemis wasn’t physically present but they sent him daily demos and he offered long-distance feedback. “The three of them, they really helped push us along; they fine-tuned the sound, and how the songs came together sonically.”
The professional-level help shows. The well-balanced, well-produced interplay of guitars, bass and drums on Bloodlines creates a propulsive bed of alt rock that carries the powerful, darkly soulful howls and more tender murmurs of Segallos, his earnest lyrics offering poignant reflections on family, stability, love and spirituality. First single “Fever (Sister of Mine)” opens Bloodlines with a sense of desperate urgency, then segues into a haunting breakdown marked by dissonant guitars mimicked by a chorale of wailing backing vocals. “Holy War” closes the album on a heavy note, quieter melodic interludes interspersed amid heavy doses of thick distorted guitars and roiling rhythms, all of it crashing to a climactic screaming finish.
The foursome supported the record on their second-ever national tour when they opened for Say Anything this spring, their regimented schedule and warm-up sets teaching them some very valuable lessons. The first and most important — be on time. The second — behave. The third — don’t suck. “When you get up there as an opener, you really have to give it your all and try to win people over from the start, really get their attention. You have to pick the right songs and you have to have a set that flows…”
Murray is still studying at USF but puts his schooling on hold whenever necessary. “We have legitimate opportunities, and I would hate to turn them down and wonder if I made the wrong decision later. School’s always going to be there.” He obviously realizes the importance of keeping the momentum going. “We’re still scratching our heads about why we’re here. But we’re going with it and running with it, even.”
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.