Just ask the class that choreographed a music video for “Beat Control” and put it on YouTube. “We were excited by it,” says singer Kianna Alarid. “I can see how kids would like any dance song.”
But Tilly and the Wall isn’t just any dance band. It’s a childish state of mind; an ode to youthful exuberance and unreserved joy. Group shout-a-longs embellished with keyboard, meaty guitar and tap-danced rhythms come off without pretension or gimmickry.
Tap has been a part of Tilly and the Wall’s arsenal since its beginnings in Omaha, Neb., in the early 2000s. Jamie Pressnall told the band she’d offer her services as a tap dancer until the group found a permanent drummer. Though it now has a touring drummer and plenty of kick and snare on its records, Pressnall is still the band's primary percussionist and rhythm supplier.
“We needed to keep the beat, and she said, ‘I can do this for a while,’ ” recalls Alarid. “We never thought about it again.”
Pressnall’s tapping adds more giddiness and unpredictability to the band’s already unkempt aesthetic. “She has to come up with new rhythms every time,” Alarid says. “She makes something a drummer couldn’t make.”
“Sometimes she gets tired. We have break songs that she doesn’t tap on. She needs one every four or five songs.”
Tilly and the Wall’s press bio mentions the band sometimes uses a choir on its albums. Alarid cuts through the promo-speak. “ 'Choir' means about 10 of our friends that we coax into the studio,” she explains. “We’ve never actually worked with a professional choir.”
Some of the band’s success can be traced to Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, who signed the five-piece to Team Love (the smaller, scrappier sibling of his Saddle Creek label) in 2004. Before he became crazy famous, Oberst was in the band Park Ave. with Pressnall and Tilly vocalist Neely Jenkins. Tilly and the Wall’s Wild Like Children (2004) was one of the first releases Team Love put out. “He's been our friend since we were kids,” Alarid says. “We’re really lucky he supports us.”
O (2008) is the latest example of grown-up kids coming-of-age. Stomping choruses, a more filled-out rhythm section and even a few punk riffs punctuate the soundscape of an album that’s more focused and fleshed out than Tilly and the Wall's two previous efforts. It’s still rambunctious youth at its best, but the band paints with more colorful brushstrokes.
“The fact that we're progressing is natural,” Alarid says. “We're becoming better songwriters, but no one ever talks about it. We just write whatever comes out.”
Tilly and the Wall has played with indie stalwarts Rilo Kiley, of Montreal and, no surprises here, Bright Eyes. Just before playing Albuquerque, the band finishes a mini-tour with Brazilian dance-rock outfit CSS; but the two groups have teamed up before. CSS’ remix of Tilly and the Wall’s “The Freest Man” is one of Alarid’s favorites.
When it heads to Albuquerque, Tilly and the Wall will headline with no other national act by its side. The show has a special significance for Alarid, whose father’s family lives in Las Vegas, N.M. “I’ve been all over New Mexico,” Alarid says. “I’m really excited to get out there.”