Tilly and the Wall, Tapping into Rock's Potential The Omaha rockers use an odd mix of instruments: flute, glockenspiel, cello, bells — and tap shoes for percussion. Band members Jamie Williams and Derek Pressnal discuss the CD Wild Like Children.

Tilly and the Wall, Tapping into Rock's Potential

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Start with a piano.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Add vocals.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: I've lived my life inside daydream lies...

HANSEN: Bring in a guitar.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: ...imaginary friends.

HANSEN: Get some toes tapping...

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer: I always knew, knew, one day I leave, leave for good.

HANSEN: And you get music of Tilly and the Wall, a quintet based in Omaha, Nebraska. Their name comes from the title of a children's book about a mouse who thinks the grass is always greener on the other side. Their music is hopeful, optimistic and at a times a bit childlike. On their CD "Wild Like Children," you can hear them having fun playing the flute, glockenspiel, trumpet, cello, bells, piano, leather suitcase and tap shoes.

Joining us from member station KUCV in Lincoln, Nebraska, is the tap-dancing percussionist Jamie Williams.

Jamie, welcome to the program.

Ms. JAMIE WILLIAMS (Tilly and the Wall): Oh, thank you.

HANSEN: And guitarist and singer Derek Pressnal.

Welcome to you, Derek.

Mr. DEREK PRESSNAL (Tilly and the Wall): Hello.

HANSEN: I don't know which one of you would like to answer the first question, but frankly, this is quite an eclectic assortment of instruments in the band. How did they all come together?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, we've all been friends for a long time, and we have all been in other bands and really we just were, like, `Oh, let's try tap. Let's try this. Let's try glockenspiel,' and just everything kind of fell together. It just sort of happened naturally.

(Soundbite of song)

TILLY AND THE WALL: (Singing) You fell down the stairs into my arms and swiftly ran the other way. And I heard the steady swell of applause, the two drunk kids trying to figure out which way was home. They got lost as they were taking off each other's clothes. They realized there was a hole in the boat.

HANSEN: Jamie, from the beginning, was it always part of the band that you would be the percussionist and the tap-dance would take the place of drum?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah, from the beginning, basically we were just writing songs with guitar and we needed a beat. And I was, like, `Oh, I've tapped in other bands. I'll just tap and let's see how it sounds.' And from that first song on, we never looked for a drummer. That was it.

HANSEN: Derek, what's it like for you singing and playing the guitar to a back-beat that is essentially someone else dancing as opposed to someone sitting at a, you know, drum kit?

Mr. PRESSNAL: It's amazing. You know, I'm blown away, like, at every practice still because I've never taken dance lessons ever in my life. So when Jamie first started tapping for the band, it was just incredible just to, like, watch, you know, and then you can't--she gets sounds with her tap shoes that you would never be able to reproduce on a drum kit.

HANSEN: Well, what's a song on the CD that you think works particularly well in this combination?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I really like the song "Reckless." Like, I worked really hard on that part. It took me, like, over a month to really get that part down.

(Soundbite of "Reckless")

Ms. WILLIAMS: It's just like a more notey tap part. It's like a little faster tapping.

(Soundbite of "Reckless")

TILLY AND THE WALL: (Singing) 'Cause we all want to hear what you can, you can, and we all want to see what you don't, you don't. You are amazing.

Ms. WILLIAMS: I think that has probably the most--the feel of a song I feel like comes across the most was the tapping, and I don't think that drums would have been the same.

(Soundbite of "Reckless")

TILLY AND THE WALL: (Singing) They have to mend you.

HANSEN: Derek, talk a little bit about taking percussion from tap and the different notes and what it--how it enhances what you're doing.

Mr. PRESSNAL: Well, I think it enhances our band because drums, they're a lot more full in sound, and with taps, I feel like we try to create--you know, we're inspired by records with drums on them. And, you know, like, if it was drums, it would be like this and so it's like--it creates a challenge which I think makes us more creative in the end.

HANSEN: And, Jamie, you go out then and practice riffs that essentially--What?--have been written, or do you kind of go improvise something and bring it back to the group?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I really have to improvise. It's--like, I was trained in traditional tapping, and what I do with Tilly is it's sort of started with traditional tapping, but now it's just completely--like, I'll think of just a beat that I want and I just try and create that beat.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Somebody might have an idea for a beat and it's, like, I want it to be, like, `bada, bada, bada, bah, bah, bah,' you know, and I'll have to try and find a way to do that and then also make it full-sounding and make it go with the song. I don't know. I've been watching musicals and I have, like--I've been trying to, like, create more, like, step beats, like, more "Stomp"-influenced beats. It's been a definite challenge because I really do want to challenge myself. Like, I've been--kind of with the format that we have, I feel like I want to move forward from that.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. WILLIAMS: And it's really hard because right now we're writing different kinds of songs and I'm trying to find my place within those songs. and I don't want it to be there just to be there.

(Soundbite of music)

TILLY AND THE WALL: (Singing) Morning came and I tried not to notice. It was time for you to move along. And the minutes fell like petals all around us like a goodbye kiss when goodbye felt so wrong. So you better get going, better get going. You better move along now, better move along. You're better run off than to make yourself scarce. These few days have decided to be lazy; they don't move or seem to end at all. And my heart it is close enough to breaking that it hurts just listening to your song.

HANSEN: Every song that you've recorded is available to be downloaded for free online.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: Now is this just a way for you to promote the album, or is this really an expression of who you are and your belief that perhaps art should indeed be free?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I think it's both. I mean, it definitely--it has been a marketing tool for us, but really, I think--more importantly, I think that art should be shared and that music should be accessible to everybody. In a way, it's like more of, like, a punk rock mentality of, `We're going to do whatever we want. We're going to give our music to people and, you know, this is how we're going to do it.'

HANSEN: Tilly and the Wall's album "Wild Like Children" is available from Team Love Records. Jamie Williams and Derek Pressnal joined us from member station KUCV in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Thanks, both of you.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you so much.

Mr. PRESSNAL: Oh, thank you so much.

(Soundbite of song)

TILLY AND THE WALL: (Singing) If you think at all, then we'll do what it takes.

HANSEN: Tilly and the Wall opened for the Omaha sensation Bright Eyes at a Washington concert sponsored by npr.org in January. You can hear that concert in full at our Web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of song)

TILLY AND THE WALL: (Singing) ..if that's what it take. And we won't back down. No, we won't shut our eyes and go to sleep.

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