In mythology, folklore and speculative fiction, shapeshifting is the ability of a being or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape. In the world of music, the verb can be applied in a similar context, particularly to one New York powerhouse funk quartet. Enter TAUK, a mind-melting, constantly moving, an ever-evolving force of nature that has taken the jam community by storm with their complex time signatures and catchy, melodic grooves. In the wake of their newest EP, Shapeshifter I: Construct, TAUK was gracious enough to sit down with the Grateful Web and discuss their mindset behind the new EP, their relationship with powerhouse Umphrey’s McGee, and what it’s been like transitioning from a local, homegrown act to a true dynasty within the music community.
GW: What’s happening guys, this is Elliot Engebretson with the Grateful Web, and today I’m here with New York’s finest TAUK, how are you guys doing today?
Isaac: Yes, Yes, fresh off the Rosenberg’s bagels. We’re feeling good!
GW: Very good, well welcome to Denver. I wanted to start first by talking about the brand-new EP Shapeshifter I: Construct, your follow-up to 2016’s Sir Nebula. Walk me through the recording process of this new EP; I know you guys worked with producer Robert Corannza, what was your mindset going into this project?
AC: AC Here, I play keys. We’re always writing songs and working on new material. From the tour prior, we had rotated a few songs, and we finally had enough songs where we thought it was time to get back into the studio. So, we finished Fall Tour 2017, and then around December we started doing pre-production, pre-production being figuring out tempos, laying the songs down and seeing how they sounded as a skeleton before building from there. We pretty much recorded throughout the winter until just recently, so we started working on the EP and came in with about 19 songs total, which is great for us, in fact, I think that’s the first time we’ve come into the studio with that much material. We kept our options open and pretty much recorded the EP and the full-length album during this time from December to March.
GW: Now tell me about working with Robert Corannza, I understand this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with him, in fact you’ve worked with him on a few projects in the past. What does he bring to the table and what elements does he bring?
Matt: Working with Robert is great, it just feels comfortable. Over the years we’ve become good friends, so it creates this atmosphere where anyone can say what they want, anyone can bring an idea to the table and there are no boundaries to break through with each other. On top of that, Robert just brings this incredible energy, just his life in general and his experience within music is unparalleled, and that comes from just years and years of doing this, he really brings good perspective musically. Also, just talking with him gets us thinking not only musically, but just creatively, it gets the ideas flowing, and I think he’s able to see what we’re going for, capture it, and help steer it in the right direction in order to get that point across.
GW: The title “Shapeshifter” was very appropriate in terms of how TAUK can be described as a band and the direction you’re heading. “Premises” for example, opens with a very melodic, reggae-driven riff and then begins to take on different form as the track continues and evolves into a colossal tune. Would you say that is an accurate representation of who you are as a band?
Charlie: Absolutely, and even more so once everyone gets to hear the full album, there’s a whole other ocean out there that we’re doing that works with what the EP is, but at the same time it’s completely different. That’s what we strive for is taking different genres and making it feel like it’s just music, and not trying to force a genre into a certain spot, or like we need to be traditional in this sense because it’s a reggae beat. We’re throwing rock in there, or some jazz stuff in there, it’s just music.
Isaac: Just to piggyback off what Charlie said, we try to make it a soup. All the great ingredients to a great soup come into play and are tasting well when it’s put in at the right time. So, we’ve got elements of a lot of different genres that blend well in our sound, and it’s more than just music, it’s an experience, it’s something that people get to go and take a journey on.
GW: When you go into the studio, and I love asking this question to more of the live improv-based groups, a lot of people may feel that they might be handcuffed going into the studio, or you cannot necessarily capture what you’re trying to capture when there is so much more on the line when you’re performing live. Do you enjoy going into the studio and having the ability to fine-tune and craft your product to a certain extent, or at times do you find it hard to capture that live energy working under such a microscope?
Matt: I think there’s a good back and forth that happens to us, going from playing live shows to producing in the studio. When you’re playing the shows there’s energy, and that comes through, but in the studio, you can sit and really listen, and fine tune everything. It forces us to look at our songs from a different perspective and to really figure out, not only what works, but you also have the time to experiment with the track. For instance, with a song like “Premises” we had played it live for a little while before we went into the studio, and then going in and actually laying it down, now we can experiment with different sounds that I might not have just come up with on the spot during a performance. So that kind of opens up the doors to experimenting with the sound on the record and figuring things out. Then once you go back and play that song live, you might have a new take on it that you learned from the studio.
For us, we look at it as a new opportunity and an opportunity to push ourselves in a different direction when we go in there. This time around was really cool, because the writing process and the pre-production process, we did it all in the same place where we were recording. In times past, we might be writing a song before we go into the studio, and get a really good take in pre-production, then actually get into the studio somewhere, and it’s kind of hard to recreate that vibe or whatever happened on that take. So this time around we didn’t have to worry about that, if we got something that felt good and sounded good, we could just keep it and build from there.
GW: You guys have come up playing under some huge names. Obviously you have a great relationship with Umphrey’s McGee which we will get into in just a moment, but names like Widespread Panic amongst many others. Now it’s your turn to take the main stage, to be the headliners and sell out the bigger venues. Are there any up-and-coming bands that people don’t know about as much, or groups you would like to bring on tour who are currently in your shoes maybe just a few years ago?
Isaac: Definitely, there are a couple of bands, and I wouldn’t say that they are in our shoes but definitely deserve more notoriety. There’s a band called Dynamo, who I believe are based out of Nashville, really great, great musicians. Their compositions are great, and we’ve done a few shows with them on our last tour. PHO is another one, who played for us last night and will be playing with us tonight, those guys are great. I never really paid attention to them, unfortunately, but last night they had me, and I really enjoyed the show. I’m all about having great music attached to ours because that’s what we get inspired from, so those are two bands off hand that I can think of who are really great.
AC: Another band who are great friends of ours out of Baltimore, Maryland is called Deaf Scene. They are a very progressive rock three-piece, their compositions are really stellar, and the sound is definitely unique, and they’re a band that people should pay more attention. It’s different because we play in a scene that’s I guess considered the “jam scene,” you know? I guess it’s just a classification that people can relate to which is fine, but there are other scenes out there as well, and people can cross over, so you’re not just a one-trick pony. There are other elements you can draw from it, and a band like Deaf Scene, they do it really well. They’re in this genre, but they’re also in the progressive scene and indie scene as well so it’s good to see other bands straddle that line.
Matt: Naughty Professor as well out of New Orleans, we did a few shows with them the last tour, and we actually did our New Year’s show with them as well. The horn player is on our new EP, and they absolutely blew us away, they’re just another cool band that’s out there on the come up, and it’s just cool to see, we’re always keeping our ears and eyes open to see what else is out there. It’s crazy being in a band and trying to get your name out there so it’s cool to find bands that we appreciate and we try to build something together, do shows together, record together, we’re all trying to do the same thing.
GW: Touching base on an earlier point, you guy’s obviously have a great relationship with Umphrey’s McGee and how that blossomed. I know you guys first played with them back in 2014, and there have been a lot of renditions of “Tauking McGee” since then. Talk about your relationship with Umphrey’s McGee, how did you meet them and what have they taught you being sort of the touring veterans of the jam scene?
Isaac: They’re class acts, period. They’ve been doing it for a really long time; I remember the first tour we went on with them I watched their work ethic and how they came out to sound check and how they set up their gear and were really meticulous about the music they were playing. Seeing them do it every single day, it definitely drove us, and individually me, to see Kris Myers and what he does on a night-to-night basis. Talking to him after the show, he could probably run another mile, I mean just like three hours of singing and playing. Like I said, those guys are class acts, and they’re professionalism is on an all-time high, so we’ve learned a lot from them.
Charlie: They’re a finely-tuned machine, even when we are hanging out on the bus after the shows, they will go what they call “game tape,” where they just listen to parts of the show to see how they look, see how they sound. They are going over everything with a fine-toothed comb, and we like to do that as well, so I think they saw that in us and we got along as people. We met a few festivals, did a small run for them, and then they asked us back for a whole tour, so we a lot to those guys and we really appreciate them, and now we get to do Tauking McGee which is spontaneous, you never know what is going to happen. Like for instance, this last one was thrown together last second it was like, alright what are we doing and it ends up being a great time.
GW: Or for instance, Summer Camp 2015 where I watched all of you guys clobber your instruments into the ground, which nobody was expecting, and the greatest part was you came back to do an encore with completely new instruments.
Charlie: That’s probably the biggest learning experience for Matt was how to properly break a guitar. Jake really knew how to break a guitar, but he didn’t tell anybody you’ve got to hit it at a certain angle.
Matt: He knew the secrets man, I was whacking that thing on the ground, and it wouldn’t break, making me look like an idiot up there. He smashed it on the first time, the thing breaks into pieces, I’m hitting it as hard as I can, and the thing just won’t budge.
GW: The reverb coming of that event was just incredible. I still have this great photo of Stasik just holding the neck of his destroyed bass, just a great photo.
Matt: Some fans brought two of the guitars to a festival we were playing at later that year, and then the same guy brought it to another festival just to make sure we could all sign it.
Isaac: “I removed it from my shrine” (laughs)
Charlie: What were we playing that night, Big Bottoms?
Matt: Yeah, Big Bottoms, yeah man that was Stasik’s idea.
AC: Yeah man, and you see bands like them, Sound Tribe, the Biscuits, as far as playing in the jam scene those guys are living the dream. They’ve got families; they’re able to tour and sustain, do what they love and really be brothers. We aspire to be that.
GW: Great stuff guys, I know you guys are busy, and on a tight schedule so I’ll leave ya’ll with this. 2018 has been a huge year for you guys, we’ve got the new EP and a full-length EP coming out later this year. In summary, what does 2018 mean for TAUK, what can fans expect going forward and what does the future hold?
Isaac: TAUK TURN-UP!
Matt: Doubling down on our effort and trying to make a dream come true, catapulting that into the next year and keep the momentum going. Like the Umphrey’s guys we’re just trying to fine-tune it and seeing what we can do better and go on from there.
AC: It’s exciting to work on a tone of new music, and release it, and play it in front of people. We’ve been working on our catalog, and to me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of being in this band and having this dynamic that we have is working on new stuff and sharing it with people who support us. I mean we get to play music for a living, I feel comfortable speaking for everyone when I say we feel really blessed to be where we are.
AC: Much thanks, much love, hashtag TAUK TURNUP!
GW: Awesome stuff, thanks guys for sitting down with us tonight, we wish you a great tour, and we will catch you on the road.