All Tiny Creatures are not your average rock band. While others have gotten their start playing empty bars and friends' birthday parties, this Madison-based quartet have aimed for the big time from the get-go, touring the country and consorting with famous friends like Justin Vernon, founder and front man of Bon Iver.
At least part of this audacity stems from All Tiny Creatures' sound, which is also quite different from the average rock band's. Their melodies are layered with the thoughtfulness of a classical composer, yet the instruments' sounds receive a thoroughly modern treatment, twisted and distorted as they swim through the ether. The results have a psychedelic ring to them, but they're purer and cleaner, more forward-looking than retrospective.
Despite these futuristic leanings, the band have been enamored of one relic of the past as of late: the cassette. They plan to release their debut LP, Harbors, in January and have issued an analog teaser in the meantime to whet audiences' appetites.
Bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Wincek says the cassette, a six-song collection called An Iris Mixtape, captures something about the band's live shows that other recording formats do not.
"I love the cassette tape format, as it is very conducive to a long, uninterrupted listen, without any skipping around. That's the way our live show currently is. We have these in-between-song pieces and are mixing all the songs together without any breaks," he says. "We wanted something to sell at shows that was representative of what we actually sound like as a band."
The tape's been getting lots of play, not only in tape decks fans have rescued from thrift stores, but on high-profile blogs such as Stereogum, which began offering the title track for download in late August. Of course, some of this attention is from fans of Vernon, who provided guest vocals on "An Iris." Wincek and Vernon share another band, Volcano Choir, so Vernon's likely to make more guest appearances.
Wincek adds that Vernon's vocals are a bit mysterious - even to the band themselves - which makes "An Iris" even more appealing. "I still have no idea what practically any of the words Justin sang are, even after listening to the soloed vocal track," Wincek admits with a laugh. "So in order to play it live, we had to make different words up."
However, there's much more to the song and its story. The tune began innocently, with a dense guitar loop All Tiny Creatures' Andrew Fitzpatrick recorded about a year ago. Then Wincek sliced the loop into smaller segments that were overlapped and repeated to form a variety of distinct sections, with guitar, bass, drums and vocals layered on top.
"Justin and Matt Byers from the Caribbean recorded vocals simultaneously, independent of one another, and I combined everything," Wincek says. "In the end, Justin's ended up being the main vocal. It was fun having so much material to work with and cull from, and graft onto the structure I created."
Meanwhile, three of the tape's other tracks were recorded live, then embroidered with overdubs the very next day. "I literally mixed all the material together, added a song that Andy and our tour mates Aquarelle did on the end of Side A and shipped it," Wincek says. "It was both crazy and satisfying to work so quickly and actually be happy with the results."
That's just the beginning. The band and its Portland, Ore.-based label, Hometapes, have high hopes for Harbors as well, especially if a nine-city tour for An Iris Mixtape goes according to plan. Wincek's not dropping a ton of hints about the album, but one thing's for sure: There will be more guest appearances from some pretty cool people.
"We're super-pumped that so many friends and artists we greatly respect decided to help us out for Harbors," he says. "We got some amazing performances from [Mystery Palace's] Ryan Olcott, Roberto Lange, Megafaun and Aquarelle, and we're really excited about the mix of experimentation and more pop-like elements we were able to incorporate into the songs."
In other words, don't expect anything remotely ordinary from this Madison band anytime soon. It looks like these tiny creatures are about to become the big cats of indie.