El-Tin Fun's Jason Lambeth quietly revels in his quirks. The local multi-instrumentalist is a collector at heart, rescuing old vinyl and instruments from thrift shops and rummage sales, but he's no Luddite. When it comes to creating an album, he's thoroughly modern, recording it on his computer, musing about it on his blog (glasscrayons.blogspot.com) and releasing it digitally.
One of the few places his vintage and modern tastes merge is on Craigslist. When he's not scouring the bargain bins for vintage indie-rock recordings, he's searching for cool keyboards on the site.
Last summer, his efforts paid off when he scored a vintage Hammond B3 organ for a paltry 50 bucks. While a number of contemporary technologies help musicians imitate the sound of the instrument, nothing sounds quite like the real thing.
"The guy who owned it delivered it to me from quite a ways away," Lambeth says. "It was a great find and I love how it sounds, so I wanted to start playing it right away,"He also knew right away that he wanted to record a few songs, in part to learn the ins and outs of the Hammond and in part to rekindle his love affair with keyboards in general, which he learned to play prior to joining his first band, the Oklahoma City-based group the Hex.
"Once I started [the recording], I decided there would be no guitars, so there's lots of keyboards," he says of Floorboards, which was released this week as a split EP with K. Wilhelm, another local multi-instrumentalist. "Next time around, I'll probably do something with lots of guitars and more of a live-band sound."
Until then, Lambeth is exploring a fuller sound with the help of Meteorade's Tom Teslik, who lends his drumming skills to El-Tin Fun at shows.
The pair connected at Indie Coffee, where Lambeth works, nearly three years ago. At the time, Lambeth was booking live music there and Teslik was looking for a place to play. Pretty soon, Lambeth found himself performing at a basement show with Meteorade, and Teslik found himself performing with El-Tin Fun at the Sitting Dutchman.
The pair played low-key acoustic shows for several months, then began plugging in their instruments and cranking up the volume after a recent gig at the Milwaukee tats-and-tees shop Starship. Though Lambeth started El-Tin Fun almost seven years ago, it wasn't until this show that he felt confident enough to play the guitar loud and proud.
This slow and steady approach to rocking out plays an important role in his recording decisions as well. For instance, home recording, at his own pace, appeals to Lambeth because it allows him to cope with performance anxiety.
"I don't think I could do anything in a studio. I would get too nervous, and it probably wouldn't be a good performance," he explains. "At least when you're playing live, you can mess up and still make a great performance out of it. You're not paying money to mess up."
He also describes himself as more of a guitar fan than a performer, one who likes softly surfy, reverb-laden recordings such as those by Real Estate and Grass Widow.
Teslik laughs at this notion, ever so slightly.
"This is the guy who got me into Sonic Youth," he explains, naming the famously noisy rockers. "When we play electric, even though there are just two of us, I like to think we can sound like we're in that vein. We want the sound to be as big as it can be for two people, and I think he manages that quite well."
El-Tin Fun's Floorboards is available at el-tinfun.bandcamp.com.