Into this world we're thrown

Interview: TAUK Bassist Charlie Dolan discusses the band’s origin, playing Jam Cruise, and the importance of covers

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I first heard TAUK on Sirius Radio’s Jam On. I am a big fan of heavy instrumental jams and methodically played grooves, and these guys fit that bill nicely. The guys in the band, Matt Jalbert, Charlie Dolan, A.C. Carter, and Isaac Teel- have been together since 2012, though Matt, Charlie, and A.C. have known each other since childhood. TAUK has shared the stage with some big names in the jam scene, including Umphrey’s McGee, Galactic, Widespread Panic, and Lettuce, and they have appeared at Bonnaroo, the Peach Festival, and Electric Forest, among other festivals.

tauk-charlieThe four-piece instrumental group is currently touring in support of their newest release, Sir Nebula, and grinding through an almost 40 show fall tour which included their first trip to the west coast. The quartet has a few more shows in the south before they make their way up the east coast, with stops in Richmond, Baltimore, Lancaster, PA, and their home state of New York, all leading up to a New Year’s Eve date in Boston with Lettuce. Charlie Dolan, the bassist for the band, took a few minutes before their Atlanta show to speak with WOTS about everything from the group’s name to Jam Cruise, as well as plans for distributing their music.

Writers on the Storm: So ‘TAUK’ is short for Montauk.

Charlie: “Yeah, so I spent a lot of summers out there, my mom has a house out there so it’s kind of a place we would spend a lot of time out there as kids, and it kind of stuck as a name so we have been rolling with it.”

I heard the interview you guys did where you discussed TAUK being the “art of universal knowing.”

Charlie: (laughs) Did you look that up?

I did. I thought it was interesting. Do you kind of see any of that through the music you play?

Charlie: Actually where that came from is that there is another thing called ‘TAUK.’ I don’t know if it exists anymore, but it’s this woman who talks to dead people and that’s what ‘TAUK’ stands for is the art of universal knowing for her and so we kind of just stole it from her (laughs).

It gives you something to talk about too.

CD: We have a lot of visual cues on stage and we don’t do a lot of talking in general being an instrumental band so I guess you could connect those two things.

You guys played with UM earlier this year, and will be playing with Galactic and Lettuce on this tour. Would you kind of count them as influences for your sound?

CD: I wouldn’t say that Umphrey’s or Lettuce are necessarily. We all come from different backgrounds. Isaac (Teel, drums) for example, he’s probably the most extreme example in the band. He hadn’t listened to this music before he played with us. Me and him jammed a bunch in college but he had never heard of Umphrey’s McGee or Phish. He didn’t really know what the jam scene was. That brings a whole different dynamic to it. He’s straight from the church, R&B and the soul thing. I mean all of us went to school for music, studied jazz in high school together, so we were all listening to different kinds of music constantly. We started out listening to Hendrix and The Who and that’s what we were playing when we were younger. Then we joined a jazz band and started listening to Herbie Hancock and then a little more contemporary stuff like Return to Forever and a band called Kneebody that we are all really into right now. Me and Matt (Jalbert, guitar) got into Phish when we were in high school pretty big-time. And even just based on the way they approach jamming in general – it’s an open minded thing. It’s like you can take any ingredient and throw it into this soup and see what comes out. I feel like we’ve sort of used that formula to create our own sound and pull from our own individual influences but using that kind of template allows you to do anything you want really, musically, especially as an instrumental band. We are free to try anything we want.

Do you feel that bands like you, the more instrumental heavy bands like Galactic, have created a newer scene that combines a rave feel with the jam/hippie vibe? Do you guys feel like you are somewhere in that realm or do you not even really think about a classification?

CD: I mean I don’t really think about the classificatin, but I do see that even with the younger. Say what you will about the EDM/dance world, but there’s a lot of younger people who are listening to music without lyrics and just vibing out on that and having a good time with that. And it’s setting people up to have music without lyrics. So maybe someone wants to move on to different things. And we definitely feel we can fit with that realm. There are a lot of instrumental bands that I see are coming around now that are great. I mean Snarky Puppy is one of them. They can get on the more jazz side but some of their stuff gets really kind of a heavy hip hop kind of vibe. So, that world has definitely creeped into this world for sure, and we definitely pay attention to that stuff.

So you guys did Jam Cruise this past January. What kind of an experience was that like? What was it like traveling with the fans and the other bands?

CD: I mean honestly, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best party on Earth. A lot of people will be like ‘I’m not about the cruise ship thing’ and I totally get that, and neither am I really. But it’s the most professional party in the jam scene you can possibly have. Everyone is hanging together and only people that really know come for real. It’s not some fair weather fans or anything like that just trying it out. You are committing to spending five days on a boat with everybody. And everybody is together and there’s no separation of the fans and artists and everyone is mingling with each other. Every set has something special and unique that’s going to be a surprise. Like there’s someone, at least one person, sitting in in every set from another band, and just the rotation of going from stage to stage, to eating, to another stage – you just get caught in this cycle of awesomeness that happens for five days. And it’s definitely a marathon. I made it off the boat once and it was whatever. It didn’t even matter.

Tauk - Jam Cruise 14 - 1/7/16 - MSC Divina and the Caribbean - photo © Dave Vann 2016
Tauk – Jam Cruise 14 – 1/7/16 – MSC Divina and the Caribbean – photo © Dave Vann 2016

That was quite a lineup too. Trombone Shorty, Karl Denson, Galactic- looks like you guys had some great acts to check out in addition to you guys.

CD: Yeah absolutely. And all these bands…it’s all family, you know? We were excited to be invited into that kind of circle. All these bands know each other and that’s why all these sit-ins and that’s why the vibe was so great. It’s like meeting up with old friends- there’s nothing like it. There really isn’t.

You guys are playing Okeechobee coming up in March. What kind of a mindset do you guys go into festival sets that would be different from a regular tour, like this current fall tour?

CD: Yeah it’s definitely a way different situation. We usually play for like an hour or an hour and a half at a festival so there’s that whole thing. and you are trying to- hopefully the The idea of playing festivals is you get in front of a bunch of new people., especially that festival. The reach on how big it is but also the kind of genres at that festival are pretty wide so you are getting in front of some new people. When I make up a set list I am keeping that stuff in mind as well. And the last time we played Florida, there was a lot of factors in to what we are going to play, but overall we are just trying to put on a good show.

So do you do all of the setlists or do you collaborate on what you are going to play every night?

CD: For this tour and the last tour, I’ve been pretty much doing all the set lists. It’s not like I’m the owner of all the set lists. Everyone suggests stuff and we’ll change stuff around, but pretty much when it comes to factoring all the things, like the last time played or all that kind of stuff, I’m pretty on top of all that.

Since you guys don’t have any lyrics, how do you come up with titles to your tracks?

CD: A lot of different ways. Sometimes we will just throw a really stupid name on to it and that’s what we’ll call it till it becomes an actual song. Or we record it for a record and we are like ‘we can’t name it that,” so we got to come up with something else (laughs).

It’s cool. Sometimes you get a certain vibe from a song or something just pops into your head. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Whatever the person names it before they send it out, or we just name it on the spot, and then try and figure it out later.

Do you guys all contribute to the writing or is there one or two of you who do most of it? Does everyone bring different pieces to the table?

CD: Everyone definitely brings different pieces to the table. We do it a few different ways. One of us can write out a whole song. Bass part, keyboard part, guitar part, drums part and send that out. Or it could be a sound that we all think is cool or a line and we will start with that. All of the songs come together in kind of their own unique way. A lot of my favorite songs are the ones we everyone’s put their touch on.

Do you guys do any covers?

CD: Oh yeah, absolutely. Covers are definitely an important part of our show. We try not to play too many, but just as an instrumental band we try to pick a cover that really can be carried by the melody and that is very recognizable. We’ve done a few Beatles covers, Radiohead covers, Zeppelin covers. We do this abstract Stevie Wonder song, this band called The Bad Plus, that’s like a big influence on us that most people probably wouldn’t know, but we cover them. Nirvana, too.

It’s really important for the show because it’s like I said, it’s the melody and the way we approach covers is not too different from how we approach writing songs, so I feel like it helps people kinda understand what it is that we’re doing if it’s not apparent already.

You guys played Red Rocks?

CD: Yeah, we played it last summer and this summer. Last summer was with Umphrey’s and Papadosio and this summer we did with String Cheese.

What was playing that like with the natural amphitheater there?

CD: It’s one of the most special places to play on earth as far as I can tell. I haven’t played really anywhere that you get that feeling from just being there, being in Denver, and just all the lead up to it, and just hanging there. You stand there and you are like ‘Oh my God look at this place.’ And it sounds amazing. The people treat you so well there. If I could play there every day that would probably be the place that I would play for sure.

Quick funny story. Our first trip to Colorado was like three, maybe four years ago. And it was like negative 12 degrees or something and we were like we just need to go see it. And it was in the offseason so we just went and we got to walk all around the stage in the snow and we were like we need to play here. And then maybe a little more than a year later we were opening for Umphrey’s. It was definitely awesome.


You will be playing the Pour House in Charleston. That’s a pretty small room. You guys have played there before?

CD: We have played there a bunch of times. It’s a small place but it’s got character. Love the people who work there. Love the restaurant next door and all the people who work there, it’s one of our favorite places to play, hands down.

Does the size of a venue, like that, big or small, does that change what you guys are going to play or influence the setlist at all?

CD: It can for sure. For me specifically as the bass player, I definitely adapt how I play to a room. If we are playing a small room like that you can play a little faster and it’s a little more articulate, but maybe doesn’t have the size that a big venue has. When we play a big venue, you can play one note and that one note sounds huge and means a lot, whereas in a small venue it doesn’t sound as significant. But if you play fast in a big venue you might not even understand what the person is playing because it’s getting lost in all the noise. We might even approach a song a little differently depending on what size the room is.

As the bassist, do like to crank out some room-shaking bass bombs every once in a while?

CD: Yeah, I mean just playing a nice big whole note and it sounds huge and it feels great. Definitely a sense of power that you get just being in control of the low end.

I definitely like the big rooms. I love playing festivals and outdoor venues. I feel like the mindset we have and it always sounds great in an outdoor venue because we aren’t worrying about the acoustics of a room, which is definitely something you have to deal with some nights.

I first heard you guys on Jam On on Sirius. Do you guys record all your shows? What is your game plan as far as getting your music out there?

CD: Yeah so a lot of what we do is going to be found on, but we do record all our shows. We see how other bands do it and we kind of wanted to do our own thing, our own kind of spin on it. We really want to put out quality-sounding stuff. We are just finishing up a system to start releasing some of the shows and they will all be mixed and, really, they sound great. We are going to start putting them out through, I believe, or a service like that pretty soon and consistently. It’s taken a minute but we are definitely dialing it in and we feel like what we are going to be putting out is going to be a cut above what people normally expect from a soundboard.

Honestly, sometimes you might hear something on and or an audience mic and maybe it’s not as clear but the energy is right. The energy of what was happening at the moment is more clear than what it would be if you were just getting it straight off the line. We feel like for our live record Headroom, I am super happy with how that ended up sounding. And I feel like we won’t quite be there (at that level of quality) but we want to get as close to that as possible every time we release something.

140 shows a year is a hell of a grind. How do you guys keep up with that pace—

CD: That’s the slower pace (laughs). Two years before that we did 182 shows. This was our first time going out to the West Coast with this tour, so we’ve established ourselves out there now, and we are working our rotation, starting to get a flow of what markets to hit and when to hit them, so it makes life a lot easier. It’s all making sense for the most part now.

How do you guys keep things from getting stale or monotonous when you are doing that heavy of a schedule?

CD: This tour before we even went out we kind of set up a plan to just make sure that we were working on new stuff in each soundcheck and people are bringing in new music, trying new covers, and really trying to keep every show different. Even within our jams we definitely made an effort to make each night different, even if it’s the same song, it’s going to be different. I think it just comes with being more comfortable with each other. Rest helps sometimes. This tour I have been surprised how well we’ve held up as far as just keeping everything fresh and not feeling like we need to go to some sort of safe spot.

That’s cool. That is what you want to be doing up there.

CD: Absolutely. That’s what makes it fun. And everyone is just putting in the time to work on their own thing when they have time and then bringing it and sparking other ideas. If we keep introducing different ideas it makes everything fresh and you can hear that in the energy of the band.

Do you guys have any social causes or anything like that that you have taken up for?

CD: We don’t have a specific thing at the moment that we are championing. We do some fund raising stuff here and there. Back a couple years ago back when Hurricane Sandy was happening we did some relief shows. The last thing we did was this group sent us free earplugs to give to our fans and we kind of raised some funds for them, but we aren’t quite there yet to make a significant enough impact. I mean, even just within our daily lives we are figuring out how we can waste less things. Being on the road we have like a million water bottles and like maybe we all should just have our own canteens and not waste so much plastic. I think we’ll get there at some point but right now we are kinda more focused on the music.

Last couple of things I have are for just you- what was your first concert?

CD: My first concert that I ever went to? It’s either the Allman Brothers at Jones Beach or The Who at MSG. It was right after (John) Entwistle died, so they had Pino Palladino playing bass, who’s amazing- one of my favorite bass players.

Any guilty pleasures while you are out on the road?

CD: Well, I am not really on this kick as much but there is an ice cream obsession on the bus. People make ice cream alliances and things like that. We definitely are a food band. We love food. Sometimes I won’t even remember the venue we played, but when we come back through a city I remember the restaurant I need to go back to. We’ve thrown around the idea of starting a food blog or something like that because we are all about it. I mean you travel around the country and see all these different places. Sometimes in certain parts of the country food is a scarce commodity – at least with good food. So we appreciate all that. And we do accept food tributes from fans. Just putting that out there! (laughs)

Last question- why did you choose bass?

CD: Well, in like 6th grade all my friends would go down to the music room after lunch and play- and I actually started playing drums- but not many people were playing bass though so I decided I would pick it up. And Me and AC and Matt started a band in middle school and kind of- that’s where it all began, us playing a talent show together and pretty much that was history from there and just kept with it.

Many thanks to Charlie for his time. Check out TAUK this fall!

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