Vague Against the Machine
Talbot Tagora's Radical Mumble
Talbot Tagora seem perpetually out of place—as a band, on a stage, in a club, in Seattle, even just in general. They don't look like much of a rock band, even by punk standards. They wear plain jeans, flannels, and generic, monochromatic sweatshirts—thrift-store more in the style of St. Vincent de Paul than Red Light. The trio—Chris Ando, Mark Greshowak, and Ani Valley—range in age from 17 to 21, and they still have a trace of adolescent anxiety about them; Ando and Valley still show it in their complexion.
All three of them grew up in the sprawling, quasi-rural suburbs of the Eastside. Valley is still growing up there, in Fall City, where the year-and-a-half-old band practice at her mom's house. Ando works at the Old Fire House Teen Center, where he and Greshowak first started attending punk shows. Ando and Greshowak moved to the city a year or two ago, sharing a room in the now defunct SS Marie Antoinette warehouse space; they currently live in a house in the Central District, where they worry about their part—as young, white artists, originally from the suburbs—in gentrifying the neighborhood.
A band named after a defunct make of automobile, Talbot Tagora are without their own permanent set of wheels. In fact, they missed their slot at last year's Capitol Hill Block Party because they couldn't find a ride in time. Ando's old band, Mikaela's Fiend, had a van, but they sold it. Their current tour van is a big, shining SUV, borrowed from Valley's very supportive mom; it's pretty plush, but it might also be just a little embarrassing for a scrappy, upstart punk band. At the very least, Ando has a little trouble fitting the thing into a parking space.
One place in Seattle where Talbot Tagora really fit is the Healthy Times Fun Club, a basement venue/art space that aspires to be for this city's weirdo art-punk kids what the Smell is for L.A.'s. The band describe Healthy Times as "really supportive" and "the best place" in the city to play. At a recent show there, the band played in the corner, on the floor, to a few dozen teenagers and young twentysomethings, all politely bobbing their heads to Talbot Tagora's off-kilter rhythms.
Onstage, the trio are reserved, even shy. Valley drums with a staccato energy that only extends to her arms and legs; her face stays totally blank, eyes focused on some empty middle distance, mouth often agape. Greshowak and Ando play dueling guitars with their heads low, and when they do step up to their mics to sing, it's through a safely obscuring haze of reverb and echo.
In person, they're just as soft-spoken and obscure. Before an interview, Ando warns that Valley won't talk much, which is an understatement—she says exactly five words the entire night. Ando and Greshowak are more forthcoming, but they're still nervous about interviews; they're hesitant and careful expressing themselves, and their best ideas still sometimes come out only half-formed. It's rather a lot like their live show, which is to say it's endearing and promising even when it's inscrutable or a little off.
"When we sing, we try to talk about a lot of family-oriented stuff," says Ando. "Gender politics, gay politics, queer kids, weird religions, or at least ones that people think are cults."
"The politics of patriarchy," adds Greshowak.
Valley looks on in presumably approving silence.
"In America, you're supposed to get married and have kids and buy stuff," says Ando.
"That's how we grew up, too," Greshowak continues. "We all grew up in families with the whole patriarchal structure and we try to deconstruct those ideals."
"You can't really understand the lyrics, though," says Ando. "But we think it's fun to sing about."
They're also concerned about the culture they see influencing kids growing up in suburbia now, particularly the culture of aggressive military recruitment, to which Talbot Tagora hope to suggest some alternatives.
"Kids need to know that you can find different ways to go to college or express yourself," says Ando, "instead of feeling scared of society and fighting another country to feel stronger."
Their righteous if still developing politics almost prevented the band from playing last week's Young Ones showcase, a benefit for Real Change.
"We thought [The Stranger] targeted us because we were from the Eastside and we'd bring kids and rich people," says Ando. "I don't think that's true anymore. Mark and I live in a gentrifying neighborhood right now, and we were worried people might think that we don't know what we're doing when it comes to class, that we don't understand gentrification—artists coming in and the property value going up. So we were confused, but we decided that it would be good, because the money would be going back to people that were trying to raise awareness about this stuff."
With perfect comic timing, a homeless man interrupts the interview to ask for $1.50. Nobody has money for him, but Ando and Greshowak seem sincere when they say they're sorry.
The young band's sound is just as inspired, muddled, and gestational as their politics. Ando and Greshowak's vocals and guitars layer into echoes and drones as often as they do catchy melodies, and Valley's rhythms turn sharply from tense grooves to jerking arrhythmia. Like Smell standard-bearers No Age, Talbot Tagora often submerge insanely poppy punk songs underneath a protective layer of noise. At their best, as on the song "You Look Like a Human," their pogoing energy just breaks the surface, drums and guitars interlocking in tight formation, chanted vocals emerging more or less intelligibly out of drone and peripherally swirling delay.
When everything comes together, when their nervously ticking energy meets their amorphous, well-intentioned aims head on, it's pretty inspiring. Even when it doesn't quite spark, it's still full of exciting potential.
At the Young Ones showcase at Neumo's, Ando took a moment between songs to make a speech about gentrification and how "we're all responsible." Through the heavy reverb, it was all but incomprehensible.