Tussle are, as their name suggests, an incredibly physical band. Their dueling drummers, Warren Huegel and Jonathan Holland, bang out tightly interlocking rhythms on kits made half out of scrap objects, working like separate ventricles of the same heart, while bassist Tomo Yasuda lays down liquid grooves that rumble through floorboards and bodies alike, demanding a visceral, kinetic response.
Holland formed Tussle in 2001 with electronics mastermind Nathan Burazer, bassist Andy Cabic, and percussionist Alexis Georgopoulos. They released a handful of 12-inches and the 2004 full-length Kling Klang. Then they started playing musical chairs. Cabic left to tour with Devendra Banhart and perform as Vetiver, and Georgopoulos picked up the bass; that's when Huegel joined the band on drums.
"When I joined, I think the new blood in the band made it a new group, more or less," says Huegel over the phone. The band is en route to New York, a month into a month-and-a-half-long tour, and the drummer sounds a bit dazed. "We mostly focused on writing new songs. Our repertoire became two older songs from the first album, and then the rest were songs that we created as that new group with that new dynamic."
The result of this new dynamic is the band's latest album, Telescope Mind. But shortly after recording that album, Georgopoulos left the group, replaced by Hey Willpower's Yasuda.
"All the transitions present little bumps in the road," says Huegel. "But ultimately they've been for the best. I think the dynamic of the band is healthier and happier now. We're lucky; Tomo's such a great musician that everything just locked in nicely. I think a cool thing about music is that even if people are new to each other, or haven't made music together, they can lock in on that level."
As rough and physical as their sound is, Tussle seem almost obsessed with the idea of space. Burazer accents the band's cardiac rhythms with spare keyboard melodies and electronic stabs, but he mostly manipulates delays and other effects to produce ghost rhythms and echoes of the band's immediate sounds. His imagined spaces (echoes, delays, reverb) combine with very real room sounds and physical reverberations on Tussle's recordings. The title Telescope Mind even suggests distant outer galaxies and expansive inner zones, sonic transmissions bouncing between planets as well as between the ears, and hints at the potential for music to collapse vast distances into each other. Or not.
"We were eating pizza and one of the guys said, 'How about Telescope Mind?'" says Huegel. "So it wasn't like a phrase we'd been throwing around; it just kind of popped out of someone's head. To me, it hints at the idea of growth or distance—or, not distance, but a far-reaching perspective, broad horizons, an open mind or a vast thing. The guy at the record label said it seems cosmic, so maybe there's a little spaciness there."
Okay, so Tussle's spaciness might be as incidental and stoned as it is conceptual, but a struggle between the corporeal and the ethereal still informs the best of their songs. Vigorous percussive jams like "Warning" and "Second Guessing" are kept from being rote workouts by hints of space swirling at their edges, while the quasi-tribal drum circle of "Elephants" is delayed and expanded until it becomes an almost formless, hypnotic vortex.
And the band also have to deal with much more mundane conflicts of space and physicality.
"The first week of tour, we were with Hot Chip," says Huegel. "So we got to play these huge, crazy venues—places that seat over 1,000 people, just these massive halls. And then we played in a kid's basement in Texas. Literally the day after we played Granada Theater in Dallas—this beautiful, ornate, giant old theater—we played in a basement."
"Sometimes it's so hard, 'cause you're on this tall stage, and sometimes there's a barrier, so the closest person in the audience is like seven feet away. We just try to play well, and hopefully it'll reach people."
And while Tussle's telescopic dub collapses such distances as easily as it creates cosmic headspace, it's still no substitute for sweaty, human contact.
"I like the basements better, myself, 'cause there's really no separation between us and the audience. In our band, we set up the drums in the front, and it's really a thrill for me to have someone where I could literally lean back and touch them inches away from me. I dig that a lot."