Last month SonicAbuse became aware of Tilt for the first time. Upon receiving their debut EP, ‘Million dollar wound’, we were immediately blown away by the depth and quality of songwriting on offer from a band who’d only just come together. Featuring no less than three guest vocalists and utilising musicians from a wide range of musical backgrounds including SA favourites Porcupine Tree, Marillion and Fish, the band still managed to create a remarkably cohesive EP that astonished everyone who dropped in to listen to it as well as this reviewer, who spent the next week babbling about it to anyone who cared to listen. With this in mind we contacted Steve Vanstis, bassist of Tilt in the hope of finding out more about how the project came into being and what we can hope for in the future.
SA: Tilt formed from a group of musicians from truly diverse backgrounds, can you tell us how it all came together?
SV: Well, I’ve been lucky enough over the years to have played with some great musicians and after completing work on the Fish album, ‘13th Star’, I continued to write music. As the new songs took shape I started asking around some old friends like John Wesley, Frank Usher, Robin Boult and so on, and everyone I spoke to was keen to get involved. Drummer Dave Stewart had been involved at an early stage of the arranging and so before we knew it we had the beginnings of a pretty happening outfit.
SV: We added Nick Robertson, who is wonderful on acoustic guitar (and with whom Dave Stewart played drums with when he was 16!) and Irvin Duguid on keys before realising we had better start looking for vocalists.
SA: Why the decision to use guest singers rather than have one within the band? Was it a deliberate choice, or have you just not found the right person yet?
SV: It was really just an organic process. In the initial stages there was no masterplan, but as we were working on the songs Dave and I started to have some pretty specific ideas for vocal styles we thought would complement the tunes. There wasn’t even a plan to release anything at this stage and we felt we were able to experiment. Dave called friends he had played with in the past, namely Holly Tomás and Paul Dourley, and I got in touch with an old family friend of mine, Kaela Rowan who had been in a great Scottish band called ‘Mouth Music’. All three were great singers and we knew we had the material for each of them. We feel pretty vindicated by the choices! We realise now it is perhaps more difficult to market something with more than one singer, especially over just 30 minutes of music, but we really kinda felt at the time that the integrity and spirit of the songs came first.
SA: How would you describe yourself to the uninitiated?
SV: Hmm, toughie! We wanted to try and make a statement with ‘Million Dollar Wound’ and as a result it is pretty diverse sounding. We’ve been described as everything from ‘classic rock’ to what I believe is termed ‘neo-prog’ to ambient groove. Truth is, it changes from song to song but I like to think there is a thread running through it all. We’re in no hurry to be pigeon-holed and I happen to like aspects of all of the genres mentioned.
SA: Who writes the lyrics – the band or the guest vocalist?
SV: In the case of ‘Million Dollar Wound’, the lyrics were almost all taken care of by each of the respective vocalists. Only rarely did I get involved and if I did it was more in taking care of phonetics or if I thought a particular line didn’t scan as well as it perhaps could have. I might have had an idea or two about where the melody might go, but to be honest I was really keen to hear someone else’s ideas from left-field. I was so close to the music at one point I had almost lost perspective and it re-invigorated everything for us when Dave and I heard the vocal ideas for the first time. Chemistry is an important part of any band and although I instigated writing and arranging, I always listen to what everyone else has to say and like everyone to be happy with their part in it.
SA: What would you say your influences are?
SV: For me personally, I listen to a lot of pretty diverse music but the ones I always seem to come back to are Underworld, Nine Inch Nails, Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Zero 7, Massive Attack, Porcupine Tree, Boards of Canada, David Sylvian and old stalwarts like The Band, Little Feat, The Who and Captain Beefheart.
SA: Are there any plans for a tour?
SV: We need more songs! Seriously though, Dave and I are keen to tour if the conditions are right and the logistics make sense but until we get our next release under our belt we’re still a little ‘light’ on back catalogue! Unbelievably, we have already received live offers on the strength of ‘Million Dollar Wound’ but we would have to have a full set and it would have to be done properly in order for us to consider playing live.
SA: It says on the website that MDW is the “first in a series of mini-albums” what else can we expect from you and how soon?
SV: Well, this has turned into a bit of an internal debate! My original idea was purely to release music as and when it was ready and not sit on songs until we had an albums worth of material. As we all know, the music industry is in a state of flux at the moment and I thought people might embrace the idea of 30 minutes or so of music released every so often at an affordable pricepoint. To me it was the middle ground between the old single and album releases that I felt may not have been explored as fully as it could, especially in our digital age. Some have taken to this idea but others still seem to expect the tried and tested format of an album release every 2-3 years. I guess it also comes down to how the individual prefers to purchase the music, physical (CD) or digital download release. Even though ‘Million Dollar Wound’ is available on CD I thought that downloads might prove the more popular option. I happen to think the days of the CD as we know it as a format are numbered…
SV: To get back to the original question though, we are writing at the moment and we hope to have another release ready long before summer 2010.
SA: Will you be collaborating with other vocalists on the next records?
SV: We are writing at the moment and I’d like to think that the songs will again dictate where we go with them. We are aware though, of the fact that having 3 guest vocalists on ‘Million Dollar Wound’ may have put some people off the scent to a certain extent so we have to be mindful of that. At this stage I’m prepared to be bloody-minded and continue with our working model, but others in ‘Tilt’ might have something to say about that! As for other collaborators, we’re always listening and we’re always open to offers.
SA: Who would you like to collaborate with, given a free hand?
SV: The list goes on… for now, we have actually approached musicians we hold in high regard with a view to collaborating in the future but right now we’d prefer to keep those names under our hat…
SA: Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
SV: We’re delighted with the response ‘Tilt’ has received and the reviews have knocked us sideways; we couldn’t have asked for a better start. For someone who is a little older than your average pop picker and perhaps guilty of being cynical every now and again of how the music business can be these days, it’s heartening to know that there are still people out there who are prepared to delve a little deeper and discover music that doesn’t always get the same attention or hype of some of your mainstream acts. We hope to continue making music for a good while yet and it would be great if people also enjoyed the music and came along for the ride.