Tell us about yourself and your music
I’ve been playing music actively for over 20 years in various bands and as a solo artist. I’m a multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter and have had the pleasure of being part of creating about 10 albums or so. I’m pretty comfy in the studio, whether as a producer or performer. I started a record label called Emperor Penguin Records awhile back, and have put out albums by myself and some of my closest friends/collaborators. Some of my music is conventional story song type stuff, but some of my music is avant-garde experimental type stuff, too. I love both, and it just depends on which project I’m working on and with whom as to what I’m doing at any given time. My main band right now is an indie rock band called Layers&Layers; we’re recording right now, and I’m also doing a solo record and putting the finishing mixing touches on an instrumental collaboration with my friend in MN, Aaron Kerr. I’m originally from Grand Forks, North Dakota, but have also lived in Idaho, Minnesota, Illinois, and my current home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I live with my wife Michelle, who loves nature and art, and my son Eli, who loves baseball, video games, and just started high school.
Talk to us more about your latest release
My next release will be out on Emperor Penguin Records around March of 2019. It’s an instrumental concept album with compositions based on the writings of my favorite author, David Foster Wallace. I recorded this album with one of my long-time collaborators, cellist Aaron Kerr. It’s dark, spooky, sad, and some of the most creative stuff we’ve ever come up with! The tone of our music matches the literary pieces I selected from DFW’s work, and I think his readers will understand the correlations we’ve made between his books and our album. It’s been a real labor of love, and Aaron and I had no idea our completed pieces would end up sounding the way they do when we started this process! It will have 10 tracks, and mostly cello, guitar, percussion, and some ambient synth to round it out.
What inspired you to write this release?
I first read an essay piece written by David Foster Wallace around 1998. It was about tennis, which is something I don’t care much about, but he wrote about it in such a fascinating and unique, engaging way, that I figured this guy was someone worth following. I then read some of his fiction, and it just blew my mind. I’d never read anyone like him before, and his command of imagery and unique plotlines and a combination of high-brow concepts with low-brow humor really set me on a path to read everything he ever wrote or would write. What really got me was that I felt that I could identify with how his brain worked, which came across by his obvious self-doubt, anxiety, and ability to see things from multiple viewpoints. DFW was a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Award”, and highly regarded in the literary world all over the planet. Sadly, in 2008 he committed suicide, leaving us all wondering why and what the future held for his works. Books and movies have been made about him, and he remains a challenge to some, a joy for others (or both at the same time) and so far his works are still turning heads, attracting readers, and being studied by scholars in a university near you. I was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore to buy the first posthumous release of his, an incomplete novel called, “The Pale King” and just from reading the flyleaf and the opening paragraph I was swept up in thinking about just how good he was and what a loss to the world his death represented. I wanted to honor him in some way; to express my appreciation of his creativity, and the idea hit me to try to make music to convey these thoughts. After turning it over in my head for a while, I landed on the idea of interpreting his writing with music, and I knew I had to connect with Aaron Kerr to help me make this thing happen.
Any plans to release a video?
We’ll likely film at least one video to help promote the project, but we don’t have one as of right now.
Any plans to hit the road?
Since this is an album made by two people living in two different states, not to mention that there are several layers of cello and instrumentation going on and we only have four collective hands, we’ve decided it will be too difficult to tour or perform this album live. Aaron and I are happy with this decision and see it as an open door to come up with new ways to share our work and connect with people. We’d like to hold listening parties with Q&A sessions where fans of our music and David Foster Wallace can get together and share stories and hear our music at the same time, or possibly have DFW scholars show up to discuss his books as well. Anything to help spread the word and keep his legacy going!
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
I like to keep things unique, whether that means being involved in weird experimental projects or having slightly different instrumentation included in the songwriting process. I love working with multi-instrumentalists because they always bring interesting ideas to the table, along with the capability to execute those ideas themselves. Rather than shy away from “unmarketable” things, I like to give it a shot! If I’m working on a more conventional project, then I like it to still incorporate a little strange, quirky aspect that I can get behind.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Lately I’ve been listening to Damien Jurado, Jakob Dylan, The Head and the Heart, The Flaming Lips, and my son has got me checking out a bunch of rap–Travis Scott, Cardi B, Jay-Z, and Gucci Mane. I enjoy checking out all kinds of soundscapes; I think it’s good to listen to all kinds of artists to give yourself a better musical palette to draw from!
Tell us about your passions
What gets me out of bed in the morning are hanging out with my wife and son, reading, photography, and finding some good tacos! I also love to get in the van and drive; whether for the hell of it or to see some new landscapes.
What else is happening next in your world?
What’s happening next is more music! I’m currently recording Layers&Layers and a solo album while gearing up to release two other experimental records on my label. It’s going to be a busy 2019!
Thanks for an awesome interview, Tyson!
Connect with Tyson Allison