Artist of the Month, September 1998
Angst be damned: The Tories create rock music with an
unapologetically positive attitude. "A lot of people find it easier
to write songs about how miserable life is," laughs bassist James
Guffee. "Instead, we're willing to admit that life is pretty good."
"There's an unspoken attitude," adds vocalist guitarist firebrand
Steve Bertrand, "that if you haven't had a tragic childhood or
been addicted to heroin, you're somehow not quite valid. We just don't
buy into that. We prefer to view things in both an optimistic and satirical
Wonderful Life, the Los Angeles quartet's debut (and the second rock
release on the newly launched N2K Encoded Music label), provides a perfect
antidote to today's brooding, oh-so-fashionably distressed musical diet.
More than just an album title, Wonderful Life sums up the entire philosophy
behind The Tories' sound: opening with the chiming, churning "Flying
Solo," the album showcases 14 tracks worth of agile, angular pop
music -- propelled by barbed humor, strong harmonies, and infectious
Along the way, The Tories throw in a few stinging pop culture jabs:
"Gladys Kravitz" takes its name from the notoriously meddlesome
character in the 1960's TV sitcom "Bewitched," while the album's
title track is directly inspired by director Frank Capra's 1945 film
classic "It's A Wonderful Life."
Lest anyone mistakenly assume that Wonderful Life is merely filled with
non-stop hijinks, take note: in addition to smashing out tightly wound
rockers ("Not What It Appears," "Might Be Late,"
"Rustle," and the zany "Spaceships"), The Tories
demonstrate a knack for gracefully addressing weightier issues. Explaining
Scared,ä Bertrand says "everyone possesses a hidden, deeply personal
place that we're scared to show to anyone. We're convinced that if we
ever shared ourselves fully with someone, they would run away and never
want to see us again." "Strange" ponders the death of
a close friend: The song is about how weird life can be," admits
Bertrand. "We have no guarantees. One day you can be having a cup
of coffee with a friend, and the next day they can get smacked by a
truck. We live in a broken world, where things happen that are beyond
our control or understanding!"
Recorded with producers Nick Didia (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots,
Matthew Sweet) and Terry Manning (Led Zeppelin), Wonderful Life also
contains a healthy jolt of self-deprecating insight: "Green Hill"
hilariously documents the bumps and bruises of life-as-a-musician, and
the exuberant vibe of "This Is Life?" belies its serious theme.
During the recording sessions the group members got in touch with their
mad scientist inner-selves by brandishing a variety of offbeat instruments,
including the idiosyncratic theremin, mellotron, and the infamous Tories
megaphone. On "This Is Life?" drummer Brent Klopp resorts
to pummeling an old tin popcorn can in the pursuit of percussive bliss.
Wonderful Life marks the newest chapter in a story which
began in Spring 1995, when Vermont native Bertrand first hooked up with
fellow Los Angeles immigrants Guffee and Klopp. By the time guitarist
J.J. Farris joined the fold one year later, The Tories had already built
a strong regional fan base with their live shows.
Renowned producer Phil Ramone was an early admirer of the band, impressed
by The Tories' defiance of prevailing musical trends. As label president
for the newly created N2K Encoded Music imprint, Ramone quickly wooed
The Tories to the nascent label's roster, even as the group's adrenalized
onstage delivery was winning new converts on a daily basis.
The group's performances -- which can modestly be described as crazed,
raucous affairs -- continue to provide the key outlet for The Tories'
mania. "Yeah, Steve has this habit of throwing his guitar up in the
air, stomping on it, and jumping on the drums," admits Klopp. "Sometimes
drums go flying, I go flying." "We're actually pretty laid-back
people in real life," adds Farris, "but when we're onstage each
of us takes on a completely different personality."
Whether headlining or sharing the bill with the likes of Tonic and Dishwalla,
The Tories view each show as an opportunity to forge a deep connection
with fans. "When you've got a guitar in your hand," says Bertrand,
"it's like a license to go crazy. It doesn't matter if we're playing
in front of five people or five thousand people, our outlook is the same:
we're having a party onstage and everyone is invited. Some of our best
shows have been in front of an audience of 50 people. The interaction
between the listeners and the musicians, the imperfections of rock 'n'
roll, that's what makes it fun."
Oh, and about the band's name: "that would be my fault," laughs
Bertrand. "The music has a British flair and it seemed like a funny,
tongue-in-cheek way of labeling four guys playing loud music."
Find out for yourself why CMJ has raved about the group's "blistering"
delivery and "irresistible hooks." With a judicious blend of
fun and irony, The Tories' Wonderful Life looks at the world through distinctly
For more information, check out the band's website www.tories.com,
N2K Encoded Music