The striking music of San Francisco's Tartufi is nearly impossible to resist or categorize. The trio generates a wall of sound that destroys conventional notions of what a rock band should be. The songs are complex pieces that roll and flow like the waves dancing across the surface of the ocean, blending gentle rippling caresses of almost ambient sound with sudden explosive tsunamis of crashing rhythm and noise. Lynne Angel's vocals slip in and out of the mix, suggesting a choir reaching for heaven and a bottle of gin at the same time, her words slurring into a swirling assemblage of syllables that become one more element in the band's rich brew.
Tartufi's new album, These Factory Days, shifts from dreamy pop to baroque folk and shredding heavy metal guitar in its expansive reach. Writers have called the band's sound space-rock, neo-psychedelic, progressive shoegaze, post-rock, and experimental pop in an effort to pin down its ever-morphing style. "We don't mind the labels, but we don't really fit into any of those genres," says Angel via phone from the band's tour van. "We've been calling it 'loop rock' in an effort to add some clarity to the discussion. All the stuff we put out involves the use of loops to produce the effects we're aiming for."
These Factory Days took almost two years to write, record and mix; the care the band members put into it is evident on every mind-expanding track. "We all work full- or part-time jobs in addition to being musicians," Angel explains. "We'd love to do music 24/7, but it's difficult economically, especially in San Francisco. We have insane schedules. Finding time to play can be a challenge. We usually have three days a week to rehearse, write, and record. The rest of the week we have to deal with the mundane details of our lives."
The recording began, as usual, with drums and bass. Then the members stacked as many as 100 layers of overdubs on top of that, often remixing and rewriting parts. "The songs were fleshed out before we went into the studio and, as they solidified, we'd add little flourishes of piano, xylophone, cello — things that we can't do live, although we try to stick mostly to what we can reproduce on stage."
On stage, Angel constructs the band's kaleidoscopic sound with a battery of effects pedals that allow her to loop melodic fragments together — without using a computer — and play over them. It's a style she developed on her own, after the original founder of Tartufi left the band.
"We were a power-pop trio, but Brian [Gorman; drums and vocals] and I realized we could explore what I was doing with sound loops and pedals on our own," she says. "I'm not classically trained. I learned by sight and ear and go for things that sound good together. We started building these mountains of sound that slowly turned cinematic. How you get out of the mountains and down into the valleys is the trick. You have to jump into the spaces between loops."
Angel and Gorman played as a duo for almost seven years before asking Benjamin Thorne to come on board and play bass. "Ben was in Low Red Land, one of our favorite bands," Angel says. "We'd already decided it was time to stop playing everything ourselves. After his band broke up, we asked Ben to join us for our first record as a trio. He added his parts to the older tunes we'd written, and the three of us wrote some new ones together, figuring out where we were going as we went. At first, Ben was afraid to step on our toes and we thought he might change the band too much. We all had to let go a little bit so we could evolve into the band we wanted to be."
The musicians in Tartufi also have a hand in producing the cryptic videos and slightly surrealistic band photos that are part of their image. "We all have a bit of artiness in us," Angel admits. "We've been in bands for years and years, and like to do unique things. We wanted strong images that are thought provoking and mean something. We want to make videos someone will actually want to sit and watch, and pictures someone will want to print in their publication."