Hailing from Brooklyn, Tiny Victories are a force to be reckoned with — even if there’s only two of them. Consisting of Cason Kelly on drums and Greg Walters on synthesizer, the two-person band nevertheless makes a huge sound. Released in February, their debut EP Those of Us Still Alive
delivers all the pummeling drive and beats of a traditional rock record while incorporating experimental electronic flourishes that give the songs a real bite.
The duo is set to perform this Saturday at Atlanta’s Big House. From there, they are set to continue onto this year’s South by Southwest in Austin, Tx. The Wheel
caught up with Walters via phone and got the lowdown on the band’s past , their present life as a hyped-up live act and their upcoming full-length album.
Emory Wheel:Tell me how you guys got together as a band.
: A couple of years back, we both were doing a few things. Music was what we always wanted to do but it was kind of on the back burner for both of us. We each made a decision that we would try to take it more seriously and so we moved to New York. My brother knew Cason. He introduced us and we got together at a bar and started talking about starting a band. One thing led to another and we started practicing. At first, it was just guitar and drums because I’m a guitar player but then we borrowed a sampler from another musician and started experimenting with that. I got obsessed with sonic textures but keeping the approach of writing songs that would work on a guitar in a more typical rock band. We like to think of [the band] as a rock approach to electronic music.
EW:Had you guys used a sampler before or did you just get it and start toying with it?
: Never. We had never messed around with live electronics before. The spirit of the songs we’ve been doing has been experimental. Not in the sense that we’re trying to make music that’s super-duper weird -- although we do like weird sounds. It’s more that the process of putting the songs together is always an experiment for us. We like to try things we’ve never done before. It doesn’t always work but we try to stick with [the process].
EW: How does the experience of playing electronic music compare with the experience of playing more straightforward rock music?
With rock bands, you have two or three guitar players and a drummer and a bass player, it’s -- at least in my experience —- easy to plug something in and play. Whereas, in making the transition to electronic instruments, you really have get down and dirty in figuring out how it’s going to work and figuring out a lot of stuff that I had previously thought of as being in the stages of post-production -- stuff the studio engineers needed to worry about but that I didn’t. Is this a balanced cable or an unbalanced cable? Am I gonna worry about the equalization fans? What’s happening in the low ends and high ends? When you’re playing guitar, you don’t really worry about it. It’s more intuitive. Whereas, the approach we use for electronic music is to take our sense of what sounds good but to put it through a filter of weird electronic devices that we didn’t exactly know how to use. So it really got us outside our box because we couldn’t go for our usual approaches or usual techniques—we had to think of new stuff.
EW: Do you ever have moments where equipment or your computers mess up?
: We don’t really use computers in the live show. We like to use samplers and other kinds of electronics on stage and we don’t have a laptop onstage. We would never say never though. We like to wrestle with the instruments themselves because you can’t do everything with them. You can only do some things, so it forces you to make creative decisions rather than let you do anything you want.
But yeah, sometimes the equipment messes up, sometimes they screw up. So far, it hasn’t been anything crazy. We haven’t blown off anyone’s head yet. Someday we probably will [laughs]. It’s nothing crazier than what you’d do with a guitar and bass band. Sometimes [the live process] starts to feel like programming 15 VCRs from the mid-90s and trying to record all your favorite programs all at once in 10 minutes [laughs
]. It’s more exciting when you know it’s possible that everything could fall apart.
EW:When you were going into the studio to record your EP was there any challenge of capturing the energy of the live sound when you’re in a studio and everything’s a bit more controlled?
I kind of view live shows and studio work as being different art forms in a way. They’re connected and the two songs are related but we never set out to say, "this song has to work exactly in the studio as it does live," we just wanted them to both work. And if they worked in different ways, that’s okay with us. The most important thing is just that the studio recording works as a studio recording and the live show works as a live show. We never really set out to say that the recording has to be an accurate representation of what the live show is. In this day and age, you can Youtube a band to know what they live act looks like. If people want to know what the live experience is like that’s no problem. We wanted to go into the studio and make a studio album that works as a studio album.
Also, recordings are a bit like sending a postcard to where you are in time. You think, “this is the album we would make this year at this point in our lives -- surrounded by the people that we’re surrounded by and feeling the way we’re feeling right now.” You can’t go back to it once it’s done so we try to just focus on where we were at the moment and what we wanted to do and what we wanted to say and just get it done and move on. We’ve already started working on the new album, which is a full length album.
EW: How did you settle on the name Tiny Victories?
I don’t know about you, but a lot of people I know who are musicians or think about music a lot kind of have a separate lobe of their brain that continuously thinks about band names. Probably once a day, I’ll cue some kind of phrase. It’s kind of an ongoing joke. A lot of names are also taken. If you want to call your band ‘Nirvana,’ you’re done—somebody already got there.
With Tiny Victories, what actually happened was that we were walking down the street with my brother Doug and we saw some guy scrapping some graffiti off his front porch in Brooklyn. Somebody had written ‘F—k you’ on his porch. He just had this triumphant look in his eye like, “this is my day, I’m finally getting rid of this bulls—t and you punk kids can’t stop me.” And so Doug turns to me and says, “what’s the opposite of tiny defeats?” And so that’s kind of where the band name was born.
At the time, it was kind of like, “it sounds good and it’s not taken so let’s go with it.” But the more we lived with it, the more we kind of treat it like a working philosophy on how to live you life. It’s the small things that count, right?
EW:What can we expect from your new album?
There’s a couple songs that we almost put on the EP but that we decided we’d just focus on the songs we had. There’s a song called “Justine” that we think works pretty well live and we got a studio version that’s pretty close to ready. If you check it out on Youtube, there’s a fun video of us playing on our rooftop. That song is going to get processed and put through the machine.
We’re really into experimenting with sonic textures and trying to think of things that we haven’t really heard before, but then combining them with songs that we think are memorable and have a melody that will stay with you. Right now, that’s what we’re excited about—trying to take songs that would sound good as stripped-down, acoustic guitar numbers and then keeping the core of the song but creating interesting textures around them so it’s more interesting. Our problem is that we have a lot of ideas and it’s hard to follow up with all the ideas you have [laughs
— Contact Mark Rozeman.