One of the standout tracks in the mixtape we put out last month was from Los Angeles band, TUFT. The band—formerly known as Hi Ho Silver Oh—is a trio made up of Casey Trela, Kevin Manwarren, and Roxy Radulescu (left to right above) that’s playing a release show for their debut full-length Look Look at Highland Park’s new venue The Hi Hat next Thursday night. We got a chance to preview the new album recently and honestly loved it, start to finish. TUFT plays sparkling, vocal- and melody-forward indie pop with orchestral undertones. So, right up our alley.
We got a chance to speak with the band’s founder and primary songwriter, Casey, in anticipation of the album release party about Listen to their lead single, “Stills,” below, check out on our favorites on our March mixtape, and check out their most recently released track, “Spools,” at the end of the interview.
raven + crow studio: So, not to diminish how much I like the new work, but I have to ask out of the gate—what’s the story behind the name change? Was it a legal conflict thing or did you all just crave some newness?
Casey Trela: We felt like our old band name created a context for people that didn’t match the music anymore. It’s not that we don’t love our old band name, it’s more that we grew apart. Bands change over time. It felt good to try something new, something more succinct.
And how did you get to TUFT as a new band name?
We had a running list that was mostly just for fun. There are so many bandnames, and so many mediums on which to claim your own (soundcloud, bandcamp, etc.). It was a puzzle to find one that clicked with all of us, wasn’t already taken, and was possible to easily pronounce and repeat to other people. Once I stopped trying hard to come up with a name, TUFT popped up. The definition is “a bunch or collection of something held or growing together at the base.” Everyone felt good about it.
It always reminds me of Bigwig from Watership Down. It is crazy though how the Internet impacts naming…anything, really, these days though. I know ya’ll are still on the road, but how was SXSW?
We only went for 3 days this year, which I think is the perfect amount of time. We only had 1 show in the shit (6th Street). We packed all of our SXSW craziness into that show—we toted gear a mile from where we were able to park, we pushed past drummers set up in the street and dancers dressed like ninja turtles, played our ambient/dynamic set sandwiched between a cover band and a hard rock band, had a quick laughing/crying breakdown, drank a Lone Star and got out. It was great. There’s lots of craziness, but most people are there because they love music in one way or another, and we got to play music for those people.
Yeah, despite the growing shade that’s thrown SXSW’s way every year, I’d say it’s still a great event. Any insane stories from Austin you can share?
Our last show was at a market where we played on their front porch. Rain started to pour down halfway through the set. Us and all the people there were under cover, so we were able to keep playing through the storm. It was a beautiful situation. I’d like to have a controlled rain storm at all shows.
Who wouldn’t? So your debut full-length as TUFT comes out next month with a release party at this new place, Hi-Hat. Our friends Moon Honey played there pretty recently and swore by it as the best new venue in LA. Are ya’ll psyched?
We are psyched, stoked, amped AND pumped.
I’m excited for all the new mid-size venues opening up in LA in general. It feels like there’s more of a chance for bands that live in LA to play in LA. We live close to the Hi Hat. To have our album release in the neighborhood is a dream.
Totally agree with about the great venue scene in LA right now. It’s great, because we moved from New York recently and I feel like it was the exact opposite situation there when we left—every good venue shuttering, including ones that had been open since the beginning of independent music in New York. Back to you guys though, what’s got you most excited about the new material on the album?
We spent so much time with it in writing, recording, and mixing that the most exciting thing now is getting it out to people. We tried a lot of new arrangement things within our setup (drums, bass, guitar, vocals), and brought in a few outside elements (strings, horns, synth) to really get our vision through on record.
Nice. I know there was a pledge aspect to it too, but was that for the recording or touring or what?
We went to Pledge toward the end of the process in order to do a pre-sale of the record and to raise some gas money for the tour. This is the longest tour we’ve done (about 5 weeks). We booked it all ourselves, and are driving around in my minivan. Having some money raised made it feel a lot less daunting. Pledge also offered a way to make buying the album a rewarding experience. It’s easy nowadays to stream music and move on. We wanted to give the album the value we felt like it deserved, and give people who invested in it a showing of thanks.
What kind of response did you get to the crowd funding?
We first got a really nice response from people who already knew about us. They got the word going when the campaign started. Since then, we’ve gotten some international orders and new folks found us through the Pledge site. We’re currently at 175% of our original goal, for which we’re extremely thankful. It seems to be spreading to lots of new people.
That’s really great. Who did the art for your new album?
Roxy, who plays guitar and sings backup in TUFT, does all our artwork and graphics. She made the artwork with a paper cutout and layering technique. She’s a great graphic designer outside of the band as well (see: roxymakesthings on Etsy, and her tumblr blog: moviesincolor.com).
Okay, I was going to tell you how much we like the album design, but now I’m even more enamored with that raccoon pillow she makes. I think I need that. Who does what in the band, then? Do you all have pretty strict roles or do they bleed into each other?
Everything bleeds together. Songwriting-wise, I write the lyrics and skeleton arrangement, then Roxy and Kevin fill in with their parts. I tend to do most of the management and booking type stuff. We use the Slack app to figure out/delegate most plans. Everyone chips in when we’re coming up with ideas, or looking for shows and places to stay. Roxy does all the graphics. Kevin is sort of a renaissance man between all the categories and runs the Snapchat.
You all a musical publicity machine—well-done. Are you all native Angelenos or fellow transplants?
Kevin is the closest to native—he grew up in Claremont. Roxy was born in Romania, then moved to Montreal, then Rockford, IL. I was born in central NY, then moved to North Carolina before I transplanted to LA.
Right—I kind of love the Memento-esque bio Ben Axelrad wrote for you all. I assume it’s mostly flavor—you didn’t really pick up Kevin as a hitchhiker or meet Roxy in a truck stop…did you?
Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.
We’re 100% putting that in the pull quote. What brought everyone here in the first place then? Ambitions for the silver screen? Beach bumming? Tacos?
NC actually has pretty great Mexican food, some nice beach spots, and is the home of hit shows like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, so those were actually all covered. I moved with a big group of friends from college who were all getting into film or music. It was an adventure that popped up at the right time and has been challenging but rewarding. I think we all moved to LA because we had creative pursuits, and it’s a big gathering place for creative people.
Nicely put. So what do you love about LA then?
There are a lot of very driven people, which can be annoying, intimidating, or overwhelming at first. Once you find a good group of friends though, that drive becomes inspiring and helpful. The tacos and beach are definitely a bonus. If I were to move away, I would miss being able to find good food at all hours. The landscape is wild with surprisingly beautiful spots scattered around the city. It’s a nice place to live if you have the energy for it.
Hear, hear. Well thanks for your time, Casey.
If you’re in Southern California, catch TUFT’s record release next Thursday, April 7 at The Hi Hat and you can pre-order their album via their Pledge site. Seattle + Portland, the band’s playing your towns tonight and Friday, respectively, and they’re making their way down the coast for their homecoming next week; check their Facebook page for a full list of shows.
Band photo by Elli Papayanopoulos.