Of men, melody and maturity
Tall Men Group returns to the Coffee Gallery Backstage Saturday night
By Bliss Bowen 02/13/2014
Most bands struggle to keep performances fresh from show to show, sustaining fans’ curiosity by tweaking arrangements and occasionally adding a new tune to their set. Tall Men Group faces a different conundrum: With six songwriters in the band contributing new material every month, it’s tough deciding what to leave out of their sets because they have so many new songs to play.
“We turn out six songs every month,” notes keyboardist Marty Axelrod, “and if half of them are good we have a ton of new songs to put in the set.”
The Tall Men are all veterans of the Los Angeles acoustic music scene: Axelrod, known for his solo work as well as his Songs of Shiloh project with singer-songwriter Nicole Gordon; local folk fixture Severin Browne; percussionist and studio ace Jeff Kossack; singer-songwriter John Stowers; widely respected guitarist and producer Ed Tree; and Jimmy Yessian, who birthed the Tall Men when he invited them all to his home for monthly song swaps in January 2012.
“Jimmy is the guilty culprit who picked all the guys,” Axelrod explains. “He’s really a social genius, I think, for putting people together. And he’s a good cook [laughs].
“We’ve all known each other for a long time. The songwriting seemed like almost an excuse to get together. Then we got this idea of everybody writing to a theme every month.”
Thus far they’ve written songs about articles of clothing, lost items, the ocean, inspiring people or places, the new year, phone numbers, and what they would say to their younger selves if they could. Their easy-on-the-ears album, “12 By 6,” reflects that range of subject matter.
“They are kind of men’s-group-y,” Axelrod acknowledges, discussing their monthly songwriting challenges. “But they produced amazing songs, and that is the real thrill — after dinner, when we get to hear everybody’s songs for the first time. And you know you’re going to end up living with some of those songs if they get into the set. Even if not, it’s just a privilege to hear what everybody came up with. I always go home immediately after the meeting and start writing a song. And John always writes the day before we meet. … [Laughs] I’ve always wanted to be in a band with more than one songwriter, but six is kind of ridiculous.”
Myriad compromises are demanded of artists as they mature. They bring unsung benefits as well. When the stage is commanded by six performance veterans who’ve weathered pretty much every gig nightmare imaginable — including a power outage, as happened at a recent Oregon concert — uniquely gratifying musical moments can result for artists and audience alike.
“There is a professionalism that comes with experience that you can’t replace,” Axelrod says. “Everybody trusts everybody a lot onstage. You just can’t manufacture that.”
Tall Men Group returns to the Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, at 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $15. For information and reservations, call (626) 798-6236. tallmengroup.weebly.com