Beating on a drum kit for an hour is hard enough. But imagine if you had to tap dance your way through a set every night. Derek Pressnall, guitarist and vocalist for Omaha, Nebraska's Tilly and the Wall, has a little more empathy for bandmate Jamie Williams now that the tap-dancing percussionist has shown him a few moves. "She's teaching me how to tap dance, and after 45 seconds of easy step I'm worn out," he admits, on the phone from his Omaha home.
Both on-stage--while standing on a miked wooden box--and in the studio, Williams provides the only percussion for the group's addictive melodies, flirtatious boy/girl vocals, and folky mix of acoustic guitar and keyboards. But the band didn't set out to make the world safe for tap-dancing indie rockers.
"We all just started hanging out," says Pressnall, who moved to Omaha from Atlanta with Tilly keyboardist Nick White a couple of years ago. "Jamie plays guitar and writes songs too, so we're all musicians and had songs we'd been writing. And once the songs started forming, and I was playing guitar and Kianna [Alarid] and Neely [Jenkins] were singing, we realized we needed a beat. So she [Williams] started tapping. We didn't even think we'd be a band."
That there is no surfeit of songwriting talent in Tilly and the Wall is apparent on Wild Like Children. The group's scrumptious, effervescent full-length debut is full of heart-tugging, guileless numbers like "I Always Knew" and "Bessa" as well as darker, fuzzy guitar backed tunes such as "Nights of the Living Dead" and "Perfect Fit". "Ice Storm, Big Gust, and You", a folk jam in the style of Omaha's best-known indie-rock export Bright Eyes, just about closes the album, at least until an unlisted, Alarid-sung ballad begins to spill from the speakers.
The whole thing--hidden track and all--is downloadable at www.team-love.com, as free as a smile. "We'd rather just give our music to people and let them listen to it, and if they dig it then maybe they will come out to the show or purchase the record," says Pressnall, here with Tilly and the Wall when the group opens for Pedro the Lion at Richard's on Richards on Friday (July 30).
Having a tap dancer in the band doesn't hurt either. Last month, the New York Times reviewed the band's show at the Mercury Lounge. In reference to Tilly and the Wall's unique approach to percussion, NYT critic Ben Ratliff wrote that it's "a brilliant idea for at least a record or two". That some people might think the idea doesn't have legs, so to speak, doesn't bother Pressnall.
"I just thought 'Cool, they reviewed our show,' " he says. "We're lucky if we even get to that point." And if the band gets to make two albums he figures it will be even luckier.