The live music scene of Atlanta was booming this New Year’s Eve, but if it’s exploratory instrumental virtuosity you crave, Variety Playhouse certainly had you covered. Rising heavy jam rock band TAUK combined with New Orleans-based psychedelic jazz and funk band Naughty Professor for a horn-driven take of their tunes. Prior to the show, TAUK keyboardist Alric “A.C.” Carter chatted with us from the road about the magic of the South, the art and science of improv, and what to expect from Sunday night's mammoth collaboration.
The South has been good to you guys. What's so special about it?
AC: It’s all about the vibe. There’s a lot of live music lovers around the country and around the world, but down in the South, it seems like people take the time and have the patience to appreciate it a little differently than other places. They’re very welcoming. For us, that’s been something we’ve noticed from the start. We feel like we need to give back that appreciation. It’s always fun.
It’s cool you guys can notice that difference from up on stage.
AC: Every state and every venue is different, but you can definitely see it in a positive way.
What's the preparation process like for these shows with horns? It seems like a workout, especially with some of the tighter compositions you guys have.
AC: Naughty Professor are great players. Their style fits our sound and how we approach music.. We’ve done a couple shows with them before and we enjoy them immensely. We emailed them some of the tunes and gave them the freedom to take it where they wanted. It’s nice to allow bands to add their own voice independently. They came back and killed it with the arrangements. It’s better than anything I could’ve come up with.
Do rehearsals happen or is it just a back and forth email conversation?
AC: They didn’t have to send it back. There’s more of a trust factor going on there. They have a high level of musicianship so there’s an understanding and they delivered. We ran some things in soundcheck about one time each and they nailed it. That’s what happens when you have a pro section.
What's the New Years format going to be? Fun covers in store?
AC: Their whole band is opening and then the horns will come out for a number of tunes throughout our set, both originals and covers.
Your tours with Umphrey's really put you guys on the map, but you've done some odder bills as well. I've got the Railroad Earth shows in mind. How did that come about and what's the common ground there?
AC: A bunch of those guys are from Jersey, close to us in New York. They were kind enough to invite us out to Hangtown, a festival they curate. One of their guys came out and watched our set and they had a lot of positive feedback for us. They reached out when they did the Capitol Theatre and had us open. For us, that’s an awesome venue. It was a no brainer. It’s a different genre of music, but they’re great at what they do. Railroad Earth plays a different genre of music than us, but their fans were receptive to our set. It wasn't awkward at all. Their fans were respectful of what we were doing.
How do you stay sane doing so many shows a year?
AC: We’ve toned it down to 110 this past year, because we are recording a new record, but yes, it’s still a lot of shows. We try to be as honest with each other as possible on the road to make sure we keep each other in check. We’re always writing, whether it’s in Ableton or Logic or other music notation programs. Or just jamming. There are definitely things we do outside of Tauk. It’s who we are as people and as musicians.
What's the atmosphere like in the van when you guys are going from town to town on tour? Are you all nerding out on music together or just looking at Facebook memes like the rest of us?
AC: Right now, it’s nap time after two ragers in Charleston. I was just watching There’s Something About Mary. We’ll write, watch movies, laugh together, and of course there’s the Instagram and Facebook scrolling. It all depends on how bored you are in the van.
What do you listen to that might surprise us?
AC: Boyz 2 Men? There’s some cheesy stuff in the mix for sure.
Why were you drawn to instrumental music?
AC: I don’t differentiate between the two. It’s just about what feels good and what sounds good. I do understand that’s completely subjective. I started out doing classical music. In the context of TAUK, we started as a high school band and had vocals. As our sound matured, we found that melody is an important tool to make our music accessible. We still design our songs to be accessible and melody is our main tool in doing that.
Talk about about the art of improv for TAUK. How much of the shows are dedicated to “going there”?
AC: Every show we try to go there. By going there, I’m assuming you mean take it to a high level. That’s something we’re conscious about. We want every show to be unique and find cool ways to change it up. When you’re doing so many shows a year you have to do that, both for your listeners and for yourself. It gets boring for everyone otherwise.
Do you listen back to the shows for ideas on future compositions?
AC: Absolutely. There’s a lot of times where we will try new ideas within a song and listen back to see both how the crowd reacted and how we felt. And we’ll take notes. It’s kind of like writing a paper in a way. There are multiple drafts before you get a final draft submitted. We make edits and listen to suggestions on how to change it.
That’s an interesting balance between the romantic, free-flowing idea of improv and then the actual work you have to put into it.
AC: Right. It’s not something that’s always exact in certain songs. Certain songs have a different feel and require different approaches and make you look at things differently.
Are there times where you listen to yourself and cringe?
AC: Absolutely. I try to remove myself from that because the bias is inevitable, but the more you listen and pay attention, the better you become.