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Tusks Brings UK Sound To Mpls [Interview + Review]

Emily Underhill, better known by her stage name Tusks, brought her North American tour to Minneapolis last week

Screen Shot 2016 07 08 at 17.28.13
Screen Shot 2016 07 08 at 17.28.13

I’m in line at the Fine Line. It’s fine, moving pretty quickly. I’ve got a backpack on with like books and an umbrella (you never know) and a sweater and stuff that the door guys seem really interested in (they literally flipped through the pages of my library book) and I realize this is what 18+ shows are like. Haven’t been to one in a while.

Anyway, I’m in, it’s 8:05 Tusks is already on stage (these all ages shows start on time too, apparently.) The room is pretty full and she’s holding it completely – there is no extraneous chatter past the bar and everyone seems transfixed. She’s backlit by smoky-green lights and playing a white Fender Stratocaster and singing beautifully, asking us “Darling, what have you done?” I know this song, it’s Toronto, and my body shivers.

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Hey speaking of Toronto, here’s a tour story Emily told me before I got here. It’s actually the last question I asked her but we’re indulging in nonlinearity, here.

We hope you have a great time in Minneapolis and wish you well on the rest of your tour. Got any crazy tour stories? 

Last time I was remotely near here was in Toronto with my guitarist Tim. We were at Niagara Falls in a bar and didn’t really understand the tipping procedure yet as it’s not a huge thing in the UK. Tim accidentally left his return bus ticket at the bar and we’re pretty sure the waitress chucked it away because we didn’t tip her. Basically, it almost ended up with Tim being stranded in Niagara Falls overnight three hours from Toronto and missing the gig but after like four agonizing hours we managed to sweet talk a bus driver into letting him on the bus. I feel like that story wasn’t that crazy but it was the first one that comes to mind…

So I’m too far back to see her pedal board, but I know it must be huge. The sound hangs heavy in here like a cloud over our heads and I close my eyes and see snow covered pines and deer tracks, quickly fading as the fresh snow fills any evidential shallows of wildlife, and I know she’s thinking of something similar.

Do you see any imagery as you compose?

Yeah, I do – I definitely visualize how the production looks as a picture like I see the structure and I see things building and it’s almost like a visual sketch going on in my head. Then I think a lot of visual aspects, like nature, inspire me subconsciously when I’m writing and producing.

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Tusks says her first words to the audience:

Well it’s great to be here and I have to say I didn’t realize American pot was so different from English pot.

We laugh with her, we’re stoned too, a lot of us, and we can share the same headspace now and dig in.

Whoops! Well, lets just pretend she said pot. MOVING ON.

For this next song, she’s moving a lot. She’s got two midi keyboards to her left and a sampler mounted on a mic stand that’s she’s beating with a drumstick to her right. The sampler give a us a bass line and her sound changes and fills out and she is in a church, a mausoleum, an amphitheater, more than this little room – she ascends. How?

Your compositional style seems to be based mostly in sound design as opposed to sampling. Can you talk a bit about the technique? What DAW do you work in? Any favorite sample libraries or plug-ins?

Yeah, I love messing around with sounds and experimenting – I find it so much more interesting to record new things and make interesting sounds out of them rather than just use something pre-made. I’ve made loads of weird recording of like corkscrews and keys and stuff – I’ve made a sampler from a wine glass and blowing across the tops of beer bottles.

Brett, who produced the album with me, went to town on some weird shit – there are time-stretched cicadas and a plane used as a drone. I work in Logic Pro 9 and Brett works in Pro Tools – I really want to get more into writing on Ableton though. The Soundtoys plugins and the sample libraries from Spitfire are my favourites.

She picks up her guitar again, now, and tells us all this is her last song, and it’s the title track from her new album. I shout “Dissolve!” Tusks points at me and says “Yes! Who’s that there?” I smile because I’m glad I got to make this Londoner feel a bit at home in Minneapolis. I know she’s never been here before.

You’re here in Minneapolis tonight at the Fine Line. Ever been here before? How are you liking the city so far?

No, I haven’t – this tour is the first time I’ve been to the US, which is really amazing. I can currently only see a little bit from the tour bus but I’m going to go explore in a second!

After the show, I go visit her at the merch table to ask a few more questions.

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Did you end up exploring the city at all?

I went to that lovely river over there! A thing of beauty, really.

Let’s talk about your lyrics: how do words fit into your compositional process?

Words are always a bit harder for me than the music. I think if I didn’t love singing so much I would just be an instrumental artist but I work at them and they come through in the end. Normally I start off with a vocal melody and some chords and then just build it from there.

If you could pick one artist to collaborate with on a track, who would it be?

Lapalux, definitely.

There’s a few people behind me now, I notice, so we shake hands quickly and I make my way out. What a lovely human and artist – I’m smiling against the wind and I walk out, backpack in hand, head full of melodies.

Tusks’ new album, Dissolve, is out on October 13th, available for purchase, here.

Written by Harley Patton

Writer and reader in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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