It’s beginning to look like 2013 is going to be a banner year for blues rock – and January isn’t even over yet. What’s truly remarkable is the number of young bands stepping forth with their old souls and energetic minds – new groups that have honed their musical abilities to make flawless guitar picking and soul-wrenching vocals feel as timeless as the genre they’re coaxing new and rebellious life into.
The Tilt is one such band gearing up to take this year by storm. Based in San Diego, California, The Tilt’s lead singer Jesse Malley and lead guitarist Jeff Irwin came together in 2011 to discuss forming a band based on the genres they were instinctively pulled towards: blues and rock. Two years later, Malley and Irwin have grown as musicians as they witnessed lineup changes in their band and perfected a songwriting process that saw them through the creation of their debut album. Released on iTunes in early December and launched officially on January 23, Howlin serves as The Tilt’s formal introduction to the music world in all its creative roots-rocking glory. In mid-January, I called Malley and Irwin to chat about the album and their goals for the band in 2013.
I imagine the last few months have been extremely busy for you both. What kinds of promotions have you been doing for the new album?
Malley: We did a Kickstarter video to raise a lot of our funds, we put things on YouTube, and we’re in the middle of playing a bunch of shows around town.
I read a bit about your successful Kickstarter campaign on The Tilt’s website. Do you have any recommendations for other bands trying to get the word out about their music through sites like Kickstarter?
Malley: Yeah – make it a high-quality video and put your music in it. And feature yourself playing your music. I found that a lot of the videos were lacking in actual music, or showcasing what they do.
Irwin: A lot of videos were about what they want to do, rather than what they have going for them. We’re so happy, we feel like we’re lucky to complete it.
When did you form The Tilt, and what were your initial goals for the band?
Malley: We had played together a couple of times when I filled in for his [Irwin’s] old band. I wrote a Craigslist ad looking for a guitar player to start a blues rock group. I believe the headline of the actual Craigslist ad was, “Looking for a blues rock guitarist who can shred.” And Jeff responded and ever since then it’s kind of been game on. We’re both professionals, and we both want to play music for a career and for a lifetime, not just a flash in the pan. So we have a lot of similar goals about building a foundation before we move forward and try to do things that are out of our reach. We are really taking it step by step and working together.
Irwin: That’s a good point; we really want to get all the groundwork laid right so we hit the ground running. We’re kind of hoping that this album is that for us.
What made you first gravitate toward the blues rock genre?
Irwin: I think blues music is where we both kind of converge. That’s where we find the most inspiration. And then we both kind of branch out, do a little country, and we have our rock, too. But it all branches out from that blues core.
In your song “Restless” you incorporate a mandolin into the instrumentation. Do you often try to use instruments that are outside of the traditional rock or blues set-up?
Irwin: Yeah. Mandolin, dobro, all those southern blues and Delta blues styles and influences…I like to play bluegrass and all that country stuff too and try to fuel that into the blues genre.
Can you describe the songwriting process you used for Howlin?
Irwin: Every song is different. Sometimes we’ll work on an idea, sometimes we’ll have a music thing and we’ll write lyrics to it – that’s most of the time.
Malley: We go about it through different processes when writing the music. It starts with an idea of something, or a feeling or mood that we want to create, and we go from there. Before it becomes a song, it’s a lot of teamwork writing; like I’ll try to bring in some lyrics and then we’ll run it over and jam and see how it goes.
Irwin: It’s the easiest songwriting process I’ve ever experienced. It’s easy for us; we just come together and write songs.
Malley: We never have to force it; it just happens.
Where do you derive most of your inspiration from? Is it mostly music, or do other forms of art inspire or motivate you as well?
Malley: I think it’s a little bit of everything; I’m really inspired by music. It’s hard for me to sit and listen to music without turning it off and doing my own thing or starting to write something myself. I find music really inspiring; also definitely a lot of news stories and the lives of people we know or the lives of people that we don’t know inspire us for content, and mood, and creating something that people can relate to. I’m definitely inspired by art in any sort of form that it may come in; I think we both utilize it musically.
Off your new album, are there any one or two songs in particular that you enjoy playing live?
Irwin: It’s weird, because some of them – usually the ones that are more fun to play – we find that people like to hear too, which is nice. A few tracks from the album, like “Oil Man” and “Vultured Mind” and “The Flood”…
Irwin: Yeah, “South” is really fun. Those are kind of at our core, they’re easy for us to play and it’s easy for us to let go in those songs.
What is your favorite part about performing live?
Malley: For me, it’s the feeling that I get, because I always get really nervous before I play and it just kind of brings me back to what’s important and what I love to do. It makes me feel really human and able to relate to people because I feel very vulnerable; I guess I like to just put it all out there when I’m onstage and have no filter. I like sharing out with people and watching people get inspired – I love to be able to inspire other people to do what they love by doing what I love.
Irwin: Same here. It’s that interaction with other people. I would say I’m pretty quiet, but when I’m up onstage it allows me to connect with a lot of people at the same time; it’s a great experience.
What plans do you have for The Tilt in 2013?
Malley: We plan on traveling, going out to shows and getting the album out there, playing in different areas besides San Diego, and just starting to branch out and start making bases elsewhere.
Irwin: We’re trying to get our team together, and like Jesse said, we’ll be doing some traveling. We’re excited about playing in new places. We have the new KPBS taping [new KPBS series “Live at the Belly Up”], which is going to be really cool, and we’ve got a House of Blues date next month. In 2013, we’re trying to push out there.
Interview by Meghan Roos