Joshua Van Tassel Listed on CBC the Signal’s Best Albums of 2011
John Sakamoto – The Toronto Star -“Quite possibly the most haunting song we’ve heard this year, this collaboration between the drummer for, among others, Royal Wood and David Myles, and Toronto singer-songwriter Kate Rogers began as an instrumental track and, judging by the impeccable arrangement, would have worked just fine if it had stayed that way. Instead, Rogers â€œlistened a few times while writing some ideas down, then we talked for a few minutes and pieced together what the strongest lines were and started recording,Van Tassel says in an email. It took about 20 minutes.The alchemy is remarkable. The sense of dislocation is palpable.” (From Joshua Van Tassel)
Sarah Greene – NOW Magazine -Â Drummer, multi-instrumentalist and composer Joshua Van Tassel takes a break from backing David Myles, Joshua Cockerill, Kate Rogers and others to make his second full-length instrumental folktronica album. And itâ€™s easy to see why his music has been used in theatre and TV: its fresh, accessible sonic experimentation, as inviting as it is unpredictable.
Propelled by Van Tassels drumming, acoustic guitar, electronics and percussion, and augmented by guests including Christine Bougie and Dean Drouillard, the songs are light-hearted, especially He Was Singing, with its uplifting call-and-response melody, and the playful Banana Holding Animal. He introduces vocal collaborators near the end, on reverby River Running (Cockerill) and mellow dance song Already Gone (Rogers). Though Rogers voice is sweet, the instrumental material is stronger.
Hero Hill.com - With a name that could have been lifted from an 80²s preppy villain, you might assume supporting actor (a.k.a. drummer for hire for people like Valery Gore and David Myles) turned front manÂ Joshua Van TasselÂ would sound like any other coffee house troubadour.
Instead, the Nova Scotian ex-pat delivers a collection of sonic experiments, heavy on mood, transitions and rhythm that all develop from a singular start point. With delicate washes of electronics, hand claps, finger snaps and keyboards, the range Van Tassel offers is impressive but the genesis of each song is a simple acoustic chord pattern. In a time where it seems almost every artist wants nothing more than to be given credit for authenticity read, second rate rehashes or duplication of time honored melodies Joshuas songs maybe be born from the tradition of folk, but refuse to align to any of the standard definitions.
Joshua briefly shines a spotlight on the simplicity and malleable feel of his acoustic, but itâ€™s his tasteful appreciation of rhythm and pace that keep this record sounding fresh. The picked notes of â€œBanana Holding Animalâ€ are paired with programming that dances around your headphones and even when he gets melancholic (like the dark â€œRiver Runningâ€), the chaotic noise filters, effects and spiked percussion add a depth and creativity to the slow moving songs.
From start to finish, Joshua keep you engaged but when he hits his stride â€“ like he does on the airy, electronic heavy â€œAlready Goneâ€ or when he delivers a well paced metamorphosis from a country lament to an atmospheric escape on the closer, â€œBefore You Sleepâ€ â€“ you hear an artist with the potential to stand side by side with the talent he normally sits behind.
Soundvat – Shawna NakllickiÂ Â -Â Drummer, producer, composer and basically Jack of All TradesÂ Joshua Van TasselÂ is a Toronto musician who has lent his talents to the likes of David Myles, Royal Wood, and many others. A couple months ago though, he recorded his first full-length solo album featuring a glorious array of sounds. Though I am late on the draw with this one, Joshuaâ€™s music is really incredible, and needs to be heard. The self-titled release is a testament to his skills as both a creative composer and performer.
TheÂ chiefly instrumental work begins with â€œGroup Hugâ€, aptly titled because of the warmth that it exudes effortlessly. The soft guitar picking and accompanying sounds that build throughout its length are infinitely soothing, while still piquing interest. Next is â€œDouble Toothâ€, which begins with a funky-jazz sound, with organs and the whole shebang, but soon resolves to the enveloping guitar picking that the previous track exhibited. Here it is even more melodious as it is carried from instrument to instrument, with new sounds being added with eachÂ repetition. One thing can be said for this song and for the whole album, in fact, there is never a dull moment.
â€œHole In the Wallâ€ and â€œDark Matterâ€ are quite reminiscent of a Timber Timbre Â with the first being swamp-style rock, rooted in bass with no shortage of reverb and the second being quite experimental, complete with a variety of spooky sounds. â€œHe Was Singingâ€ is definitely a highlight track. Itâ€™s chord progressions are relatively simple, as is the melody it carries with confidence. However the feeling of absolute letâ€™s-go-run-in-a-field-of-gold-carefree is overwhelming and an absolute joy to witness. There are some tunes that just make your heart sing almost literally, you can feel it; this is one.
â€œBanana Holding Animalâ€ is another standout track, taking its time to develop, building elements both instruments and unidentified sounds over a steady beat. Influence from ancient Asian music seems to have been drawn, making it most interesting! You cannot help but hear something new each time you hear it. â€œRiver Runningâ€ is the first non-instrumental track on Joshuaâ€™s self-titled album. Performed by Joshua Cockerill, the descriptive lyrics are icy and distant. The simple piano becomes synthesizers, then they become an orchestral frenzy, all joining together in a very dreamlike and dramatic piece.
Sung by the talented Kate Rogers, â€œAlready Goneâ€ is startling, and a musical contradiction. The beautiful ambient noises and quiet guitar picking make for a rather nice mood, however the lyrics are as cold as stone. The result is a haunting flawless combination of the contrasting emotions. I will say no more. It is an absolute masterpiece.
Lastly is â€œBefore You Sleepâ€, aÂ lullaby-like song whose melody is carried by a painfully gorgeous slide guitar that remains soothing still as soft percussion joins the mix. The effortless flow here is undeniable, making for a perfect pre-sleep tune. If I had to choose one song to play on repeat every night as I attempted to acquire some zzzâ€™s, this would be it.
Instrumental music can be tough. Because it lacks words, in a day and age where most people require constant stimulation to get pleasure out of something, the music really does have to speak. This debut full-length record from Joshua Van Tassel is astounding, embracing everything it possibly could, including the listener in what could definitely be called a â€œgroup hugâ€ of really great music.
Every once in a while, someone sends in music that is absolutely wondrous. This is one of those times. I know youâ€™re hungering to listen to these great creations, and rightly so. You can stream and buy Joshuaâ€™s music over onÂ Bandcamp. Donâ€™t miss out, kids. This one is worth it.
The indie Machine -Â We just came across the work of Toronto musician/composerÂ Joshua Van TasselÂ and it seems as though we are having trouble taking his songs off repeat. Recently, he released his debut self titled album and now itâ€™s your turn to check it out.Â With that said, stream the LP in itâ€™s entirety in theÂ Bandcamp playerÂ below. Standout tracks includeÂ Group Hug,Â Double ToothÂ andÂ Already Gone.
Music Nerd Chronicles – Ken Kelley -Â Drummer, percussionist, electronic musician and producer. There ainâ€™t a whole that native Nova ScotianÂ Joshua Van TasselÂ canâ€™t do. When he is not busy performing alongside David Myles, Royal Wood or Selina Martin, Van Tassel has been quietly amassing an impressive catalogue of largely instrumental music.Â Music from his 2008 debut One Window and his EPs Nighttimer and Everyone Has it All have been featured on the Outdoor Life Network show Departures. Van Tasselâ€™s excellent new self-titled album, released in September 2011 has, not surprisingly, received critical acclaim from the CBC, the Toronto Star, and influential Toronto weekly NOW magazine.
Van Tassel generously took the time to chat with The MusicNerd Chronicles in regards to his music, his work with others and the process of writing instrumental music, a path few people choose to walk down.
In my opinion, it takes a lot to keep a listenerâ€™s attention with instrumental music.I found your record to be a captivating listen but was wondering how do you have to approach the songwriting process? I am assuming it must be rather different from if you were putting vocals on top of the music.Â
Van Tassel: The main approach for when I started writing this record is that regardless of how full of sounds/ambiences/instruments the end recoding would end up being, I wanted to be able to play all of the songs as a duo, with myself on acoustic guitar. My main instrument is drums/percussion, but I have a huge love and respect for the intimacy and immediacy of acoustic guitars. The idea of blending some folk song elements with a more modern recording approach (sampling, effects, etc) was and is really appealing to me, and wanted to challenge myself to write some music that was more then just interesting sounds and a beat.
When it comes to vocals, there actually isnâ€™t a whole lot of difference in the writing process for me. The two tunes on the album that have them ended up that way because I knew what the singers would come up with would not only be exactly what I wanted, but better then anything I could come up with. In both cases I brought the pieces essentially half finished to them, and we worked from there. Kate Rogers came over, listened to what I had done so far two or three times, wrote some lyrics down, and was ready to record. It was a really neat process to watch someone work so fast and come up with something I found so perfect for the vibe of the tune. With Josh Cockerillâ€™s tune, it was a longer, more careful process. I sent Josh the music and he sat with it for a couple weeks trying out various lyrics and melodies til he found something that he felt really fit. Heâ€™a a really wonderful lyricist and thoughtful poet as well as being a great singer, so I knew that what he came up with would be something perfect.
Do you feel like you have a little more creative freedom in making instrumental music as opposed to music with vocals?Â
Van Tassel: I actually feel theyâ€™re both on an equal creative level for me. Generally the vocalists Iâ€™m working working with have fantastic imaginations and are really up for me sampling,looping or transforming their vocals parts into other sounds or ambiences. Working with a great singer is a real treat because thereâ€™s no instrument more expressive then human voice, and adding that timbre and vibe to the sonic pallette Iâ€™m drawing from is a great option to have.
How does your work with guys like David Myles influence your own work?
Van Tassel: David has been a really close friend for a while now, and has had a really positive influence over the music I make. He has such a finely tuned critical ear, and has been a bit of a sounding board for all the music I make. At the same time as I was recording my album, I was doing the drums and percussion for his latest record â€œInto the Sunâ€. What really blew me away about the songs on that album is the way David was able to give a nod to the Brazilian and African music he and I both love, but not sound like he was appropriating the music of another culture. The biggest thing heâ€™s shown me is how to take inspiration and show your influences, but still sound unquestionably like yourself. Also, heâ€™s got an insane work ethic and is always writing. Itâ€™s hard to keep up!!
How do you feel you have evolved in the time since your debut?Â
Van Tassel: I think thereâ€™s definitely some technical ways that Iâ€™ve gotten a lot better at music making. Iâ€™m lucky enough in my line of work to get to be around a lot of different musicians and engineers every day, so thereâ€™s always an opportunity to learn. Iâ€™m working on a couple different things right now, a project with an amazing singer and keyboardist Valery Gore, and another instrumental record where the focus will be fast, fairly upbeat songs rhythm heavy and no acoustic guitar. I still love the instrument and practice every day, but I feel like I need to try and re-invent what I do a little bit with each project from now on. In a weird way itâ€™s nice to not really have a label or large fan base that expects me to make album that sounds a certain way; it gives total freedom to do something that challenges me to make sounds that I havenâ€™t made before.
How successful have you been in licensing your songs? Do you feel that trying to sell instrumental material is a bit easier of a go?Â
Van Tassel: Iâ€™ve been moderately successful in terms of licensing and have gotten a few different things so far. I perhaps foolishly havenâ€™t really pushed that end of my music yet, not because of not wanting to license it, but because at this point my solo career has to take a bit of a step back due to the commitments I have as a drummer/producer with other artists. Iâ€™m super lucky to work as a sideman with great artists, and itâ€™s how I make my living.
In terms of if it is easier to licence instrumental music, itâ€™s tough to say. Iâ€™ve had equal numbers of people looking for strictly instrumental music as for vocal music. I think itâ€™s entirely dependant on the nature of the content theyâ€™re using it for, and thereâ€™s a number of factors involved in determining how full or busy sounding the music should be. I suppose itâ€™s about how well the music supports and enhances whatâ€™s happening on the screen, and whether the images require lyrics or not.