We are DEEP in 2024 music festival announcement season and every day there is a new poster for me to pore over. I believe music festivals are one of the most powerful music discovery tools there are — a distracted 30-second snippet of some streamer's preview will not make the same impression as getting walloped by sound from big-ass speakers in a large field and/or parking lot — and even though the crop of headliners for this year's main fests kiiiind of seems like someone put "make a list of 10 music festival headliners" into ChatGPT, the small font on the posters is where the true discovery lives.
SMALL FONT / BIG TUNES is a miniseries where I write a bit about the music of bands in the small font of fest lineups. Last time I wrote about Boyfriend Sushi Town, a Salt Lake City band playing at Kilby Block Party, and dug their sneaky genre flexibility and evocative storytelling...since I wrote that, I bought a ticket for Kilby Block Party and will be there for the BST set with bells on.
When Boston Calling's lineup came out, after smiling softly at the booking of The Killers (say what you want about those hoes, they do not fuck around when it comes to festival shows) I zipped to the small print and saw a familiar name: Tysk Tysk Task. Why familiar? Well, in 2019 I went to a small music festival called Welcome Campers. It took place in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts at a summer camp called Camp Lenox, and it was all-inclusive, so a ticket covered lodging (in bunks!) and food and an absolutely astonishing amount of beer. There were performances by bands like Torres, Wet, and Half Waif, and camp-style activities like dodgeball and tie-dying t-shirts. This fest was a dream. I honestly can't believe how much fun I had, and I met so many new cool people, including Samantha Hartsel, who was in a band called...Tysk Tysk Task!
Seeing the band's name again on the BC lineup, I knew I had to write about them for the blog.
Where are they located?
What is their music like?
I really dig it. They put out an album in 2022 called You're Sorry More, which rips, and has much a darker, fuller-sounding sound than their 2020 debut, Everybody's Worried About Us. The word I keep coming back to is "raw." The bass sounds bruised, the guitar has been flayed to the bone, the vocals are on their last nerve. There's a lot of 'soft grunge' floating around in the indie music zone these days, but Tysk Tysk Task's flavor of grunge is hard, heavy, gloomy and defiant. A standout for me on You're Sorry More is "Flies," which has a gigantic sliding riff that triggers my auto-headbang mode, with Hartsel howling about an abjection that can no longer be held at arm's length: "You chase this ball all the way and then it just rolls away / What can I say? I swear I tried my hardest today."
I emailed some interview questions to Hartsel (who sings and plays guitar in the band, along with guitarist Rick Martel, bassist Kyle Griffin, and drummer Matt Graber) about Tysk Tysk Task's musical path, and what it's like to get the big call from Boston Calling.
Will you quickly recap your general musical journey?
Basically, I am a self-taught guitarist. I started teaching myself acoustic guitar when I was 10 years old. I picked it up and put it down a lot. When I moved away to college, I started messing around with electric guitar, a dinky little Ibanez I bought with a starter amp at a local shop for $120, gig bag included! But I really didn’t get into the swing of it until my late twenties. I was playing a lot of open mics as a singer songwriter with acoustic guitar, a lot of Feist/Alanis Morissette melodies and covers, but I realized people just wanted to hear a live band.
I couldn’t find a guitarist that really worked for me, so I committed myself to learning electric just for myself, and purely for Tysk Tysk Task. I’m so grateful to have found musicians along the way who believed in me, and my self-taught skills, who saw the vision even when my skills were still being honed. We started TTT in 2018 and I didn’t learn how to properly use a distortion pedal til 2019. But the rest from there is history!
How would you describe the greater Boston / general eastern Massachusetts music scene? Do you have any favorite places to play, and bands to play with?
I can understand how Boston can be intimidating for a lot of artists. Especially when you’re starting out. It was really difficult to break into, but I kept at it, and it started small. Beginning with small open mics in and around Boston in Lowell and in Worcester, I made a lot of connections. When people ask how the band got to where it is today, or ask for advice for how their band should approach starting their musical path, I always recommend starting small. Get to know those venues. Get to know the bands, and get to know the bookers. Make friends. Yes, some of the bookers are older, and some of them can be a little resistant to booking women-led acts, or acts just starting out in my experience, but you have to push past that and find people of your own kind, who like the kind of music you’re making and believe in you, even when it feels like nobody else can. There’s too many people to name who we love to play with — Burp., JVK, Jiddo, Sapling, The Freqs, Tiefling, Johnny Gifford and his multiple projects, Sam Simpson… the list goes on! Venues we love to play include house venues and their underground basements in the DIY scene. We would not be here without them.
What was it like to get the news that you booked Boston Calling?
It was positively insane. I still can’t believe it myself. Getting the emailed contract letting us know that we were able to play the festival, that we were invited to play, was just unbelievable. I called everyone in the band shrieking for joy. This has been a lofty goal of mine since I saw Fleet Foxes and the Decemberists and Eminem play Boston Calling in 2016. I just imagined what it would be like to be up on that stage someday. I don’t know if you could say we manifested it, but it was definitely on secret our vision boards, at least mentally, haha.
Have you played at a festival before?
We have played some small fests. In the past, we’ve played The Town & The City Festival in Lowell, a newer festival that we’re returning to this April. The Boston Rock n’ Roll Rumble is a battle of the bands, but I think it’s fair to call it a festival because it brings smaller, local bands together. But Boston Calling is far and away the biggest thing we’ve ever done. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears since 2018 to get to this point, but I really I’m just so excited and so proud to say that we’re here.
Check out Tysk Tysk Task's link aggregation here, and go see 'em at Boston Calling, and listen to their new goth-tinged single "Intolerable." And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend.