The five men of Tally Hall sit in a half circle in the dark, musty attic bedroom of guitarist Joe Hawley. Their topic of discussion: proper necktie procedure. According to Hawley’s 1985 copy of Dick Clark’s Easygoing Guide to Good Grooming, completing the half-Windsor is far harder than it appears. And as Dick Clark has realized the trials of necktie-tying, Tally Hall knows the difficulties of songwriting.
“Joe is a perfectionist, he’s very meticulous, he envisions songs months before he’s completed them,” gushed guitarist and vocalist Rob Cantor.
Now, seeing how integral neckwear to the multi-colored performance of the self-proclaimed “wonky” Ann Arbor pop-rock outfit, it’s pretty important that they each understand the vital stylistic procedure of tying their ties. No, these aren’t the skinny-tied, scorning rock snobs most associated with the clothing accessory. Rather, they are the scrupulously color-coded, inanely well-spoken band of college cronies that have staked iconic status around Ann Arbor with their brand of deliciously catchy rock music.
The Tally Hall train has gathered so much national and even international steam that they have found themselves semifinalists in mtvU’s “Best Music on Campus Contest.” That is, they have managed to land a spot as one of the top-10 best college bands in the country. The contest, which features an open online voting system on mtvU’s website, will run until April 17. Snippets of Tally Hall’s song, “Good Day,” which also won keyboardist Andrew Horowitz the grand prize of the John Lennon Scholarship Competition at the 2004 BMI Pop Music Awards, will run on mtvU until the contest is over. If Tally’s votes add up to the top-five campus bands, they move on to the finals, where they’ll be judged by industry professionals and artists like G.Love. The grand prize is a $25,000 recording deal with Universal Records.
From their first performance at a 2002 Basement Arts showcase in the Frieze Building to a recently sold-out show at Ann Arbor’s legendary Blind Pig, Tally Hall never thought this musical venture would land them at the potentially career changing seriousness they face today.
“That show convinced me that we had something more than just being a way to keep yourself busy,” drummer Ross Federman said.
Even though Cantor says they’ll devote a couple years to their project, they remain grounded to the fact that this strange trip may come to an abrupt end. “We all have all these different career paths that could possibly happen, and all these people know that,” Horowitz said. But Hawley is optimistic: “We’re feeling like we’re onto something.”
And on to something they are. Tally’s website has recently suffered slowdown due to an overpowering number of visitors, and the Hawley-directed video for the Caribbean-fused “Banana Man” was broadcast to millions on Albinoblacksheep.com.
This limelight has garnered fan mail from Tally-Hallniks as far as Japan, Belgium and Germany. This international exposure, combined with the devoted following of University students, has led Tally to the point where they can step back from their tri-harmonic, shared vocal duties and let the crowd sing.
Yet fans unfamiliar with lyrics don’t bother bassist Zubin Sedghi.
“Even worse than nobody knowing your words is we’ve played in places where you really don’t feel welcome,” said Sedghi said.
This obstacle isn’t really an issue for the close-knit group. “We’re pretty confident with our product,” Horowitz said, on the eve of a Cancer Awareness Week performance on the Diag.
When it comes to scrutinizing the fine line between Tally’s lighthearted performance style and prolific songwriting, Cantor drops the silly shtick.
“With five tough critics working on each song, we can usually come with a pretty fair balance,” Cantor said.
The writing process for Tally Hall is fairly simple; Hawley, Cantor and Horowitz individually pen the lyrics and melodies, and then show the product to the rhythm section of Federman and Sedghi.
“I think we try to achieve some level of profundity in an accessible fashion,” said Hawley, reflecting on the incredible variance in the songstyle of Tally Hall’s Catalog.
A proposed short spring tour would “wonkify” crowds in states from New Jersey to Illinois. But for now, Tally Hall is content inhabiting the dual roles of campus and band life.
“We’re college kids and we use the resources we have,” Cantor said.
Those resources must be working, because Tally Hall’s opportunity to take “Best Music on Campus” award is anything but local.
“It’s basically gonna be a ride, and we’re takin’ it,” Cantor added.
Quite the ride for the profound, banana slingin’, megaphone rockin’ harmonies of Ann Arbor’s favorite group of friends.