Jeff Parker officially joined Tortoise on January 1, 1997. He had been playing in an unofficial capacity with the band for some time before that. He sat in during hometown gigs in their native Chicago clubs and lent some of his guitar skills to the first two Tortoise albums before he became a card-carrying member.
...off of The Catastrophist by Tortoise
“I loved what they did, and I was very respectful of it,” Parker explained to the Reader. “I don’t think they really knew what they were doing. I was coming from more of a jazz background, but I was looking to do something different musically. Their band was pursuing the same thing as a side-project from all the guitar-based bands that everyone was playing in. I think we all were surfing for new things, and they knew that I would fit in.”
Tortoise is (primarily) an instrumental band whose main asset seems to be experimentation. Even though they are most often cited as being “post-rock,” they have made a career out of being pretty impossible to pigeonhole into a specific musical genre or scene. As a result, a Tortoise gig can turn into a melding of diverse musical minds.
“People will like us who are closer to hip-hop and beats because of our production and rhythm. There are people who like us because of the jazz association and influences. There are people who like it because of the experimental/avant garde sensibilities that we have. There are people who dig us because they’re just into indie rock. There are people who like it because some stuff we do sounds like Frank Zappa. It’s pretty all over the place,” Parker said.
- Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
Perhaps most surprising from the experimental standpoint is how regimented the output of Tortoise actually is. This isn’t an experimental noise act or a jam-band with 30-minute solo odysseys. Tortoise’s songs are rooted in concise execution.
“People are under the impression that Tortoise improvises, but we don’t. At all,” Parker explained. “I might take a solo here or there, but pretty rarely. It’s usually us just playing these songs, just like any other rock band. Everything is pretty strict with adherence to these structures. In that way, we’re not any different from the Ramones.”
Parker calls Los Angeles home now but stays in close contact with his Tortoise bandmates. These days, the group only springs into action when gigs are scheduled or a new album is on the horizon. “Time just flies now. We’ve got kids and families — you lose track of how fast time goes,” Parker said.
The album that will temporarily tear them away from their loved ones is called The Catastrophist, and even though Parker recalls the band playing most often locally at the Casbah, this year’s tour stop will be at the Belly Up (Tuesday, May 3).