The Deca-log

Charleston City Paper | September 30, 2006
What do a 1971 MCI Challenger bus, a 42-year-old saxophone session man, and Bonnaroo have in common? Well, they’re all images an overactive brain might conjure up in a ’shroom-induced haze — and they’re all very real parts of the ramshackle six-city June tour undertaken by local vocal-less, guitarless, proggy rock duo The Tens earlier this year.

“We got a really good reception because the bus makes you seem bigger than you are,” says Tens bassist Taylor Nelson.

Of course, there’s nothing that says “we’re a serious band, dammit” more than a bona fide tour bus, which was something Nelson (ex-Maytag) and Tens drummer Jordan Herschaft (ex-aZwethinkweiZ, owner of Fusion 5 Studios) realized when they purchased the 40-foot, gleaming, chrome behemoth in anticipation of a tour with Maestro, the short-lived project the two collaborated on with guitarist and singer Chris Patterson (of Wormbelly and DaliDrama).

After about a year playing as The Tens, Nelson and Herschaft joined up with Patterson, whom Herschaft had known for years, soon after Wormbelly broke up in late 2005 and the trio named themselves Evolutionaire, eventually changing the moniker to Maestro in Feb. 2006.

Things were rolling along smoothly through the early part of the year, eventually culminating in the March release of a Maestro EP called Mescalito. Then, after a calamitous show at a friend’s wedding in May, Patterson “decided it was probably best for all of us to go our separate ways,” he says.

“I felt very comfortable with the music that we made with Maestro — I was caught unaware,” Nelson says, “but he’d been committed to Wormbelly for a lifetime, and [Maestro] was a rebound gig.”

With roughly two weeks until the kick-off of the already-planned Maestro tour, Nelson and Herschaft were left with — ahem — the shaft. So they naturally did one of their favorite things to do when making music — they improvised.

“There’s no rules in making music,” Herschaft says. “You don’t have to have a guitar player, you don’t have to have anything.”

Herschaft called up saxophonist Louis Dixon, a colleague he once played with in a band called Funhole, and the three of them gathered at Fusion 5 with three different saxophones (alto, tenor, and soprano), drums, basses, a dulcimer, Nelson’s stacked-ass pedal board, and a red vinyl album made in 1964 called The Triumph of Man (used for sampling purposes), and put together the Tens debut LP, It Is Very Hard To Stop, in just 10 days, leaving them with enough time to get the bus fully road-ready and to get about 200 CDs pressed — all of which they sold on the tour.

“There was something so visceral about the sound coming out of that brass,” Nelson says, and his point is quickly made clear upon listening to the CD, with its crashing waves of nearly melodic, polyrhythmic drums and adventurous bass lines juxtaposed with soulful saxophone vamps that leap across keys, occasionally flirting with disintegration.

Although they convinced Dixon to travel with them up and down the East Coast, scoring a lucky break when it turned out he was also a skilled diesel mechanic, the hornblower could not be at the official CD release party at Johnson’s Pub in Charleston in Sept.

Of course, the core Tens duo already have big plans for the upcoming year, starting with the skeleton of a 14-song acoustic CD (which includes lyrics!) that Nelson, who played guitar for years with Maytag, churned out after his return from Bonnaroo, where he drew inspiration from the mindblowing show put on by My Morning Jacket. Plus or minus lyrics and guitar and with or without dirty brass, as long as there are instruments nearby, it’s guaranteed that the Tens will keep multiplying their styles.

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