Like most bands, the personnel of the group often lies within family links and friends acquired along the way via mutual passions. Tillerman is no different. Lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Kulczycki and drummer Tom Kulczycki are brothers who have jammed together for years. Jon met lead guitarist Shaun Mallia through work whilst at university and Tom worked alongside bassist Iain Moyser at a well-known restaurant chain. After working the Leeds underground scene, as well as a seven-year hiatus, Tillerman is back with a five-track EP Gathering – a gathering of their previous singles in a pretty package. Jon Kulczycki speaks with us about Gathering and their influences.
Why did you choose to enter the music industry?
Growing up I loved music, especially the back catalogue of my parents’ record collection – The Beatles, Stones, Fleetwood Mac and all Hollies. I remember going out to work with my Dad one day. I was about 7 at the time and whilst we were driving along to ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac I was explaining to my Dad what the hooks in the song were and why sonically you wanted to hear it again. From an early age, I had a good understanding of music and it intrigued me. I used to write songs to melodies in my head.
When I was 13, I was given a karaoke machine for Christmas and I used to rewrite the lyrics to all the tunes on the cassette tapes. Art was always the subject I excelled at in school and it was the one thing that gave me an identity and a channel for my creativity. Slowly my passion for art was replaced by making music.
I sang in a couple of bands in my late teens, but it was only when I learned to play guitar that I knew I had a real gift for songwriting; painting pictures but now with words and melody. My brother Tom who is 7 years younger than me was old enough to be our band drummer. I met Shaun our lead guitarist through working at a local pub together and Tom met Iain, our bass player, at work also. All of us love music and we need to exercise that creative part of our beings. So, whether signed or successful we will always write, create and record.
What can you tell us about your latest release Gathering?
Gathering is an EP that is a result of a long journey for all of us. The four members of the band have had three incarnations. The first was ‘Waring Green’ – the music we were writing then in our early years sounded like a fight between Travis and Metallica. Mainly due to the fact that I and Shaun wrote all the songs together. Usually, Shaun would present some music, a riff, a chord sequence and I would cover it in a melody and the words. But Shaun’s musical background is very much rooted in blues and classical rock, whereas I was more sympathetic to the hooks and melodies modern pop culture spits out. We actually wrote some real gems during this time and one of those tracks was the basis for ‘Chasing Shadows’ which we recorded as Tillerman for the EP.
The second chapter of the band was ‘Satellite’. During this period I think we were guilty of trying to be something we were not. We were desperate to get signed and we were pandering a fair bit to what we thought we needed to sound like. Once again, we wrote some gems, but they sounded very much like bands that had gone before, then a natural hiatus occurred due to personal circumstances and journeys. We all got partnered off, kids came, proper jobs had to come as a result and music for me took a back step; but, I had unfinished ideas, half-written songs and melodies that would come to me at two in the morning in bed. I frantically jotted lyrics down on my phone so I wouldn’t forget.
A few years passed and Shaun got involved in a band and was back playing. This really reignited my fire and I bought myself new recording tech and laid down a load of demos. Those demos then became the Gathering EP and all the other guys came back in the fold to work on the project. Apart from ‘Chasing Shadows’ I had taken the lead on the writing, so I suppose the EP benefited from having a certain fixed direction. What I love is that everyone gets to express themselves and translate the song in their own way on their own instrument!
What was the recording and writing process like?
For me, it always starts with a mood and a melody. Something must be sonically edible that you want to hear again and remember. I tend to get a verse or chorus and go from there. I am not one of those writers who spits out 40 songs and whittles it down to the 10 they think are any good. If I don’t believe the basic idea has legs, I don’t bother finishing it.
Regarding the recording process, the new tech I mentioned earlier was the ‘Spire Recording Studio’ – a small pod that pairs with an app on your phone and allows you to lay down multiple tracks and mix them. For a Luddite like myself, this piece of kit is amazing and I would recommend to any singer-songwriter. Once we mapped out the song compositions, main parts and harmonies, we are ready to go into the studio properly.
The whole process of recording those five songs, including mixing and mastering, took about three weeks of studio time. Our producer Grant Henderson is someone Shaun had used with his other band for the album they had recorded. What I liked about working with Grant was his knowledge, empathy with the song and artistic direction. I would say 20% of the band’s sound is from Grant, he is someone we would definitely pull in for future gigs and recording projects.
What does Gathering mean to you on a personal level?
The time from the disbandment of ‘Satellite’ (our second incarnation) to the recording of the Gathering was eight years. I don’t think I’ve ever explained the name to the rest of the lads, but the Tillerman project was a gathering back together of the group. I have always said to Shaun when we all play together something great happens. We just ‘get’ each other. I don’t class myself as an amazing vocalist, but I do believe in my songwriting ability and I have three amazingly talented musicians who bring it all together. I wouldn’t want to write and record with anyone else!
What do you hope people take from the EP?
Enjoyment and a desire to listen to the tracks again. We have no agenda to be a political spokesman or have a say in climate change or the divisions within society. It’s just about music and music is the only media that I truly believe people connect with. The reason many modern art galleries are empty is no-one understands the language, the reason or meaning to the concepts. Take the song ‘Hold Me Haunt Me’ from the EP, it was written about losing my Dad to cancer and it speaks of a longing to see that person just one more time if only as a ghost. Who can’t relate to that? If I can move one person with our music then it’s job done!
What part of songwriting do you find most difficult?
Finishing the songs off! I naturally lose interest and move to the next project. In my head and on my Spire Pod I have a batch of songs that are partly written and I believe are killer tracks, but I have to really force myself to revisit them and complete the song’s journey.
Who influences your sound?
For me, it would be great pop, anything from The Beatles to a ballad by Adele. For Shaun, once again it would be his upbringing in the blues, rock greats like Free and Zeppelin, but also jazz-influenced artists such as Jeff Buckley. Iain is very eclectic and has a wide taste, he can play to anything. Tom grew up listening to the same things as me, but has a niche taste in prog rock and the likes.
What does 2020 (and beyond) hold for Tillerman?
Well, with Covid 19, gigs are probably out of the question this year. We had a music video for ‘My Eden’ scheduled to be shot this April, but that looks like it could now be May or June. We’ve never shot a video before, but with content now being the key thing in building your audience, we have to adapt and produce engaging content. As eluded to previously, I have enough new material for a follow up to Gathering so that should keep us busy until the Autumn and ready to release around September.
Do you have any message for our readers?
Just to check out our EP. Follow us on Facebook and in a few weeks you will be able to watch our first music video. All a musician wants is an audience.