About a year ago, I happened, between sets at vinyl night, to catch a curious act upstairs in the Revival Room. The Please Please Me, a trio out of Austin, Tay-haas, is a hard-working, hard-touring outfit featuring guitar, drums, cello and the occasional percussive log. That’s right. You heard me. A log.
“The split log drum is an instrument I picked up in Cameroon [in] my junior year of college,” frontwoman and guitarist Jessie Torrisi informed me. “It was an ancient form of communication, similar to Morse code. But instead of short and long tones, you have a high, low and a click. People used to telegraph to the next village that a baby was born, or the enemy was coming, or whatever was newsworthy back then.
“Obviously, that's not my tradition, but I was definitely inspired by musicians I met in Cameroon, how some would take any sound or rhythm and just apply it to modern contexts. So we're just trying to add a level of rhythm and urgency that'll make people dance or stop and take notice.”
Notice people have, although it took a move from New York City — where Torrisi was previously based — to Austin to really get things going.
“Of all the virtues of New York, these are not among them: people with plenty of time to practice, parking for a van, rehearsal space, and probably most importantly, a feeling that it's okay to be in formation,” she ventured.
“New Yorkers are exposed to so much great culture,” Torrisi said. “I just felt I would too self-conscious to be starting something new and making all the mistakes that come with that. Perhaps my ego is too thin, but I knew I needed to be in a city that was more like an incubator, where I could take my time and find myself and the right partners-in-crime, musically.”
Once in Austin, the project fell into place. Torrisi met and immediately made friends with cellist Alissa McClure. Costa Rican percussionist Agustin Frederic, who reportedly has a soft spot for Katy Perry tunes in the tour van, followed closely thereafter. Their first EP, “Shake a Little Harder,” garnered the group exposure on NPR.
“It was a matter of fate. Alissa was one of my first friends in Austin — wasn't even playing cello much, but we started playing for fun,” Torrisi recalled. “Agustin we met on Craigslist. He had such intensity around playing drums and forming a real band. It was really motivating.
“Finding people who are willing, committed, and [who] you like is a huge deal. So we've tried to take what we each bring to the table as far as possible and weave that into a whole,” she continued. “We prop each other up. A trio forms the shape of a triangle. By leaning against each other, each leg keeps the next upright. We try to make the music the center of what we do; if you're able to truly express and emote onstage, it empties you out in the most beautiful way and gives you the energy to do it all again the next day.”
The Please Please Me will wrap up their current tour this Saturday, August 17, at The Comet, in Northside. After that, they will head back to Texas to rest and recoup before heading back into the studio to lay down tracks for their second record.
“We're very proud of ‘Shake a Little Harder,’ but we'd only been playing together about seven months when we recorded [it],” Torrisi explained. “For this next one, we get to take everything we learned — how our instruments fit together, where the sweet spot is in my voice, this sexy-dreamy-moody vibe that seems to be our thing — and put it front and center.”
“It's a little bit insane to get home from tour and jump right back into the studio, but we're so pumped for our sophomore album. We're working Frenchie Smith, who's produced Toadies, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, among others, and seems to really get these old-school New York City art rock references that live deep in our bones,” she said. “I think we're in a good spot. Our only competition is us. We don't sound like other bands. If we can just master being ourselves, we'll be golden.”
Torrisi is looking forward to PPM’s Cincinnati date.
“We get surges of energy from our fans and friends across the country. Meeting new people, seeing new ways of life and getting to connect in new ways definitely makes you feel young and alive,” she said. “It's up to the audience to catch it and keep the circle going. And we know how Cincinnati folk like to shake it. It'll be our last night of tour, so we want to go out with a bang.”