EXCLUSIVE: The Tins Break Out Of 'The Green Room,' Anticipate Upcoming EP and Full-Length In 2014
It's a little after 7 p.m. on a Thursday night in early October, and The Tins are standing across the street from Pianos in New York's iconic Lower East Side. Their new (used) white minivan, Jean Claude Van Van (as one member calls it), is parked outside, and they don't want to get a ticket. There's a cop about a block down, but they should be fine as long as they can appear to still be unloading their equipment. The band is playing Pianos that night by way of any other show. They hope this gig proves more successful.
Hailing from Buffalo, N.Y., The Tins are a three piece made up of Mike Santillo on keys and vocals, Adam Putzer on guitar and vocals and Dave Muntner on drums. The trio met in college at Binghamton University in New York, where they all majored in English, but moved to Buffalo after graduation because they were low on funds and Santillo's father had an empty loft that the group could move into if they were willing to clean the place up.
They thought it would take about a day to make this place a home and were surprised to find dead birds, dead mice, live cats, rusty pipes, moldy walls, and other filth occupying the space. Coming to the realization that this project was going to take a few months, the bandmates crashed in Santillo's living room and put off music while they gutted the place, painted it green and transformed it into a home, rehearsal space and studio.
This transition was a main theme on their first self-titled EP, which they recorded themselves in about two days by sneaking into an empty studio at night. The songs, especially "The Green Room," gained traction on YouTube and Soundcloud, and soon people wanted to hear new material.
They hired a manager who sent out emails about their CMJ show, and Joe Blaney (producer for Modest Mouse, The Clash, Prince) responded. They put together a Kickstarter fund and raised enough money at the last minute to afford to have Blaney produce their debut album, Life's A Gas.
Working with Blaney was like a boot camp for them. "We were kind of green going in," Putzer said. "We had only so much money, so many days. So we had to do eight straight days in the studio like 24 hours a day with a few hours of sleep in between."
Blaney was critical of their material in pre-production, and his input was integral in shaping the sound of the album.
"He kind of had a retro influence," Muntner said. "I think that shows on the album with some of the warmness of the sounds we got on guitar and drums."
Their style is in the vein of indie-pop and alternative rock with a tinge of post-punk flair — basically a mix of Dr. Dog, The Shins, MGMT and Wolf Parade. They skillfully layer sounds of driving beats and thoughtful synth-and-guitar interplay while blending honest lyrics with catchy riffs.
Once finished, the 11-track Life's A Gas propelled the band into a professional realm. Spotify creator Sean Parker even took notice and added three Tin's tracks, "The Green Room," "Hit And Miss" and "We Fought the Moon" to his Hipster International Playlist — one of the most popular playlists on Spotify. "The Green Room" has surpassed 1.5 million streams on the site. They also began earning television placements on shows such as CBS's 90210 and PBS's Roadtrip Nation.
Despite some success, the band had learned from Blaney that in order to survive, they must be prolific. So they headed back into the studio, this time without a producer, to begin work on a second EP.
They received some criticism for Life's A Gas sounding too polished and overproduced, so they made an effort to bring back the youthful, raw energy that their eponymous EP embodied while maintaining a professional standard. They took the skills they learned from Blaney and refined their sound.
"You have to keep redefining yourself if you want to move forward," Muntner said. "You look at any successful band, and they don't play the same song after the same song on every album. And that's the scary thing, but it's also the exciting thing."
Putzer added that the upcoming EP would depart from the pop orientation of Life's A Gas. "The new songs branch out in some ways, and in some ways they adhere to what we did on the album," he said. "I feel like it's a bit of a transition point because what we are writing now is definitely a bit more out there, I'd say, at least for us. I think [the EP] is good mix of where we've been and where we are going next."
Finding their niche among thousands of indie bands in the marketplace right now is their real struggle. Just browse the lists of bands that will be showcased next week at CMJ Festival, and you will get an idea of just how many acts are trying to break. And that number grows every year.
But a paradox exists in the strategies that get bands noticed. They must tour to death while simultaneously putting out new material. And it's no easy feat to balance time in the studio with time on the road. Not to mention a personal life and a day job, if your music can't support you.
The Tins approach right now is to hold off on touring for a bit while they get their EP out and keep up with the day jobs that support them.
Back in Buffalo, Santillo is a barista, Muntner is a personal trainer, and Putzer works for Santillo's dad loading trucks and also stocks shelves at Barnes and Noble. They all put their English majors to use as guests bloggers for a local music website.
The dynamic of the loft has seen a change recently as well. Putzer decided to move out to maintain his sanity, so only Muntner and Santillo currently reside there.
"It had gotten to a point that we were so on top of one another, and when practices get kind of heated, you have nowhere to go," Putzer said. "You kind of just have to boil in your anger in another corner of the same room you're all in. So, I moved out. And it's worked out for me. They might hate each other still, but I can go home and not worry about it."
That's the kind of personality Putzer has. He is the voice of reason in a group full of passionate musicians who all have their varying opinions on what things should sound like. Muntner is "Mr. Relentless," but adds a positive, if not pushy, can-do energy to the mix. Santillo is the more even-keeled of the three but "can have his moments" of being high strung.
"We all balance one another out in the end," Santillo said. "And we are all friends. We've been friends for a long time. We care for each other and we want the best for each other. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that at the end of the day."
They are a group of passionate individuals working together to fulfill their dreams, and that can be stressful. They make a point to let out their feelings on long drives to shows. In a sort of "roast" therapy session, they go in a circle and verbalize any issues they have, then they move on.
"It's like a marriage essentially," Muntner said. "A loveless marriage, and there's never any makeup sex."
He takes that back. "Actually, I do think there is some kind of form of makeup sex. And that would be a good show."
And a good show is what they got that night at Pianos. Their live performance supplements their studio sound while encapsulating the true essence of what the band seems to be going for. The energy is raw and at times sloppy, but it still manages to move the crowd with powerful harmonies and tight interactions that keep the vibe upbeat and sincere.
The guys seemed to have enjoyed themselves — a nice note to end on as they replace the road for rehearsal and recording.
Their EP should be out sometime in January, but "don't quote" them on that. Apparently they wanted to put it out back in May. This is a lesson the band is learning — not to over think things and to just get the music out there. Muntner recalls a time when the band first got together.
"So the very first thing we kind of did together as a band was a song, it was pretty bad, but we ended up working it for like six months because we thought it was the most perfect song ever," he said. "We lived with two girls at the time, and it was this big running joke of 'they are still playing this one song.' They were like, 'I hear it hour after hour every day it's driving me crazy.' We didn't even ever use the song. After we got over that, the next two weeks we wrote three songs. Sometimes you need those moments. I think we write songs a lot more quickly now. Any time someone takes too long, we look back to this earlier song."
The Tins have learned to keep looking forward to the next thing and to stop striving for perfection as they work to make a name for themselves. Despite taking longer than they had hoped on their upcoming EP, they have already written most of the songs for the album that with follow it.
2014 should prove a pivotal year for them. After they release the EP, they will tour like crazy and finish up the songs for the full-length.
"You write music, and you lie to yourself, and you tell yourself that it's good," Muntner philosophizes. "And then one day maybe it will actually be good. Ya know, it's really just the beginning of our musical careers."
Must-Hear Songs: "The Green Room," "Subtle Rattle," "Midnight Crowd," "Spies" and "Please Be Kind (Vidali Remix)"