Love precedes Tart Vandelay as it leaves a chaotically smooth pastel wash in its wake. With jazzy guitar and looped female vocals that stop just shy of infinity, Tart Vandelay is mesmerizing in its stunning, deceptive simplicity.
At the heart of this Rochester band is guitarist Marty LoFaso and vocalist, ukulele player, and loop wrangler Katie Halligan. The two musicians met in school and began dating in 2011. But it stopped there; they were wary of playing music together.
"We tried to avoid it," LoFaso says. "Just because we wanted to keep those things separate. It was like, 'Aw jeez; let's not put the strain on our personal relationship."
The moratorium didn't last, though.
"After enough soul-searching about our own musical aspirations, it became clear if we got half the success we wanted, the relationship would fall apart because we'd be moving in opposite directions," LoFaso says. "It kinda became apparent we had to work together. We officially started writing together in 2014. We tried to at first in 2013. We were trying to come up with lyrics, bounce ideas off of each other; that didn't end well."
"We just didn't get anywhere," Halligan adds. "Eventually we were able to find a way to work together ... but not work together. We write separately; kind of assembly line writing."
Lo and behold the duo discovered they were quite musically compatible despite their initial apprehension. Their individual sounds were complementary and supportive of one another, with LoFaso's guitar rivaling Halligan's pretty voice.
"We sounded similar," Halligan says. "Our sounds complemented each other. The vocal lines I created seemed to go well with the guitar lines he made."
"I'm just not naturally a vocalist," LoFaso says. "I hear ideas in my head, but I've never been able to replicate it. The first time I wrote a guitar piece, a song skeleton, and passed it along to Katie to put in the vocals, she came up vocally with what I was hearing in my head but couldn't express."
It's at this juncture in the two's collaboration that things get ethereal and crossed over to other mediums and tantalized other senses. Tart Vandelay's sound floats in the cracks and fissures found in conventional music. You'll hear things you never heard before. The music this band creates is to be seen and felt as much as it is to be heard. When is the last time you heard delicious? When is the last time you saw loud?
"I listen to the guitar part that he gives me," Halligan says. "And I think about what picture it puts in my mind. I really try to create some sort of tangible image I can connect a song with so it's a little more accessible lyrically, and that in turn, gives me a lyrical idea. You've gotta start somewhere."
Often Tart Vandelay kicks off a composition with Halligan's plaintive voice put in multiple layers through a looping pedal. She loops cautiously, knowing that a little bit goes a long way; the risk is in becoming stagnant or played out.
"It's something people are interested in," she says. "But for others and for me personally, it can get old fast. So we try to do some with looping, some not."
Although looping is an electronic effect there is still a person in the mix adding the human elements of imperfection and haphazard fluidity.
"It definitely makes the performance unique," LoFaso says. "Every time it is a little different from the time before."
Tart Vandelay recently added two new members, bassist Steve Petoniak and drummer Chris Dubuc-Penney. Initially hired on as live-only players, the two have graduated to full time participation in the studio as well as the stage; the band shines in both arenas for performance, exploration, and self-definition.
"I like to think of them as different mediums," LoFaso says. "And I think you can get the most out of each one if you approach them as such. I think our eventual goal, in looking for a unique sound, is to become a genre unto ourselves. I just don't want to do anything that's been expressly done before."
Tart Vandelay has one EP out and is working on another due to drop this fall with a promise from Halligan and LoFaso to continue in their search for the few remaining unheard notes and progressions.
"That's the sound that's always been in our heads," LoFaso says.