How did the success of Millions Now Living Will Never Die affect the way that Tortoise approached its next album, TNT?
“Millions was kind of a breakthrough for us. Even before Millions we had started to realize that there was interest in the music we were making, which was slightly unexpected. After we made Millions we toured behind it a lot, for six months. It gave us confidence about moving ahead, and it was validating in a way—proof that our hunches about the way we work were beneficial. We started making money as a band because we toured so much behind Millions. That enabled John McEntire to start building his recording studio, so those things coalesced in us starting to work on TNT.”—Doug McCombs
“There’s always the pressure of making a second record and we skirted that with Millions. I remember talking to people about that, and it was the third album that I was more worried about.”—Dan Bitney
Could you talk about where TNT was recorded?
“Right around the time that we were starting Tortoise, [band member] John Herndon and I moved into this warehouse near Grand Avenue and Wood Street. Eventually, but not simultaneously, every member of Tortoise lived in that warehouse, and that’s where McEntire started Soma Electronic Music Studio. Starting with TNT, John began building his studio and out of necessity was starting out with mostly digital stuff. He bought ProTools recording software, which was in its infancy at the time. So when we started working on TNT, there were infinite possibilities, even more so than with Millions. The studio was in our warehouse where we all lived, so we could take our time working on it without worrying about paying for studio time.”—DM
“I don’t want to say it was like Warhol’s factory because it wasn’t a party, but it was a factory in a sense that it was a loft. There would be a little guitar setup over there, drums over there, isolation rooms in one part of it. It was interesting to work like that.”—DB
“The control room at the original Soma studio was really small, so you wouldn’t want five people in there at the same time. But it wasn't rare for us to all be hanging out, especially when most of us lived there anyway. It wouldn’t be uncommon for all of us to be sitting in the kitchen, listening to what McEntire was doing, making suggestions and occasionally playing something.”—DM
How did the use of digital technology shape TNT?
“It led to a longer, more involved process of writing the songs and seeing what we could do with the material that we had. It was a time when we were pretty prolific. We had a lot of ideas about things we could do and we wanted to see them all the way through. We took a long time making the record and we ended up with a really long record because we were determined to use as much material as we could.”—DM
“It was just such a different experience. It wasn’t a stressful two weeks in a recording studio. You could try an idea 27 times and go back and find all the right pieces and put them together. With the technology, you got these endless editing possibilities, so that just tacked four months on to the process.”—DB
What are your best memories of the recording of TNT?
“The recording of the album was pretty casual, McEntire might say, 'I’m thinking of working on the record for these next three days I have open, if anyone wants to be around.' Whoever was available would add stuff and work on it. Building some of those tracks on the early ProTools software took a lot of meticulous editing and looping and getting the right sections to fit together. Sometimes McEntire was building the rhythm track for a particular idea for a whole afternoon or a whole day and we’d just hang around giving ideas and feedback, not necessarily playing. Other things were happening at the time, too. Three of the guys were playing in the band Isotope 217, I was starting to record Brokeback stuff, Herndon was playing in 5 Style at the time, [Tortoise guitarist] Jeff Parker was doing a lot of jazz gigs. Some of us would be coming and going and trying to find times in our schedules when we would hopefully be all together and working on it.”—DM
“For me it was always kind of a hard band because roles weren’t defined. I did really well at being the type of musician that would figure out 'Oh, we need this drum part' or 'Nobody can play that bass line over there' when we went to play the songs live later on. I had ideas, but I barely could write for the band up until recently. My track on TNT is “The Equator.” I was very influenced by African music, the triplets and bouncing tempos. But I also thought it was almost like a Sonny Sharrock song with those descending chordal guitar parts.”—DB