The Dean of the University of Michigan Medical School just offered Rob Cantor a full-ride scholarship, but Cantor's passing it up-at least for now-because he wants to be a rock-star. So do pre-med students Zubin Sedghi and Ross Federman. Along with Cantor, they're leaving the world of academia behind to go on tour. Joining them are student/award-winning filmmaker Joe Hawley and music composition/English double-major Andrew Horowitz, who has won the Hopwood Writing Award twice-like Arthur Miller. They're all from the University of Michigan, their band is called Tally Hall, and they're starting to get noticed.
WELCOME TO TALLY HALL
The name "Tally Hall" comes from a bygone indoor carnival/food court, which four of the five band members frequented as toddlers. Drummer Federman explains, "'Tally Hall' was a glorified food court in Farmington Hills, Michigan. It closed in 1988, but I can remember visiting with my family, eating dinner at Anita's Kitchen, and playing the games at the arcade that's now called 'Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum.'" The band named itself after Tally Hall, according to guitarist Cantor, because "Tally Hall has become a fuzzy, nostalgic beacon of something nice. It was everything anyone could ever want--and that's what we're trying to make out our band."
Last year Tally Hall (the band) found its way into the national limelight as the in-house guests on the Mitch Albom Radio Show. Albom said, "They look like they're twelve, but these guys are very talented. You'll be hearing a lot from them." And that was back when Mitch Albom wasn't a liar.
After their appearance, keyboardist Horowitz's song "Good Day" won the 2004 BMI Music Foundation's John Lennon Scholarship Award, which comes with $10,000 of Yoko Ono's money. Yes, Tally Hall sounds a bit like the Beatles. Horowitz explains, "The comparison comes from a similarity in songwriting. We're very aware of the importance of songwriting, and we make sure it serves as the building block for the rest of the song's realization. A lot of bands don't have the ability to write good songs; we're lucky in that we have a lot of talent to draw on within Tally Hall."
Also like the Beatles, Tally Hall's fans are mostly female-there's no denying it. And there's certainly no denying that many of those female fans are teenagers, but Tally Hall has, at best, a love/hate relationship with radio-friendly pop tunes and their potential mass-market appeal, so let's hold off on deciding which band member is the "Sporty One." Tally Hall insists on playing a wide range of songs, and some of them can get pretty (too?) quirky.
But most fans appreciate the wonk. Horowitz says, "We have great fans who believe in what we do; they sing along and analyze our songs and lyrics. We couldn't ask for anything more." Yes, fans sing along to guitarist Joe Hawley's existentialist "Ruler of Everything," but I doubt they understand what the lyrics mean (e.g., Do you like how I dance?/I got zirconium pants,/consequential enough to slip you into a trance.") On the one hand, nobody understood the Beatles' White Album either; on the other hand, the Beatles didn't make the record until after they were huge (1968). When you're as big as the Beatles-and at their peak, the Beatles definitely were-listeners tolerate and appreciate serious oddity. But Tally Hall still has dues to pay.
In March of 2005, the band played at The Pingry School-a private high school in New Jersey-which sounds like a total throwaway gig, but sn't; former Pingry headliners include Guster and Dispatch. (Yeah, it's one of THOSE private schools.) The students screamed, lined up for autographs, and did everything else they could-short of fainting-to send the band's collective ego through the roof. One girl beaded the chorus of Cantor's song "Stationary Love" onto her necklace, which especially pleased Cantor because many consider "Stationary Love" to be Tally Hall's worst. (Cantor also wrote the band's first hit, "Greener." It remains an audience favorite, and it's so catchy and good-natured that it makes "That Thing You Do" sound like Aphex Twins.)
Tally Hall played a lot of covers back in their frat party gig days. Now the band almost exclusively plays original songs (written by Horowitz, Cantor, and Hawley). An exception is made for Biz Markie's "Just a Friend." Most white college bands covering songs from black rappers do one of two things:
1) They try to "sound black."
2) They do the profoundly unoriginal "Isn't this funny? We're white kids rapping a black song!" shtick.
It's tough to decide which is more insulting, but that's not the point; the point is that Tally Hall's "Just a Friend" cover transcends this. The band plays the song the best they can, and like Andy Kaufman doing Elvis, they're constantly surprising Tally Hall virgins with their genuine, all-out performances. Their Biz Markie cover got so popular that for a few months, the band refused to play the song because they didn't want to be seen as a one-trick pony. But the band couldn't fight popular demand; they brought the song back, and now they end almost every show with it.
Tally Hall doesn't hide from or apologize for their middle/upper-class upbringing. Cantor, Sedghi, Federman, and Hawley are all from Bloomfield Hills/West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Horowitz is from New Jersey's functional equivalent. Cantor admits, "An affluent upbringing has opened a lot of doors. It has allowed us this pursuit. It's a blessing, and we're all completely grateful." With the notable exception of Ben Folds, you'd be hard pressed to find a non-classical musician willing to come out and say this, even though tons of 'bad-ass' rock bands had posh childhoods.
The members of Tally Hall don't pretend to be anybody they're not; they're just five guys who love to play eccentric rock music. They smile a lot, and their happiness is contagious. The happiness is almost childish-in a good way.
Every ten-year-old boy wants to be a rock-star. The textbook parent response to a child's musical ambitions goes like this: "Okay, honey, you can be a musician as long as you have a backup plan. If you go to college and get a degree, you can do whatever you want because you'll have something to fall back onto." The second part of the story goes like this: the ten-year-old boy grows up, goes to college, studies engineering, forgets how to play all the difficult guitar chords, and then graduates. As he walks across the stage, takes his diploma, and shake's the Dean's hand, he's forgotten about rock-star life plan. Well, either Tally Hall hasn't forgotten or they simply haven't grown up. (I suspect it's a combination of the two.) And now we'll see if Tally Hall is just a short diversion in the academic lives of the band's members or if their educations really were backup plans.
Story by Rick Lax