Photos by Eryn Smith, courtesy of the artist.
Tidal Volume w/Cold War Kids | 8:00PM Thursday, 12.19.19 | Delmar Hall, 6133 Delmar Blvd. | All ages| $30
The passage of time is inevitable. There are times when it’s easy to forgo thinking about it in favor of relishing each moment as it passes. We may even push ourselves to find experiences, moments, that strike us as timeless. Those things that seem like they’ve always existed, were always familiar, even though they are novel to us. It’s a bit of an anachronism, but not entirely. It’s not the phenomena of a young person learning to play traditional music note for note with the fervor or someone from that moment in history. It’s the capacity for communicating a sentiment, embodying a tone that makes the listener take on the mindset of the artist, inclusive of their level of emotional maturity. More kindred than nostalgic. Tidal Volume has a knack for it.
I made my way to Tidal Volume by way of catching Zach Sullentrup opening for Kevin Devine circa Bulldozer / Bubblegum at Off Broadway. If memory serves, it was Zach on guitar, and his sibling on drums for a few songs. He mentioned that they were also in a band at the time. As they were playing, I was texting another musician and friend to tell him I’d found a long-lost relative of his based on what I was hearing. I was smiling from ear to ear as I listened and feverishly tweeted. You see, I wanted to share my experience with someone who understood that particular joy I was overwhelmed by, and the only other people I knew who might understand weren’t on social media. That kind of reaction was a tell if ever there was, and I made sure to follow Sullentrup and Tidal Volume on Bandcamp, but after that I reserved my inquiries about them to their recorded output, as a fan instead of as a journalist.
In the years since that show—and yes, I’m struggling to wrap my head around it being that long ago—I’ve been pleased every time I saw any press for a show or release by Sullentrup or Tidal Volume. Pursuing music in this region is unforgiving and keeping a band together is incredibly challenging, and yet here we are, at a point in the everlasting now where learning more about Tidal Volume has come to pass.
The Arts STL: I first saw you playing at Off Broadway opening for Kevin Devine back in October of 2016. My road to that show honestly started by pure happenstance over a decade before then. What was the path that brought you to that stage that night?
Zach Sullentrup: I’m glad you were at that show! I really loved that one. Tidal Volume first came into existence in 2011 when we were all in high school. I’d been in a few bands and made music before that, including some projects with friends who would become the original Tidal Volume lineup. Our first show was a battle of the bands at our high school that we played after one practice (shockingly, we did not win). Tidal Volume was a high school band, then we were a college band, now we’re just a band. Around 2015, I started playing solo shows to work on songs that didn’t fit in Tidal Volume. After graduating from college in 2016, I started playing more solo shows and making more solo music because Tidal Volume was spread across three different cities and I didn’t want to stop making music. So I was opening for Kevin “solo,” but with drum accompaniment by my sibling Matt. Today, we’re back to mostly focusing on Tidal Volume.
Ah, so that explains why the Tidal Volume releases predate your solo releases, at least what I found on Bandcamp back then. Can you speak to the distinction between your solo work and the bands a bit more?
When you’re in a traditional band, it has to be more of a democracy. It isn’t always a perfect democracy, but that’s the ideal. With my solo music, I wanted to retain a bit more control and try some things that wouldn’t have worked in Tidal Volume at the time. My first solo release on Bandcamp was a collection of unreleased demos, but on Debt Sounds, I wanted to create something new that would stand alone from Tidal Volume but reflect who I am as a person. Most days, I like playing in bands more because playing and creating alone can get lonely. But it’s a fun challenge to perform alone, and I think it makes me better as a musician.
It’s always encouraging when I see a local act that made a positive impression playing more shows and getting coverage, especially given how fickle tastes can be in music. How have things changed since you all started playing shows?
We’ve seen a lot of change from the time we started. Social media and streaming platforms have totally changed things. Different types of music have come in and out of trend. There was nothing like Billie Eilish or Lil Nas X or Lizzo on the charts when we started. But I’m not totally sure how much that affects us. We try not to adjust what we’re creating to meet trends, but we’ve certainly changed how we promote ourselves and release music. Even within St. Louis, we’ve always felt like oddballs in our own way. To us, it’s less about making yourself fit the mold and more about making the mold fit you, if that makes any sense. So yeah, we haven’t really changed our approach, just how we market our approach.
Outside of the immediate inspiration for a song, how much local tastes in music, or national artists routing tours through here, influence your ambitions as artists, if at all?
We pull inspiration from a lot of different places. I used to be ashamed whenever I could point to something in my music and know exactly what inspired it. But now, I try to celebrate those influences and think of ways to incorporate even more unlikely influences. We’re certainly an ambitious band; it’s no secret that we all really care about doing this and doing it well. But we’re always trying to create something unique that also has a broader appeal. We truly want anyone to be able to hear our music and “get it” in some way. As far as appealing to specific tastes, we’re just trying to make music that we would like if we weren’t creating it.
What are some experiences that have inspired your growth as musicians, songwriters, and live performers?
Every experience we have as a band influences how we move forward, even in small ways. We’re always trying to process our surroundings and find ways to grow while still being in the moment. We’re truly the result of our experiences. For me personally, the changes in lineup have definitely forced me to grow, as have playing solo shows and opening for much larger national acts. The times we’ve opened for larger acts, like Ludo or Silversun Pickups, have definitely felt like getting thrown in the deep end in the best way possible. I’ve always thrived when pushed out of my comfort zone, so I try to make sure we never get too comfortable. It keeps things exciting and natural.
Have you found that there’s a kinship with certain artists or even venues that inspires you all creatively, or has helped to grow your audience?
There are a billion things to hate about the music industry, both locally and nationally, but we’ve been lucky to interact with some really great people in our time as a band. We’ve had support from venues in St. Louis and beyond, and we’ve made friends with a lot of other artists. You can’t be a band without working with other bands and other people. It just doesn’t work. So we feel fortunate that we’ve almost always been able to surround ourselves with people who believe in this and care in the same way we do.
What’s your ambition as a creator? Do you have any long-term aspirations? What would be the “sweet spot” between pursuing the creative process and life outside of the arts?
Our goal is always to do more with the band. I’m not sure if there’s a more specific goal in mind, but we try to take things one step at a time. Right now, we’re trying to keep writing and practicing so we can record more music. The idea is to keep making music that’s better than the last thing we made and hope more people keep latching on.
What next up for Tidal Volume as far as shows and releases are concerned? What are you most looking forward to doing?
We’ll be recording and releasing more music in 2020, so stay tuned. We’ll also have plenty of shows in St. Louis and beyond to keep us busy. It should be fun.
Tidal Volume opens for Cold War Kids for one of 105.7 The Point’s Ho Ho Shows this Thursday, December 19 and you can find them at: