What makes TAUK tick?

TAUK bassist Charlie Dolan chats about Stevie Wonder, the best venue in the world, managing parts and getting sympatico with the EDM faithful

TAUK at Red Rocks
Zach McNabb

The internet is a world of extremes, both heaven and hell, sometimes in the same moment. Hate is unbridled, as is fanatic love. It’s exhausting.

But it’s also refreshing — affirming, even — a place to find a community of people who love the same wonderful things you love… even if it’s a little over the top sometimes. 

Like the guy on YouTube who commented on one of TAUK’s live sets from 2019: “I’m just glad I didn’t die before hearing that set.”

“Whoa,” says Charlie Dolan, the laid-back bassist for TAUK. “That’s, um, pretty heavy.” 

The sentiment was appreciated, but what’s behind this kind of fervor? A four-piece band from Long Island, aggressively virtuosic players all, plying the waters of post-jamband fusion. Their all instrumental works blend crafty arpeggiated figures against dynamics ranging from languid chill to elbow-throwing stomp, whiplash time changes, aerodynamic soloing and dizzying interplay. Old schoolers will catch passages and runs recalling the genre’s earliest days, but TAUK is its own beast, fully embracing the liberated componenture of bands like Phish and Umphrey’s McGee — the latter outfit a group that helped guide TAUK through the band’s earliest days and with whom they still maintain a close relationship — while maintaining its own identity.  

Tenured for about nine years as a working franchise, the band has evolved, as most bands do, beyond their personal influences to the point where they are more or less their own influence, judging compositions and albums and show performances against the standard they set for themselves. It’s always a subtle thing, but eventually you get good enough to trust your instincts and your fans, and everything else dissolves into the background.

Musicians get asked all the time what their influences are, or were, but Dolan is circumspect on the subject.

“It’s kind of hard to say. Matt (Jalbert, guitarist) and A.C. (Carter, keys) have been playing together so long, almost 20 years, since we were in middle school. We started out playing classic rock, then started doing more jammy songs, then we did jazz band together, and then we all went to different schools. Isaac (Teel, drummer) came from a church background… We all have different influences, some similar ones too, but it’s the dynamic we put together as friends that we can collaborate in a way that everyone can put their own thing into it.”

With steady work as a festival and club draw, it’s not a stretch to imagine a world where a band like TAUK could forego albums altogether, where the live show is both the bait and the catch. But their recorded output is actually pretty generous for a band that spends so much time on the road. They finished up a double-release, kind-of concept album cycle in 2018 called Shapeshifter, and Dolan says there’d be more — probably a lot more — if they had time.

“That’s really the burden of touring so much,” he laments. “We have so much new music that we haven’t even played, because we don’t have the time to practice it.”

And too bad, since their albums are smart, organic and more deeply invested in composition and structure than simply capturing the live vibe with endless soloing and technique clinics. If the album as art form is a sclerotic fossil on its last legs, someone forgot to tell these guys. 

“We kind of try to build on what we’ve been doing and always try to bring a new element into it,” Dolan says. “When we’re in the studio, we really try to go deep into a song, get at it with a microscope. We listen back, take it apart, figure out what parts will make it work dynamically, what parts need to go. I feel like the stuff we focus most on in the studio, after we get the song down, is dynamics.  

“Sometimes, when people are focused on playing the song right, that’s different from playing it with feeling.”

And for a band that finds itself on plenty of EDM-themed festival stages, notably absent from TAUK’s recorded output, or the live show for that matter, is the Ableton thing. Carter does his share of synth padding and pitch-wheel soloing, but plays it. Although interestingly, the band will occasionally drop into a sequenced interlude or transition, a repeated arpeggio figure or riff, a digital flourish in an otherwise analog framework. We asked Dolan if parts like this reflect a resonance of the scene they play.

“Yeah, I guess so. I think there are parts of our song catalog that could cater to that crowd. But I think a lot has to do more with experimenting with different keyboards and sequencers and all that stuff. That world is huge, with all the access to technology… soundbanks. It’s not analog synths anymore.   

“For us, we’re trying to create music that you can dance to, but also just sit back and listen to and nerd out on the musicality.”

The band’s second set of the evening at the Boulder Theater gig includes a TAUKing Wonder tribute to Stevie Wonder, with former Motet trumpeter Gabe Mervine, Nick Gerlach, vocalist Kim Dawson and some other local friends. Wonder’s “classic period” output from ’72 to ’76, which Slate critic Jack Hamilton called “arguably the greatest sustained run of creativity in the history of popular music,” is a bounty of rowdy funk, pristine pop, ruminative treatises on the state of the black experience in Nixon’s America, and joyous, inexplicably perfect radio gems that have proven immune to the pitiless grind of time or fashion. An embarrassment of riches, and Dolan says he can’t wait to dive in. 

The band has done a few of these multi-band, quasi-trib mashup shows in the past, including Umphrey’s and The Beatles, and a Hendrix show last December in New York, but Dolan says this one is extra-prime. 

“Stevie Wonder is definitely one my favorite musicians of all time. Super excited to do this. We do a couple of Stevie covers, but now we’re really digging in. What’s cool about this show is we’re bringing in a lot of other people for it. There’s an album called Natural Wonder, a live album that pretty much changed my life. There’s more than one keyboard part on a lot of the tracks, and different percussion parts, and we’re going to have enough players to cover all of it. It would have been a huge challenge if it were just the four of us trying to cover all the parts. And we kind of put our own spin it, so it’s not so much a straight-up tribute thing.” 

Although TAUK was last in town in November at Denver’s Mission Ballroom, the band’s press photos and website banner video show them at that hallowed stage outside Morrison. Dolan recalls the time they first came to Denver and made a pilgrimage to Red Rocks, when the air temp was 10 below zero… just to be there. They’ve since played as support there four or five times.

“It’s the perfect place to play, really, it’s such an honor to play up there. This past year I had a daughter, and I had to take her up there, when she was just four or five months old. It’s the ultimate bucket list gig, headlining at Red Rocks. We love it. We’d play there every show if we could.”    

ON THE BILL: TAUK — with Eminence Ensemble. 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder. Tickets are $18, bouldertheater.com