Tiny Escalators describe their music as "strange, supernatural tales across light, soft tunes, knitted melodies, and the unforgettable sounds of a homespun bucket drumkit." This only begins to describe their lovely and thoughtful folk songs, which touch on such influences as Innocence Mission and Sufjan Stevens. Comprised of Nash High, Melinda Lavenau and Mark Coulter, the trio is one of Kansas City's hidden treasures. We are happy to share an interview with and recommendations from Nash and Melinda. Enjoy.
Please introduce yourselves. Where do you live and work?
Nash: We're a trio from Lee's Summit, consisting of Nash High (vocals, guitar), Melinda Lavenau (vocals, violin, glockenspiel), and Mark Coulter (percussion). Mark lives in Oak Grove and studies Film at the University of Central Missouri. He is also one half of Los Coulters, a Latin music group formed by him and his brother. Melinda lives in Lee's Summit, where she works for Haiti Home of Hope, a non-profit organization founded by her church. I recently moved to Kansas City to work for Kansas City Public Library.
Tell us about the origins of Tiny Escalators. Who brings what to the table?
Nash: Tiny Escalators started with a cassette tape of 6 demos. They were a different sound than the songs I had previously written, and I decided I needed to recruit some help on them. Mark and I have been friends since grade school and had played music together in the past. Mark built the bucket drums for Los Coulters, and it seemed to be a good fit for these songs. I knew Melinda from the local coffee shop, where she used to work. We had talked about music quite a bit, as we each played and wrote songs on our own. We met up to see what we could make of the songs, and next thing we know we're Tiny Escalators.
What goes into the making of your “soft strange songs”? Where do you record your music?
Nash: I write the songs for voice and guitar. When I bring them to the band, they're just skeletons -- I have no idea how they're going to end up. Melinda asks, "What do you want me to do?", and I say, "I don't know. Whatever you want." We play around with it and figure out what we like, and eventually it starts coming together.
We generally record in my living room. I fluctuate between wanting to build a fuller, tidier, studio sort of sound, and wanting to take a more organic approach and just record us all playing through a song. For our album, Tiny Apartment Recordings, we wanted to capture the feel of a house show, so that's how we recorded it -- just set up the mics & started playing, but we also included "studio" versions (albeit still recorded in a living room) of a few songs, which we recorded track-by-track and added in extra vocal layers and instruments.
What inspires you about music in Kansas City?
Melinda: I love how the Midwestern spirit of kindness and hard work translates to a lot of support and fangirling of other bands while we each hone our own.
Nash: Kansas City as a whole is that weird blend of city hubbub and small-town closeness, and that definitely shows in our local music realm. There's a lot going on here: lots of opportunities and venues, and lots of music being made, but people are also really warm and inviting about it, so there's a strong sense of community here.
And here are our recommendations:
1. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
2. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (DVD) by Wes Anderson
5. Adventures in Your Own Backyard (CD) by Patrick Watson
6. Carrie and Lowell (CD) by Sufjan Stevens
7. Days Are Gone (CD) by HAIM
8. Sylvan Esso (CD) by Sylvan Esso
9. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
10. The Hidden Fortress (DVD)