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New album shows how much Tilly and the Wall stands out

Tilly   Wall

Tilly & the Wall

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♦ 8 p.m. Oct. 7

♦ Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln

♦ Tickets, $16 ($18 at the door)

♦ (773) 525-2501;

Updated: October 4, 2012 2:35PM

Tilly and the Wall is one indie-rock band that stands out from the pack. The band’s music is loud, chaotic and fun, but it’s the choice of percussion — Jamie Pressnall’s dancin’ feet — that sets them apart.

Those tap shoes may look like a gimmick, but that’s not how it all started, says band member Kianna Alarid Cameron. It was more of a “glorified foot tapping” to take the place of a drummer during a long ago songwriting session.

“If you think about it as far as our percussive elements go, it’s always been a little bit primal,” Cameron says. “Jamie kept the beat as were writing and it just stuck. It never dawned on us to ever change it. We were having a good time and writing songs that we liked.”

The band is currently touring and tapping to promote “Heavy Mood,” its first album in four years. It’s out on Conor Oberst’s label Team Love and produced by Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis, with contributions by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Clark Bacchle of the Faint. In addition to Cameron (vocals, bass) and Pressnall, the band also features Neely Jenkins (vocals, bass), Derek Pressnall (guitar, vocals) and Nick White (keyboards).

Cameron notes that it was around the band’s second album that the realization struck that Pressnall, a classically trained dancer, was “writing incredible and intricate songs and doing something that nobody had ever done before.” During live performances, Pressnall is positioned on a riser (to highlight those feet) in the normal drummer’s spot at the back.

“The way Jamie practices is really intense. She drills it over and over,” Cameron notes. “On stage, she does everything just the way it sounds on the album. It’s pretty inspiring to watch somebody work with that and create this new thing.”

Tilly and the Wall formed in 2001 out of the ashes of other bands in the Omaha, Neb., music scene. Most band members now live in other cities (Los Angeles, Kansas City) so it’s not quite as easy to get together; it’s been four years since the group’s last album. As usual, the songs on “Heavy Mood” stick with the band’s ongoing goal of promoting a positive message.

Cameron, who wrote the album’s opener “Love Riot” and “Defenders,” says she realized that the band now has something to say as artists. “For me, the message on this album is pretty clear. There’s a right way to do things and that definitely has to do with self-empowerment and obviously love. It’s the biggest thing there is.”

The band’s name comes from the title of a children’s book about a mouse that thinks the grass is always greener on the other side. The music offers a message of hope and optimism. And their high-energy shows will have everyone’s feet dancin’ to the beat.

“Those hours we spend with people who really care what we are saying and what we are doing empowers us and our performance,” Cameron said. “There’s this crazy back-and-forth feedback that happens.”

With its connection to the children’s book (the band has appeared on “Sesame Street”) and high-energy outlook on life, it seems a given that the band would someday venture into children’s music territory. But Cameron says the topic had never been broached until recently but “it’s not a half bad idea” since several band members now have young children (she has one, the Pressnalls have two).

“We went on a break four years ago because of the children,” Cameron says. “So I guess it makes sense for us to do an album and direct it at our own kids. It could actually be a lot of fun.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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