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Tilly and the Wall, rocking out by tapping a beat

BY RACHAEL LANDER | JULY 02, 2009 7:20 AM

Gregory Hines may have made it cool to tap dance, but Tilly and the Wall proves it can gain worldwide success with a few indie tunes and a whole lot of hoofing.

Tilly and the Wall will play 80/35 Friday at 4 p.m. on the Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Mainstage.

The group began in 2001, and it hails from Omaha. The members, Kianna Alarid (vocals), Neely Jenkins (vocals), Derek Pressnell (guitarist), Jamie Pressnell (tap dancer), and Nick White (keyboards) had all been in bands prior to Tilly, and they fell in together when all the members ended up in the same state. Jamie Pressnell said the group had a connection that made it work from the start.

“It’s hard to find that right combination of people you have that magic with,” she said. “With Tilly, we had that right away.”

One of the things the indie band is known for is incorporating tap dancing as a form of percussion.

Jamie Pressnell, who has been tap dancing on and off since age 3, said she doesn’t necessarily use traditional tapping with Tilly but finds rhythms that work with songs. After all, she just used the tapping as a way to keep a beat when the band didn’t have a drummer.

“With Tilly, I played guitar initially,” she said. “We didn’t have a drummer, so I just decided to keep a beat until we figured something out.”

A drummer joined the group four years later and now works in collaboration with her tapping.
Tilly is also known for its members’ quirky fashion sense, which is another way the group enjoys adding to the overall show.

“We think about the show as a big picture,” Jamie Pressnell said. “We like to incorporate costumes on stage.”

Fashion is just one way the musicians brings their flare and taste to the band. Jamie Pressnell said songwriting is a collaborative process, with each artist bringing her or his own inspiration and ideas for songs. She said she gets her inspiration from basic, everyday things.

“For everyone in the band, it’s different, but I just like daily life,” she said. “I really like pop music, and I try to draw out of things that make me happy. Relationships, music, visual arts, photographs, paintings, and just really anything. You just never really know.”

With the Nebraska band’s growing fame, music videos are just another thing the group gets to do.

“It’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work at the same time,” Jamie Pressnell said. “I feel like I have to look as good as I can … you have to reshoot stuff 16 times in a row, and I’m usually tap dancing so I’m sweating like a pig, and I have to constantly touch up my makeup and touch up my hair.”

Tilly even has something in common with Jon Stewert, Anderson Cooper, and Gene Simmons — the members appeared on “Sesame Street.”

“That was awesome — I was so stoked,” Jamie Pressnell said. “[It was] a huge honor for us, and we were super excited to do it.”

She said she and the other band members are really excited to return to Des Moines to play 80/35 this year.

“We’re excited to play, it’s going to be fun,” she said. “It’s cool, too, because you get to kind of reach people who couldn’t normally listen to our music, so we’re excited.”


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