Possessing an unusual name and an equally singular sound, suddenly, tammy! make their major-label debut with (We Get There When We Do.), an album of remarkable craft, sparkling songs and no guitars whatsoever (not to mention no one named Tammy). Sporting a decidedly unconventional piano/bass/drums lineup, suddenly, tammy!'s music swings from the aggressive to the introspective. The thirteen original tracks that comprise the album feature the instantly appealing new single "Hard Lesson."
The roots of suddenly, tammy! began in their hometown of Lancaster, PA where siblings Beth and Jay Sorrentino have been making music since about the age of five. That's when Jay, inspired by early Ray Charles records, picked up his first pair of drumsticks and Beth began sounding out her favorite tunes on the piano, playing along to records such as Carole King's Tapestry. Ken Heitmueller's musical interest also began early. He learned to play a battery operated reed organ and a handmade dulcimer given to him by his uncle, then started what is now a vast and impressive record collection.
While the band's early influences might seem a bit eclectic, they're right in line with musical attitudes that borrow as much from cool jazz as modern rock. "While it may seem unusual these days for a band not to have a guitarist," observes Beth, "a piano and rhythm section is really a standard line-up in jazz. It's a very full sound with a lot of room for interaction between the instruments."
Before the formation of the trio, there were various attempts by each band member to find an original musical mix. Jay spent some time on the road with cover bands while Beth tried to find her way in Boston as a musical theater major. Meanwhile, Kenny played string bass in the Hempfield High School orchestra and electric bass in several local bands. The need to find a completely original sound brought the musicians together. By 1989, they began to write songs around the style they were developing in rehearsal. "It was purely for pleasure," asserts Beth. "We really had no idea where it was all heading. We all had day jobs; the music was something we did for its own sake."
In 1991, suddenly, tammy! recorded Spokesmodel, self-producing the four-song EP in their four-track basement studio. "We hand-colored the cassette covers and took them around to stores in town," recounts Beth. There was an immediate and enthusiastic response among the unusually savvy locals and Spokesmodel topped sales figures in an area that had already spawned such promising young groups as Ocean Blue, Live and Innocence Mission. The EP was also dispatched to the College Music Journal where it won a "Jackpot" position and was subsequently included on CMJ's TDK New Music Report broadcast. El Presidente, a second EP, followed, produced this time by the Boston-based team of Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie, known for their work with Hole and Dinosaur Jr.
The next move for suddenly, tammy! was to New York indie label spinArt, home to Lotion, The Dambuilders and a host of other cutting edge bands. The trio fit right in with their first full length album (and spinArt's first release) Suddenly, Tammy! "We recorded it over about eighteen months," recounts Jay. "We were doing local shows at the same time we were recording, getting the material as tight as possible." By now the basement four-track built by Jay and Ken had grown into a full-fledged studio now known as The CatBox. In addition to the band's first full length recording, The CatBox has also spawned recordings by Velocity Girl, Tsunami and Lilys. "We were used to doing everything ourselves," explains Ken. "We didn't know how else to make it happen."
By mid-1993, things were, indeed, happening. The critical and popular response to their debut album included a deluge of radio request calls on stations throughout the Northeast, a national tour supporting The London Suede, and a slot on MTV News. Typical of the raves was this Raygun review: "Sorrentino's sparkling piano is a rich, unique and irresistible sound which immediately separates the Tammy's from the janglepop pack." "A heartwarming sound," chimed Hits, while B-Side enthused, "They have succeeded in suffusing the songs with both beauty and bite."
The next step was inevitable: suddenly, tammy! found themselves in the midst of a major label bidding war. "We were drawn to Warner Bros. by the tradition of artistic freedom," asserts Beth. "That was really the decisive factor."
Work began on the group's new album in Bearsville, NY in the summer of last year. As producer, the trio selected Warne Livesey, best known for his work with Midnight Oil, The The and Julian Cope. "We wanted to make the music as real, as believable, as possible," says Jay. "Warne understood that. He really liked the idea of doing the album with a very live, very organic approach."
"It felt a little strange," remarks Ken, "after doing it all on our own for so long, to suddenly hand part of it over to someone else. But we got to trust Warne and his instincts very quickly and it helped free us up to just be the artists."
Additional recording and mixing was completed in London last August. The result is (We Get There When We Do.), a rich collection of original material ranging from the introspective "Bound Together" to the harmonic complexities of "Not That Dumb" and the aforementioned single, "Hard Lesson."
"Our music has lots of permutation, lots of levels, underneath the directness and simplicity" says Beth. "That's what we wanted to get across on this album."
With suddenly, tammy!, what comes across loud and clear is that something wonderful has suddenly happened to alternative music.