Music  |  Features

Typhoon: Going Big

August 10, 2011  |  8:34am

Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Members: Kyle Morton (vocals, guitar), Toby Yuuki Tanabe (bass, vocals), Tyler Allen Ferrin (trumpet, vocals), Devin Gallagher (percussion, glockenspiel, vocals), David Patrick Hall (guitar, vocals), Nora Zimmerly (percussion, toy piano, vocals), Alex Fitch (drums/vocals), Pieter Larsson Hilton (drums, vocals), Ryan McAlpin (trumpet, vocals), Jen Hufnagel (violin, vocals), Shannon Rose Steele (violin, vocals), Samantha Kushnick (cello), Eric Stipe (trumpet, vocals)
Album: A New Kind of House
For Fans Of: Sufjan Stevens, Lost in the Trees, Elbow

When I offer Typhoon frontman Kyle Morton’s bandmates a chance to join us for an interview, all 12 of them accept. We’re in what might have once been officer quarters in the crumbling remains of Fort Adams, a structure built in 1799 in Newport, R.I. The band has just concluded performing a song in what we’ve dubbed The Paste Ruins at Newport Folk.

We don’t all really fit in one room, but bassist Toby Tanabe quips, “Our last tour in Salt Lake City, we played a show in a room about this big.”

After garnering attention for an EP that came out this spring, A New Kind of House, the Portland band is starting to find stages it can actually fit on, including one here at The Newport Folk Festival and another a few days later on Late Night With David Letterman. It’s been a long road to get here, though. Morton and Tenobe have known each other since they were kids in Salem, Ore., and were part of the original Typhoon record in 2005 before the band went on hiatus a couple years later. “There was too much pressure, and it wasn’t really working,” Morton says. “There were a lot of interpersonal problems. We didn’t know what direction we were going in. We didn’t really even know who was writing the songs.”

The band reformed last year with new members from the Portland music community, several of whom had been Typhoon fans before joining. “I was a fan of their high school band [The Mops],” says guitarist David Patrick Hall. “How I learned to play the guitar was learning all the high-school-band songs.”

One of the most compelling things about Typhoon is the contrast between Morton’s darker lyrics and the triumphant music made by his bandmates. When I ask the band if it’s ever strange to be up on stage looking joyful and having fun, while Morton sings his sad, lonely songs, I get the sense that Morton is as curious to the answers as I am.

“I’m really bad at listening to lyrics,” offers drummer Pieter Hilton. “I understand the mood and the tone of them and how they relate to the music, but it always takes me a really long time to comprehend the lyrics, so by the time I do, I have so many other musical abstract associations with everything—other than of course “Sickness,” that always gets me but I don’t play very much on it.”

“There’s one particular song that gets me every time—‘Affliction,’” says violinist Jen Hufnagel, “but fortunately we don’t play it very much.”

In general it’s the fun of having a dozen other members to play music with that keeps each musician going. It’s certainly not the money.

“We’re basically breaking even, if that,” says Morton. “With so many people, I don’t think anyone can ever accuse us of selling out, as long as we split the shares evenly—we’re splitting everything 14 ways.”

“But it is nice to know that you can go across the country and have people come to the shows and know who you are,” adds Tanabe. “When we got to that point, there was a realization that we’re doing something really good.”

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