Noise luminary Tom Smith's nearly three-decade jaunt through the experimental rock abyss has been part of a sustained continuum of all his undertakings. Throughout the late '70s and much of the '80s, the main brain and entrepreneur of To Live and Shave in LA occupied his time in bands such as Of Boat, Pussy Galore, and Peach of Immortality, before TLASILA took its first few breaths in July 1990. After migrating to South Florida in 1991, the Georgia native quickly stumbled on bassist and engineer Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra and oscillator operator Ben Wolcott. Alongside contemporaries such as Harry Pussy and Tamato duPlenty, the threesome submerged themselves in Miami's flourishing noise rock scene of the early '90s, carving a sonic palette void of any real structure but fraught with their influences: Throbbing Gristle, UK glam, kraut rock, and the avant-garde.
"We had no overt goal in mind, but we knew what we loved and shared a particular excitement for the things we deplored," Smith wrote in an e-mail. "It's all problem-solving, really - a race toward unknowing. I gravitate towards reproduction and demolition."
Wolcott agreed via e-mail, attesting to the Miami scene's love-hate relationship with the band. "We were respected for our perseverance but hated by the public. We were just reaching out to like-minded people, looking to commune with fellow extremists in the arts," he explained. "There is a slight obsessive bent to spreading the Shave gospel. We logged a lot of hours touring, and it's hard to believe we would drive so many hours to blast our pedagogy that would only last for 15 minutes in an empty bar."
Originally devised by Smith as a solo project, TLASILA's history is about as labor-intensive as it is legendary. Diligent - and sometimes violent - performances, a steady flow of albums and tours, and a rotating cast of players and slayers from a miscellany of eclectic musical realms have included everyone from Thurston Moore to Andrew W.K. to the Bay Area's own Weasel Walter.
"Tom is a very peculiar, singular talent," Walter noted in yet another e-mail. "He is an outsider artist essentially. He is an obsessive organizer, and his inspiration comes from a wide swath of cultural vantages, from the highest to lowest. He puts Xenakis and the Dark Brothers on an even keel, and that's why his art is simultaneously so visceral and intellectual. His lyrics are almost James Joyce-like in their pure semantical deconstruction.... What he does is absorb, cut up, and regurgitate everything in culture and spit it back out."
Following a festival performance in 2000, Smith broke ranks with the group and formed OHNE with Swiss performance artist Dave Phillips. With Wolcott already out of the picture, Falestra soldiered on with TLASILA, from which numerous spin-offs and clones surfaced, including TLASILA 2 and I Love LA. Falestra and Smith reconvened in 2003 and shaped the band into its strongest lineup yet: an 11-member ensemble residing throughout the country, in Atlanta; Las Vegas; Northampton, Mass.; LA; Charleston, SC; and Adel, Ga. Guitarist-producer Don Fleming, Sighting's Mark Morgan, stripper Misty Martinez, Chris Grier, and Andrew "Gaybomb" Barranca are some of the noiseniks, along with Moore, Wolcott, and W.K., rounding out TLASILA's current incarnation. A touring version, of Wolcott, Graham Moore, Martinez, and Falestra, will undertake the group's West Coast dates - its first since 1996 - and will support TLASILA's great 2006 full-length, Noon and Eternity (Menlo Park), and the forthcoming Les Tricoteuses (Savage Land). But the ceaseless TLASILA work ethic won't allow the ensemble to stop there: Smith promises that even more albums can be expected to materialize during the ensuing tour.