An Interview with Ticklah – Polydemic

PolydemicA Polydemic Interview with
by Mark Ruffin

We reviewed the new Ticklah Album ‘Polydemic‘ in our December, 1998 Issue. Recently our ace reporter, Mark Ruffin was in touch with the multi-talented musician VIA long distance. Here’s what Ticklah had to say. Ed.

JazzUSA: So, how are you?

Ticklah: Very good, couldn’t be happier.

JazzUSA: I don’t know how I got your album. Well actually, I do. I work for a number of different magazines. Somehow my editor at (another magazine) gave me your CD, and usually I get this weird alternative rock kind of stuff from them. I don’t normally listen to their stuff until I have time, so I saved your CD at the bottom of the pile. When I finally put it on I couldn’t believe it, I was stunned! It made my JazzUSA top ten list.

Ticklah: Thank you very much!

JazzUSA: Where does the name “Ticklah” come from”

Ticklah: Many years ago, I was playing in a Ska reggae group, called ‘The Boilers’ and at the time we were submitting a song for a compliation record. As a joke, one of the band leaders did not write down anybody actual given name. He sort of on the fly made up nicknames for them. I think in most cases he made up nicknames that made sense in a sort of reggae sense. So I became Ticklah, a phonectic play on tickling the ivories. It was a nickname that I had people call me a few years later, working with other reggae musicians. I played with a couple group of musicians and these guys were all like from Jamaica or Trinidad and none of them ever referred to to another by their actual name. They just refused to call anybody by their actual name. So, when I started playing with them they were like yeah we love you but we can’t call you Victor, so I said you can call me Ticklah. When I started giving different music to management I actually was using the Tticklah alias only for dub or reggae submission that I give them. Over time they started saying hey, we just think it would be better if you use that name for all the different kinds of music your doing. Originally I only wanted to use that alias only for the reggae stuff.

JazzUSA: How old are you?

Ticklah: I’m twenty-seven.

JazzUSA: And you’re a keyboardist trained from childhood?

Ticklah: I kind of took lessons on and off starting at around 10 years old. Growing up I always took music very seriously, but when I was in high school I definitely slacked off a lot. I’m not going to say I was a total jerk off in high school, but it’s not like I was coming home from school and practicing every day. Which is what I did a little bit more in junior high. I think that by the time I was finishing up high school, I kind of took a good look at myself and realized that I was wasting a lot of time. If I wanted to be serious about music I had to reprioritize my lifestyle. I not trying to say it like I was an outrageous, partying, nutty high schooler, but just as far as reincorporating some kind of work ethic. Practicing and actually making an effort to find teachers to study with again. I got real serious when I went to college.

JazzUSA: What college did you attend?

Ticklah: I went to Sony Purchase, which is in upstate New York. Within the Sony system it’s kind of like the arts focused school within the Sony system. They have a film program, dance program, music program, and visual art.

JazzUSA: Where is Purchase?

Ticklah: Purchase is very close to New York City, its about a 45 minute drive north of Manhattan.

JazzUSA: Are you a born and raised New Yorker.

Ticklah: Yeah.

JazzUSA: Now you know there’s this old saying that you can be huge in New York and nothing anywhere else. A lot of New Yorkers’ don’t know that, because you guys are in your own world.

Ticklah: That’s funny, because I always heard that you can be huge anywhere else in the world and you’re nobody in New York. I always heard the flip side.

JazzUSA: Well, that’s the way New Yorkers hear it. But you know it works the other way, you have folks making a living in New York, selling records, making big time gigs and never leaving the city. And it does work the other way too, you could be huge all over the world and nothing in the Apple.

Ticklah: Yeah, nobody knows you in the city.

JazzUSA: So where are you at?

Ticklah: In terms of recognition? It’s very hard for me to say, honestly. I don’t even know how many records I’ve sold. As far as recognition, I don’t really think that I’m anywhere, in terms of recognition. People like you giving me a call is definitely something… this is all very new to me.

JazzUSA: What about the record company, is it a known entity in New York? Or are you the first act.

Ticklah: Yeah, they’re actually not a record label, in the usual sense. They’re primarily a multi-media company, they’ve really blown up in the past two years. I think that they’ve made a lot of acquisitions and mergers. They’ve blown themselves up.  Their main claim to fame is developing websites and software for other companies. They’ve developed a lot of websites for big corporations, like television companies and other products. I don’t really deal with computers at all. Whenever I talk about it, it’s just what I pick up from those guys.

JazzUSA: How did you manage to hook up with these guys?

Ticklah: The president of the Razorfish studios’ multi-media wing is a long time fan of this band that I play in, ‘Cooly’s Hot Box.’  He used to be a lawyer at Polygram and just happened to see us play years ago. He’s always been a real serious fan and used to come out to a lot of shows. He’s always stayed in touch with my manager. As I understand it, when he left Polygram, and he started working for Razorfish and was talking with my manager one the phone one nigbt, and he was telling my manager about this idea that he wanted to put out a record. He was telling him the kind of record he wanted to put out. He had no idea that I’d been working on these recordings in my free time. My manager said ‘Victor’s got a bunch of stuff, let me send you a tape’. So when he heard the music, it was pretty much what he had in mind. Everything worked out really well. This is somebody that I’ve known, not well, but someone whom I’ve seen around. We would always say ‘hello’ to each other. So he was already a familiar face, which was a nice thing.

JazzUSA: You said in your free time, and you mentioned this band ‘Cooly’s Hot Box’. Is that what takes up your free time?

Ticklah: What I meant by free time is that during the period of time that I made the bulk of the record, I was just working various nonsense jobs. The creative story behind the album is that I recorded most of the record on an 8-track cassette recorder. I recorded it mostly in my apartment, so it’s the sort of thing that I really hadn’t had much experience recording, or even writing. I’ve been playing music a long time, but I’ve been primarily a side man, or just working with different people on projects. I’ve never really, from a creative standpoint, had the means to have an idea, flush it out and see it through. So when I bought the 8-track, it sort of opened up this whole world to me. All of a sudden I had this little machine where I was able to, if I had an idea I could make it happen, and see it through from beginning to end.

JazzUSA: Take your time and flush it out.

Ticklah: Yeah, and believe me I took my time (laughter). Some of those recordings I’m ashamed to tell how long it took.

JazzUSA: But the record is hot, burnin’!!!

Ticklah: Well thank you.

JazzUSA: You were talking earlier, about being in reggae groups. Is that kind of where you were as a younger person.

Ticklah: Yes, very much so. I’ve actually really shocked myself in the last couple of years. I feel in a lot of ways that I’ve come full circle in terms of the music that really inspires me. When I was growing up in high school, 14-16 years old,  there was a nice little local Ska scene in New York City. I was really into it, I was into, you know, like the two-tone records.

JazzUSA: Yes, the specials and all that.

Ticklah: Those English groups, I loved all that stuff. It’s really interesting to me that there’s just something about that music that young teenagers love. I was really all about that and I was fortunate enough to join one of the local bands at that time. When I was in high school I couldn’t see outside that world. I thought ‘Ska and reggae… shoot! I found it! this is it!’  By the time I finished high school and the band broke up, I started checking out some other records. The drummer from the band I was playing with was about 9 years older than I, and he moved and left about 4 crates of records at my place when I was a senior in high school. I started going through them. There were a lot of records in his collection that were difficult to find. He had a lot of Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone, early Sly and the family Stone. What I got out of his collection was my love for Sly and the Family Stone. At that time when you went to the record store, this was the late 80’s, all you could find were the Parliament or Sly and the Family Stone greatest hits. That was a whole area of music, James Brown as well, that I always had a curiosity about, but you couldn’t get those records. I was a young kid, I didn’t know where to go as far as collecting records. Actually, I tell everybody we’re living in a really great time, there is so much music that’s available now that has not been available for a long time. All these records… you can go in any store and get any James Brown record. My mind really opened up towards the end of high school, and then I started checking out some jazz.

JazzUSA: Now, there you go that’s the missing link, where did the jazz come in. You have a good feel on the keys for a 70’s kind of style jazz.

Ticklah: That’s really what captured my imagination in the following years. When I got to college I definiately started listening to jazz. What I said earlier, about how I took a look at myself…Wow, I really don’t know how to play, I don’t know anything about music. One of the things that made it apparent to me is I remember listening to jazz records, and going over to the keyboard.  When I started playing things came pretty easily to me, but I really slacked off a lot in high school. I remember going over to the piano to try and figure out what the hell was going on, and  I was so lost I could not even…just the chords that people were playing… I couldn’t evern fathom what was going on. In my desire to start understanding what was going on, I started buying a lot of jazz records and listening to jazz. I was fortunate to start studying with somebody, I think it was in my sophomore year, this guy Mike Longo

JazzUSA: Wow!

Ticklah: You know Mike Longo?

JazzUSA: Yeah, man, played with Dizzie and stuff

Ticklah: Yeah he studied with Oscar Peterson. My roommate at the time was Adam Rapherty, a really talented be-bop guitarist. He turned me on to him. He said ‘you have to go check out this guy Mike’. I studied with him for about 2 and half years, and I really learned a lot of the things from him about jazz. Even just about music. I learned some very profound things through studying with him. I grew a lot, very slowly, but I feel I learned a lot studying with him. That was around the same time that the group ‘Cooly’s Hot Box’ was forming. The nature of that band was varied, pop and R&B…check out track 3 on the CD. Cooly’s Wages.  That’s a tune that I wrote, and we performed that tune live. The drummer (that’s Cooly) his writing is late 70’s, early 80’s with an R&B influence. So, when I joined the band, his writing was very sophisticated and at the time it was very challenging for me. The arrangements were very involved with solid harmonies. He reminds me of (you know Rod Temperton) very much in that vane.

JazzUSA: Wow, that’s quite the compliment.

Ticklah: The guy’s got a brilliant sense of melody and counter point. He really knows how to write a good pop tune.

JazzUSA: Your record is more like an acid jazz record…

Ticklah: Yeah, I was leading to that. This is sort of like the different things I was really checking out at that time. To me all of these things are sort of related.  I think of my appreciation for things, just for melodies and harmonies. I kind of developed my taste for these things during this period. And ‘Cooly’s Hot Box’ was part of my development in that area. At that time there was the big acid jazz scene in New York. So, I started hanging out at the clubs. I met a lot of musicians. I’m real good friends the bass player from Group Collective, Jonathan Maron.

JazzUSA: He’s on your record?

Ticklah: Yeah, he plays on, I don’t know if you have a recent copy or the first pressing. The first pressing omits the credits for Buttermilk. They messed up and left it out.

JazzUSA: I don’t even have Buttermilk.

Ticklah: Yeah, so see you have an early pressing. Jonathan plays on that track.

JazzUSA: So there’s not an extra track, it’s just not listed.

Ticklah: Right, somehow we all did not know it was missing (laughter).

JazzUSA: Ah, so it’s listed on the back, but you….aahhh.

Ticklah: Yeah, we left out the actual music.

JazzUSA: But the record’s great. I remember being in New York four or five years ago, maybe even longer. I could not believe the acid jazz scene there. In Chicago it’s OK, in San Francisco it’s smoking, but in New York… I couldn’t believe it. It was a whole different vibe. And when I heard your record it made me feel like New York. You guys have a scene. The only scene that’s comparable is in London. With the groove and the amount of people and the clubs, there’s no other scene in the country that’s got that.

Ticklah: It’s not like that any more I’ll have you know. Those days are long gone. New York is very different right now. In fact I hardly ever go out.

JazzUSA: So all those great bands Group Collective, there was others…

Ticklah: That was all very inspirational for me. At the time, honestly, of the groups that were playing Group Collective was the only group that I felt had a really big impact on me. It was definitely cool because there were a lot of things happening. The Giant Step Party was happening every week, there was really nice momentum built up with that.

JazzUSA: I worked with, at least I worked with a friend who was working with a band called Repercussions.

Ticklah: Yeah, a lot of the same musicians from Group Collective.

JazzUSA: So, it’s not the same?

Ticklah: No, now days, no. Things have changed quite a bit.

JazzUSA: what about the music vibe, forget about the scene. Are bands still making the kind of music that Ticklah is making.

Ticklah: Uh, Maybe… I don’t know. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to say.

JazzUSA: There’s no scene, how can you know.

Ticklah: There’s not much scene, but also I would say that I feel that I’m pretty ignorant of what’s going on. There are always a million groups at any given time playing in New York. But for me, I work really slow. So basically I need to stay home and work if I ever want to get anything done. And the period before that when I was going out a lot and checking things out, I wasn’t really creating much at the time. I was busy. I was always playing gigs with different people. But now days, since I’ve sort of found a calling, I know the best thing for me to do if I want to get work done is just not really to leave the house.

JazzUSA: What’s your calling?

Ticklah: I guess what I mean, as far as the whole creative aspect of writing and production, is that it’s all a very recent development in my life.

JazzUSA: So there will be another Ticklah album?

Ticklah: Yeah, I’m actually in the middle of working that out with RazorFish right now. We’re currently trying to work things out so we can get things a little more solidified for the future, so I can make some more records.

For RealAudio samples and more information visit the Ticklah web site