The Nine Tailors - the 9 in 6 Parts

The 9 in 6 parts


We are called The Nine Tailors. People always ask if there are nine of us. Actually there are only four. The Nine Tailors are: Steve Hardin (drums, vocals), Kurt Schuler (guitar, vocals), Zach Cartwright (Bass, Keys), Seth Moore (Guitar, Keys). The name was inspired by the title of a Dorothy Sayers novel. It’s the name of the death toll rung by church bells in 17th century England. The lowest bell was sounded nine times in succession to announce the death of a man. We’re not a death metal band though, more like indie folk or indie rock. Seth used to play in a metal band – his hair was on the treacherous journey down towards his butt. One of the first times Seth and I really hung out, I was skimming through an Anglican book of Common Prayer and reading a prayer in the back called “Visitation Of The Sick”. He glanced over and said, “Sick name for a band!” So if we were a metal band I think that’s what we would be called.


There is so much music out there now, so many unique new bands which is great. I love a lot of the new stuff that is coming out, but I think at a certain point the style and “coolness” of all of it begins to overshadow the potential music has to communicate truth. Many people depend on musicians to be a voice for them when they can’t express themselves. So there is a weight of responsibility to this position that I don’t think a lot of musicians take very seriously. As for The Nine Tailors, we want to write songs that have somewhat of the same effect as that low ringing bell. We want to be heard like thunder or something like that. We want to draw people out of their busy world of distractions into a place where they can be confronted by the inevitability of death and the urgency of the struggles presented to us in our everyday lives. So even though a lot of our songs have a somber feel to them, the purpose is not to get people down but rather just to wake people up.


Right now I think we sound somewhere in between Headphones (David Bazan’s side project) and some of the earlier Modest Mouse albums like The Lonesome Crowded West. But it’s kind of funny because a lot of the songs started out really mellow. When I used to play them by myself they sounded a lot more like Iron and Wine (Creek Drank The Cradle). I guess the band officially started after Steve came to a little house show I did by myself. Steve saw a lot of potential in the songs and suggested we get together and just kind of see what happened. Somehow I started playing an electric guitar that was lying around in his garage and everything just started getting more rock n roll. We had a lot of fun and took the songs in all kind of directions. We were pretty open at first and slowly worked our way towards a sound that felt like we were really feeding off of each other. After Zach and Seth joined the band, we kind of went through that whole process again. In some ways you might say we are still going through that process. I still feel like we haven’t reached the place where we are maximizing everyone’s potential. Zach, Steve and Seth are all amazing musicians, so it will be interesting to see where our sound goes as we collaborate more intricately in working on new material.


We all love The Lord of the Rings. Zach likes to compare everything to Tolkien. He was getting pretty in-depth at our practice the other day – ”the ring represents musical snobbery and Gollum is the major record labels. We hope to destroy them both. We’ll lose a finger but that’s okay, it’s a small price to pay, and after all Phil Keaggy only has nine fingers and he’s an awesome guitarist. We don’t like his music but he’s good at guitar.” Actually, Tolkien is amazing and has a lot to say that I think really pinpoints what art is all about. In an essay he wrote, “On Fairy Stories”, Tolkien describes fantasy literature as having the ability “to make a secondary world in which the green sun will be credible...” The idea here is that anyone can come up with the wild thought of there being a green sun, but it is an entirely different thing to surround this green sun with an environment that makes it believable. When it comes down to it, art is about defamiliarizing our ordinary surroundings so that everything that normally prevents us from seeing something beautiful or true – cliches, cynicism – can by bypassed for a moment. The problem with language is that words lose their meaning over time. It’s not that artists are saying anything new, they just find new ways of telling old stories. In a sense this is what I would call the joy of naming, or of bringing something to life. Good literature can do this and I think good songs can do this as well.


Yes.... I used to write a lot of short stories but most of my time now is taken up in writing songs. Seth wrote a story about a tiger when he was a kid. His mom was showing it to everyone at his birthday party recently. I thought it was quite good actually. I think the story was that everyone hates the tiger because they’re scared of him and then he dies and everyone is sad. Steve and Zach don’t write. Zach plays the tuba and Steve used to paint. He’s really good at painting and drawing. Steve also loves the performance aspect of music. In my opinion, he’s one of the best performers out there – his face just shines out, like a soul. Steve has a lot of thoughts on performance; he says it’s an in-the-moment experience that both we and the audience need but rarely have. Steve is kind of our ringleader, the one who gets us all fired up to play. He seems to always be in tune with how sacred and fleeting that moment of performance is. He could be screwing around in practice the day of the show and you sometimes wonder if he forgot his parts, but when it comes time to play he just lets go and enters into this totally other world.


Our songs “Kilimanjaro” and “The Great DiMaggio” were inspired by Hemingway stories. In the case of these songs, it’s not so much that we are translating his stories into the language of music, but rather that we are fed creatively by certain characters or ideas represented in these stories. So the songs explore certain aspects of his characters. But these songs, and all of our songs (even those that aren’t linked directly to any short stories) are a lot like short stories, with plot lines and characters. I’ve always liked songs that told a story. I sometimes get frustrated with songs that seem to be just a mess of cool-sounding images or phrases. I think literary critic Claude Levi Strauss put it really well when he said, “It is not we who think in myths, but myths which think in us, and unknown to us”. Stories are just out there and like Tolkien says, there aren’t any new ones, just new ways of bringing them to life. You can tell after a few listens to a song if there’s a good story in it or if it’s just a collection of words that sound nice. The enduring myths are already at work in us; we are just here to give them a voice.

~ Kurt Schuler