Hung velvet overtaken me
Dim chandelier awaken me
To a song dissolved in the dawn
The music hall a costly bow
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The music all is lost for now…
— “Surf’s Up,” Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
A few years ago, Shane Tutmarc was Ben Gibbard. He was Isaac Brock. He was Jeremy Enigk.
In other words, Tutmarc was the boy wonder of the Seattle music scene, giddily surfing waves of local hype. He was a regular performer in Seattle clubs as a teenager, he was the darling of KEXP, labels came courting …
And then, something happened — better put, something didn’t happen. Tutmarc and his band Dolour never progressed to the next level, never released that one start-to-finish album that blew people away, never made you think, “Oh yeah, I see the progression from last year, two years ago.”
No longer sailing, he found himself drifting, aimless and without rudder.
Unlike Gibbard, Brock, Enigk and other local rock prodigies, Tutmarc didn’t have the strong support system of a permanent band to push him forward. Tutmarc’s backing band became a revolving cast of characters, musical friends who came and left Dolour, depending on their other projects.
“Dolour was pretty much me,” he admitted the other night at the Crocodile Cafe. Wearing a beret and pencil mustache, Tutmarc looked like a character from a silent movie as he reflected on his music career.
The word “career” might seem silly when referencing a 26 year old; but consider that Tutmarc has been at this for some 10 years. For most of his life, he never imagined doing anything else except music, until he bottomed out two years ago.
“I was emotionally dead. Spiritually bankrupt, emotionally a wreck.”
On the verge of a nervous breakdown, he decided to quit music. The can’t-miss Dolour faded into oblivion, as Tutmarc pursued inner meaning, going off on an intense retreat involving silent meditation.
Oddly enough, during that period of silence, he rediscovered his voice — an inner voice, a passion for music. Indeed, singing and songwriting runs deep in his bloodline.
Shortly after that, his grandfather, Bud Tutmarc, a Hawaiian steel guitarist, passed away. “It brought me closer to my family,” Shane Tutmarc said, “and I decided to put together a family band.”
Shane Tutmarc & the Traveling Mercies features Ryan Tutmarc (Shane’s cousin) on bass and Brandon Tutmarc (Shane’s younger brother) on drums. This is perhaps what Shane has been most lacking: a solid, stable backing band.
The slightly cracking voice is the same as in Dolour, but the musical style veers off on a different course. Rather than the blissful, Brian Wilson-
esque pop of Dolour, songs like “Across the River” and “Search Me Lord” have the Traveling Mercies playing gospel-tinged R&B.
“This is the music I need to heal,” Shane Tutmarc said.
Reflecting that fire-eyed sincerity is the title of the Traveling Mercies debut CD: “I’m Gonna Live the Life I Sing About in My Song.” He’s back in the good graces of the influential KEXP, as the station’s music director Don Yates called it an “excellent outing of stripped-down rootsy rock flavored with gospel, country, blues and rockabilly.” While the Traveling Mercies has Tutmarc rambling into Johnny Cash-Jerry Lee Lewis-Ray Charles-Elvis Gospel Period territory, the newly inspired Tutmarc also has resurrected his old band. He recently released a Dolour CD called “The Years in the Wilderness” and has a Dolour show — opening for Fall of Troy and Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground — at El Corazon on Saturday (5 p.m., $12, all ages).
Tutmarc says he will be performing Dolour songs “solo, in a very vaudevillian way.”
Tutmarc also has a Traveling Mercies show this week, playing the Showbox SoDo on Thursday (9 p.m., $6, with Grand Hallway and Pwrfl Power).
In addition to forming a band with his brother and cousin, Shane Tutmarc has immersed himself in following the roots of a unique musical family, setting up MySpace pages for several ancestors: great-grandfather Paul Tutmarc, “who has been credited as the inventor of the electric guitar (by EMP, among other notable places) — and whose home recording of ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ inspired us to cover it on our album”; his aforementioned grandfather Bud; and step-great-grandmother Miss Bonnie Guitar, a Soap Lake resident (born Bonnie Buckingham in Seattle, back in ’23) who had several pop-country hits in the ’50s and ’60s, including “Dark Moon.” (The sites: myspace.com/paultutmarc, myspace.com/budtutmarc and myspace.com/bonnieguitar).
Says Shane Tutmarc, the next generation: “It’s really my goal with the Traveling Mercies to follow in their footsteps, and help spread our family’s story.”
Wilson-splashed pop, or old-time Americana? God only knows where Shane Tutmarc’s career is headed — the Seattle music scene is just glad to have him back in action.
Tom Scanlon: 206-464-3891 or firstname.lastname@example.org