The continuing saga of Tautologic, chapters one through
Sellers and bassist Dan
Veidlinger met shortly before the demise of Ethan's University of
Chicago- based rock band, G.U.T. After playing together in a quartet
formation with a guitarist and drummer for a few months, personal
emergencies left the un-named band without a drummer.
Pat Buzby (drums), whiling away his final
months at Oberlin College, came across a "drummer wanted" ad placed by
Ethan on Usenet. In what would prove a prescient if perhaps foolish move,
Pat drove several hours in the waning months of winter for an audition
held in the dining room of Ethan's old apartment. Much common ground was
found, and an inspiring performance of King Crimson's "Starless" clinched
the deal. Pat graduated from Oberlin, packed up, and moved into a sublet
room in the house in Hyde Park which would later become Tautologic World
Of course, things didn't prove to be that simple. Soon after Pat arrived,
Dan went to Toronto for the summer and the guitarist quit because
tendonitis had left him incapable of playing guitar. This left Ethan and
Pat with a blank slate, for better or worse. Pat almost left town
entirely, but Ethan and various others pursuaded him to stay. Without
other players to work up collective ideas, Ethan's and Pat' s songwriting
became the focus of the group.
When Dan returned in the fall of 1997, the trio drafted Ken Arai (cello), Mick Hirsch (guitar), Henry Bigelow (violin), and Kristen Davis (viola) for what was the
first performing line-up of the band. The group began recording the demos
which became the first Tautologic CD with recording engineer Jon
Heidelberger, a U of C student with a Pro Tools setup in his dorm room
at the U of C.
After Kristen left to pursue her studies, Jennifer Justice (viola, vocals) took
her place as violist on the later sessions. In June of 1998, Dan and Mick
wrapped up their classes at the University of Chicago and moved on, and
Henry found a better job in California. The band continued with Becky Rule (violin), Vince Canter (guitar, keyboards), and
Aron Racho (bass).
The band played around Chicago at Elbo Room, Morseland, Martyr's, WHPK's
Pure Hype, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Ethan, Pat and Dan (when he was in
town) continued to work on the CD with Jon, editing, overdubbing and
In February 1999, the string players (Becky, Jen, Ken) focused on
finishing their undergraduate studies, and Vince and Aron chose to pursue
their own avenues. Ethan and Pat took advantage of the downtime to
finalize the CD, now titled West Is North, East
Is South. They wrapped up the mixes with Jon and mastered it at
Colossal Mastering in May 1999.
After completing the mixing and mastering of the album, Ethan and Pat
began experimenting with a four-piece band format. Bassist Paul Steinbeck
and guitarist Vojo came on board for
gigs in summer/fall/winter 1999, including the Empty Bottle. The band
shared bills with such bands as Trouser, Life On Mars (since renamed
Autoliner) and Peking Turtle. Also, Pat's song from the then-unreleased
album, "You Know It," appeared on WXRT's Local Anesthetic during this
period. During that fall, Pat and Ethan also established Turtle Down
Music. Begun initially as a record label and publishing company to
release Tautologic's first CD, Turtle Down Music took on booking
responsibilities for a number of artists in Chicago and the east coast,
including a then-unknown Josh Ritter.
In winter of 2000, Tautologic took some time off from regular gigging to
meet with several new players and get the business foundation and artwork
together for the CD release. During the lull in Tautologic live activity,
Ethan began playing acoustic gigs with Glenn Meizlesh (guitar), Becky, and
Mark Senser (percussion).
In June of 2000, the band returned to live duty with shows to promote the
release of West Is North, East Is South,
including dates in Chicago (Schubas, Elbo Room, Subterranean, Heartland,
and others), Milwaukee's Tasting Room, and Madison (Mother Fool's
Coffeehouse, Cafe Assissi).
As a response to the complexities of scheduling rehearsals and gigs with a
large band of players with numerous other projects, Pat and Ethan
developed a more flexible band concept to get Tautologic through the next
phase of its life. Excepting Ethan and Pat's roles in the band, each
other instrumental or vocal seat in the band had not one player, but a
"pool" of musicians on each instrument. In addition to not being as
hamstrung by the conflicting schedules of various players, the band has
also benefitted from the diversity of approaches that different players
bring to their performances, and a feeling that the group is more than a
clan of players but a community of talented musicians. During this more
open-ended phase, Tautologic retained the services of Mike Sinclair (bass), Steve Hashimoto (bass), Glenn Meizlesh
(guitar), Hilary Clark (cello), and Jeff Yang (violin).
The band spent most of 2001 recording their follow-up EP Basement Sessions, Volume I at Tautologic World
Headquarters on the very same ProTools system with which the band recorded
its first CD. The recording also featured new guitarist Aaron Weistrop, backing vocalists Suzy Brack and Fanta Brooks, and
violinist/keyboardist Nathan Syfrig, and was mastered by Jon Heidelberger
at Chicago Sound Factory, a recording studio Ethan managed at the time.
The Basement Sessions, Vol. 1 was released in 2002 and was
well-received by international press and received regional airplay. Most
of the year was spent in a writing phase, where Tautologic was concerned.
This is really a euphemism for a period in which Ethan's personal life -
his Dad's two bouts with cancer, specifically - took precedence over band
concerns and sapped a lot of the energy Sellers had previously devoted to
Tautologic new bassist Aron Topielski for gigs at the Around the Coyote
Festival and the Festival of the Arts (FOTA) at the University of Chicago.
FOTA was particularly significant, as it presented the staged debut of the
first act of Sellers' second rock opera, At The Apartment. Encouraged by
the enthusiastic reaction that greeted At The Apartment, Sellers resolved
that Tautologic would give priority to finding more opportunities to
present such theatrical and multi-media performances.
In between his father's bouts with cancer, frontman Ethan Sellers also
launched the Ethan Sellers Band, a folk-rock band that expands on the
territory covered by such Tautologic songs as "Jim's Home Brew"
and "Glasgow Smile". A Tautologic spin-off, the band initially
featured Syfrig on violin, new bassist Nathan Britsch, and one-time GUT
(and substitute Tautologic) drummer Tom Lloyd. Becky Rule later replaced
Syfrig in the violin spot. Despite not having a real demo, the group
managed to secure various headlining gigs through out Chicago, Milwaukee,
and DeKalb on the basis of Sellers' work with Tautologic.
Ambition quickly outran practicality and a second Tautologic spin-off,
Soul Calculus, also emerged - this one focusing exclusively on collective
free improvisation. Featuring various members of Tautologic (Pat, Ethan,
Vojo, Nathan Syfrig, Dan Veidlinger) and bassist Brian Garibaldi , the
spin-off group played a few gigs and some intriguing rehearsal recordings
- but ultimately proved unmarketable, since the group was too rooted in
rock to fit in with Chicago's experimental jazz community and its lack of
composed material precluded it from fitting in with more conventional
Late 2002 and most of 2003 was a period of simplification and
re-assessment brought on by a variety of personal issues. Chicago Sound
Factory closed and Jon Heidelberger moved to Los Angeles, Turtle Down
Music phased out most of its booking operations, and ambitions like
additional rock opera Tautologic shows had to be temporarily shelved for
the duration. Ethan had learned that his father's cancer had returned,
and was unable to commit to such ambitious plans in light of the
possibility that he could be called away for family health issues. Other
members of Tautologic had personal issues to which to attend, so a
strategic withdrawal to the recording studio was in order.
Since a recording project seemed a good way to advance Tautologic's
artistic ambitions and could be more comfortably scheduled around Ethan's
visits home, Tautologic began recording in 2003, It wasn't long before ESB
also began recording - first a series of demos and now an album. During
this period, Sellers found himself producing an album for
singer-songwriter Michael Carlos at Rax Trax and Sonic Parsley studios
(and enlisting pretty much every other member of Tautologic to play on
it), and Sellers' temporary transformation into a near-total studio hermit
of Steely Dan proportions was complete.
During 2004, Tautologic welcomed new musicians Nick Photinos (cello)
and Michael Maccaferri (clarinets) of the renowned Eighth Blackbird
chamber ensemble and flutist Jennifer Reddick of the Rockford Symphony to
the recording line-up of the band. Early 2005 found bassist Nathan
Britsch (from the Ethan Sellers Band) joining Tautologic live and in the
In conjunction with the recording of Psychle, Ethan wrote,
filmed, and edited a series of short films to accompany many of the songs
on the forthcoming CD. Working versions of the films were incorporated
into a multimedia theater presentation at the University of Chicago's
Festival of the Arts in May 2005. They are now posted at YouTube.com.
Later in 2005, saxophonist Chris Greene also joined the live/recording line-up.
Chris's live debut with the band was basically sitting in and flying by
the seat of his pants at an Abbey Pub gig that was intended to be an
acoustic trio show, but somehow grew into a 6-piece band performance.
The other band members were thrilled with how it went, and Chris asked if
maybe he could have some charts next time - and the rest is history.
In 2006, ESB violinist Becky Rule announced that she and her husband
Alex were moving to Florida, where Alex would complete his degree. Given
that 3/5 of ESB had the same membership as Tautologic, Becky was such a
key part of the sound and personal dynamic of the band, and that Ethan had
recently begun the transition to full-time self-employment, Ethan felt it was a sensible
time to fold ESB.
Soon afterwards, Ethan completed mixes for Tautologic's
Psychle at Rax Trax, with Grammy-winner Rick Barnes manning the
board. Several tracks from the album have been posted to Tautologic's MySpace and YouTube pages,
but the CD's release awaits financing.
Throughout 2007, Tautologic and acoustic sub-sets of the band gigged
steadily, developing a tight ensemble sound and receiving great reviews
for its performances at Subterranean, Elbo Room, Reggie's, and elsewhere.
In the fall of 2007, violinist Jeff Yang let the band
know that his schedule as a freelance violinist was about to curtail his
activities with Tautologic, as he'd been picked up for multi-month tours
with national acts such as Mannheim Steamroller. The band assigned him
the title "violinist emeritus" and left the door open to future work
together, and reluctantly began the search for a replacement.
As is so often the case, serendipity is responsible for the next part
of the Tautologic story. Ethan was at Lilly's Bar to pick up some money
for his booking work at the bar, and bar-owner Lilly introduced him to
violinist, mandolinist, and vocalist Emily Albright. Emily had just
gotten offstage and Ethan hadn't heard a note of the set, but Ethan's gut
instincts tend to be right. Following an audition and minimal rehearsal,
Emily showed up to her first gig with every note of the violin parts and
every lyric of her backing vocals memorized, and proceeded to thrill band
and audience alike with her performance.
As 2008 drew to a close, the world economy began circling the drain,
and Ethan elected to focus on performance projects whose target market and
near-term income possibilities were more readily apparent than prog rock,
beginning the acoustic traditional Irish instrumental quartet Character
Fleadh with fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Randy Mollner. Ethan met Randy,
a veteran of local orch/prog-rock band Head of Femur, during Ethan's
tenure as booking agent for Lilly's. The two hit it off famously, and the
group was soon busy with private and public gigs, playing 2-3 gigs/night
during "St. Pat's season" in 2009.
After recovering from Character Fleadh's St. Pat's gig run, Ethan prepared
for his wedding and honeymoon with wife Lillie.
As 2009 progressed, discussions for Tautologic's return to live duty
surfaced and then were scuttled as bassist Nathan Britsch coped with a job
transition and learned that he and wife Maggie were expecting their first
child. Although in past years, Ethan and Pat would have probably
subbed-out or otherwise "pushed on through," the band was getting more
"familial" and Ethan was determined not to return the band to live duty
without having first released Psychle, an ambition that he was
reluctant to follow through on in an uncertain economic climate.
As 2009 wound down, Character Fleadh added flutist Angela Leffingwell to
its line-up. Angela's debut with Character Fleadh was a private gig with
Tauto violinist emeritus Jeff Yang on fiddle. Jeff, in turn, recruited
Irish music superstar accordionist John Williams. It was a career
highlight for Ethan, who was more than a little nervous to play with an
As 2009 turned into 2010, Sellers and Mollner began a second project
together with dobro/mandolin/guitar switch-hitter Nathan Dillon and
upright bassist Joey Spilberg, Carpetbaggers Local 606. The Carpetbaggers
are an acoustic southern Americana group that performs cajun, bluegrass,
and country. They made their debut at Mardi Gras 2010.
Not long after St. Pat's 2010, new flute recruit Angela Leffingwell
announced her departure for Seattle, where she would join her fiance.
Randy and Ethan decided to recruit not only a flutist replacement but a
bodrhan player, having received numerous specific requests for the
instrument from prospective wedding gig clients. Ethan contacted
violinist/violist Chuck Bontrager, a good friend of Tautologic, for a
flute referral. Chuck referred Constance Volk, flutist with local
contemporary chamber ensemble dal Niente and singer with Chuck's Tool
tribute band, Vicarious. Constance was a great fit. In similarly easy
fashion, percussionist Mark Grondy was recruited from a Craigslist ad to
fill the bodhran spot. The new line-up's debut was a wedding with an
Irish bride and a Jewish groom, who danced marvelously to the jigs and
reels, reminding band members that both love and music surpass all else.
At the midpoint of 2010, Ethan purchased a new mobile recording rig, and plans were made for additional Tautologic
recordings and - finances permitting - the release of the painfully overdue Psychle. Shortly before the group was
to begin another series of recording sessions, guitarist Aaron Weistrop left the group to re-focus his career on blues
and jobbing work. The band soon recruited guitarist Jay Montana, after a referral from trombonist Johnny "Showtime"
Janowiak, who'd played on Tautologic's "On Your Left" recording. Jay's diverse background as a player made him a great
fit from the start, and the group recorded a half-dozen tracks with him in late 2010 and early 2011.
In the fall of 2010, Ethan began yet another project - the Christmas/holiday group The Halldeckers. For this new
project, Ethan sought out singer-songwriter and guitarist Rebecca "Stolie" Stoelinga, whose acquaintance Ethan had made years
previous at an open mic. The duo recorded a handful of Christmas standards and performed a handful of private/corporate
gigs throughout Chicago, including one rather frigid and snowy outdoor gig in Highland Park - an experience the two have
vowed not to repeat after the cold numbed their fingers to the point where they could barely play and snow began accumulating
around the sustain pedal for Ethan's keyboard.
Carpetbaggers Local 606 recorded new demos at the end
of 2010. The group also brought on new bassist Jake Samson,
accordionist Jonathan Kotulski, Tautologic drummer Pat Buzby, and banjoist Robert Kuta to round out the sound and fill
vacancies created when bassist Joey Spilberg and mandolinist/dobroist Nathan Dillon grew too busy with other projects to
work with the group. With its new line-up in place and new demos, the group began receiving more bookings.
In early 2011, Character Fleadh flutist Constance Volk took an indefinite maternity leave - so the group recruited Emma
Hospelhorn (Hollows, New Millenium Orchestra) to fill the flute/piccolo seat. Character Fleadh's new line-up was in
place for its annual St. Pat's run and continued on for recording sessions and its debut at the 2011 Gaelic Park Irish
In between all of the various side projects, Ethan began writing new Tautologic material and re-working older material to
better reflect his evolving sensibilities, emphasize the strengths of the new line-up, and more clearly define
Tautologic's unique place in Ethan's growing portfolio of musical projects and better define the band's artistic voice
for the audience.
At this writing, Tautologic is gearing up for a reunion gig at Martyrs on August 10, 2011 - after which the group will
resume its studio hermitage for a few months as Ethan and wife Lillie welcome their first child in late September. The
group plans to maintain a self-imposed routine of "write, record, release, promote, tour, repeat" for the most part, so
fans and friends are advised to catch this show, as it may be a while until the next one.