By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
By Chaz Kangas
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By Bob McMahon
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Theodore is normally thought of as a folk band, a fair appellation given the dominance of acoustic instruments, country-flecked heartbreak and folk-song idioms employed in the songs. (For instance, a beautiful a cappella rendition of the folk standard "The Water is Wide" appears as a brief reverie on Lover.) But with each release, the band has pushed the amount of experimental, untamed noise to the forefront.
Lashier places the band in the folk tradition but emphasizes the push-pull between tradition and invention. "All folk music is hand-me-down songs, and if you can tap into that common sound, melody and structure and still let J.J. take it into this roaring thing, you get the best of both worlds."
Adds Torbitzky: "Justin's always written really great songs, and it's just been the rest of our jobs to make the songs interesting to us and hope that they'll be interesting to other people. We've redone a lot of songs to keep them interesting to us, and it always turns out to be heading in an avant-garde direction."
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Like all great bands, Theodore is the product of four distinct but interlocking musical personalities. Kinkel-Schuster often sings with his feet together and his head tilted toward the ceiling, keeping his slight frame stock-still while singing with the conviction of a soul man. Torbitzky is the kind of refined, tasteful drummer who can play propulsive beats while wearing a sport coat and never relies on perspiration alone to affect the tenor of a song. Lashier switches between electric and upright bass and might add trumpet, keyboard and musical-saw flourishes. And like the Band's Garth Hudson, Hamon is Theodore's fuzzy-bearded wild card. He uses guitar, accordion and lap steel to create dense, layered moods within the songs — ranging from wild peals of feedback to bucolic, undulating swaths of sound.
This spirit of collaboration helps drive the band creatively and makes each show a different, of-the-moment experience. "It wouldn't be a fucking band if what eventually comes out isn't a bastardization of everything all of us thinks and feels and listens to," Kinkel-Schuster says.
Hamon chimes in, laughing: "We have an album full of bastards! Great."
"Right, it wouldn't be a band," Kinkel-Schuster continues. "Without the chemistry of people playing together, it's just not the same."