UW-Madison graduate students are known for many things, from ambitious dissertations to headline-making activism, but rocking out isn't one of the first descriptors that come to mind. Local band TL;DR have been working to change this since 2011. Their new debut album, TL;DR Is Everything You Are, brings them one step closer to this goal.
The group didn't set out to make academia more rock 'n' roll. More than anything, they were looking for a creative outlet. When the band formed, three members -- Tim Stacey, Rahul Kamath and Alex Prochaska -- were enrolled in Ph.D. programs at the UW. Another, Sean Moran, was a postdoc.
"Over the past few years, TL;DR has provided a good release from the drudgery of academia and work, giving all of us some much-needed life ballast," Stacey says.
But just as they've hit their stride, TL;DR may be breaking up. In late June, Stacey moved to Maryland to pursue a postdoc. It's yet another chapter in what I like to call Madison: Revolving Door of the Midwest.
Depending on which member you ask, you're likely to get a slightly different answer about the band's future. Stacey plans to return for a reunion show, and drummer Prochaska says another album will be released this fall. But for now, TL;DR are using wit and web nerdery to get out the word about Everything You Are.
In addition to being a love letter to TL;DR's fans, Everything You Are is an ideal summer album. On "Michael Henchard," a tune about Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, singer Huan-Hua Chye channels the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O with warm, low murmurs about sealing one's fate. The song builds to a bluesy guitar riff before plunging into full-on seduction mode with waves of shimmering cymbals and a sultry slow-dance beat. Summer also seeps in through lyrics about nighttime walks and the surfy melodies of tracks like "Desert Island."
Though the album brims with creativity, it's one of the most straightforward presentations of TL;DR's material. The band have developed a reputation for staging inventive shows, from a performance at Overture Center's dumpster-side loading docks to a Project Lodge event called Smell-O-Vision. For the latter, TL;DR made an illustrated booklet to accompany their set list.
"We scented each page to match each song," Chye says. "'Desert Island' smelled like lime and coconuts, and 'No Time for Sleep' smelled like strong black coffee."
The band's name -- Internet shorthand for "too long; didn't read" -- even reflects their unique brand of humor. Multi-instrumentalist Nick Davies says they made "what might have been the world's longest list of potential band names." Nearly 2,000 nominees were loaded into a spreadsheet so the band could assess them all at once. But the task was harder than they'd predicted.
"Unfortunately, the six of us could not collectively agree on any one out of those 1,874 names, so we stuck with TL;DR," Chye says. "You can basically translate that as 'I have a normal life as a productive citizen who doesn't waste their time surfing the Internet for hours every day.'"
In a way, TL;DR represents the band's struggle to process such a long list of possibilities. It also hints at the broader cultural problem of option overload: When there are too many choices, decision-making is more of a prison than an expression of freedom. But this interpretation may be a bit too serious for TL;DR, whose original chorus for "Desert Island" was "I'm just so goddamn sick of barbecued eyeballs." For them, the way to a fan's heart is through the brain, in measured moments of absurdity.