Interview: Christoffer "Tiggy" Thygesen of Eastend Mile

Image courtesy of YouTube.

Image courtesy of YouTube.

Yes. I mean, art is always something that I feel you can keep on perfecting.  I feel like no artist will ever tell you their product is perfect. And I'm not about to tell you that it is, 'cause it's not. But I'm very proud of what we've produced. It's definitely the biggest creative endeavor I've done to date in my life. We recorded them in November, so it's been almost a year since this endeavor started. Even longer if you consider the phase of writing the songs. I definitely means a lot to me. Not just because of the developments and the feedback we've gotten, like this moon thing or people telling us it's good. It means a lot to me sentimentally and emotionally. 

Christoffer "Tiggy" Thygesen is having a big year. He's wrapping up his math degree at Carnegie Mellon University after a summer internship at Square, he was sent to Shanghai to compete at an international Hearthstone video game competition and his band, Eastend Mile, is releasing its new album, I Had A Wonderful Time, next week with a release show at James Street Ballroom. 

Tiggy, fresh off of a flight from his home in California, talked us through the excitement of releasing a new album, fighting his way through bad piano lessons and games of League of Legends and how it feels to have your music sent to the moon.

How long have you been playing the bass?

I've been playing bass guitar since seventh grade, but I picked up the upright bass in the fourth grade for the school orchestra. I can't remember why I picked the bass, but it was the unique, big one, so I like to think that's why. I was classical trained on the piano starting in first to fifth grade or so. But I hated my teacher. In fact, I wanted to quit for the longest time because I wasn't having any fun with my lessons and my mom said if I scored well on the standardized music theory tests that they offer, I could quit. And I got a stupid high score, so she had to let me quit. Otherwise I would throw a fit.

So, how did you get interested in jazz?

They had jazz band programs at my schools in middle school and high school, so I played in all of those in, like, sixth through twelfth grade. We would get to play songs that sometimes I could really have cared less about, but there were some of them that really stuck with me. I really liked covering Weather Report particularly. I think we did this in seventh grade. We covered "Birdland" by Weather Report. That was pretty big for me. This is going to sound pretty cliche,  but I did enjoy playing "Girl From Ipanema." That's a good song, but I guess that song's kind of everywhere. Maybe less so the Weather Report one, unless you're into jazz. I feel like I got exposed to a lot of things, whether I wanted to or not. Or at least my ear got exposed at an early age, which is good, because I definitely appreciate that stuff a lot more now. And my appreciation has only gone up in the time I've been playing.

Jazz bass is its own beast.

Yes. I also took lessons. I'm not sure they were really jazz lessons, but we had some lesson where it was specifically about jazz-related or blues things. I had bass guitar lessons with this vocal and guitar teacher. He was the brother of my old bass teacher - it's very complicated. But he ended up facilitating my rock band that I had in high school to record out demo tracks. He had a home studio, which was really cool He's definitely the reason I got excited about music again. I played in a bunch of ragtag bands through his programs and his lessons with other kids I knew that took his lessons. He had rock camps every summer... I would always get to meet cool instrumentalists through his program. 

You were in a rock band in high school?

Yes. Well. Ok. I had a rock band. I joined forces with my vocalist and my guitarist and my drummer for an AP Lit presentation on Invisible Man, the book. I wasn't even in the class. They just needed to do a presentation and I was like, "Sure, I'll play bass!" I think we played "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" [by Cake, but the lyrics were about Invisible Man somehow. I haven't even read the book, so I don't even know what the funny parts are, but I got to play the fun bass line. We decide, you know, we've got to do Battle of the Bands. But we suck. So we ended up linking up with this other guitarist that we were all friends with who could shred way harder than any of us. We got fourth place. It was out of probably around, I'd say over 10 acts. I don't remember how many there were. I remember being disappointed. Our guitarist got a concussion the fay before and he ended up sitting down in the middle of the performance. We prepared this whole medley of Beck songs that we never played. 

Do you write music too?

Yes. I mean, in my rock band I helped with the writing process, and I still help with the writing process in Eastend Mile, actually. I would usually say that - this is for most cases - that [pianist] Caleb [Lombardi] or [saxophonist] Roger [Romero] comes with just some basic idea of their part. And we just figure it out from there. People just start throwing in stuff and layering stuff. We see what sticks, but people usually figure out their own parts. People rarely tell each other what to play and it just somehow gets to where it gets and sounds cohesive, which is pretty, pretty amazing. Usually, the story is that one guy's got the idea and he kind of tells everybody else what his vision is, but that's not really the case [in Eastend Mile]. At most, someone is only running 40 percent of the show at any given time.

How long have you guys been playing together?

We've been playing together since the end of last January, beginning of last February. So, I guess it's been a little over a year and a half. Caleb and Rog had the group before [percussionist] Dhruva [Krishna] and I joined. They recorded an eight-track album, but then the bassist had to go to the Navy. The drummer moved half way across the country and they just went M.I.A. Incommunicado. Caleb and Roger were all, "We're not going to just let this die." They wanted to play in the band and they revived it by bringing us on. So now we reinterpret basically all of the tracks off the old album in our new style and we tack on all of this other stuff that we've done since them. At this point, honestly in terms of what we actually like the play and do, the new stuff vastly outweighs what we had beforehand. We've made a lot of progress in this year and a half.

Tell us a bit about the new album.

It's called I Had a Wonderful Time, which is actually a quote of yours truly. I'm not sure I can really delve into the origins of this too much, 'caue we'd rather have it shrouded in mystery. It's just some night of mischievous deeds ended up with me saying that at the end of the night. Let's just leave it at that. We recorded the tracks in November, when we did all the tracking, essentially. We edited just, like, pretty sparingly in post compared the amount of sounds we brought. We recorded in the studio in four days. We recorded in the Carnegie Mellon studio, an that's actually how we got linked up with this Moon Arts thing. The single, "Blood Moon," is going to the moon.

CMU Robotics is doing the Lunar X prize and there's this Moon Arts project that is kind of going along with it. It's like a capsule of arts from Pittsburgh. It's going with this rover to the moon to put these arts on the moon for artistic reasons. Like token of humanity, or whatever. And the guy who runs the CMU studios, Riccardo Shulz, unilaterally submitted our single, because he was there when we recorded it. And I remember him saying that he liked it, but didn't really think too much of it. I just took it as a compliment and left it at that. But then he notified us a couple months later that he had sent it off to this project to get approved, and then we heard a couple weeks later that it was approved. And so, this means, I guess, the wave forms are being engraved in titanium concentric spirals on this little capsule and being fired to the moon.

You're going to the moon! That's amazing!

That's what I think. I think it's the craziest thing that's ever happened. The way I like to phrase it, is that in the likely case of nuclear armageddon, our music outlives that of Beyonce. Yeah, I'm pretty happy about that. 

The excitement I had from that was, like, doubled down, because the weekend we heard that that was approved, I qualified for this video game tournament. I played in a Hearthstone tournament. It's a virtual card game developed by Blizzard, who's the maker of World of Warcraft, Starcraft Diablo, those games. And yeah, there was this China vs. U.S. collegiate tournament and me and two of my buddies that I played with during the semester, we got seeded into this tournament. We took first place in the qualifier. So we got flown, all expenses paid, to Shanghai, China. It was amazing. We ended up losing in the quarter finals. That was the first round of play once we got there, but we got pretty unlucky, I think it's safe to say.

I've played on the Carnegie Mellon League of Legends team every year I've been a student and we've always been, I think, safe to say the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the Eastern Quadrant of North America, but we just choke in the playoffs and never really make it past the quarter finals. Which is kind of a bummer. Those prize pools are pretty big and I could use some money to actually put my money where my mouth is for all this time I've wasted getting good at video games.

So, are there any bassists you admire?

Plenty, actually. I just say Hiatus Kaiyote at Outside Lands and I have never seen a tighter rhythm section in my life. Lettuce - I saw them at Outside Lands. If I could go back in time, I would be saying Roger Waters or John Paul Jones, but they're not really innovating right now. I would say in terms of bassists right now, it would be Mike League of Snarky Puppy. He's the mastermind of that whole shindig and I think it's some of the most next-level jazz fusion stuff I've ever heard. 

I'm definitely glad I picked bass as an interment. I feel like it's the unholy marriage of drums and guitar. You can be either one and both at the same time. You have control over the groove and the rhythm, the feel and the low end. And you can be really percussive. But you can also be really melodic and harmonic and play really interesting stuff. I'm really of the opinion that with music, less is more. And I definitely think that the bass is a very good instrument for someone with that kind of perspective. For me, when it comes to writing music and expressing myself musically, it's not really about trying to show off what I can say. It's really about telling a story. 

What's a song on the new record that you felt like you really nailed that on? Or one you like playing?

I'm not really sure this is demonstrative of that point, but I like playing "Overdrive," which is the penultimate track on the album. The process of writing the song was really fun. That song came together in a very organic way that kind of amazes me. It started out with myself and Caleb, jamming in Kresge, which is an auditorium in the CMU fine arts building. He was on the piano and I had my bass with a little practice amp and he started playing this six-chord progression. I ended up playing along to the roots of it and we decided that was a good starting point. We decided we needed some other bit that could mash up with that, and I guess I came up with the B section of the song. We met up with the other guys at the net practice and while we were writing, Dhruva came up with the awesome drum beat that he plays on that song and Roger came out with some pretty sweet licks. It just started coming together.

Are you happy with the new record?

Yes. I mean, all art is always something that I feel you can keep on perfecting. I feel like no artist will ever tell you their product is perfect. And I'm not about to tell you it is, 'cause its not. But I'm very proud of what we've produced. It definitely means a lot to me. Not just because of the developments and the feedback we've gotten, like this moon thing or people telling us it's good. It means a lot to me sentimentally.

Hear Eastend Mile's new album at their Album Release Party on Sept. 10 at the James Street Ballroom and keep an eye out for Found Sound's review. For now, check out the video for their single "Blood Moon."