The most difficult period of Ty Tabor’s life led to what the King’s X singer, songwriter and guitarist calls the “most open, introspective and personal” album of his life. Michael Popke finds out why…
Safety, Tabor’s second official solo album and a real-world journey into the mind of a man separated from his wife of 16 years, took about three years to complete. To put that in some kind of context, during the time that Tabor spent working on Safety, he wrote, recorded and released two King’s X albums (2000’s Please Come Home … Mr. Bulbous and this year’s Manic Moonlight); the second Platypus album with keyboard player Derek Sherinian, drummer Rod Morgenstein and bassist John Myung (2000’s Ice Cycles), the new self-titled record by The Jelly Jam (Platypus minus Sherinian) and a new self-titled project called Jughead (with Sherinian, bassist Matt Bissonette and drummer Gregg Bissonette).
“Whenever I went into the studio to work, it became a depressing situation,” Tabor writes in the liner notes, explaining why Safety almost never got released. “Soon, I had a record of totally depressing songs.”
He’s not kidding. Songs like “Better To Be On Hold” and “Missing Love” reflect Tabor’s fragile emotional state at the time. Sample lyrics: “I took my ring off/Then I felt empty/And then I grasped for anything/Or anyone I could to set me free,” from “I Don’t Mind;” and “I wait for time to do it’s healing/It seemed to do it in the past/The knot will slowly start to loosen/The hope to live again at last,” from “Funeral.”
On Safety, upbeat melodies, charming acoustic arrangements, and thick and ethereal grooves contrast with Tabor’s sleepy and detached John Lennon-like voice to create an album that somehow manages to provide comfort through the pain. Perhaps that’s why Tabor ultimately released the album: It’s cathartic. “The name of the album stands for anything you rely on,” he explains, calling from Houston and speaking in his typical soft-spoken tone. “When you’re going through something so devastating and your whole world is yanked out from under you, anything that makes you feel some kind of safety is very important to you – even if it’s just sitting in your house watching TV. This album is a real true reflection of what I was feeling at the time.”
In time, though, comes healing. Tabor held off releasing Safety long enough to become involved in another relationship, which helped him pen a few happier songs to add to the album. Opener “Tulip (Your Eyes),” for example, is a hopeful tribute to his new lover, whose eyes “Make me laugh/Make me cry/Make me feel that I can fly,” while “Now I Am” suggests a coming to terms with the past and achieving closure. To that end, Tabor says his wife, who inspired many of the straightforward lyrics on Safety, has heard the album and actually likes it. Now, THAT’S what you call closure.
New love isn’t the only excitement happening in Tabor’s life, though. King’s X, the band Tabor founded nearly two decades ago with singer and bass player Doug Pinnick and drummer Jerry Gaskill, is on tour with Dream Theater and Joe Satriani through mid-September. If the response the Houston trio received at a late-August show in Milwaukee – where the band drew multiple standing ovations during a 30-minute opening slot – is any indication of how fans around the country are reacting to the tour, King’s X remains a cult favorite, a band that practically invented a crunchy progressive guitar-and-bass sound augmented by sweet Beatlesesque harmonies and fascinating and usually esoteric lyrics.
“I’ve always looked at King’s X as the band I always hoped to find,” Tabor says. “King’s X is my personal Beatles. It’s an institution that none of us want to break.”
And why should they? Tabor says that the band’s past few tours have been the biggest in King’s X history, with crowd ages skewing younger than you’d expect. A shift began happening in the band’s fan base in the late-Nineties, when many teenagers began popping up at shows – “all these guys with Korn hair,” Tabor laughs – to headbang with the band’s older longtime fans. “It’s an honor that kind of thing is still happening for us,” Tabor says. “Every single time we step out there, we appreciate it more than we did before.”
After the gig with Dream Theater and Joe Satriani wraps up, King’s X plan to record their 10th studio album, slated for release next year possibly on a new label Tabor’s creating called Moanjam Records – which takes its name from a song on 1990’s faith hope love by king’s x album.
But just because King’s X is enjoying a resurgence doesn’t mean Pinnick and Tabor can’t find other outlets through which to express themselves. Pinnick has released three albums of material considerably different than King’s X during the past few years under the names Poundhound and Supershine. Tabor even helped out on the mixing and mastering processes.
Tabor, meanwhile, has been busy this year with The Jelly Jam – an offshoot of Platypus, the prog-rock supergroup of sorts that released two so-so records before becoming extinct. The Beatlesesque harmonies and odd time signatures of Platypus (and King’s X) still sound familiar on the self-titled Jelly Jam debut, but the trio opts to stay away from the jazzier side of progressive and classic rock, instead indulging in trance-inducing space rock, chunkier and heavier riffs and acoustic old-school King’s X. The album possesses a distinct Seventies vibe that’s as thick and gooey as the band’s name. Most of the 10 tracks here subtly incorporate elements from all three of the band members’ core groups (King’s X, Dream Theater and the Dixie Dregs).
“The Jelly Jam is one of the favorite things that all of us do,” Tabor says about himself and his fellow Jammers. “We hope to keep putting out records every year as long as the record label [InsideOut] keeps letting us do it.” That said, work is well underway on a second Jelly Jam record, slated for release in summer 2003.
Despite Sherinian’s absence from The Jelly Jam, he and Tabor remain friends – although Tabor shies away from discussing the keyboard player’s departure from Platypus. Sherinian joins Tabor and the Brothers Bissonette in Jughead, whose self-titled debut (also on InsideOut) is a healthy slab of high-energy pop rock that Tabor describes as “Foo Fighters meets The Beatles.” “I’m a big fan of the Bissonettes, and Derek wanted to do a side project away from Planet X,” Tabor says. “None of us wanted this to be a big progressive, show-off-your-chops record.”
Jughead is lighter than The Jelly Jam but loaded with quirky songs that would be at home on a King’s X album (the relentless “Halfway Home to Elvis”, the groove-heavy “Snow in Tahiti,” the circa-1990 King’s X rocker “Shame on the Butterfly” and the ethereal “Paging Willie Mays”).
Not content to sit still, Tabor also is close to finishing another solo album for release in 2003, and he recently made available through his web site (www.tytabor.net) a disc called In the New Age (Instrumental Pieces), which is 30 minutes of “mostly unrecognizable guitar music,” he says, played through a Roland guitar synth. “It’s totally unrelated to anything I’ve done before.” Originally recorded in 1996 as a musical Christmas present for family and friends, he decided to release the disc to the public after others liked what they heard.
As Tabor prepares to turn 41 in mid-September, he thinks he’s finally hitting his stride – a revelation which bodes well for his future work. “I feel like I’m writing better solo music than ever,” he says. “Safety contains some of the best songs I’ve written. I feel like something’s different, like the album was monumental for me or something. Just how far that reaches into the future for me, I don’t know.”