Exclusive Interview: The Lonesome Trio Consists of Ed Helms, Ian Riggs, and Jacob Tilove

The Lonesome Trio’s debut album has been a lifetime in the making. The group, which consists of guitarist Ed Helms (yeah, that Ed Helms from “The Office” and “The Hangover” franchise), bassist Ian Riggs, and mandolinist Jacob Tilove, has been playing together for two decades. Now, they’re releasing a debut effort that is sure to turn some heads. Jacob Tilove recently stopped by to talk about the album.

Thanks, Jacob, for taking the time.

My pleasure!

Congrats on the album. This is the band’s debut effort. However, the three of you have been essentially working on this for two decades. How did you decide that NOW was the right time to release the band’s self-titled debut?

It kind of decided itself.  The nice thing about our band is that we’re three old friends who have been writing and playing songs together for so long.  The flip side is that with a timeline so stretched out—and with each of us occupied by our “normal” lives—there was no pressing need to get the thing done. Or at least the impetus would come and go.  Over the years, our vision of the album evolved from wanting something simple to give to family and friends around holiday time, to really getting things down properly and sharing our songs with a broader audience.  Once we committed to that, it was a fairly pedestrian matter of schedules: when can we find two weeks to rehearse and record, when do we have the time for a small tour and release?  And that process only took about 6 years… 

For those not familiar with The Lonesome Trio’s music, would it be fair to say you guys are a Bluegrass outfit? How would you describe the group’s sound?

Well, I’m one of those bluegrass traditionalists who is very protective of the term.  It’s a debate that will never die—what is and what is not bluegrass?  We are not a bluegrass band.  Inevitably, some people will see our instruments and call us bluegrass and that’s just fine with me if it helps them to place us in context—I don’t have an agenda in that regard, I just think that bluegrass is a specific sound and tradition, and although it is always necessarily evolving, it is also at its core, sacrosanct.  We do love to cover Bill Monroe and Frank Wakefield and J. D. Crowe and the rest, and sometimes Ed will hop on banjo and we’ll grab a fiddler and be a bluegrass band for a few songs.  But I’d say maybe we’re more folk—not 60s political folk or Puff the Magic Dragon-folk, but we are three folks who got together and started making music without any pretense whatsoever, so that kind of folk.

The band consists of yourself, Ed Helms, and Ian Riggs. When you have three members of the group, how does the writing process go? Is there a primary songwriter or are the songs written collaboratively?

We tend to write the songs on our own and then bring them to the group.  In terms of numbers, I’ve written the most, then Ed, then Ian.  But quantity should not be confused with quality!  We each have a writing voice that is identifiable in our songs.   Together, we’ll work hard and with great detail on arrangements, harmonies, and the like, so the way the song ends up sounding is very collaborative.  But the writing goes on in relative isolation.  One time Ian and I got together for a songwriting session but we just drank a lot.  On the other hand, Ed and I share credit on ‘But Tomorrow,’ which I had written lyrics and most of the music to but was stuck on the chords for the bridge, which he nailed down.

Another comic actor, Steve Martin, has earned success as a musician, playing and touring with Steep Canyon Rangers. I was able to catch a Martin and SCR date a couple years back and Steve Martin incorporated a lot of comedy in the show. Are there plans to use Helms in the same capacity, adding a different kind of element to The Lonesome Trio’s performance?

Nope!  We’ve been performing together for so long, there’s never been that element.  There are definitely laughs during our shows, but it’s never planned.

I read that your full-time gig is an architectural historian. I find this fascinating. I own three historic houses - two Victorians and a Colonial Revival. Is there a certain period of architecture that you appreciate more? How did you get involved in this career field?

Wow!  Very cool. I got my Master’s in Historic Preservation from Columbia but my passion was always architectural history rather than preserving buildings per se, though I am a big proponent of preservation.  I began working for the then-director of my graduate program, Robert A. M. Stern, who had written a series of books on New York architecture that I always admired. Somehow things worked out and I became co-author with Stern and another fellow of New York 2000, the fifth in that series, and also wrote a subsequent book with the same team about the garden suburb movement and its spread around the world.  It’s a wonderful job.  I’m a sucker for all sorts of American domestic architecture, probably because I live in a studio in Midtown Manhattan…I feel like any single-family house would be a dream.  And you will roll your eyes, but in my youth I had two split-levels in my life, and I loved them.  I liked running up and down those little half-flights of stairs.  On a more serious architectural note, I am perhaps most drawn to New York’s commercial architecture from the first decades of the 20th-century going right up into the Art Deco period which produced some of my favorite corporate skyscrapers by Raymond Hood—the old Daily News Building and the old McGraw-Hill Building, both on 42nd Street, the American Radiator Building, and Rockefeller Center.

That is all I had for you. Good luck with the album and tour.

Thanks so much!


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He also is the author of the novels, The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray, Hello Lesbian!, Hello Fabulous!, and Anonymous. Visit him at www.tanamor.com. Email him at jason@zoiksonline.com.
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