This September, for our second-annual Rocktoberfest, we welcomed Oregon City band Tango Alpha Tango as the headliner and they brought considerable heat to the Oregon City Brewing patio at the end of the night. These performances were recorded outside, with a backdrop of the brewery’s stainless steel fermenting tanks. We also recorded a solo performance of the song “Desert Snow,” inside at the bar.
Tango Alpha Tango is guitarist/singer Nathan Trueb and bassist Mirabai Carter-Trueb. They've released three studio albums, mostly recently "White Sugar" in 2016, and a solo acoustic record in 2018 by Nathan Trueb, called "Nathaniel Marc."
The band started in Oregon City, where Trueb grew up in the middle of a family of guitar players (his father, his uncle, his older brother), and loving the records of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Steely Dan.
"I was obsessed with Jimmy Page when I was younger and maybe still am, Hendrix and all that stuff, you know. So I love that idea of, especially with someone like Hendrix, the singer-guitar player where, he's kind of emoting out of both the natural instrument and then the guitar as well."
Q: Was there any kind of scene in Oregon City when you were young?
NT: "Yeah, there actually was ... lots of 'battle of the bands' and a couple of grange hall type situations that would seem at the time the whole town was out, but probably only like a hundred people that liked going to shows and things like that [laughs]. But my older brother was in a band and that's how I first got into [a band] and we played here quite a bit. You know, we would rent out an auditorium and make flyers and invite our friends and charge a cover at the door, that whole thing. When I started in that band I was 12 or 13 and they were more like high school age. So it felt like kind of like I was sneaking in, you know?
"At that same time we started playing bars when we went to Portland, but I just remember the Xs on the hands and making you sit in the van all night."
Q: "X" meaning you're under 21?
NT: "Yeah. Cause you know they would let you play on stage but they wouldn't let you hang out. Especially when I looked very young and I was very young, you know, at 13 or 14 years old. But we spent a lot of time in the van, me and the drummer — we were both the same age — so just sat out there and I would practice guitar or read something."
Q: You also studied jazz guitar (at Mt. Hood Community College). What did you get out of learning to play jazz?
NT: "I think just a deeper understanding of theory, structure of music, richer chords. The push and pull, tension and release... that's the main thing I really enjoyed about it, the mood of the music too. A lot of the stuff when you hear it, you'll be like 'Oh, that's dissonant.' But the more you get into it, it seems like a lot of the idea in the music is to cause this tension to create a more beautiful release, you know?"
Q: "White Sugar," your 2016 album, is more pop sounding than your earlier records and it has some super catchy songs. Tell me about writing "I Gotta Girl."
NT: "That one was kind of an interesting one because we completely changed the style. It used to have this Credence Clearwater kind of tongue-in-cheek country vibe to it. I didn't think it would fit on a record in that way. It was really fun to play live and we were enjoying it, but I just went home and decided to give myself an assignment that I'm going to keep the same words and I'm going to completely rewrite the song. And so it ended up being the way it is now and we really had fun playing it that way too. That was kind of a weird genesis that doesn't normally happen."
Q: Last year you released a solo acoustic record, "Nathaniel Marc." [See the performance above of "Desert Snow"] How did those songs come about, because they're so pared back from the full band?
NT: "I feel like I have a whole other side. I used to open a lot of Tango shows with those acoustic songs and so I've been writing that kind of stuff for a while and I just felt like it was time to put it out, you know? It wasn't like I went off in a cabin and decided to write an acoustic record. I just did it live to tape with a couple of mics. It sat around for a while because you [wonder], 'Is this the best take?' So it wasn't really a departure for my writing. But it just made sense to put them all together on one record."
You can see Tango Alpha Tango performing at Chop Suey in Seattle Saturday Nov. 9, and back in Portland Dec. 28 at Mississippi Studios. Nathan and Mirabai also have a new band, White Bike, with new music on the way in the near future.
Audio recording: Steven Kray Mixes: Steven Kray, Nalin Silva Video editor: Jarratt Taylor Cameras: Jarratt Taylor, Nate Sjol, Andrew Barrick, Sararosa Davies Lighting: William Ward, Randy Layton Executive Producer: David Christensen Special thanks to Oregon City Brewing