The seven members of The Tryst may all come from different musical backgrounds—and different parts of the country, for that matter—but they share a common thread in their music, said bassist Taylor Bungard.
"We all have a jazz background to some degree or another," said Bungard, one of three founding members of The Tryst, along with vocalist Keli Carpenter and trumpeter and keyboardist Aldy Montufar.
Confirmed Carpenter: "This band is amazing, I love them all so much. And they are super-major music-lovers. I studied jazz vocals in college, and most of the other musicians all studied jazz at one point or another."
She spoke on the phone from San Francisco, where she spent several weeks this summer working at the Outside Lands music festival and playing some solo dates. The rest of The Tryst joined the singer for a gig on Aug. 27 in her hometown of Merced, Calif.
Hailing originally from locales including Los Angeles, Yuma, Northern California, Tennessee, Indiana and Oregon, The Tryst's membership also includes drummer Erik Truelove, guitarist Aaron Hultstrand, trombonist Dara McMains and saxophonist James Ball.
Although they play music together often, the members haven't quit their day jobs.
"We have some music teachers in the group, some business owners, some engineers, some shop girls," Bungard said, adding that the band members' ages range from late-20s to early-40s.
The Tryst's most recent album, Truth Be Told, has been voted by Tucson Weekly readers as this year's Best New Release in the 2011 Tucson Area Music Awards, also known as the TAMMIES. The independent release is available on iTunes and CD Baby, as well as in local outlets.
Jazz is the base flavor in the Truth Be Told stew, especially when it comes to the oblique melodies and syncopations in Carpenter's vocals. Extra ingredients include stinging hard-rock guitar, funky grooves, Latin rhythms, a little rapping, a touch of Dixieland, and horn charts that include a range of influences from ska to R&B.
"There's definitely some soul and funk in there, and sometimes a bit of reggae," Carpenter said. "The three of us are arrangers and writers, and the rest of the band comes in and collaborates, each bringing in their own strengths."
The Tryst began as a five-piece band in 2005. In the ensuing years, the personnel changed somewhat, with the total enrollment today having increased to seven. "In the last three years, we added keyboards, saxophone and a trombonist, and we started writing songs that reflected more the colors we could work with," Carpenter said.
Carpenter—who earned this year's Female Vocalist and Songwriter TAMMIES honors—grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Elton John and the great female jazz vocalists. She also did a little musical theater in her younger days, too, and she brings that sort of expression to her agile vocal performances.
She writes most of the lyrics, Bungard said. "She's amazing with lyrics, but occasionally, she'll say something isn't working and ask me or one of the others to suggest something that might work.
"We definitely work together as a band. The three of us—Keli, Aldy and I—sort of write the structures, and every instrumentalist writes their own part when we get together," Bungard said.
That process can become a bit chaotic, he acknowledged, but the benefit is that it allows the expression of multiple textures and "voices" within the band, he said.
The communal goal is to check egos at the door.
"At the end of the day, I think we all agree that most importantly, it's all about the good of the song, not the good of the individual players. It's not about whether I really like that part of a song, or it shows off my playing to its advantage, but: Is it really what the song needs?"
Before Truth Be Told, The Tryst released a six-song EP and a full-length debut, Thirsty World.
The creation of Truth Be Told, however, differed from the recording processes The Tryst employed for previous releases. "In the past, we had always recorded in a home studio," Carpenter said. "For this one, we decided to record in a professional studio that was completely equipped, and with an engineer who knew exactly what he was doing."
Chris Schultz recorded and engineered the album at Tucson's world-famous Wavelab Studio.
"It was really a treat to work with Chris and to be in that place where so many great local and national bands have recorded," Carpenter said. "And they have so many beautiful instruments there, too."
Working at Wavelab also presented challenges, Bungard said—most importantly, the fact that the band was on the clock.
"First of all, we didn't have an unlimited about of time, so we definitely had to prepare for that. We rehearsed with everybody intensely for five or six weeks before going into the studio, just to make sure we were as tight and focused as possible when we got there. Trying to get seven people together that much over and over in such a short period of time was difficult. But it was worth it."
The group spent about 60 hours at Wavelab, trying to record as much of the material live and together as possible, Bungard said. "Generally, we would record the rhythm section—essentially the bass and drums and guitar—and Keli would put some scratch vocals on top of that. And for most of the tracks, we would go back and do some fine-tuning in spots, and added instruments here and there. We tried our best to give it a live feel—you know, that immediacy."
Since the release of Truth Be Told six months ago, the band already has written several new songs, and Bungard anticipates at least some of them will end up on the next album.
"We're always writing and coming up with new material. Music is not something that we do for fun, but because we have to," he said.
Luckily, it also happens to be fun.