88 Doug McCombs (of 11th Dream Day), John Herndon (of Precious Wax Drippings), and Michael Cergizan begin playing together in an ad-hoc group known as “Simple.” Simple never actually make it out of their practice space, though they spent many hours jamming on “Africa Brass.” As this group fizzles out, Herndon and McCombs determine to continue working together in various impromptu settings.
89 Through Herndon’s connections with the sakteboarding community, an offer is made for the duo to contribute a track to an upcoming Alva skate video. This track is the first commercially released recording by what would later become known as Tortoise. Ironically, the location of this recording turned out to be the future site (10 years later) of John McEntire’s Soma Electronic Music Studios.
90 Herndon and McCombs continue playing together and working on new material. By this time they consider themselves a “rhythm section for hire,” though in actuality it is not known if they ever acted in that capacity. What we do know is they recorded a session of new material with David Wm. Sims at Steve Albini’s “Basement” studio. For reasons lost to the mists of time, these recordings were never released and perhaps may no longer exist.
91 Encouraged by the results with Sims, the duo book time at Idful Music Corp. with Brad Wood (of Shrimpboat) engineering and providing additional instrumentation. These session are spread out over the course of about a year and a half, and within that time, the constituency of the group begins to change. Through their affiliations in the local music scene, Herndon and McCombs approach Bundy K. Brown and John McEntire (both of Bastro) with the intent of having them participate in the group, ostensibly creating a “double rhythm section.” Rehearsals are scheduled, and Brown and McEntire overdub parts on the Idful sessions. The group begin calling themselves “Mosquito.” That summer, the fledgling group is offered a gig supporting venerable Dutch band The Ex. A set is prepared consisting mostly of material from the Idful sessions, as well as a cover of The Gang Of Four’s “Paralyzed” (sung by Herndon). The Ex never make it to the gig due to immigration issues at the Canadian border; Mosquito end up playing anyway.
92 McEntire returns to college in an attempt to finish his course of study. The group realizes potential problems with the name Mosquito, and search for a different moniker. After much debate, Tortoise is chosen. More work is done on the Idful sessions, and the material is released that year as two 7″ singles, one on Thrill Jockey and one on Torsion Music (later re-released by Thrill Jockey).
93 With McEntire back from school and all the members finding themselves less committed to other projects, they prepare for the recording of a full length LP. They also have another opportunity to play with The Ex that summer, and this time the headliners show up. This gig is notable in that John Herndon was not present due to prior commitments. In late November, the group enters Idful and emerges a week later with their first, “self-titled” LP, and a new member in the form of Dan Bitney (ex-Tar Babies).
94 The LP is released on Thrill Jockey, complete with hand-made letterpress covers courtesy of Fireproof Press in Chicago. The band realizes the necessity of playing live dates to promote the record, and several excursions are made throughout the year, including a performance at New York’s legendary Thread Waxing Space. While not on the road that summer, the band take up an invitation to put together an EP for the Duophonic label. The result is the “Gamera/Cliff Dweller Society” 12″. A handful of tracks (for compilations, remixes, etc.) are produced throughout the year. Arrangements are made for a European tour to begin in January, but by the end of the year Brown has decided to leave the group and the remaining members struggle to find a replacement very quickly.
95 Luckily, David Pajo (Slint, King Kong) is available and interested in filling the vacancy for the tour. After the tour, everyone feels good about the chemistry of the group and Pajo stays on. The band eventually starts thinking about a follow-up to the first LP, and decides that a change of setting would be advantageous to the writing process. They trek out to rural Vermont, where they stay in a farmhouse and rehearse in a barn owned by the family of a good friend. During that time, the group hammers out the ideas that would be the core of the “Millions…” LP. After a string of live dates on the way back from Vermont, they settle into Idful yet again and begin work on the record. Around this time, McEntire begins to turn his “studio” space into a more viable option for finishing tracks, and a handful of pieces for the record are finished there. The LP is complete that fall, and slated for a January release.
96 “MNLWND” is released and the group embark on their biggest spate of touring so far. A run of dates in the UK with Stereolab are followed by extensive continental European coverage with The Sea And Cake and Trans Am supporting. Upon returning to the states, they begin their first-ever US tour taking them throughout the country over the course of 6 weeks. After a brief rest, they make their first trip to Japan (after a (hilarious in retrospect) short detour through Seoul).
97 Following up on the European dates of the previous year, several festival shows are arranged for the summer. By now, the group has expanded to include long time friend and collaborator Jeff Parker (Last Kwartet, Chicago Underground). The six-piece lineup completes the European dates in the midst of recording their third LP, “TNT.” Again, as the live shows were successful with this lineup, the decision is made to bring Jeff aboard full time. The TNT sessions are notable in that they are recorded entirely at the newly upgraded (i.e. computer equipped) Soma Electronic Music Studios. The combination of working at home, coupled with a wealth of material to work on results in a lengthy gestation period for the record. The year ends with a short tour with a collection of groups on City Slang (Tortoise’s European licensee) and Too Pure.
98 David Pajo decides to leave the group following completion of recording to focus on his work with Aerial M (later Papa M). The rest of the band soldiers on, a five piece yet again. Another extensive world tour is undertaken, similar in length and substance to the 96 tour. It is during a 2 day break somewhere in the midst of this touring that the group gets together with their friends from The Ex and collaborate on the “Fishtank” LP that is released in 99. The band makes their first journey to Australia in the fall.
99 A situation arises which gives the group the opportunity to perform as the backing band for the legendary Tom Zé. Bitney is unable to participate due to a schedule conflict, and longtime friend Dan Fliegel fills in on drums, percussion and translation. After much rehearsal, Tom, Jarbas Mariz, and the boys do a short run of dates in the US. Later in the year, the band find themselves in South America playing their own shows and a few incredible ones with Tom. In addition, individual members focus on their respective projects (Brokeback, Isotope 217, Chicago Underground, etc.) throughout the year. McEntire spends most of his time building out a new studio space. A one-off gig at the Deutsches JazzFestival goes down in the fall, which sees the group collaborating with Chicago jazz icon Fred Anderson and their comrades in the Chicago Underground Trio.
00 Most of the year is focused on writing and recording material for the 4th LP, “Standards.” In the midst of the recording, a short Mid-Western tour is arranged under an assumed name (“Woodcult”) opening for The Eternals. This gave the group incentive to try out some of the new material live and rethink it before committing to it in the studio. Once the album is complete, the members again focus on their other projects before gearing up for another world tour.
01 “Standards” is released in January, and the band find themselves embarking on yet another massive world tour. A highlight of this period was the “All Tomorrow’s Parties” festival in the UK that spring, were the group were invited to select 45 international acts to perform over 3 days at a holiday campsite on the English coast.
02 The group begins sporadic recording sessions for what was originally to be an EP, but later becomes the foundation for the next full-length record (not to be finished until the next year). The usual assortment of one-off shows and their own projects keep everyone busy throughout the year.
03 More recording sessions, and a peppering of nice festival dates (Coachella, Bonnaroo, etc.) typify the first part of the year. The summer finds the group bearing down in the studio to complete work on what will be their 5th full-length, “It’s All Around You.” The album is complete in October, and scheduled for an April release.
04 The beginning of the year is relatively quiet, with time divided between everyone’s individual concerns and rehearsals for the upcoming tour in support of “IAAY.” The group are again invited to curate a day of this year’s ATP festival, which will get underway in late March. Their first show in Turkey will take place just before ATP, and the touring machine kicks into full gear in April, hitting the US and Europe before the summer, with more to be determined for later in the year.