Man of steel
It had only been about a year since Shawn Tamborini started playing pedal steel guitar when he made the decision to record his forthcoming EP, To Eat. After receiving his master’s in jazz and improvisational music, the composer and guitarist had grown bored.
“I didn’t really feel like the guitar was able to do specific things that I wanted it to do,” Tamborini said. “And I was hearing those sounds from the pedal steel. Or I could at least hear that those sounds could be made.”
He was particularly drawn to the pedal steel for its ability to create sounds characteristic of the human voice, like sliding notes and vibrato.
“I’d actually been critiqued when I was a guitar player by a teacher,” Tamborini recalled. “He said, ’You use vibrato all the time. Stop using so much vibrato.’ But I just love the sound of it. I love the sound of that. That’s something I can gravitate towards with pedal steel, for sure, because that’s something pedal steel players use a lot of.”
The pedal steel also plays well with Tamborini’s musical interests. Despite the fact that it’s most commonly associated with country music, and Tamborini is himself known for playing one in the local country band Jake Houston & the Royal Flush, he sees potential to apply the pedal steel to other genres.
“I went to school for jazz, and I love improvisational music, and I love Black American music, whether it’s R&B or hip-hop or jazz,” he said. “I really like a lot of gospel music. … A lot of that is really vocal oriented, with that kind of underlying groove beat. I think that’s kind of something I gravitated towards with my sound with the pedal steel.”
The EP, which features Dave Strawn on bass and Justin Tatum on drums, reflects Tamborini’s eclectic taste—managing to dance across genre conventions in the span of its four tracks.
“With this EP, I wanted to get something out, really,” he said. “It was just a dire need to really put something out there. The compositions I chose are ones that I really like. I feel like you might hear some rock-based stuff in there, maybe a little bit of punk, maybe a little metal, maybe R&B, maybe jazz. It’s all, I guess, just trying to be honest about what I really like and what I wanted to put down with the money I had and with the time I had.”
Tamborini actually wrote three of the four songs on his EP for the guitar and had to relearn them on pedal steel. The fourth, a song called “Tha Shadough,” was written for the instrument. It has a sexy, liquid sound—sliding back and forth between long, slow notes and bouncier ones. But these won’t be the only songs played during the upcoming EP release. Tamborini intends to use the show to debut the results of some additional experimentation he’s done with the pedal steel.
“For our EP release … we’re going to do an opera song and then like a ’90s R&B/hip-hop thing,” Tamborini said. “And I’ve been getting a little bit into classical music with pedal steel—learning a couple of Beethoven pieces and Debussy, because it really has such a different sound.”