Vocalist Jessie Radlow’s career began with a light-up Casio keyboard.
At eight years old, Radlow began singing, playing and writing music with the help of her new keyboard. She joined her first band at age 16, then formed her own in college.
She met multi-instrumentalist and producer Asher Brooks during their time at West Chester University and formed the band Tutlie five years ago, incorporating numerous musicians and instruments throughout their collaborations.
As an anthropology major in college, Radlow was always inspired by other people’s stories. In Tutlie, she allows her imagination to run wild and incorporates her love for human interest through musical storytelling and fictionalization.
“I use a lot of characters in my head and characters that I base off who I know in my life, and I turn them into fictional characters that I want to get to know and that I really get to appreciate—flaws and all,” Radlow said.
Brooks said he thinks Radlow likes to “invent a world and fill it with people and characters that are both her and other people, but told through the lens of a larger narrative.”
“I love different interpretations, just like with folklore, anecdotes and all kinds of stories, tall-tales, lessons, even spirituality,” Radlow said. “Everything comes from something of ancient times and gets passed on through generation after generation.”
“This is my folklore,” she added.
In addition to Radlow (vocals/keys) and Brooks (guitars, bass, trumpet, percussion and keys), the six-piece orchestral group is made up of Rebecca Katz (vocals), Greg O’Neill (guitar), Greg Diehl (bass) and Mark Cruttenden (percussion).
Tutlie’s music, described as an unclassified genre, is influenced by a culmination of sounds ranging from baroque, classical and jazz to orchestral-pop, indie-rock and chamber-pop.
The band experiments with instruments like guitars, percussion, keyboards, pianos, vibraphones, trumpets and harps.
Brooks describes Tutlie as “a rock band with more diverse arrangements and instruments you may not expect from a rock band.”
Recently featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, Tutlie submitted a newly released song, “The Bison,” filmed by Philadelphia videographer Bob Sweeney.
The song was an eight-person performance with vocals arranged by Radlow. She also played keyboard and harmonized with Katz and additional vocalist Steph Pez. Other band members structured the music, including Brooks playing trumpet, Diehl on bass and Cruttenden on percussion. Additionally, the song featured Sam Gutman on vibraphone and Liz Ciavolino on the harp.
Filmed in Radlow’s basement, a small, dark room with a harp wedged under the staircase and Christmas lights draped around the percussionist’s shoulders, the band’s performance of “The Bison” had a dreamy quality. The ballad’s powerful vocals and soft, sultry harmonization created a peaceful atmosphere that fit the vibe of the setting.
The band originally performed the song at Everybody Hits, batting cages on Girard Avenue near 6th Street, that transform into a DIY venue at night.
“The song is smartly written, intricate and it’s just gorgeous,” Brooks said of their decision process for the NRP submission. “The chords that Jessie wrote, especially the way the vocals harmonize, just seemed like a perfect fit for an echoing basement, to really let those parts speak without anything else in its way.”
Although Tutlie didn’t win the contest, they were chosen in NPR’s later released article, “10 More Tiny Desk Entries We Loved.”
Brooks said with thousands of entries in NPR every year, Tutlie was shocked when they were chosen as one of the top 10 additional entries. With such a big sound—using eight people and multiple instruments—the group didn’t think it would be the best fit for a “Tiny Desk” contest.
“We think on such a grandiose level, it’s ridiculous,” Radlow said.
“Sometimes we think so big that it’s really impossible to do all the things that are in our heads, so it’s nice when we are able to do it,” she added. “NPR was a chance for us to do what we wanted.”
Alexa Zizzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org