Modal Tease String Band has been playing old tunes for new times since 2009. We grew out of the Los Angeles old time music scene, where folks meet regularly to jam and share tunes “around the campfire.” Our penchant for modal tunes brought us together, and our fascination with obscure, crooked fiddle and banjo tunes sealed the deal. While rooted in and respectful of old time traditions, we’re flexible, adventurous, and versatile. If it feels old, is foot-tappingly addictive, musically interesting, or begs for tight vocal harmonies, odds are we want to perform it. And so our motto is Music From Appalachia and Beyond.
Modal Tease is made up of Belinda Thom on the Devil’s Box (fiddle), Cliff Latimer on guitar and mandolin, Jim Hamilton on clawhammer banjo, and Lawrence Ullman on standup bass. Recently, they won awards at the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Competition and the Goleta Old-Time Fiddlers Convention. In December 2011, they released their first CD, Aggravatin’ Beauty.
Belinda Thom has played her grandpa’s violin most of her life. In college, it became her fiddle — “a violin with attitude” — returning full-circle to her grandpa’s heritage. The Bubba George String Band gave her a taste, but it was 20 years of dabbling in blues, jazz, folk, and computer music before she met folks in L.A.who named the old time sound and shared its traditions with her. Belinda is raising her family, teaching fiddle, transcribing old recordings, and performing.
Cliff Latimer grew up in Detroit and was playing guitar in rock bands by age 13. Always a fan of the mandolin in country music, he picked one up around 15 years ago and never looked back. Cliff played bluegrass with L.A. bands The Spikedrivers and The Homebillies before being swept away by the archaic, modal sound of old time music. Cliff teaches Motion Picture Sound Design at the Cinema Schools of both USC and Loyola Marymount.
Jim Hamilton grew up with folk and bluegrass music in Texas. He first heard old time in 1999 while on a pilgrimage in West Virginia, where he fell in love with this music and promptly moved over to “the dark side.” He bought an open back banjo, gave up bluegrass, and has ever since immersed himself in this tradition. Jim goes back annually to attend his favorite workshop, Allegheny Echoes, in West Virginia, where he always brings back new gems for the band to play.
Having misspent his youth performing Renaissance and Baroque music on period brass and woodwind instruments, Lawrence Ullman underwent a wicked mid-life crisis and took up clawhammer banjo after his brother gave him “O Brother Where Art Thou”. Although he still manages to frail some banjo at old-time jams, he gravitated to the upright bass after an instrument originally purchased for his teen daughter to play in middle school became available.