Bundy K. Brown
The group's origins lie in the late 1980's pairing of Doug McCombs and John Herndon, who imagined themselves as a freelance rhythm section (like reggae legends Sly and Robbie). That idea never saw fruition, but their interest in grooving rhythms and recording studio trickery led to partnerships with drummer John McEntire and bassist Bundy K. Brown (both formerly of Bastro) joining, followed by Dan Bitney. Though songs are credited to all the musicians, McEntire quickly became perceived as, if not the acknowledged leader, the group's guiding force. In reality his extra contributions mainly took the form of being the recording engineer and mixer.
Their first single was issued in 1993, and their self-titled debut album followed a year later. Instrumental and mostly mid-tempo, Tortoise slowly garnered praise and attention, due in part to the unusual instrumentation (two bass guitars, three percussionists switching between drums, vibraphones and marimbas). A remix album followed, Rhythms, Resolutions and Clusters.
Brown left and was replaced by David Pajo (formerly of Slint) for 1996's Millions Now Living Will Never Die, which showed up on many year-end best of lists, and the 20 minute Djed was described by critic John Bush as proof that "Tortoise made experimental rock do double duty as evocative, beautiful music."
In 1998, Tortoise released TNT, arguably their most jazz-inflected album. Pajo had been replaced by Jeff Parker, who has a strong jazz background. 2001 led to Standards, where Tortoise incorporated more electronic sounds and post-production into its music than in previous works. In 2001 the band helped to curate an edition of the British All Tomorrow's Parties festival. They then returned in 2004 to curate another day of the same event. 2004 saw the release of It's All Around You, and in 2006 they collaborated with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy on an album of covers entitled The Brave and the Bold, and released A Lazarus Taxon, a box set containing two CDs of single tracks and remixes, a third CD with an expanded Rhythms, Resolutions and Clusters (long out of print), and a DVD of videos and film of live performances.
Bitney and McEntire also contributed to the Bright Eyes album Cassadaga.
Tortoise released their latest album Beacons of Ancestorship on June 23 2009.
The band will tour Midwestern USA in September and October 2009, and then continue touring in Europe in November and December.