Tuatara
Charles Peterson

Tuatara, the long-running project led by Mad Season/Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and rounded out by a rotating cast of all-stars that includes R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, returns for its first record in six years, "Underworld." Before the the double-album opus arrives in August on Martin's own label Sunyata Records, Billboard exclusively premieres the track "The Skeleton Getdown."

The mellow, groove-centric song, Martin explains, "was initially inspired by a particular beat, which is loosely built upon John Bonham's 'Crunge' beat… Skerik started riffing that melody over the top of the beat with a baritone sax, and Peter Buck had this great wah wah sound dialed in on his guitar. Scott McCaughey played that funky Wurlitzer piano."

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Martin says "The Skeleton Getdown," "encapsulates the theme for 'Underworld,' which is essentially a 20 song romp through the underworld, complete with a cast of characters that you would find hanging out down there. It’s like Miles Davis' 'On The Corner' or something like that."

For "Underworld," which was mixed by famed Nirvana/Soundgarden producer Jack Endino, not only is the original lineup of Martin, Harwood and Skerik on deck, but so are longtime collaborators Buck (who Martin calls, "the best acoustic guitar player I've ever worked with") and McCready (with whom Martin co-founded Mad Season), who both perform on several songs. Gnarls Barkley's Cedric LeMoyne,  DJ Megman and Manuel Oquendo also make guest appearances. Recorded largely in Seattle and Portland beginning in 2013, the process of making the album "started with some electronic collaborations with DJ Megman in New York, and then some drum and bass jams with bassist Cedric LeMoyne out in L.A.," Martin says. "Mike McCready and I recorded some ideas in his home studio, and Skerik did some recording in his."

Tuatara, which was formed by Martin and Buck with saxophonist Skerik and Luna bassist Justin Harwood in 1996 and counts "Underworld" as its seventh album, has always celebrated its focus on instrumental music, even as it explored genres, "ranging from Eastern-tinged meditations to DJ electronic collaborations, to a double-album Spaghetti Western soundtrack," says Martin.

The band's musical adventurousness has also meant it has felt free to move at its own pace. Martin says it's part of the reason "we've been a band for almost 20 years - we let it breathe."

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