Tabla Rasa
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Tabla Rasa


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The best kept secret in music


"Tabla Rasa-Playing With Their Shoes Off"

Three left legs tap, stomp and shake like dogs enjoying a belly rub. Eyes closed, the front men of Tabla Rasa keep the charismatic beat that all five members feel down to the bottom of their bare toes.
Matt Smithmier cradles a mandolin, swinging his slim hips that by day are clad in business casual slacks but tonight are comfortable in faded jeans. Away from meetings at his public relations job for Independence Regional Health Center, Matt loses the tie, the eye contact and the professionalism.
Instead, singing soulfully to a Sunday night crowd is the bohemian and poetic 25-year-old leader of Tabla Rasa, a Rusted Root-inspired Missouri band that just released its second independent album "The View From Here" Oct. 7.
Matt begins to tell the story of Tabla Rasa's conception over a plate of fries and an iced tea one lunch hour, but that conversations leads to another lunch. Between large bites of food - he always cleans his plate - Matt thinks about how to best word his answers. He was a journalism major at the University of Missouri-Columbia, so he knows the importance of an interview.
"We're just five guys from Missouri," he says finally. Humble, smiling.
But what he leaves out is that Tabla Rasa is a group of five white guys who know how to write original, inspiring music that embraces rock, folk and tribal music, play everything from the hand drums to harmonicas and are deeply attached to one another.
"It's kind of like a five-way marriage," Matt says, laughing because he's serious.
Matt, founding band member Mike Tipton and Aaron Lewis met in kindergarten in Lawson, Mo., where their families still live. Best friends through 13 years of school, college, girlfriends, wives and now two records - these guys even keep the beat with the same left legs.
Curt Lane, the auxiliary percussionist, and drummer Justin Skinner are newer to the group, but they are not left out. During their show at River Market Brewing Company in downtown Kansas City Labor Day weekend, Matt, Mike and Aaron took turns playing to the two guys in the back.
All five guys are barefoot when they play, and that's one thing that Curt and Justin fit right in with. Playing, singing and dancing barefoot is a Tabla Rasa trademark that goes back to their first shows in Columbia, Mo., and gave the group the name for their first album.
"Now I really can't play without it," Matt says, meaning going barefoot. "It makes me feel more connected."
And even though Matt says he doesn't want to be a clichŽ, it is true that performing barefoot is tied to the band's integral themes of love and peace. Matt says their songs and their white toes are about "loving your fellow human being and breaking down barriers we put in front of us."
Tabla Rasa means "clean slate" in Latin and is representative of the message the band's music sends. "Replacing fear with love," Matt says is the central message.
But it's also fun for the guys jumping around the small stage. They do not perform. For a few songs, it's not even apparent if they know the bar has filled up from just a handful of tables to 20 to 30 tables of feet-tapping fans.
Aaron is the one to watch, Matt says. And it's true. Aaron leans towards the crowd and the microphone and then away in a fast, jerking motion like a chicken. His excitement grows as they move into the second song in the two-hour set.
"I just get into the music," Aaron says. "We all groove in our own ways. Some are more flamboyant than others."
On the other side of Matt, though, Mike takes on a sensual Eddie Vedder look as his brown curly hair falls back and his thick brows furrow.
"She says I only want to be loved/And she lays down her defenses," Mike sings with a smile on his face. "She says" is one of Mike's songs about a girl the entire band knows who is always trying hard to make guys like her.
When it's all thrown together, Tabla Rasa is a mix of alternative, blues and jam music with an uplifting and fast-paced beat. Tabla Rasa does not play background music, the kind you can talk over. The music is passionate and demanding, requiring an intimate and powerful exchange with the audience that at times leaves one breathless, excited but always ready for more.
And more music is available online at and anytime the band is playing in their hot spots of Columbia, Lawrence, Kan., Kansas City and Eastern Jackson County. Look for the guys Nov. 2 at the Cup and Saucer at River Market.

- Kara Childers
The X
Oct. 2002

- The X

"Band debuts CD in 'Burg"

Central students will have the opportunity to hear the Kansas City band, "Tabla Rasa," perform music from its new album, "The View From Here," at 10:30 p.m. Friday at Breadeaux Pizza on East Pine Street.
"I like the strong drum beat of the band," said junior LeeAnn McDowell, who has seen the band several times.
Smithmier said the music of Tabla Rasa combines a diverse array of instruments such as guitars, a mandolin, congas and timbales. Smithmier said its sound is based on a rock groove with a percussion layer of tribal rhythms.
The end result of the combined styles is an aggressive, high-energy experience that has matured over the past three years into a sharply honed sound.
"Describing our music is one of the hardest questions for us to answer," Smithmier said. "We are definitely a conglomeration of many different styles."
The band originated in Kansas City in 1997 and was founded by Mike Tipton and Matt Smithmier. Since then, they have produced two albums and performed in various cities throughout the region.
The idea for the bands name came from one of the band members' philosophy classes, Smithmier said. The band accepted the name, Tabla Rasa, for both the sound of it and the meaning that it holds.
"Tabla Rasa is Latin for 'clean slate,'" Smithmier said. "It was described to me as meaning that no one is born inherently good or evil, but that each person has free will to choose how they're going to live."
The five members of Tabla Rasa have all been involved in music throughout their lives and have been playing together for two years.
"You have to have a really good chemistry and rapport with the people you are playing music with," Smithmier said. "I really feel like this is the group; this is the right five."
Senior Darin Smarr, watched the band perform last year when they visited Warrensburg.
"They're very energetic and very talented musically," Smarr said.
Although the band has achieved success at the regional level, they hope to see their fan base increase to other areas.
"We are definitely trying to take Tabla Rasa somewhere," Smithmier said. "We want to get to the point where we can play to support ourselves. That would be successful in our minds."

- Heather Newgent
The Muleskinner
Oct. 9, 2002

- The Muleskinner

"Pulling up at the grassroots"

With a natural mystic blowing through its music, Tabla Rasa grooves and grows.

It’s the eighth straight night that the band members have been holed up in The Swamp recording their second album. Trying to record, at least. Tabla Rasa won the right to use the recording equipment after placing first in a battle-of-the-bands contest. They just forgot to learn how to use it before creating a homemade studio in their practice loft using foam, couch cushions, pillows, sheets and a Nerf football.
While the mixing board befuddles guitarist Mike Tipton, Justin Skinner, in the foam room, gets ready to lay down the drum track for "Over My Head," a song with a catchy chorus and underlying tribal rhythms reminiscent of Rusted Root’s "Send Me On My Way." The foam room is hot, and Skinner has stripped down to his royal blue Superman T-shirt and green Nike shorts.
Recording proceeds slowly because the pillows keep falling down on his drums.
Tabla Rasa isn’t signed. It doesn’t have a manager arranging its touring schedule. There is no tour bus – Tabla Rasa is just a band, a band full of enormous potential with the heart to go all the way but the need for the means.
The band’s substandard recording conditions are in The Swamp. It’s an old warehouse that owner Matt Smithmier, the band’s mandolin player, named after the officers’ tent on his favorite TV show, M*A*S*H.
"Just like the show, people that are really close spend a lot of time together there," says Smithmier. "It’s kind of a second home to all of us."
Made up of several different levels surrounding an open middle, The Swamp is full of squishy, beaten-up couches and carpets the members found in dumpsters. The walls are covered with song lyrics and murals. One wall is painted sky-blue with a sun; one is midnight with stars, titled "This Could Be the Day." The old loading-dock wall has now become the Instrument Graveyard, where broken drumheads, bass guitars, electric guitars and a destroyed washboard hang in tribute.
Tabla Rasa was founded in 1997 by best friends Smithmier and Tipton. The name, Latin for "clean slate," stemmed from a philosophy class that Tipton was in at the time and served as a personal symbol for the road their songs were beginning to take.
"I honestly believe that the lyrics that Mike and Matt write come from their hearts," auxiliary percussionist Curt Lane says. "Being genuine and being sincere about the things that you do should be embraced."
With the exception of Lane (who grew up in Excelsior Springs), all of Tabla Rasa graduated from Lawson High School, located north of Liberty. Smithmier, Tipton and Lewis played together in jazz band, and their musical talents never stopped growing. In addition to the mandolin, Smithmier plays guitar and shares the lead-vocal position with Tipton. Lewis provides vocals and bass but can also play guitar, mandolin, harmonica and upright bass.
Part of the advantage of a live Tabla Rasa show is witnessing the constant switching of instruments. At a typical show, Tipton alone plays two guitars, a talking drum, cluster drums and one bitchin’ harmonica.
At a live show you will also find members with bare feet. "I feel the vibe more, and I feel music more," Lane says. "Maybe that’s my pathway, through my feet. I’ve tried to play with my shoes on, and it just doesn’t feel the same."
Smithmier agrees. Playing with his shoes on, he says, is like getting in his car and forgetting his seat belt.
"As we proceeded, it also became kind of a trademark," he says. "We named our first album Barefoot. It reflected the music, it’s a rootsy kind of feel. It was the result of a grassroots operation and very down-to-earth, so Barefoot seemed to reflect that."
Grassroots, positive vibes, down-to-earth and barefoot are words that aptly describe Tabla Rasa’s music. Although the closest comparison is a folk-rock cross between Blind Melon and Rusted Root (with a glorious dose of soul and bluegrass thrown in), the members are proud that their music can’t be pigeonholed into one genre.
Songs such as "Breakaway," "Agape," "St. John’s" and the brand-new "Heyday" bring out the multilayered talent of Tabla Rasa with renewed spirit. With is mellow lyrical melody contrasting with complex guitar and mandolin rhythms, "Heyday" sounds like the song Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon never got the chance to write.
On the second verse in "Heyday," Smithmier sings, "Jump in I say to him/ who needs fear anymore/ all alone if you roam/ you’ll see your boat on the shore/ you’ll see diamonds in the glass pile/ you’ve got jet fuel to burn/ just a little bit more/ if we can listen, we can learn."
Contrasting the sparkling tone of "Heyday" is the sorrow of another. Written by Smithmier, "Breakaway" addresses hypocritical forgiveness and uses soaring vocals and Tipton’s aforementioned harmonica to convey the serious emotions.
"St. John’s," written by Tipton, encapsulates the band’s complex talent: Both hard rock and Latin grooves brain fluidly with underlying African tribal rhythms brought out by Lane and Skinner. Tipton’s lyrics explore using compassion and love to help solve problems that have been created by fear.
Tabla Rasa has had its share of luck when it comes to solving its own problems. The band is recording out of its own building, which means the members have complete control over studio time and arrangement. In addition to the prize of recording equipment, the new CD, The View From Here, will be mixed and mastered for free by a professor at Northwest Missouri State. The View From Here will combine the studio tracks recorded at The Swamp with part of a recorded live show at The Music Café. The only problem the band faces now is figuring out that tricky mixing board.
Back at The Swamp as the clock approaches midnight, a six-hour recording mark for the band, a loud noise and Skinner’s yell erupt from the foam room. The pillows have fallen down again. And with that, it’s back to the earth for Tabla Rasa.

- Erin Lewis
Vox Magazine
Aug. 22, 2002
- Vox Magazine

"Popular outdoor concert band, Tabla Rasa, releasing new disc"

A band that frequents the Lee’s Summit Friday night outdoor concert series, Tabla Rasa, will start recording a new disc next week.
"We’re recording live on the 16th in Columbia and then going into the studio the next week," said Aaron Lewis, bass player and one of three vocalists for the world-beat band Tabla Rasa. "We have about 15 to 20 new songs, but we’ll put about 10 to 12 on the new record.
"Those new songs will have the tribal beats fans have become accustomed to.
"It wasn’t really what we started out trying to play, but then we started to get into Rusted Root and loved their sound," said mandolin player and vocalist Matt Smithmier. "Curt keeps getting more African drums."
Curt Lane, secondary percussionist for the band, plays congas, timbales, djembe and tribal drums. He even plays washboard on some songs.
With about half of the new disc slated to be live, Lane said the band hopes to be able to show new listeners the energy of their live shows, which have become very tight over the band’s four-year history.
"Our music is so much better live." he said. "A lot of times we just jam during songs. We’ve played together long enough that we can all tell what each other is going to play and work with each other."
Tabla Rasa’s live shows are high energy but tend to have sort of a family feel with band members introducing themselves to people in the audience they don’t know before they play.
"Some people measure success by how fat their wallets are and I guess that’s one way," Lewis said. "But I’m doing what I enjoy; I’m meeting a lot of people and having fun — that’s success for me."
Over the past few years, Tabla Rasa, whose name means "clean slate" in Latin, has played the outdoor Lee’s Summit shows at least twice each summer.
"We really like those outdoor shows and have a lot of fun every time we play Lee’s Summit," said Mike Tipton, guitar player and vocalist. "There’s a really good vibe for those shows."
With songs like "Fire Sermon" and biblical references in many songs, Tipton said a lot of people think Tabla Rasa is a Christian band. However, the band members disagree.
"The themes of peace and love run through our songs a lot and any time you mention Jesus, everybody assumes you’re a Christian act," said Tipton, who writes most of the Tabla Rasa’s songs. "We’re spiritual, but we don’t try to preach."
All five members of Tabla Rasa have played in jazz bands in high school or college, and their live sound is more fun because of it.
"We’re all about energy — people feel good when they leave one of our shows," Smithmier said. "The best is when somebody comes up to us after our set and says, ‘You know, I came in here after a crappy day, but I’m leaving in a good mood.’"
The as-yet untitled new disc should be released early this summer. For more information on Tabla Rasa and to find where in the region their next shows are, visit the band’s Web site at

- Russ Krebs
Lee’s Summit Journal
Friday, March 8, 2002
- Lee's Summit Journal

"Out of the Swamps of Middle Missouri"

The Music Cafe in Columbia, Missouri was filled with happy, knee slappin' vibes when mid-Missouri band Tabla Rasa came to perform. The crowd kicked off their shoes just like several band members that wanted to jam barefoot. The best bands are the ones who not only love their music but look happy playing it.
Vocalist and guitarist Mike Tipton looked like Eddie Vedder as he delivered his lyrics to the audience. Drummer Justin "Taco" Danner's smile could not get any wider as he giddily slammed his chopsticks on his drums. Bass player Aaron "Big Al" Lewis could not have been more content with his
performance and mandolin/guitarist Matt Smithmier looked like he was born to play music. And who can forget the ball of talent that's Curt "Bug-Eyed Dude" Lane, who plays almost any kind of auxiliary percussion.
Their unique sound is a combination of Rusted Root, Pearl Jam, and Phish. They describe themselves as "tribal, funky and upbeat." Their music is influenced by bands such as Rusted Root and Jim Croce. This band is not only talented but also good looking. But, ladies, only two are single. Which ones? Well, you have to go see them perform to find out.

--Danielle Siembieda
MTV Local Stringer
June 16, 1999
- MTV Local Stringer

"Tabla Rasa"

The hanging of their banner and the crowd migration to the stage was my first clue that Tabla Rasa might live up to its reputation as an act to be experienced. The well rehearsed ensemble delivered personal, yet complex songs to the impressive audience. Their harmonies were tight and their Rusted Root/Blind Melon influenced sound was the proper party atmosphere to get people to their feet in front of the stage.
One of my pet peeves is bands who don't tell me anything about their songs or merchandise from the stage, and thank Buddha this Birkenstocked quintet did not leave me hanging! I got plenty of info on their current CD and suitable stage banter. The onstage communication among band members was pleasing as well, and Matt and Mike traded lead vocals (and instruments) with ease. I would definitely recommend a Tabla Rasa show to anyone looking for a solid, energetic show with a few mellow undertones. The sound check might take a little longer than some bands, but the show will be worth it.

- Dana Detrick-Clark
April 22, 2001


"The Pitch Music Showcase 2004"

Tabla Rasa
It was only a matter of time before Kansas City's burgeoning jam-band scene -- batteries fully charged following Wakarusa this June -- would begin to offer up its best delegates to the PMAs. The eclectic Tabla Rasa has built its sound on a diverse lineup of guitars, mandolin, congas and timbales, rolling up rock and world beat into a heady combination that can only be described as the epitome of jam.

Aug 5, 2004 - The Pitch


Barefoot (2000); Big Red Rooster received some regional airplay.
The View From Here (2002); numerous tracks received airplay and streaming airplay.
Radio demo (2003); Hammer has received
nationwide airplay and streaming airplay.
Light Years (2004): Recieved media attention, local radio regularly playing tracks; helped band recieved Best Band in Kansas City Award from The X 2004


Feeling a bit camera shy


"Music powered by soular energy"

Established in 1997 by founding members Mike Tipton and Matt Smithmier, Tabla Rasa has always sought to combine the distinct musical elements of its members to form a unique and eclectic blend of rock, folk, and tribal music.

With diverse instrumentation combining guitars, mandolin, congas and timbales, the Tabla Rasa sound is based on a rock groove with a percussion layer of tribal rhythms trickling through the cracks. The result is an aggressive, high-energy, spiritual experience that has matured over the past five years into a sharply honed sound.

The addition of bass player Aaron Lewis added yet another layer of musical influences, including a background of funk, jazz and blues. Lewis, Smithmier and Tipton have played together for more than a decade in various rock and jazz bands, and percussionist Curt Lane along with drummer Justin Skinner contribute the perfect mix of complimentary rhythms and inflections that serves as a musical glue, binding the individual influences into the unique sound you hear today.

With all members in the Kansas City area, Tabla Rasa can often be found in the various clubs throughout the Midwest region. The band has developed a strong local following throughout the region and supports a strong mailing list of fans. With their first two albums, "Barefoot" and "The View From Here," currently in stores and their most recent release "Light Years" attracting a lot of attention, Tabla Rasa continues to be recognized for its unique sound and energy as it spreads to a larger audience.