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— by James Montgomery, with reporting by Christopher Smith

All great geek-rock icons need a signifying accessory. Buddy Holly's big black specs. The stacked hats of Devo's heyday. Weezer's thrift-store style on the cover of The Blue Album. Tally Hall, a barbershop-harmonizing quintet from Ann Arbor, Michigan, wear color-coordinated dress shirts and ties, which in itself isn't exactly geek chic. But when you realize they're wearing said accoutrements while singing songs about bananas and sea cucumbers, well, then it all becomes clear.
"We used to call ourselves a wonky rock band. But then I think people tried to characterize exactly what 'wonkiness' was, and we didn't want that to happen, so we just started to call ourselves a rock band," guitarist/ sometimes-frontman Rob Cantor laughed, attempting to nail down the group's lighthearted, theatrical, piano-and-guitar-pop sound. "So, we made up another word to describe us: fabloo. We're a 'fabloo' rock band now, so we're gonna ride this wave out for a while, and we'll see."

It probably bears mentioning at this point that Cantor is known among Tally Hall fans as "the one in the yellow tie," because, well, he always wears a yellow tie. Guitarist/ also-frontman Joe Hawley wears a red tie. Keyboardist Andrew Horowitz rocks a green one. Bassist Zubin Sedghi wears blue. And drummer Ross Federman got stuck with silver. Which kind of makes Tally Hall the geek-rock equivalent of Voltron.

"When we were in college, we played in our street clothes when we were starting, and then we decided to take our band seriously," Hawley explained. "So we decided to sharpen up our image a little bit and look a little more streamlined. And then we decided we each had unique and individual personalities, so that's how the different colored ties came about."

"We got five ties in the mail and we decided to go by the color of our instruments. It was somewhat arbitrary, but now they've come to represent us," Cantor added. "We tried to switch colors one day — it was horrible. It was like the apocalypse. Zubin cried."

Tally Hall formed in 2002, taking their name from a now-shuttered mini-mall in nearby Farmington Hills and played their first gig at a University of Michigan frat party. "I tried to play the 'Super Mario Bros.' theme song, but I messed it up. But fortunately we were saved by a power outage," Hawley laughed.

For the better part of two years, they played to similar crowds — with similar results — until one day Hawley decided it was time to take their message to the masses, courtesy of a bizarre, four-minute video for their song "Banana Man" that they posted on the Internet.

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"I thought, 'Why not make a music video?' " Hawley said. "So for a class project I made the 'Banana Man' music video, and we posted that. And this Web site called AlbinoBlackSheep.com picked it up, and all of a sudden it got hundreds of thousands of hits. And then we got a ton of fan e-mails and merch sales over the Internet, which we didn't think were possible. For about a month, we were inundated. And so we just started making even more of these, like, skits, to put on the Internet. We kind of think of ourselves not just as a musical band but kind of a multimedia band."

And the success of the "Banana Man" clip also spilled over into the band's live shows, which all of a sudden began to get larger and larger. Almost overnight, Tally Hall had developed a dedicated (and thoroughly mixed) fanbase in and around Ann Arbor, one that was on display at a hometown show last month.

"Ann Arbor is kind of crazy now. There's an 88-year-old woman who came to our last concert," Horowitz laughed. "But when we have an all-ages show, we get, like, 6- and 7-year-olds."

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And those pre-pre-teens (plus that one elderly fan) will no doubt love what they'll hear on Tally Hall's debut, the alliterative Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, (due September 12), a sprawling, sorta-opus filled with goofball barbershop harmonies, jittery stop-start piano lines and honest-to-goodness pop balladry. Part Pet Sounds, part pop Petri dish, it's the kind of gleefully unclassifiable disc that the band has been striving to make for nearly four years.

And with that achieved, the group is now setting its sights on even loftier goals.

"Ideally, we would want to tour with a full orchestra and holograms. Or maybe a hologram orchestra. Or holograms of us," Cantor said, suddenly overcome with the possibilities. "We could play all of the instruments and record them as holograms and tour with a hologram. That's a secret idea, and it's on the DL."

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