Tamaryn: “I don’t mind being called any genre”

Posted November 12

Welcome to another edition of Music Meter Monday, where we profile bands who are climbing the MTV Music Meter. This week, we caught up with California band Tamaryn, who recently released their sophomore album, Tender New Signs.

When a new band comes up in conversation, what’s the first question that’s usually asked? Likely, ‘What do they sound like?’ or ‘What kind of music do they play?’ — queries that prompt a parade of varying assignations from “indie” to “#seapunk.” Case in point: Tamaryn has been called everything from “shoegaze” to “death rock” since releasing their dreamy dark debut album The Waves in 2010.

We chatted with Tamaryn’s eponymous lead vocalist about genres, her musical process and her new album below:

So I hear you’ve been living in LA recently. Has that culture affected your music at all?

I don’t think that LA has inspired the music. I think that my life — things that have happened — have probably affected some lyrics to an extent, but the music is really very much a product of my relationship with Rex [John Shelverton], my bandmate and producer. That has been established over living in a lot of different cities and us knowing each other for lots and lots of years.

I think that the new album sort of evolved more out of an inner trajectory than any sort of outside terrain or anything like that. I think The Waves was very much a landscapey record and this is more of an emotional, personal, flowery kind of [album] — kind of flowery poetic imagery versus an actual place. It’s more like an internal space.

Yeah, I got that sense. But also it’s a little rocky in there, too.

Yeah, that, I think, comes from touring, probably. I wanted to make an album that you could listen to start to finish that was completely immersive and a full experience. I don’t know how other people feel about it, but I feel like this album has more individual songs. I think that I sequenced it well, but I think there’s more rock songs and there’s poppier elements. It’s less of an overall mood flowing into the next, song by song, piece by piece sort of thing.

I know a lot of musicians take inspiration from other kinds of art when working on their music. Do you have another outlet that you draw from when writing songs?

Yeah, I think it’s obvious that when you’re making music you’re sort of fusing everything that you process from the outside world, whether it be other art or just whatever you see and experience on a day-to-day basis. I think that it’s kind of natural to assume that that’s what’s coming back out of you.

But, yeah, I spend a lot of time alone. I very much concern myself with keeping myself entertained through listening to a lot of different bands and watching a lot of films and reading books and all of that. I try to keep a balance between all of those things.

But I think that as far as other bands go, there’s elements that have affected me that probably haven’t affected Rex, and so that kind of creates this nice communication between us. I’ll be coming from a place of something that I’m into at the time and he’ll be coming from a different place of something he’s been building for several years with his own interest in equipment and his amps. And then [there's] my sort of conceptual side of things where I’m always interested in new outside sources — I think that connection between the two of us is what makes the music original. Those two elements coming together.

So did Rex try anything new, in terms of gear, for this record?

Nope. [laughs] He’s spent many years figuring out what he thinks sounds good and he’s made a lot of records with other bands over the years and he’s very opinionated and he’s very talented. A lot of our gear is from the ’60s; he spends a lot of time rebuilding things and changing tube amps and taking everything apart in pieces. Our bass head is actually a Fender twin guitar amp that’s been modified to have reverb built into the bass.

So, I think that our choice in making this album wasn’t a choice to change the production as much as to push ourselves as songwriters.

So what’s your process in terms of writing lyrics?

I really respond to the music, so it’s sort of this subconscious thing I try to open myself up to. We have this process where it goes back and forth. We start with writing a melody — a guitar part, a little drum piece — it’s maybe not totally arranged. And then I’ll take that as a recording and I’ll spend a lot of time in solitude sort of immersing myself in the sound and singing the melodies.

A lot of the bigger influences on me — some of them don’t even really have lyrics — [are] people who are concerned with channeling a certain energy, the melody being the most important thing. I’ve kind of approached things from that scope. I try to create a melody that suits the emotional nature of the music and then I listen and I record it as I do it. And when I listen back to the recording I hear the words that come out naturally and kind of piece it together like a painting and see what it wants to be about. I feel like it’s a very communicative thing with my subconscious. And that’s what makes it really personal. Because it feels like it’s me giving myself insight through the art.

People really like trying to define your music — in terms of genre.

Right, we get called every possible genre. People say we’re shoegaze, people say we’re goth, people say we’re psychedelic, dream pop. We’ve been called death rock, cold wave.

There are too many names now.

I think that’s just a testament to what the music is. It is a mix of all those things I love. I love all those things. There are elements, but we’re not strictly one homage to something else. I don’t think we are and I probably know since I make the music [laughs]. I think a lot of people have opinions about that — as to if we’re derivative, or if we’re relevant. I think that’s what people are doing if they’re journalists or bloggers and they have to figure out where things are coming from and how it relates to their sense of life. I’m totally fine with that.

I don’t mind being called any genre, because there are tons of fans out there in the world that love all of those genres and [they] mean something to them personally, so it’s just a trigger word. If they hear it, maybe they’ll listen to the album and decide with their own ears how it sounds and what it means to them personally.

So what do you imagine people doing while they listen to your music?Dancing? Lying on the floor?

[laughs] I think that I listen to music most of the time on my own. I probably do dance. I probably do lie on the floor. I don’t know, I think it’s a very personal experience. My goal is to make songs that are in some way affecting other people the way that the songs that I love have affected me. If I was to think about myself and how I respond to music, it’s mostly a very personal, isolated thing and it’s very sensual and it sort of invokes your dream world, you know?

It allows you to take over the chatter in your mind or the chaos in your life and create your own space for yourself. I think that’s what I really love about the music that we make and the music that I listen to — the common factor is probably that it’s very big, emotional spacious music that allows for you to carve out your own reality.

So what was the earliest memory — for you — of how you first connected with music?

My mom, when I was younger, and my godmother had a store at one point called The Full Moon Gallery. It had redone vintage clothing and jewelry and stuff, but also records. I would hang out there when I was little. The first record I remember being conscious of and listening to on my own was The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. It was a very childlike record, so it would make sense that I would be drawn to it.

When I was a teenager, the first record that inspired me to actually do what it is that I’m doing now would probably be an album by a band called Cranes called Loved. I think that band is a really big influence on me. They’re a really interesting combination of things. They’re also called all the things that we get called.

Image courtesy of Amanda Charchian