Tamaryn On Tender Signs, Touring, And Why Making Music Is Like Magic
Last month, Tamaryn released Tender New Signs, the band’s sophomore offering of echo-laden shoegaze gorgeousness. Moving into even more tripped-out territories than those occupied by 2010’s The Waves, the new record shows the band (Tamaryn and guitarist/producer Rex John Shelverton) further defining their own very specific (and abjectly gothy) aesthetic. I had the pleasure of chatting with Tamaryn about the making of the new record, the weirdness of the music biz, and how sometimes you just need a couple of friends to tell you that you’re doing the right thing.
STEREOGUM: I didn’t realize you grew up here in NYC. Are you from here?
TAMARYN: Well when I say “grew up,” I mean just the more formative years. I moved to New York when I was 18 and then I lived there for nine and a half years.
STEREOGUM: Where did you grow up?
TAMARYN: I was born in New Zealand and then I was raised sort of all over the place. Spent a lot of time in Washington State and I even lived in Las Vegas. I moved around quite a bit.
STEREOGUM: Did you always make music, or did you always know that you would do music?
TAMARYN: I always aspired to do music. I spent a lot of time doubting whether I’d be able to pull it off. I’m glad I did, I guess. In New York I was in a lot of one-off bands — that sort of New York thing, where you meet a lot of interesting, talented, somewhat visionary people, and want to start a band, but it never really comes to fruition, or you play one show. That was when we had venues like Tonic to go and get up on stage and make things up. But it wasn’t the same as it is now, like having a band and a label and putting out LPs and all that.
STEREOGUM: What do you think it was about the band you’re in now and the setup that finally made it stick? What made it feel like, “This is the thing”?
TAMARYN: I think it’s all about the relationship I have with Rex, my bandmate and producer. He and I were friends for quite a long time, and I had been trying to make all these demos on this reel-to-reel 4-track thing and was trying to get bands together. I feel like I was sort of in an incubation period for several years, sort of figuring out what I wanted, and listening to records, and learning from the generation before me of people that were still in New York. Rex and I just started working. It was about putting in the work — finding someone I could trust and then spending years chipping away and figuring out what our sound is. I’ve seen so many bands over the years, where the first time I saw them, I was like, “Wow this is not very good.” And then seeing them four years later and just being like, “Oh, this is a force now.” I really do think that putting the work and the time in just to do it … you’ll get better.
STEREOGUM: I was talking about this yesterday, actually. I interviewed Tori Amos for a fashion magazine — which was really amazing and fun. She was saying that she came of age at a time that she was able to do her thing for a long time without anyone really giving a shit about it, and that was one of the keys to her success. She learned how to be a performer by playing a million shows without having people really care. It also allowed her to grow a fanbase gradually over time.
TAMARYN: Yeah, now it’s like straight from the bedroom to the blog, so you don’t get that.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, and she was like, “I can’t imagine someone seeing my fifth or sixth show and writing something about it.”
TAMARYN: There’s definitely all this pressure where you feel like you have career-ruining shows on your second show. But in actuality, that’s just not true. I really believe in the old point of view where, if your watch stops, at least you’ll be right two times a day. There are bands to look up to and artists who prove that if you believe in what you’re doing and you just keep doing it, no matter if you’re today’s flavor or everyone hates you, your time will come and your audience will find you.
STEREOGUM: I guess I became cognizant of your band after hearing a couple of songs online. Because I write about music, and people are always sending me things, they would always be like, “This is totally right up your alley.” And I remember hearing it and being like, “Yes this is totally right up my alley.” No matter how my music taste varies as I get older, I’ve still got the gothy 16-year-old inside me that will always resonate most profoundly. So I was into it right away, and I saw you guys play during CMJ and thought it was great. That record was one of my favorite records of the year. How was that experience? When that record found its legs and people liked it, did it feel like everything happened kind of organically?
TAMARYN: Absolutely. We weren’t some huge buzz band or anything like that. I feel like the way the record sold and everything that happened was word of mouth. We definitely had press support and people wrote good reviews, but we weren’t the next huge indie band or anything. It was great, it was exciting … I don’t think it’s a necessarily a good or bad thing, but one of the benefits of knowing that a label is going to put out your record and you’re going to have help with PR is that it sort of sets the bar high in your mind, and you do the best you can do, because you’re sort of imagining it being sent out into the universe. Other than that, I’m a pretty isolated person. I’m always shocked when people have heard of our band. It’s awesome. I’m stoked on it, because I still feel like we’re an underground band.
STEREOGUM: Did you guys tour a ton on the back end of the first record?
TAMARYN: We didn’t. I mean, we toured a little bit. When Rex and I put out the first EP, I was in New York, he was in San Francisco, and I just wanted to make some music I could get behind and just be proud of making, and when we got to making The Waves, we knew we were going to put it out and play some shows, but we were never planning to be a full-time touring band, because Rex had been in all these bands before and he was, at that point, not as interested in the whole get-in-the-van-and-tour-your-life-away [lifestyle]. But people started to get interested in the album, and in the wake of that, we started doing tours. We did a US tour with Raveonettes, toured in Europe, did a couple of festivals, ended up going to Moscow. This time around there’s more of a plan, rather than going by the seat of our pants.
STEREOGUM: How did the experience of all of that affect going in to make a second record?
TAMARYN: It affected in a lot of different ways. Playing live affected it because a lot of our songs on the last record were very mood-oriented, coming into somewhat psychedelic, soundscape-y pieces, which I love and I love listening to. I spend like 90 percent of my life alone listening to that stuff in my house. But playing live [forces you] to kind of start crafting these other types of songs … we’re not a pop group, but we now have some poppier songs on this record. So I think it inspired us to do that a little bit. I just imagine some of the songs on the record are these kind of festival rock songs. With “Mild Confusion” I kind of was imagining that, but I was really fantasizing because I had no idea that I would actually play a festival. But now I kind of have an actualized fantasy. I mean it’s all fantasy, imagining myself being Brett Anderson.
STEREOGUM: Where was the bulk of the record made?
TAMARYN: We record all of the records ourselves in our practice space. So we’re self-produced and we do it all on Mondays and Saturdays.
STEREOGUM: Did it take a long time?
TAMARYN: Yeah it did. Though there were days when we were in there as much as we could be — we have jobs and all that, so it wasn’t your normal go-in-the-studio-for-three-weeks-and-record-an-album [experience]. It probably took us about a year to do. The first one took longer than that. I took some time off after the last record because I kind of felt like I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didnt want to make a record just for the sake of making a record. I was unsure if I wanted to make a record, and then I moved to Los Angeles and decided to try to have a life — like, do stuff that people who aren’t in bands do — and didn’t like that at all. And that’s when I started making another record.
STEREOGUM: Everybody’s different of course, but so many bands tell me, “I needed to go away and just be normal for a while.”
TAMARYN: Well, you think you need that — and I think you do need it sometimes — but I think the reason why you need that is to realize, “I don’t want to be this person.” Because when you’re touring all the time, you start to feel desensitized and inhuman or something. You start to feel disconnected from the world, even though you’re traveling the world, because you just go to clubs and hotels, if you’re lucky, and you just drive. You start to feel a bit soulless, a bit confused, and when you get home you get really depressed. Which is actually great for my music!
STEREOGUM: Going forward this time, will the touring and stuff be bumped up a notch?
TAMARYN: We’ll definitely be touring a lot more. It’s really hard to tell — when you do this thing and make a record and it takes on a life of its own, we’re very committed and we’re really proud of it. Rex and I have this really sort of sweet relationship, where when we’re finished with the album, we’re like, “We don’t care if everybody hates it or if no one listens to it for 10 years; we’re proud of it and we want to respect it by going out on the road.” So if we play tiny rooms, we’ll play tiny rooms.
STEREOGUM: Having played some shows and toured, I’m just curious: Do you get a sense of what your fan base is like?
TAMARYN: Yeah, I feel like we’ve always had a lot of really cool sort of older music fans. I think what happens is you go from playing clubs with 50 cool kids who you know to sort of playing to everybody — to couples and all sorts of whatever. It’s cool because you can kind of feel alienated, but you feel like you’re sending a message to everybody. You don’t feel like you’re catering to just your 10 friends that you know will be at your show. Having the support of friends really helped me, just having that emotional support and knowing that actual people believe in you, and not just reading about it. Having actual people telling you that they like your music is priceless.
STEREOGUM: It makes a huge difference. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of that to offset all the other bullshit.
TAMARYN: It really just takes one person to believe in you. And I traced back [our success] — it’s not because of Mexican Summer or something like that — it’s because a couple of drunk people pulled up my video on Youtube. The Internet is just a medium to connect us. It doesn’t make us less human or make music less personal or important.
STEREOGUM: That’s so cool. My approach to doing interviews is just talking to people about what they make and why they make it, and I always see it as this natural human interaction that I get to have with people.
TAMARYN: Interviews are tricky because it goes from being a conversation to a sort of manifesto. It can be dangerous, but I think that it is important to not worry too much about this aspect of it. You have to just put across that you care about what you’re doing and you hope that the right people will find it.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s so easy for all of that to get convoluted or to seem so much more complicated than it actually is.
TAMARYN: Well yeah, the whole business of being in a rock band is so fucked up for your ego. It’s all about, like, building people up and breaking them down, and I think it’s really important just to focus on the work that you’re doing and make music that moves you emotionally. But it’s not easy to not get caught up in all the other neurotic elements of it. And to an extent it’s good to do that because we all love crazy rock stars.
STEREOGUM: It’s easy to romanticize being in a rock band, but a lot of it is really tedious, and it is work, no matter how fun it can be.
TAMARYN: Of course, it’s totally work. But that does not take away from the fact that it is totally magical and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to do it. Like I said, even if we play tiny shows or we end up playing huge shows, it doesn’t really matter you know? It’s just being an artist in general and creating a universe and being able to exist in it. Because the world basically wants you to be really bummed out and have a shitty job and be in a reality TV show every day. So if you can just quiet everything down and create your own sounds and your own visuals and your own imagery and emotions and exist in that, that’s a privileged existence.
Tamaryn’s Tender New Signs is out now on Mexican Summer.