Q&A: Tamaryn On Sexuality In Music, Top 40 Rap, And Her Rescue Dog + Watch Her Play “Cranekiss”

Tamaryn is a nomadic singer-songwriter whose music lives somewhere between dream-pop and shoegaze. She was born in New Zealand — though her ancestors have no direct ties there — and has since lived all over the U.S., now residing in LA. Tamaryn’s most recent release, last year’s Cranekiss, pushed her production and vocal capabilities to new heights, experimenting with more reverb and sampling than previous efforts. We caught up with Tamaryn after her performance for Stereogum at Sasquatch’s Toyota Music Den.

STEREOGUM: It’s close to a year since your album Cranekiss came out last August. How does it feel to play your new songs?

TAMARYN: It’s been a total transformative experience because it’s a totally different kind of setup. It was a bit complex figuring out how to do these songs live. It could have been anything from a six-piece band to a two-piece band. I had a drummer for a while. It just came down to what tours we’re doing and finances. Right now, I have a three piece without a drummer, but the backing tracks have the drums. I kind of almost prefer that. The way the drums sound banging through the PA feels more like a hip-hop show or something like that. It’s super visceral-sounding. A drummer wouldn’t necessarily serve the sound of the band, but it would be fun to watch. So instead I usually have cool productions and stuff. Not at festivals, though, because it’s daytime and you can’t really see them. I made films with a friend of mine.

STEREOGUM: So you’ll stick with no drummer for now?

TAMARYN: Yeah, I’m really enjoying it actually. I might add another guitar player here and there. We’ll see. We’re going on tour with Lush in September. We did a few dates with them and got along with them super well. They were such gracious, inspiring people. They invited us to do the rest of their U.S. tour, too, which is really special for me because they’ve been a huge influence on me from the beginning of doing this. When you open for bands, you never know what you’re going to get, but they couldn’t have been more kind or supportive.

STEREOGUM: Is there a favorite song you have off the album to play live?

TAMARYN:Cranekiss,” the title track. It’s the one that sounds best live right now. It’s weird — depending on who is playing in the band, some songs sound better. I wouldn’t say it’s the best song on the record or anything, but it’s the one that translates best live.

STEREOGUM: I really like what you do with sampling. For example, the layered orgasms on “Softcore.” What is your process like when sampling?

TAMARYN: That song originally started out as a demo for another band from North Carolina. I’ve been a fan and friend of theirs for a long time and I asked if they wanted to contribute to the album. They gave me an old demo they’d written when they were 19 like in the early 2000s. I reworked it. I changed the lyrics and overall vibe. They had this part in the song called the “porno breakdown.” I elaborated that in the studio. I went on a website called and just layered a bunch of authentic-sounding masturbation scenes.

STEREOGUM: Do you express sexuality in music in other ways?

TAMARYN: I think music is definitely an outlet for that. It’s an outlet for a range of emotions, but you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t think rock ‘n’ roll was about sex. I wouldn’t say that we’re a rock band per se, but I would say that that element of rock ‘n’ roll is a big part of what I do. I really like watching bands that have a sensual element to it. At times, though, looking into the future — and I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I’m about to go make a new EP — I am kind of sick of singing about heteronormative relationships, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s a classic, universal theme that touches people, but I would like to write about some other things in the future.

STEREOGUM: Other types of relationships or not relationships at all?

TAMARYN: Maybe just other types of elements of the human experience that are not just about boys and girls being dramatic. The thing about music is it contextualizes the music with the sounds. You can play a game with that setup. There’s a lot of great musicians where it sounds like a sad song but the lyrics are really positive and vice versa. I think you can also put that into a different context and fuck with it, twist it — that’s what I want to do.

STEREOGUM: What are your thoughts on playing festivals?

TAMARYN: It’s stressful because you don’t get a soundcheck. Bands of my size play during the day, which is not ideal, but it’s fun and you get to see other bands you like. I’m particularly excited to see the Cure. I just saw them a few days ago, but I’m going to definitely see them again.

STEREOGUM: What do you think of the scenery here?

TAMARYN: It’s really beautiful. I’m actually from here, too. I was born in New Zealand. I was raised in, like, a cult situation, a commune. Not like Jonestown, but an unconventional upbringing for sure. We lived in New Zealand and then we were sort of exiled and we came here. An hour outside of the gorge, there’s a town called Roslyn, Washington where I lived in the ‘90s, and I lived in North Bend — where they filmed Twin Peaks, while they were filming Twin Peaks. Then I left and moved to Roslyn and Twin Peaks got canceled, and in Roslyn they started filming that TV show Northern Exposure. I lived in New Zealand because my godmother and my mother had a homeless shelter for street kids called Hope Town. There were a lot of Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand. One of the Maori girls that I grew up with — she’s one of my best friends — lives here and she’s actually at the show today. She’s getting married in a couple weeks and I’ll be coming back up here for that.

STEREOGUM: That’s awesome! Transitioning a bit… Every summer, Stereogum does a Song Of The Summer poll. Summer is just kind of starting, but what do you think your Song Of The Summer will be?

TAMARYN:2 Phones” by Kevin Gates. It’s top 40 rap. It’s incredibly beautiful. The production on it is amazing, and he reminds me of the hip-hop version of the singer of Tears For Fears. He’s got that timber to his voice. He’s just talking about how he’s got two phones and he’s pimping and selling drugs and stuff, but there’s a really melancholy mood to it, and his voice is so gorgeous. It’s like how we were talking about earlier, when lyrics don’t totally match up with the energy that’s being projected in the song, and I totally love that. I would love to do music that has that sort of production. I’m really into what hip-hop sounds like right now as far as production goes. There’s a lot of spacious but complex elements that I find really interesting.

STEREOGUM: What hip-hop artists have you been listening to lately?

TAMARYN: I listen to the radio a lot. I moved to LA recently and I got an old ‘90s Miata. It has a broken CD player and it only has a radio, so I listen to top 40 radio constantly. I don’t know who all the artists are, but I love all the songs. I could literally sing all the words to all the songs. I like the new Drake. I love the new Rihanna.

STEREOGUM: I saw on your Instagram that you have a dog, so I would like to hear about your dog.

TAMARYN: His name is Tennessee because he’s from Tennessee. I adopted him on, which is a website where foster agencies put little Facebook pages for dogs that they rescue from the pound. Then you find them and you apply. He was from Franklin, Tennessee. They have this little underground railroad for dogs where 15 people drove him for an hour at a time until I picked him up. Isn’t that so touching that people are that nice in the world?

STEREOGUM: What kind of dog is he?

TAMARYN: He’s a mutt, but he’s half French bulldog. He looks a lot like a gargoyle, or like a baby hyena. He’s the sweetest. I’ve had him for 11 years. Dogs are the best thing in the world. There’s no excuse for having some sort of exotic animal, because there’s lots of dogs and cats at the pound, and we’re responsible for them because we domesticated them and put them out into this damn hellhole of a world. Now we have to protect them.


Cranekiss is out now via Mexican Summer.