Tamaryn on “Dreaming the Dark”

The Power of Art

Mar 22, 2019 Photography by Koury Angelo (for Under the Radar) Web Exclusive
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Tamaryn (full name Tamaryn Brown) has been creating ethereal, atmospheric slices of post-punk influenced dream pop for over a decade now. All of her recordings to date have embraced a variety of styles and genres, whether that be the exquisite shoegaze of her earlier works, or the polished synth pop of her last album, 2015's Cranekiss.

The Los Angeles-based musician is back with a new album entitled Dreaming the Dark. Her fourth long player and first release in four years, Dreaming the Dark was released today on Dero Arcade and once again finds Tamaryn collaborating with Lansing-Dreiden founder member-cum-producer Jorge Elbrecht, who also worked on its predecessor. 

Under the Radar caught up with Tamaryn to discuss her new record, touring, spirituality, angry shoegazers, and the influence of Mark Hollis and Annie Lennox on her music.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): It's been four years between 2015's Cranekiss and your new album Dreaming the Dark. What have you been up to during the interim period?

Tamaryn Brown: I wrote the record with my collaborator Jorge Elbrecht over the course of a few weeks, but it took about a year to make once we started. Mainly because his schedule was so busy. He's been producing a lot of cool bands like Wild Nothing and Gang Gang Dance so his schedule was pretty busy, but when we're actually in a room together we work insanely fast. In fact, we've just been writing by text over the phone and email over the past couple of days. I think I already have another EP, which I'm probably going to put out right after this record. It sounds really melodramatic but there was a point where I just didn't want to make music. Every time I make a record I go through some personal crisis and decide to quit. The healing I had to do from all my experiences around the Cranekiss era just took longer.

What happened?

To an extent I can talk about it but even to me it's not really that interesting! It's all in the new record. I had a lot of personal things happen at once. It wasn't just one relationship or a single thing that happened. I don't know how much of a spiritual person you are but I'm really into the archetypes and in tarot there is this card called The Tower, which represents a full shake down of your life. It exists to get you out of the connections and even prisons that you're not even aware you're a part of and forces you into a new path on your life. Sometimes that can be a long process and this record is really that process. Its very much all there. 

Were all the songs on Dreaming the Dark inspired by events from the previous era?

Yeah. It's all real stuff, but that is also debatable as there's an awareness to the record in the title itself, Dreaming the Dark. It's like going through a dark night of the soul but also asking whether you're dreaming, or "Are you the dreamer?" as David Lynch would say. Is it all in your head? It's a journey through that without claiming to be a true story. It's more based on a true story rather than being autobiographical, because your perception of the past is so skewed through your own filters. I'm really interested in my own filters and trying to figure out how much of my intuition and experience is true or not.

Which songs came first? 

I can't honestly remember because Jorge and I literally went in the studio for two weeks and just wrote it all. We wrote the first five in a week, two of which were probably "Terrified" and "Path to Love." Then we had a break for about a month before going back and writing more. The song that took the longest to craft was probably "Angels of Sweat." That changed many times. We initially thought it was done before it even had that chorus which literally seems the centerpiece of it now. Yet it was the last thing to be added to the song.

Were there any other songs written during this period that didn't make it onto the album, and if so, will you revisit them again in the future?

There's one song that got dropped during the end of the mixing process. It was this big, Tears For Fears at Live Aid style arena rock thing! I thought it was cool but it didn't really come together to the same point as the other songs. There were things we did that were more ambitious, and I guess there's a fine line between cringey and anthemic.

It's really interesting you mention Tears For Fears because one band from that era whose influence I can hear on this record are Eurythmics, particularly on "The Jealous Kind." Are you a fan of their music? 

For that song in particular, no. "The Jealous Kind" was inspired by two artists I was listening to at the time. Cyndi Lauper and Book of Love. Those two things came together as that song but I guess when other people hear it, it sounds like something else. That's the beauty of that stuff as an artist, because I don't think you should worry too much about drawing from influence. Nobody's really good enough to be exactly something else. If you have been doing your own thing for long enough you will infuse your own energy and perspective to it, which will make it something else.

It does sound like a Tamaryn record, especially your vocals which are quite distinctive especially to someone who's aware of your back catalogue. At the same time, the arrangements are a lot more electronics based than on your previous records, and as you've already alluded to, are very influenced by 1980s synthesizer bands.

This record was very particularly orchestrated in that way. Going back to your question before, Annie Lennox and Eurythmics are a huge influence on me, and I really hope she has that increasing influence on me into the future because as I get older I really can't think of a better icon to look for. Not only has she aged well, but she's also still a great songwriter and vocalist. Between her and Cher there are three archetypes to look for in my generation. We have so many impressive careers before us.

We've already talked about Jorge Elbrecht's contribution to this record and he also worked on Cranekiss too. Is he someone you see yourself collaborating with on a regular basis in the future?

Yes, definitely. I always work in partnerships because I'm predominantly a songwriter and vocalist but not a great instrumentalist, so I've always had a partner. On my first two albums I had Rex John Shelverton and he has that classic guitar player and singer about him that has existed in rock and roll for a very long time. He really inspired me for a long time, making two-and-a-half albums together. But I was also looking for a way to experiment and blend all of my influences beyond what Rex and I could do. Beyond what Rex really wanted to do. He's a creature of habit, he plays guitar, he does his thing, you know what I mean? I have so much respect for him. He's like a monk. He's very Zen in that way. But I'm very not Zen. I'm a very unsettled person and I'll have five million things happening in my mind all at once. So I always knew Jorge was the guy I wanted to work with. I've been a fan of his since the early 2000s with his band Lansing-Dreiden. I actually spent a few years convincing him to make a record with me! I earned his respect and built a creative relationship with him over a lot of one offs and projects that finally grew. When we did Cranekiss together it was awesome. That record just flowed out and was really cool. I always have a third element and there was somebody else on that record, so on this one there's this guy named Jordan Collins. He's this really young, super brilliant, savant kid from Vegas who I actually bonded with over the Internet. He made a lot of beats that sound like drum fills. We made a lot of demos together even before Jorge and I started working on this record. So a song like "Dreaming the Dark" itself is very much down to Jordan. 

Are there any other people you'd like to collaborate with in the future?

That's the dream. It's difficult because I'm really into collaboration and such a music fan first and foremost. I fall in love with albums and new things that come up and dream of collaborating with so many people. Initially I wanted Cranekiss to be like This Mortal Coil with a different collaborator on every song. It ended up mostly being the same three people but there was one song that came from a different group. So that's the dream, creatively. It's pretty idealistic because dealing with people in general, they're so flawed and so hard. To build a musical language with somebody from the ground upwards takes time, and you really have to brand somebody's personality and figure out how to become a muse to them without it becoming intense. It's hard to do that with lots of people. When you have something like that it's a true blessing, and the fact that I've had it twice is really special to me. I try to honor and respect everybody I work with the best I can, but also know when it's time to move on.

In terms of touring, how does everything come together?

That was a big learning curve because for the first 10 years I did the project it was just me, Rex, and a bunch of musicians he had known since he was a kid. So we had this built in team. When I decided to evolve the music in a different direction and take more risks, it really put me through a loop with how I did the live thing. And I don't really think I felt even close to pulling it off live until towards the end of the Cranekiss era tour with Lush. It got messy. There were line up changes, drug problems and personal stuffnot my drug problemsbut all of that VH1 Behind the Music nonsense happening so it was hard. But I figured it out and it's actually been so empowering. I have a bible of sorts online in the cloud of all the parts on video, all the pedals, and all the notes. Every song I make I scan the solos for the guitar and make a little course on how to play them so I can essentially have anybody in the band. Anybody who is a good enough player and has some kind of taste in the world that I work in. Within a few weeks I can teach them the parts then I can tour, and that is really great.

Also, with such an extensive body of material to choose from, how do you put a setlist together that keeps fans happy from every era of Tamaryn? 

I retired the first two albums. I did some farewell shows before Cranekiss came out. Fans don't like it. I get a lot of angry shoegazers writing messages to me but there's nothing I can do about it. The entire sound of those first two albums is about Rex. Unmodified amps where we used no pedals. We really had this concept of everything coming from space echoes. This particular kind of playing that was really rooted in what Rex had been doing all the way back to the early '90s in his screamo band, Portraits of Past. Because that was the concept of those records it just doesn't feel right playing them without him. Rex and I are on great terms. We're still great friends. When we can we do hang out or go on a camping trip. We tried to do a version of "Love Fade" off the first record recently. We had to re-record the guitars and bass because that hard drive from back in the day has bitten the dust and I was going to put a beat underneath it that was more in tune with what we're doing nowadays, so I tried it but it just didn't sound good to me. So my message to fans wanting to hear those songs now is if you weren't there, you missed it! Which leaves me with two albums to play with for the live shows, and not all of those songs lend themselves to playing live. For example, a song like "Hands All Over Me" just doesn't feel right when I play it live. So I have a 50-minute set right now then when I drop this next EP after the album I'll have a real Glastonbury headline set!

You're playing some shows in South and Central America this month then coming over to Europe in May. Will there be any festival appearances as well? 

I'm looking forward to playing in Europe again. We're doing a co-headline tour with Cold Showers and it's a really gothy routing! Places like Poland and the Czech Republic where you'd expect to see gloomy churches. I didn't even tour Europe for Cranekiss. I only played London. We're playing a gothic festival [Wave-Gotik-Treffen] in Leipzig in June and I think that's it. Chris [King] from Cold Showers is going to play bass in the band. We're all really good friends so it's going to be a family affair. I'm very excited about it. 

If you had the benefit of hindsight and you could go back through your entire catalogue, is there anything you'd do differently or change? 

No, definitely not. There are personal things I would change in my life but I'm so proud of everything I've ever released musically. Everyone goes through personal melodramas in their lives. I personally attach them to the albums, but if I look at it effectively as a body of work, it was all exactly as it was intended to be.

I've been following you on social media a lot recently and saw one of your posts relating to the tragic passing of Mark Hollis where you said the only thing you liked about your project being the same as your name was that you're usually next to Talk Talk in the record bins. Were you a big fan of his music?

I used to know that and then I posted a Talk Talk video after he passed away to which a fan responded saying you're always by them in the record store! Mark Hollis is probably my ultimate hero. I don't think you can pick one, but we all have a top five and he's definitely in there. I've been such a huge Talk Talk fan since I was a teenager. They're one of those bands like Bowie or something that has different eras for different seasons of your life. So when you're a teen maybe you're more into It's My Life then, as you get older you're probably more into Laughing Stock. For me, Colour of Spring is my favourite. I just love the videos they made. The "It's My Life" video is actually my favourite music video of all time. It reminds me of [the 1955 film] The Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum. It has that scene where they're going down the river and all the animals are on the trees and stuff. There's this cool theme to that video where he's actually singing and you can hear him, but I don't know how they mixed it live, or whether they had this dry live vocal overdubbed on top of it or something? I've never been able to figure it out. There's little macro shots of critters and bugs in the woods. It's just so simple yet so beautiful to me. I sometimes go off on these little rants online about obscure bands and tell the whole story of how they influenced me, so when I posted that video of "Give It Up" live from Hammersmith Odeonthat whole show is just incredible, just so inspiring. The weird thing he does with his hair. He's such a character. Such a true original human being, definitely like nobody elsea friend of mine said it was quite a passionate performance for a guy you could take or leave playing live. I love that. That he was such a creative artist through and through, a masterclass at everything who just did whatever he wanted. Talk Talk were years ahead of their time when it came to making underground music and they're still influencing all of us.

Another quote of yours, which I found interesting, was, "Press means nothing. Scenes mean nothing. Money means nothing. Freedom to make art without being silenced is everything." What inspired you to say that?

I'm such an emotional person on occasion and for some reason I'm really not into Twitter. I just can't stand it. It's my least favourite form of social media. Maybe that's embarrassing because it's just me writing but I don't see it as writing. I see it as a lot of posturing, self-appointed mouthpieces that's sub-text bullying at times. That being said, I often end up going on there in my most manic, emotional states. I get driven to my wit's end and go on Twitter. When I read it back I delete a lot of them. They always sound way more dramatic than I intended, but the sentiment comes from a good place. In a capitalist society you have very few options how to spiritually liberate yourself. You live in this rat race of it all, so art and love are probably the only ways I can think of where you can have an experience outside of that prison. Music especially, is just really commanding all the senses at once. It really connects to other human beings. It's a sacred tool. It's a form of magic. If you get pressured by communities or industries to get caught up in your ego and start thinking you're a failurefor example, I've been doing this 12 years but it's not a narrative I'm interested inbecause we all have to work jobs. You can be an artist and still have a job. But if you make your art something stressful, something less personal, something that takes away from your ability to use it as a tool to process your own life through. Then you're really doing yourself a disservice, and that's what I was trying to say with that quote.

What advice would you give to a new artist that's just starting out? 

I actually have some younger artists in my life that are in their early 20s. Friends that I've encouraged. It's really underestimated just how much a tiny bit of encouragement can really change someone's life. People are so used to self-promoting, and not used to just telling someone else what they do is great. There are a lot of haters and not enough fans sometimes in the community. What I always tell my friends and peers is you don't have to be young to make music. Even though you probably shouldn't make music after you're 22 or something! You're probably crazy if you do but here we are. People talk a lot about impostor syndrome these days, and I think it's absolute bullshit. I hate the way people in the punk and indie rock scenes are always questioning people's authenticity. I believe in art being about transcending limitations in your every day life, and metamorphosizing into what you want to be. Manifesting your own destiny. So I like wannabes. Be who you want to be. I always tell young people that. Visualize who you want to be and become it. That's the power of art. There are a lot of different ways to get to where you want to be in your life, and everyone has a different journey. Success to me is not measured by the public's assessment of success. I always think I've won once I've finished writing the songs, even before they're done with the production. Because then you can just sit back and look at what you've accomplished out of nothing, and that is the most profound part of it all. You can't make things for this invisible person in your mind. There are so many great records in the history of music. You could put on a record now and never run out of great records to listen to until the day you die. The only reason to do this, for me, is as a deep personal endeavour of your human evolution that hopefully becomes part of other people's evolution. Some way to communicate with people beyond your own neurosis, cultural limitations, and internalised misogyny. All the things we're battling in this world on a daily basis. To be able to connect in a deeper source from one human to another is such a powerful thing, and the only way I've been able to do that is to connect with myself deeply first.

www.tamarynmusic.com

www.twitter.com/TAMARYNmusic

Tamaryn - Path to Love (official video) from DERO Arcade on Vimeo.

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Akon Songs - RepRightSongs
March 24th 2019
2:45pm

I thought that Tamaryn - Path To Love has a very creative and opening message out to those that quite don’t understand what emotions are deep down inside of others.

It allows those who want to open up just a little bit realizing that love is important to have in your life.

Without it you can end up getting lost going down the wrong roads thinking that there is happiness in that direction.

Unfortunately, that road was a temporary fix that could have ended your life and the only reason you were on it is because you were searching for life’s best prize, love.