Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Heavenly Dreaming With Tamaryn

Written by Lisa Butterworth
Photos by Amanda Charchian
“There are a lot of amazing bands with amazing women in them and I’m just entering into that lineage and trying to add my own voice,” Tamaryn tells me over the phone from her temporary hometown of Los Angeles in December. “I think it’s really important to honor what’s happened before.” The New Zealand–born vocalist clearly does. One listen to her recently released album, Tender New Signs (created with her longtime collaborator Rex Shelverton), and you can hear whispers of homage to greats like Siouxsie Sioux and Kate Bush as she forges her own shoegaze-tinged path.

Atmospheric pop swirls and vibrates around her alternately dreamy and powerful vocals on the nine tracks, creating a wonderful addition to that lineage she speaks of. I caught up with the singer shortly before her solo cross-country drive to move back to New York and then immediately following, her European tour. We talked mega fans, femininity, and sexy lesbian vampires.

Lisa: I was going to ask you how it feels to be home, but it sounds like home is nomadic for you.

Tamaryn: Yeah, I’m not really one of those people who considers anywhere a real home. I moved around a lot growing up and I think that in general I’ll always sort of do that.

Lisa: Are there any particular cities you’re really looking forward to visiting while you’re on tour?

Tamaryn: In general, touring, even if you’re going to a city that you would love to see, it’s really not traveling. You get in, take a shower, play the show, and leave. There’s not very much actually experiencing the city, unfortunately. But it’s not the point; the point is to bring the music to people all over the world so they can experience what we’ve been working on. This is our first time doing headline shows; it’s been really a wonderful experience, so every city has been exciting. Even some of the smaller shows, the people who do come are mega fans that know all the words and have been waiting a long time for us and that’s really rewarding.

Lisa: Speaking of mega fans, you seem to have quite a few. What do you think it is about your music that resonates so deeply with people?

Tamaryn: It’s really cool because in general we’ve never been the “hot band of the moment” or championed as “the thing,” and that has allowed us to grow word of mouth and to reach people in a more personal, less superficial way. I also think we make music that’s really geared toward the individual listener. I don’t make music thinking, “Will we sound cool in a bar or a mall?” [Laughs] I make music thinking, “Does this resonate emotionally with me alone in my room?”

Lisa: Who are some of the female musicians that have had a big impact on you?

Tamaryn: I was definitely inspired by Siouxsie Sioux to want to start a band in the first place. And I learned how to sing by listening to her. Kate Bush, I was raised on her. Singer Alison Shaw of Cranes, of course Lisa Gerrard and Yoko Ono—those have been the big iconic influences on me since I was really young.

Lisa: Do you remember the first time you heard Siouxsie, and what it was about her that you found so compelling?

Tamaryn: No, I don’t. [Laughs] She seems like one of those people that’s just always been around. But I do know when I was about eighteen I was really into Lydia Lunch and Nina Hagen and more avant-garde people. And then I took this turn where I started getting really interested in traditional pop song structure blended with atmospheric and more challenging music. I wanted to do something in between that straddled the line and I think Siouxsie and the Banshees is the ultimate band that does that. They have charting pop songs and then some of the most angular avant-garde B sides you can imagine. So that, in a sense, is what inspires me about Siouxsie and the Banshees. I love people who are confident and not afraid to experiment and change, but also to be undeniably themselves the whole time.

Lisa: I read an interview in which you said that you liked infusing a really feminine sensibility with a dark side. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Tamaryn: I’ve been severely misquoted in almost every interview I’ve ever done so it’s kind of hard for me to know what you mean. I think that femininity and darkness, blending those two things is maybe not something I would say, but I am interested in combining elements of femininity with things that are traditionally masculine—like, big sounding rock bands—and playing with those ideas. Of course, there are a lot of amazing bands with women in them so I’m not saying I’m breaking any ground, but as an example, there’s this song on our album that may be in the realm of Guns N’ Roses, or something that makes you think more of a gang of guys, and I like adding the perspective of my lyrics and my voice to that kind of a thing.

Lisa: I was excited about the Jesus and Mary Chain cover of “Teenage Lust” you and [Dum Dum Girls’ frontwoman] Dee Dee did, for your side project Les Demoniaques. There’s something I find really appealing about women covering songs that were written and performed by men.

Tamaryn: Exactly, that’s the perfect example.

Lisa: Even if I liked the original song, I can then relate to it in a totally different way.

Tamaryn: That’s kind of the whole concept of my and Dee Dee’s project. Yeah, [“Teenage Lust” is] a full-grown man singing about having sex with a teenage girl and it’s a highly sexualized song. It’s the best make out song ever, I love it. And we’re not trying to make any feminist statement with it in a traditional sense, we’re just singing it because we like it. And we’re sexualizing it too, but we’re women and that does end up changing the way you receive it as a listener which is really interesting and cool. The name of our band is an homage to French director Jean Rollin. And, similar kind of thing, he made these overly sexualized movies about young girls—they were vampires though—sexy lesbian vampire movies in the ’70s. Les Démoniaques is about these girls who are raped and murdered by a boat of fishermen, and they come back and it’s kind of hard of hard to tell if they’re zombies or vampires or what but they’re vengeful and they’re sexy. [Laughs] But yeah, it’s not riot grrrl music or anything, but we’re aware that we’re women and we’re taking these really sexualized songs and covering them, but we want to retain that image. We’re not trying to make it less sexy; we want it to be sexier, maybe. And there is, of course an empowering thing to that and a confidence within that. But, you know, it’s just rock and roll so it’s not that overthought.

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