Tamaryn Leads You Astray
Originally published April 22, 2009 on Dazed Digital.
When the voice of Tamaryn Brown penetrates the air of an underground club or the cabin of a booming car in stereo, regal in its supreme alto, it’s not uncommon for listeners to assume they’ve been reverse-thrust into a mid-1980s 4AD time warp. Equal parts This Mortal Coil and Siouxsie and the Banshees, the doomed and ethereal music of Tamaryn (comprised of Brown and her regular collaborative partner Rex John Shelverton) is staking a place of her own as today’s torchbearer for the maladjusted melodies of the shoegaze era. Ceremonial, pulse-pounding, and densely aerial, the songs on the band’s Led Astray, Washed Ashore EP are as atmospheric and blinding as the fog in which Tamaryn often performs. The raven-haired chanteuse making waves in New York’s most popular death rock clubs took a break from regular post of camping out by the beach to talk exclusively with Dazed Digital about how she found salvation in a song.
Dazed Digital: A lot of bands and musicians head to New York in order to gain recognition, but you fled New York in opposite fashion. Was it the beach that beckoned you to California?
Tamaryn: I love New York! For me, living in New York was nine years of glamorous incubation artistically. I worked in a ton of downtown bars, record stores and vintage shop. I was in awe of the immense amount of great musicians, artists and fashion designers that surrounded me. Honestly, the reason I’m in California now is because my musical partner (Rex John Shelverton) lives in San Francisco. He’s a surfer, completely dedicated to his quality of life, and would never move. I’ve been getting a lot of work done since I’ve gone and that is all I really care about now.
DD: How does collaborating with Rex shape the sound of your music?
Tamaryn: Rex and I co-write the music together and I do the vocal bits. He pretty much plays all the instruments and records them.. There is definitely some magical energy between us. I’m always shocked at how the songs just happen and we usually write them very fast. We share an affinity for arcane reverbs and big tribal drum sounds. The original idea when we started collaborating was to make music that set up the vocal in a powerful way. I wanted people to hear the words but also get that big swirling wall of sound you can get emotionally lost in.
DD: The sound is one that many fans of ‘80s goth and coldwave groups feel at home in, hence the huge response to your songs in nightclubs like Wierd [yes, i before e] at Home Sweet Home. Were these your outside influences while recording Led Astray, Washed Ashore?
Tamaryn: As far as outside influences on our process there are a lot of bands we look to for inspiration. It could be anything from Spacemen 3 to Stevie Nicks and of course I am a big goth and death rock fan. I’m not going to lie and say Notorious B. I. G. was a big influence on me or something. I love rock n’ roll and I think it shows in what I do.
DD: Does that mean you think too many bands lie about their influences for shock value? After all, a band can listen to Biggie without him necessarily influencing their songs. Sometimes I’ve read interviews and some of the alleged influences are clearly nonexistent in the band’s music. It makes you wonder if they’re just trying to be snide.
Tamaryn: I’m not sure about that. I don’t think there is a trend of insincerity in rock music today or anything. I do think hip-hop has dominated western pop culture for a very long time so it must influence a lot of artists. Also, now more than ever people have access to experiencing so many different kinds of music and cultures on the internet. That probably, in turn, has created a lot of different kinds of bands. I have noticed that a lot of bands I like these days are a combination of pretty esoteric influences, and that’s really the only option if you want to make something meaningful these days. You have to recognize you come from a lineage of music and try to reinterpret the spectrum of your influences into something personally expressive. You can choose to reinvigorate clichés like Nick Cave did or you could get far out in space like Sun Ra and you won’t be treading into untouched territory but you will be making some pretty rad music.
DD: Your talent is indisputable, but it seems as though you like to remain beneath the radar. Might we ever be hit with a big pop Tamaryn record down the road?
Tamaryn: Pop record? I believe the record I’m writing now has more of what I’d call “pop” songs than the EP. Hopefully I’ll keep evolving and will learn how to be a better songwriter over time. Pop music is an art form I really admire. It ain’t easy! If you mean, will I break out a full-on commercial pop record? I’d say it’s highly doubtful. I’ll probably always be looking to the slightly more obscure icons like Nico and Liz Fraser for guidance. Cult success will be just fine, thank you!
DD: How are your music videos helping to establish your presence online? Tell us about your video impulses. “Return to Surrender” and “Weather War” (co-starring Bridez singer Liza Thorn*) are particularly gorgeous.
Tamaryn: I LOVE music videos! I will probably never have enough songs to make all the music videos I want. For these songs, I wanted each video to have its own individuality.. “The Unknown” video was a bit of a Kenneth Anger tribute with a nod to Kate Bush’s Babooshka. “Return To Surrender” is a really cinematic epic video inspired by all things 4ad and Stevie Nicks… and the “Weather War” video is this psychedelic lo-fi sexpot thing where I’m wearing a sari in the ocean with blood pouring out of my mouth… and it’s all shot on a Blackberry. Pretty futuristic!
Tamaryn is currently recording her first full-length album in San Francisco, with surprise shows planned for New York this summer.