Merrill Garbus: playing Tune Yards with musical rompers
Merrill Garbus is a lovely example of the power of one + friends. She decided to pursue her solo musical project without a record studio. Without specialized equipment and without a formal band. Armed with a versatile voice and a ukulele she created tUnE yArDs, a sonorous experiment that make us question the need for intermediaries in the long and expensive chain of musical production -don’t you worry music whales, were not planning any riots against “the system here” – don’t send the secret musical police just yet.
Merrill’s previous band Sister Suvi -together with Nico Dann and Patrick Gregoire- intrigued us. Her independent damn-it-all path got us to look closely at her her first album Bird Brains, in which she used a digital recorder and a bunch of sound scraps to create the melodic equivalent of sweet-and-sour. tUnE yArDs, the proper caps-lock-on-steroid proper name of this project is a hard on the eyes, but it is definitely easy to listen to. It sounds tribal and urban and a bit uncoordinated, but I’m not much into putting music into words so just go and visit their myspace .
Tuneyards – Safety
You produced and recorded Bird Brains (your debut album) and somehow got to see both sides of the music production story. Whichwould you recommend to young and independent musicians?
I think it was better to do it all myself before getting anyone else involved, because I had a lot of independence and spent time getting to know myself and getting to know what music I wanted to hear–not what someone else wanted to hear. Now it’s nice to have a bit more support.
Tuneyards – Lions
You incorporate external sounds and noises in your songs. Is silence scary or inspirational to you?
I would love to live in a silent place; I live in Oakland, California now, and there’s not much silence anywhere. When I started recording bird-brains I was in a much quieter place and I was able to listen more closely to things. That’s why I incorporated those sounds: to get a sense of listening to what you might not normally hear when there are so many other loud noises around.
Some of your field-recordings could almost be considered sound-photographs. Is there any sound that you love but haven’t been able to capture?
I’ve never thought about that. I just discover sounds as I go along, I think. When I was a nanny for a baby I got recordings of him snoring. I never knew babies snored! So I think I just like sounds that I happen upon, things I don’t expect.
Tuneyards – Fiya
We picture a little Merrill turning any still -or moving- object into an instrument in her backyard. What were you like as a child?
I don’t think I used many objects as instruments, but I did beg my mother to teach me piano when I was six, so I spent a lot of time making songs that way. Also I hummed all of the time, to the point where I got in trouble for it in school. And I recorded myself in my bedroom singing rounds that I had learned in grade school music class.
Now that you’ve managed to succesfully carry a one-woman band, what do you miss about your old days with Sister Suvi?
Well, tune-yards isn’t a one-woman band anymore, because I tour with Nate Brenner who’s an amazing bass player and person to create music with. But I do miss a lot about my old band. I miss my friends Nico and Patrick, they are incredible people and musicians. I miss having a drummer behind me, I miss having the pressure of songwriting and bandleading taken off my shoulders by other people. I miss writing songs with other people. I miss snowy treks to the rehearsal studio in Montreal.
We heard you like Dirty Projectors. What else do you enjoy listening to? Any current musical discoveries or obsessions?
Selda. Micachu and the Shapes is another current band I love. Also, listen to Doodcasts, they’re available on iTunes, and they’re put together by our friend Fitz, who is the key to the musical universe.
If you were given the opportunity to give a concert anywhere in the world that you want , where would you rather play? Not that your imagination needs any help, but here are a few ideas: a scotish cliff, a tropical beach under coconuts and seagulls, or perhaps a street market in the middle of a chaotic city?
In the past year we’ve played by the Mediterranean, in a field in Poland, in a small, crowded cafe, in front of a massive gorge in Washington. What more could I ask for?