This week LA musician Tamaryn released the lead track from her much-awaited fourth record, Dreaming the Dark. Marking the release, we revisit our HEROINE 8 interview in which Tamaryn goes head to head with long-time friend and fellow musician Liza Thorn during the album’s production period.
For Tamaryn, every new record is a new reveal. Subtle, emotive and incredibly intimate, each holds its own story and, in turn, Tamaryn’s. Born in New Zealand, stories of the musician’s nomadic upbringing are hazy; from being raised in an 80s hippie commune, to living in teepees in the desert and being exiled from New Zealand at the age of seven. But that’s the way she wants to keep it, with the focus on her steadfast musical vision.
A sonic identity forged across ten years and three studio albums, and united under a common voice, it’s within this soundscape that Tamaryn builds towering sonic structures, that – once inside – become intimate spaces where you are able to melt.
Currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on her fourth long player at the time of this conversation, Tamaryn jumped on a line with long-time friend and fellow musician Liza Thorn and the pair put the world to rights; one riotous anecdote at a time.
Liza Thorn: Hello, Tamaryn?
Tamaryn: Sorry my birds are screaming.
Liza: Oh yeah, you have like a bunch of birds now, right?
Tamaryn: Yeah I have two. They’re really sweet but loud at times.
Liza: You’re in LA?
Tamaryn: Yeah I’m in LA, I have a little house here and it’s very Disney-like, there’s birds chirping, my dog…
Liza: Oh you’re like Snow White?
Tamaryn: Like the witch in the woods kind of vibe, it’s a little cottage.
Liza: So I was thinking back… God I feel like this is so unnatural interviewing you.
Liza: So when did we first meet?
Tamaryn: We met, I think it was like 2008…
Liza: I know, it was at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in San Francisco.
Tamaryn: Was it your show?
Liza: Well I played there like every night basically.
Tamaryn: But were you playing that night?
Liza: Yeah, I think so. Alexis Penney had that night ‘High Fantasy’ and my band’s rehearsal space was upstairs, so after band practice.
Tamaryn: In the Tenderloin.
Liza: Yes, at Turk and Taylor, which we refer to as crash and burn street. There’s like crackheads everywhere… anyway after band practice we just convinced Alexis to let us play at his night.
Tamaryn: Right, I even remember what I was wearing, isn’t that weird? I was wearing this kind of like…
Liza: You were wearing like a black pleated miniskirt.
Tamaryn: It was like a new romantic, very goth kind of Bavarian looking number.
Liza: I thought you looked like Britney Spears [both laugh].
Tamaryn: You came up to me and were like, “Hey, you’re cool. Who are you?”
Liza: So there’s always the same four people at this bar and then one day you were there and it was like, “Who the fuck is this person?”
Tamaryn: I remember later people were saying, “Yeah Liza usually doesn’t really like anybody right away,” and I was like, “Well when she met me she came up to me and told me I was cool.”
Liza: Yeah, I just knew you were cool and then we just hung out a bunch after that and I saw your band play.
Tamaryn: And I also remember one of the first shows I played at The Knockout, you came and I remember you being like, “Oh yeah, that was great! You could be huge,” and I was like, “No way, I don’t want to be famous that sounds horrible.” [laughs]
Liza: I was just really into your show and your music.
Tamaryn: Oh yeah, you like A&R’ed me that night.
Liza: Yeah [laughs]… I think the true marker of a good friend, when you live in San Francisco, is if they agree to help you move.
Tamaryn: Oh yeah.
“I remember later people were saying, “Yeah Liza usually doesn’t really like anybody right away,” and I was like, “Well when she met me she came up to me and told me I was cool.””
Liza: My time in San Francisco was like… well I guess I am now technically an adult…
Liza: But it’s almost like leading a diet adult life in San Francisco because it’s not really a city [laughs], it’s like a small town. I was like, “Tamaryn’s a true friend, she helped me move.” Wait, did you help me move or did I help you move?
Tamaryn: You’ve helped me move many times over the years and I think, in heels even! I’ve helped you move too. I think what was interesting for me in San Francisco was that I’d already lived in New York for like ten years or something before that and was living that sort of goth New York club life and then I came back to San Francisco – I lived there when I was a teenager – to work on The Waves LP with Rex [John Shelverton]. I was super nervous about coming to San Francisco because in my eyes then, there was probably nothing going on there, I was just going to be depressed. It was likely just boring foodie types and Night of the Living Deadlike drug addicts on the streets. That’s basically the two extremes on both ends there. But then when I got there it was actually really cool because it was one of those rare San Francisco moments where something vibrant was happening in music. There was your band Bridez, and Girls was coming up and Hunx and His Punx was happening at the time. It all kind of reinvigorated me and made me feel like I had a community again.
Liza: Whereas you thought you’d just be at home working on your record alone.
Tamaryn: Yeah, I thought I’d just be like no friends, bummed out. There’s this myth in New York that it’s the centre of the universe and that if you leave, you’re like committing cultural suicide or something.
Liza: New York is like Disneyland, I don’t think it matters where you live nowadays.
Tamaryn: Well now it is, yeah. But anyway, my point was that it was cool living in San Francisco, you guys were all doing cool stuff and I remember you and I hung out a whole bunch. I remember we went to Reno that time.
Liza: Oh my god, yes [laughs]. Yeah we went to Reno and took mushrooms, it was really depressing in Reno.
Tamaryn: In the off-season on a Wednesday at Circus Circus. You told me everything would be fine if I just didn’t look anyone in the face while we tripped.
Liza: Oh my god, and you were paranoid and didn’t you hide the mushrooms in the garbage can in the hallway?
Tamaryn: Yeah [laughs].
Liza: I was like, “Where the fuck did you put those mushrooms?” [laughs]
Tamaryn: I remember your boyfriend at the time tried to smoke weed in the hotel room and like casino security came and I was just starting to trip and I thought they were the police.
Liza: Oh yeah, totally. Like when you’re on acid and the cops show up, it’s just a total nightmare.
Tamaryn: So I put the mushrooms in the bin in the hall and you were pissed.
Liza: I feel like we could talk for hours about all the times I’ve been on acid and you haven’t and the weird nights.
Tamaryn: Oh yeah, like that time you got smashed into a window and I had to like pull glass out of your back.
Liza: Oh yeah, my friend tried to kill me. But anyway…
Tamaryn: Oh yeah, good times [laughs].
“I remember your boyfriend at the time tried to smoke weed in the hotel room and like casino security came and I was just starting to trip and I thought they were the police.”
Liza: So, I was kind of like very organically introduced to you and your music and your art, I’m really excited to hear the new record.
Tamaryn: Thanks, yeah it’s not finished yet. I listened to some of your new tracks you sent me and they sound really beautiful, what’s going on with that? Will you be releasing it as Liza Thorn or as Starred?
Liza: So basically my record is like Chinese Democracy [laughs], it’s taken me years to make but it’s now finished. Basically my band, Starred, kind of imploded. I don’t want to say it’s over, you never know what the future holds, but I’m putting out this solo record under my own name through this label in LA, Brian Lee Hughes’ label.
Tamaryn: I’ve always thought that you should do that so I’m excited.
Liza: I know. I’m talking about myself too much…
Tamaryn: No way. Highly anticipated Liza Thorn album coming soon!
Liza: I know when a new Tamaryn record comes out because like, I was in Starbucks, remember? And I heard your song, it came on the PA and I was like, “Oh my god, Tamaryn is being played in Starbucks, that’s amazing.” I was like, “Is she huge now?” Do you remember, I called you and you were like, “What the fuck?” [Laughs]
Tamaryn: Yeah I know, people text me all the time from the Equinox gym locker room too because I guess one of my songs plays in there, like on a loop.
Liza: So, how do you write songs? People always ask me that and I hate it, but…
Tamaryn: You’re just returning the favour [laughs].
Liza: I feel like writing songs is a magical thing but talking about it isn’t, and it’s almost like you don’t want to jinx it. I feel like you’re very methodical about it, or maybe it’s different with every record, but that’s how I witnessed it with you.
Tamaryn: I definitely feel like it’s a super mystical process, it’s not really that formulaic. Every time I write a record and tour it I want to quit music afterwards and I think I’m never going to make another record again. But then some sort of life experience that… It’s like the record is this sort of extraterrestrial, angelic spirit that wants to be revealed, it’s almost like being schizophrenic and seeing hidden messages everywhere [laughs]. So even though I want to quit music all the time, these things will happen where I’ll just meet someone and we’ll have this connection where we’ll start making demos together…
Liza: I see it almost like a curse, being a musician. Like I wish I wouldn’t have to do this, I wish I just wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, my life would be way easier [laughs].
Tamaryn: I’ve definitely gone through that and I think there’s no shame in having a job or being a part of the world outside of yourself as an artist, you know? But I think that they’re just separate things, and this time around I just really want to keep those two things separate and have the music be very much a thing that I use to process my life and my own inner realm and not have it be about being a brand or trying to sell myself or all those lame things. I wanted to keep it like a sacred space. Everyone is just trying to sell something…
Liza: What’s that tea? That slimming tea?
Tamaryn: [laughs] Trimspa?
Liza: No, you know like on Instagram? They’re like, “I drink this tea everyday…” it’s like Kourtney Kardashian drinking this tea. It’s like an ad.
Tamaryn: Yeah exactly like that [laughs]. My point is that the process is kind of like a spiritual thing but then the actual way of doing it is that I sort of think of a sonic palette or production styles and things I want to blend together. Before I start a record I usually know what I want the entire thing to sound like, in a big picture sense, like what kind of record it is and what kind of songs need to be on there to make it a full piece. Then I’ll just break those down when I make demos and I usually collaborate with one or two other people. I think three is the magic number where everyone brings together their strengths and compliments each other in a really nice way.
Liza: Yeah your process is so much more planned out and more organised than mine.
Tamaryn: With your music, there’s a lot of acoustic instruments and it’s really personal, it’s often just your voice with an acoustic guitar. To me, even though you’ve always been in bands, I’ve always thought it should be more of a solo thing because it’s just totally ‘Liza’. Whereas with my music there’s a million different things happening, there could be like techno stuff mixed with the big dreamy electric guitars, it jumps all over the place production-wise.
Liza: Well when I first started out in So So Many White White Tigers it was just this physical thing where I’d be throwing myself at the drum set and it was just like loud with feedback and now it’s just gotten more and more quiet, basically like creating a retirement plan for myself because it’s just not a good look to be like 80 and throwing yourself on a drum set, you know? I’m heading towards the adult contemporary realm… When people read this interview, they’ll be like, “Oh really? Wow” [laughs].
Tamaryn: Yeah, I feel like the worst thing about interviews is that it goes from being a casual conversation between two people to some sort of manifesto to the whole world or something, so that’s why I’m always nervous about them.
Liza: Oh yeah.
Tamaryn: But I think that with your music, it’s great that it’s so intimate and so focused on you. On this record I especially wanted to push my vocals and have them be stronger than ever… there’s no reason for me to put out another record if I’m not going to really sing and really have something to say and for it to be honest, and feel like it’s coming from a super real place.
Liza: I love lyrics, that’s the thing. I want to hear a vocal. I feel like with your music and your whole journey it’s becoming more and more into focus as you and who you are as an artist. You’re becoming more fully visible, I don’t even really know how to articulate it.
Tamaryn: No that’s exactly right. I think that when I started to make music it was very much my goal just to make something that was as emotionally and sonically interesting as the stuff I looked up to, but it wasn’t so much about me wanting to be the focus of it. I was very tiny in the scale of the press photos, I never wanted to show my face, I was always battling with that. But with each record I slowly, more and more, realised what the purpose of coming into focus and being a front person is, I didn’t want it to just be about narcissism. Now I understand it’s more about communicating to people, the more that people see me, the more they see the truth of the music and the more my voice is clear the more people can connect.
Liza: And the more you can mould reality through your art, the more you can change the world in a positive way, I think. Art can change the world, I mean it does, it’s the most important thing. I don’t want to discuss how disgusting the world is, but art is just a small little thing that can… actually no it’s not, it’s not a small thing, it’s like a huge thing and I’m really excited to hear your new record.
Tamaryn: Yeah, I think it ties back into what I was talking about. If you think of music as a product that you want to sell, then you sell yourself short because it should be something that you use to transcend this shitty reality we are all in. It should be the thing that we use to be true to each other and express something beyond the fear of living in the society that we live in today.
Liza: For sure. So when does the record come out?
Tamaryn: I’m not really quite sure about that, right now I’m really trying to do it in a really different way. I’m really trying to just make the most honest and beautiful record I can, and if I think about when I’m going to release it and who’s going to release it, at this moment in time, then I’ll probably just want to quit. I do have some ideas but I have to wait…
Liza: Well that stuff gets in the way of what it’s about, it’s depressing.
Tamaryn: It’s depressing. I just want to respect the thing itself right now and try to write the best songs I can. The way it’s shaping up at the moment, I’m really excited about it, it’s halfway done at this point and I have another studio session really soon so by the time that this interview comes out it’ll definitely be done.
Liza: Are there any artists that you’re into right now?
Tamaryn: Modern artists?
Liza: Anything. A writer or musician? Anything that’s informing your work? I’m always interested to hear what people are into, I have the musical taste of like a fifty-year-old dad.
Tamaryn: I feel with the new record, if I had to sum it up in some sort of like, what it would sound like to me… don’t laugh, but I kind of think of it like… are you a Kanye West fan?
Liza: Yeah, I love Kanye West.
Tamaryn: OK, so you know when you listen to 808s & Heartbreaks? If you listen to that record you see that he has this unabashedly, blatant worship of Tears for Fears. I feel like my album is kind of like trying to capture that relationship. His love for Tears for Fears, somewhere in that connection. It has these classic song structures, stronger vocals with a lot of intent behind them but then it also has a lot more modern beats and creative production. I don’t want to do a record that sounds like some vague impression of something from the past, I really want it to be something all on its own, you know what I mean? I’m not trying to say it’s like ‘now’, because I don’t like it when people talk like that about music, but I just want it to be in its own sphere and not be some kind of exact replica.
Liza: Something that’s referencing all these things…
Tamaryn: Yeah I mean, I’m definitely referencing a lot of stuff but I feel like if you just reference… I don’t want it to be just one thing. I feel like a lot of the problems with new music nowadays is that a band will just sound like a vague, poorly written version of something from the past and people will be OK with that and except that. Like, “This isn’t really a song but it kind of sounds like some band I liked when I was young so I’m into it.”
“I don’t want to do a record that sounds like some vague impression of something from the past, I really want it to be something all on its own…”
Liza: Music is a complicated thing, there are only so many chords…
Tamaryn: Yeah but that’s the thing, there’s only so many chords so there’s no excuse to make bad songs.
Liza: [laughs] I know!
Tamaryn: You should make well-written songs, or just don’t make records, because there are millions of records that already exist that are great [laughs].
Liza: Ok what else? Oh yeah, I feel like your upbringing totally mirrors Courtney Love’s.
Tamaryn: I remember you told me that once, you gave me a Courtney Love biography way back and I had it in my apartment forever and you were finally like, “Are you going to read that? It’s kind of rude that I loaned it to you and you didn’t read it.” Liza: [laughs] Tamaryn: So I read it and I was like, “Oh my god, this is so weird.”
Liza: Her life is just like yours. So there’s New Zealand, San Francisco… just the cities she grew up in.
Tamaryn: Yeah, I mean I was never a stripper in Thailand.
Liza: I thought you were? [laughs]
Tamaryn: We both lived in teepees in New Zealand, that’s very strange. And yeah, San Francisco, the problematic hippy parent thing, the running away from home and the band stuff, I totally identified with a lot of that, it was super cool to read. I mean, you’ve got to respect her, she’s definitely a force.
Liza: I wanna see you in LA, we should definitely hang out. I miss California, I’m so sick of New York.
Tamaryn: It misses you too.
Tamaryn‘s new record Dreaming in the Dark is our 22nd March via DERO Arcade.