In the age of Twitter, it’s hard to feel enchanted. Everyone is available and on-call all of
the time, which seems to go double for musicians and celebrities of even the lowest caliber.
That’s why the music of Tamaryn is especially satisfying and unique in this modern climate –
sure, she’s on the web, but her music invokes visions of vast, private landscapes (both arid
and aquatic), the type of haunting music that seduces the listener into losing him or herself
completely from the touch of the modern world. It’s both expansive and intimate. While
calling to mind some of the finer melancholic moments of 4AD’s catalog, Tamaryn has
developed a unique voice in today’s universe, thanks in no small part to the sunburst melodies
and cavernous rhythms of guitarist Rex John Shelverton. Like the classic singer / guitarist
pairings Tamaryn mentions in this interview, Shelverton has the uncanny ability to turn
Tamaryn’s ideas into song, like dreams translated to sound. With her fantastic full-length
The Waves fresh off the presses and touring on the horizon, Tamaryn has made it a whole
lot easier for the rest of us to escape with her.

Growing up, what were your first experiences with “underground” music, so to speak?
The sort of music that wasn’t just visible on MTV or VH1. Where there any specific
independent artists that really spoke to you when you were just figuring it all out?

I moved from town to town during most of my childhood. When I was maybe thirteen,
I started to get involved in different scenes in whatever town I was in at the moment.
Around that time in Washington state, I met a boy named Dennis. He was eighteen
and had a lot of instruments in the basement of his parents house that we’d mess around
with. His parents were these very conservative bible freaks that would record our phone
conversations for discussion with their church groups. Dennis was this sort of lanky Syd
Barrett-like medicated eccentric that wore bathrobes or fur coats and eyeliner to school.
Although he was harassed by the local “jocks” and cowboys-in-training daily, he never
changed for them. I think he turned me onto a lot of bands from that time… the ’90s.
I remember he loved the Melvins. One night he stayed over at my house and John Lennon
came to him in a dream to show him a new chord on his guitar. In the morning he sat in
my yard and just played it over and over for hours, trying to make it fit into one of his songs.
I lost touch with him after I moved a couple more times but after meeting Dennis I pretty
much decided to try and become friends with anyone I could find that possessed any of
his sort of style or character.
I actually lived in San Francisco before, on my own, when I was about sixteen. I suffered a
horrible heartache over an older boy there and hung out with him as much as possible. We’d
go record shopping and I’d buy 7″s and albums based on the artwork and titles alone. I’d even
read who was thanked on the credits and look for them on other records. It was all about the
little clues and associations before we had the internet to do all the work for us. After we
shopped, we’d get back to his apartment and share our discoveries on his turntable. There was
a lot of electronic music and indie crap then, but I found the band Cranes and over time that
led me to discover bands like the Cocteau Twins and Neubauten. I saw a lot of bands around
then as well, including Rex’s old group Vue. During that time I began working in record stores
and moved to New York. It was all sort of the beginning of a lifestyle I’ve kept up all my life.

You mention the internet doing “all the work for us” – do you think the ability to access all
sorts of obscure music with the click of a button takes away some of the magic of
finding it through other, more difficult avenues?

I don’t see it as a bad thing necessarily; it’s just different. If anything I might just be a bit
nostalgic in this interview. Of course, I think it’s nice to be able to find anything you want
whenever you like. I’m the sort of person who likes to research and study every detail about
what interests me so I appreciate the internet for that luxury. Still, sometimes I do wonder if
it makes people have a little less personal connection to what they get into, since they are
able to consume information about art and music so fast. Probably the best way to tell is by
looking at what they are making in response. Maybe it’s really interesting, due to the access
to so many resources, or maybe it’s just diluted.

When did you decide you were a singer?
Always wanted to be.

How’d it first happen, then?
I’ve been in and out of different short term projects since I was a teenager, always looking
for the right collaborator. It took me a while to work with Rex exclusively. I’m fascinated by
the classic singer / guitarist relationship… Morrissey and Marr, Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant,
Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler and so on. It’s really romantic to me.

If I’m not mistaken, you’ve lived on both coasts, currently residing in San Francisco. How
does the West Coast affect your music?

I moved back to San Francisco from New York about two years ago to work with Rex on this
album. The landscapes here have definitely set the mood for a lot of the content on the album.
Obviously the ocean here was an influence, but so were the people. It’s a beautiful, foggy city
with lot of public mental turmoil.

Have you done any touring thus far?
We have played a few major cities so far. This fall we do our first real touring.

Any cities in particular you are excited to see, or any places you’ve never been before?
I’ve spent some time in Europe already but doing it to play music is exciting. I’m grateful to be
in the position where people want to fly me to Paris and Madrid to play this album for people,
right after it comes out. I expect it to be a lot of hard work but I’m looking forward to it.

From your music, I get a sense of longing, and sadness, and melancholy. Is there any
anger within your music?

No, I’m not angry and neither are our songs. The music I like is usually pretty sensual. Oscar
Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses,
just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”. That is the way I feel about making music.
It’s a feeling you can create and attempt to share with others. Am I a lonely person? sure, but
I’m pretty sure that most people feel alone throughout their lives. I’m not wallowing in my
sadness with these songs, I’m trying to cure my senses and my soul.

You go by Tamaryn, both as an artist and a person. Why don’t you use a last name?
Do you feel any sort of kinship with other female singers who go by a single name?

I usually feel some kinship with most female singers, last name or not. My last name is someone
my mother married before I was born. I have never met him and have no relation to him. I don’t
use a last name in the band because I feel that I don’t really have one. Also, the band is my
first name but the project is bigger than me. It’s a somewhat vague word and I think it helps
to not marry us to any one genre. I do use my last name in day to day life. It’s tragically boring.

How important is the visual aspect of your records? Would your music be the same if it
just existed digitally, without any cover art?

The music would be the same, but the imagery is definitely important to me. I’ve been having
some emotional turmoil over it lately. I just want to make something really beautiful. Sometimes
I dislike the images I’ve made, in retrospect, and sometimes I get it right and it contextualizes
the music in a way that still makes sense to me. I’m not easily pleased, and I’ve been taking
risks from the beginning. I am becoming increasingly interested in subtlety over time, but I’m
not quite ready to give up creating images just yet.

You’ve been visible on all of your record covers thus far. Is it important to you that the
listener sees you, as well as hears you?

The other day my friend was joking that I’m slowly deleting myself. If you look at the progression
of the press photos and record covers, I’m starting to get more obscured, distant and tiny.
My friend joked, “on the next record, you won’t even sing on it”. So far, I’ve found it to be
interesting or important to have a strong presence attached to the music. I’m trying to balance
the mystery and atmosphere of the music with a voice and image that doesn’t totally disappear
in the sound. It’s a fun challenge.

Have you ever considered doing a cover song? If so, who would it be?
In this band, we never do covers. We prefer to spend our energy creating something new. I
have performed covers in other projects, though. Tones on Tail’s “Burning Skies,” Malaria’s
“You You” and Iggy Pop’s “The Endless Sea” are a few I can remember right now. As for a future
cover in another project, I’d like to maybe try “Give it Up” by Talk Talk; that song has beautiful lyrics.