Ahead of the release of their new album, we talk to Tune-Yards about the contemporary politics that inspired their fourth full-length.
“I think that if we put all the focus on this one dude then we’re missing out on the opportunity to go, ‘wait, what do we really want here and what are we working for?’”
The ‘one dude’, who Tune-Yards frontwoman Merrill Garbus only calls ‘45’, is at the centre of all the left-wing ire and fire of the modern day and was an ever-present during the writing and recording of the duo’s fourth full-length record I can feel you creep into my private life. But more so than the looming fake-tanned figure of the US president, Garbus wants to reflect, uncomfortably, on the liberal bubble that she herself occupies.
“We live in Oakland, California. The systemic racism, the ways that capitalism plays out in gentrification of our community, the way that I’m looking at the role of people like me – by which I mean mostly white upper-middle-class people with disposable income – those things are happening and were happening before and will be happening after.
“I think a lot of the album is really looking at white liberals and specifically white women who identify as liberal but are kind of blind, and I’m including myself here. We’re blind to so much and I think that we hide behind our liberal politics and hide behind the fact that we are for all the right things, but what are we really participating in and what aren’t we seeing? I think there’s a lot more work that we can do personally and really at a local level.”
Garbus has never shied away from speaking on race. On ‘Sink-O’ from 2014’s Nikki Nack she rages “If I went up to your door you wouldn’t let me in, so don’t say you don’t judge by the color of skin,” and her reflection on power structures continued to play a pivotal role in the composition of the new record.
That prodding and probing at uneasy topics is something which lends itself to the title of the album itself, I can feel you creep into my private life, which immediately evokes imagery of the growing level of constant surveillance from both government powers and social media.
“I like that it means all those things,” she explains. “I was really interested in how the social issues of our time manifest in me and what my perspective is that I will never be rid of. The election was such a surprise to white liberals and progressives, but perhaps not so much of a surprise to people who have been railing against white supremacy, who have been seeing how racist America really is for their whole lives, those people being mostly people of colour. Perhaps I can never escape my framing and context of coming at this from the perspective of a white American woman in her thirties.”
While I can feel you creep into my private life sees Garbus focus on herself and her place in society perhaps more than in any other Tune-Yards LP, this is the first time that long-time collaborator Nate Brenner has officially been a part of the project. Brenner’s influence, along with a diversification of influences straying more towards dance music, are also felt in a way that is a bit alien to Tune Yards’s afrobeat inspirations.
“I come from a lot of jazz snobbery about rhythm and, coming from a lot of Haitian drumming and understanding the complexities of rhythm, I really resented that there’s this quarter note on a drum barrelling through everything. We’d see at festivals how people were dancing to a clearly defined dance beat, and those people would be extremely confused by our music and how to dance to it.”
Tracks like album opener ‘Heart Attack’ and lead single ‘Look At Your Hands’ definitely feel more suited to being played in a club than a lot of the venues Garbus has previously performed at like Royal Festival Hall, and much of that has to do with the array of artists who influenced its sound.
“[While recording the album] I was listening a lot to The Black Madonna. I saw her interview on one of the Red Bull Music Academy videos and her love and real understanding of dance and house made me feel this real entryway into that music. I was also listening to some Marshall Jefferson, this producer named Keishh, early house and early techno. And then the music that I recognise as my entry into dance music like Soul II Soul, those late-80s groups that were taking samples and loops from drum machines. That was really where I started to understand the connection between what we now call EDM and the beginnings of electronic dance music which were, for the most part, people of colour, queer communities, people who were making music out of a non-inclusion in so many other genres and literal physical spaces.”
Though a lot of I can feel you creep into my private life sounds unlike anything the band has produced to date, it is, with its core mentality of examining areas of division both sonically and lyrically, unmistakably a Tune-Yards record and continues Merrill Garbus’ habit of asking uncomfortable and awkward but entirely necessary questions.