Merrill Garbus has a lot on her mind these days, and her sound is changing as a result of it. I can feel you creep into my private life is a rumination of white privilege and the divided state of America. While Garbus and newly-official bandmate Nate Brenner have done a very admirable job in calling out injustices in their previous work (like with “Gangsta” and “My Country”), they set out to confront their privilege head-on and in doing so created the most focused work of their career. (You can listen to our podcast episode on I can feel you creep into my private life here.)
From the beginning, it was clear that Merril Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) is a force of nature. Over the course of now four albums, she has reshaped the pop landscape into a much more meaningful, and blissfully weirder, place.
i can feel you creep into my private life, her most straightforward work to date (and now a duo featuring longtime collaborator Nate Brenner) isn't just a record that challenges what it means to be tUnE-yArDs, but the privilege and power that pop music commands in the modern age.
PLUS! As Washington DC's The North Country continues to evolve, Andrew Grossman and crew take some time to revisit their latest full length (In Defense Of Cosmic Altruism) plus some choice outtakes on their luxuriant Ardor EP.
Beginning in 1963 several bands began touring under the Preservation Hall Jazz Band name with the intention of spreading New Orleans jazz around the country. Today PHJB has been winnowed down to one group, which has kept roughly the same 14-member line up since 2009. Many members had relatives in earlier incarnations of the band; for example, sousaphone player Ben Jaffe (also the group's current creative director) is the son of the band's previous director, tuba player Allan Jaffe.
When it came time to plan a 50th anniversary tribute concert for the band, it was understood that the show wouldn’t take place at Preservation Hall; the historic New Orleans venue is notoriously small, rarely charges more than $15 for a show, and – perhaps most detrimental to a Mardi Gras-style celebration – doesn’t serve drinks. Many were surprised when they learned the tribute show wouldn’t even take place in New Orleans but rather 1,300 miles northeast at Carnegie Hall. But holding the event in New York made sense; PHJB were on tour when Hurricane Katrina hit and every member of the band lost their homes. Since they couldn’t get back to the Big Easy, they convened in the Big Apple, formulating a plan to continue touring and enlisting fellow musicians to help raise money to help their damaged city. New York sheltered them when their hometown could not.
So PHJB returned the favor, staging a massive Bourbon Street style party in New York on January 7, 2012, where they were joined by a wonderfully varied and universally skilled group of fellow musicians from other New Orleans legends to relatively unknown indie rockers. The highlights of that marvelous evening of music have been compiled on St. Peter and 57th Street (a nod to both Carnegie and Preservation Hall’s addresses). While it’s always hard to capture the excitement and spontaneity of live New Orleans jazz, the album presents a fantastic overview of what the rotating musicians of the PHJB have been doing so well for half a century.
On Sunday, June 3rd, tUnE-yArDs played DC’s 9:30 Club. ChunkyGlasses was lucky enough to spend some time with Merrill Garbus, the creative force behind tUnEy-ArDs’ energetic and experimental music. In 2009, tUnEy-ArDs released its debut album, BiRd-BrAiNs, which was self-produced and recorded by Garbus on a handheld voice recorder. The band includes Garbus on vocals, percussion, ukulele, and drums, Nate Brenner on electric bass, and occasional guests on the saxophone. The band is currently on tour in support of their 2011 album, w h o k i l l.
CG: Your music is very different, and as you’ve said, you really “push “instruments such as your voice or the ukulele to the extreme in ways that others haven’t tried or been willing to try. It takes a lot of self-confidence and courage to push boundaries of music. Where do you get that self-confidence from, and do you ever have trouble finding it?
MG: It’s interesting, I’ve been thinking about that because people have been reminding me about the times in my life that I’ve done this independent-minded kind of thing. Even though from my perspective, I come from a place of being a quiet, shy person who isn’t like, “I just do whatever I want to do!” and has that face in the world. And yet, I remember for instance, when studying theater at Smith College having an attitude of “this is all very old and I want to change things.” I think I’ve always had that point of view. I think it’s not so much courage, but the sense that things need to change and that I want to be part of that movement. And I think that applies to everything—for example, society and politics, and culture and music included in that. I feel like it’s less courage and more that this is so obvious that this needs to happen and that I need to be a part of something progressive, whether that’s in my politics or in my social activism and charity work or if that’s embedded in the creative part of what I do—it applies across the board.
See that smile to the right there? Well that's what the tUnE-Yards show (damn that's hard to type) on Thursday at The Red Palace was all about. The absolute exuberance and joyfulness of tUne-YarDs alter-ego, Merrill Garbus is hinted at on her butt-shaking, brain-breaking 2011 album whokill, but unleashed on stage it was as infectious as it was endearing.
Garbus isn't making what you would call easy music these days. Her songs are full of crashing conflicting chords laid down over polyrhythmic beats that slip in and out of the music all the while her voice perfoming acrobatics rarely attempted in the pop music sphere, much less pulled off. whokill, her latest album, is a hard, at times brain-breakingly genius record that takes more than a few listens to quite get, and even then it takes a few more before you become completely at ease with it. But once it opens up even some of its secrets to you, it's the most rewarding album that you'll hear all year. So how does it play live?...