April 22, 2019

In Music and in Life, Tamaryn Dreams in the Dark

In Music and in Life, Tamaryn Dreams in the Dark


LOS ANGELES — On a rainy March evening, the singer-songwriter Tamaryn waited for a gnostic priest to begin his lecture on the transformative power of tarot at a small lodge in the Hollywood Hills.

“This is the gothest night,” she whispered.

A first-name-only artist who has been steadily releasing music for the past decade, Tamaryn, 37, appreciated Mother Nature’s cooperative stage direction: Between claps of thunder, lightning illuminated the stained-glass windows and the candlelit altar bearing a dagger and a single pink rose.

“It’s not my religion,” she explained. “This is a journey I’m learning about. In 10 years, I might say it’s hocus-pocus.”

Tamaryn’s fascination with mysticism largely stems from her fourth album, “Dreaming the Dark,” which is due on Friday and finds her confronting childhood memories in unexpected ways.

Raised by her mother and godmother, both Jungian psychologists, along with a nomadic group of bohemian types who moved around New Zealand and, later, the western United States, Tamaryn said she frequently witnessed a form of therapy involving ritual theater. Participants would inhabit roles from the tarot deck’s Major Arcana — the 22 pictorial cards (like the Empress and the Devil) that in certain interpretations overlap with Carl Jung’s notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

“I don’t think I ever thought it was normal,” she said over dinner a few days later during an intense conversation that spanned several hours. A lace maroon top covered her black bustier, and a glow-in-the-dark cross dangled from one ear. “But they basically instilled the idea that creativity is a route to heal,” she continued, “and that applies in such a huge way to my life now.”

Since leaving home at 13, Tamaryn, born Tamaryn Brown, has spoken only sporadically to her mother. (She never met her late father, but knows he was a competitive bridge player.) Before settling in Los Angeles three years ago, she lived in San Francisco and New York. Denizens of the Lower East Side in the rapidly gentrifying early aughts might have bumped into her at Mondo Kim’s on St. Marks Place, where she was a salesclerk (“I would sit there and listen to Lydia Lunch really loud,” she said), or behind the bar at the similarly defunct club Tonic, where she also performed one-off shows with various outfits.

“Dreaming the Dark” is her first album since the 2015 LP “Cranekiss,” both of which were written and produced alongside Jorge Elbrecht, known for his collaborations with Ariel Pink. Driven by lushly orchestrated synths and emotionally intense vocals, the record’s nine songs invoke a range of influences, including Sisters of Mercy, the composer Angelo Badalamenti and Kanye West circa “808s & Heartbreak.” (She said she specifically wanted to mimic “the whipping sounds” from Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” for the industrial number “Victim Complex.”)

The intentionally low-budget music videos that she’s been directing have, in psychoanalytic parlance, unlocked her subconscious. She realized she was relying heavily on tarot imagery — for instance, casting herself as the Moon upon a crescent-shaped swing for “Angels of Sweat.”

“I didn’t come up with this concept,” she said. “It revealed itself to me.”

She acknowledged that her approach might sound “woo-woo,” but she doesn’t care. From an early age, Tamaryn was encouraged to be wary of the mainstream. “When I was 7, my godmother saw me dancing super sexy in front of the TV to the ‘Solid Gold’ dancers,” she said. “She was like, ‘That’s not the only way to dance.’ She took me into her room, put on Kate Bush’s ‘The Dreaming,’ and was like, ‘No one’s watching you, move any way that makes sense to the music.’”

Despite attracting critically positive notices since her 2010 debut LP “The Waves,” Tamaryn hasn’t had a breakout moment and has supplemented her income with various jobs. For a spell in 2013, she helped the Dum Dum Girls with general creative direction, scoring the interstitial music to a video written by Bret Easton Ellis for their song “Are You Okay?” She has also built step-and-repeats for red-carpet events and worked in the shipping department of a perfume company.

“There’s this myth that you’re a failure if you have to have a job,” she said, casually tugging at the fringed bangs of her crimson-red hair. “I kind of feel the opposite. I feel you should keep your creativity as uncompromised as you can.”

“The Waves” and its 2012 follow-up, “Tender New Signs,” both recorded with the guitarist Rex John Shelverton, proudly embraced the atmospheric soundscapes and washed-out vocals of their shoegaze roots. But eventually, according to Tamaryn, “I could have put out a straight-up disco song, and somebody would say that it was pushing the boundaries of shoegaze.” She laughed.

She intended “Cranekiss” to be the “first statement that I’m no longer a band working within certain parameters.” She switched up her collaborators, bringing in Elbrecht, a member of the art collective Lansing-Drieden, and Shaun Durkan from the Bay Area noise-pop band Weekend.

“She was really precise with what she wanted,” said Elbrecht. “It’s pretty crucial to her to have a certain melancholic feeling.”

The “Cranekiss” centerpiece “Hands All Over Me” earned her a fan in Sky Ferreira, who Tamaryn said later asked her to do some writing. The album also impressed the musician Mariqueen Maandig Reznor, who praised Tamaryn’s “talent and good taste” in an email, adding that she has played the LP “every other day for the last four years. I was unsure if I would ever stop consistently listening to it, but now I have ‘Dreaming the Dark,’ and have it on rotation obsessively.”

But following “Cranekiss,” she took a break from music. Craving stability — a quest that, as a child, led her to figure skate competitively, she said — she went to school to be hair colorist. She ended up traveling to Japan as a hair model, donning rainbow-colored extensions and performing David Bowie songs at various events.

“I thought I was quitting touring to settle down and get a trade and then it’s like, no, I’m literally dressed as a mermaid singing ‘Life on Mars,’” she said.

At the same time, she was mourning her friend, the celebrity photographer Matt Irwin, who died by suicide in 2016. “The last conversation I had with him was about a toxic relationship that he couldn’t get over,” she said. “It was a wake-up call.” “Dreaming the Dark” is dedicated to him.

Sensing it was time to return to music, Tamaryn connected with a young Vegas-based musician named Jordan Collins through Instagram who inspired her to write some demos with him about her own unhealthy relationships. “A lot of things on this record I can’t say to other people, because I shouldn’t talk to those people,” she said.

And in early 2018, she reconvened with Elbrecht, who pushed her to explore “the pop quality” of her vocal range, he said. “She could really get up high and project.” As a result, many of her new songs, like the standout “Path to Love,” share a similar theatricality with her formative inspiration, Kate Bush.

“It could be emotionally draining to listen to it all the way through,” she said, with a laugh.

She is already at work on a follow-up EP, and will spend the spring touring South America and Europe. Tamaryn does not expect to quit her latest day job — a freelance gig narrating erotic audiobooks — at the moment, but that’s O.K. “I just want to look back and be able to mark the different eras of my life by the records I made,” she said. “That’s the only real goal.”



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