We’ve got another rewind on-deck, this time looking at dark pop figure Tamaryn.
I’d interviewed Tamaryn all the way back in 2008 for a Canadian magazine start-up, though the publication folded before the first issue was able to hit the press.
At the time, Tamaryn had just self-released her Led Astray, Washed Ashore EP, a post-punk immersion of rainwater bass trills, ambient guitar texturing, and a soul-baring, echo-caked vocal presence.
Tamaryn has delivered a number of albums since that first EP, most recently with the palatial, synth-and-sequencer drive of 2019’s Dreaming the Dark. Definitely check out her full discography through your streaming service of choice. Enjoy!
Up until a couple of months ago, scheduling band practice was a pain in the ass for Tamaryn. The then New York City-based musician had no problem writing handfuls of goth-tinged gems to show her bandmates, but with main collaborator Rex John Shelverton situated in San Francisco, rehearsals came few and far between.
Caught on her cell phone while eating breakfast at a Bay Area diner, Tamaryn explains that months of travelling between the two cities took its toll on the project both creatively and financially.
“Neither one of us is rich,” she says matter-of-factly of the duo’s expensive early jam sessions, “I would fly to San Francisco and write and record for three days, and then not do anything for six months.” Rather than let her songs sit on the shelf, the musician made the difficult decision to leave the city she loved to forward her musical ambitions. “I didn’t want to move to California,” she laments. “I gave in.”
If the songs on the sublimely sorrowful Led Astray, Washed Ashore are any indication, the Big Apple-abandoning compromise wasn’t made in vain. Atop oozing shoegaze guitars and icy drum beats, Tamaryn’s echo-plated vocals reverberate with a confidence not often heard on a debut disc. It took a while for the artist to find her focus, though.
While New York was ideal for day-to-day living, Tamaryn felt artistically stifled by the city. As she bounced between several projects, Tamaryn experimented wildly with her vocal style, though she never quite landed on the perfect sound.
“When I first started making music in New York I was doing weird, Yoko Ono experimental noise rock stuff,” she notes.
“I played in this band the Dream Lovers, which was more of a psychedelic, almost Roxy Music kind of thing; there were eight people playing oscillators. I spent my formative singing years making shit up and being really out there. I came full circle and find myself now trying to make songs. Pop music, to a degree.”
Eventually, Tamaryn began writing tunes that revealed an obsession with the melancholy music of the ’80s. “I was really interested in continuing the lineage of Dead Can Dance and Siouxise and the Banshees,” she confirms, though she adds that her music also aims for the aesthetics of vintage Dario Argento movies—vivid colourscapes; “highly stylized, beautiful things.”
Mystifying opener “Return to Surrender” kicks off the dreamy six-song cycle with pastel guitar swirls and thundering drum work that pay homage to the classic 4AD sound. Suitably, the track finds a lovelorn narrator dropping some serious romantic poetry: “A desert of sands passed through your hands. I’ll follow you there where the dust meets the land.”
Later, cavernous drum machine clanks back the brooding “Sarah in the Aeadrone,” where Tamaryn muses on a relationship both nocturnal and intangible.
“I had read this book on sleep patterns a few years ago, which said that there were reoccurring characters that show up in people’s dreams— characters that live in a certain realm of sleep. For boys that are going through puberty, a red-headed succubus character appears.”
“Ashore” follows a similarly swooning, if separated path. Amidst thick washes of atmospheric guitar, courtesy of Shelverton and a guest appearance from Yeah Yeah Yeah’s six-stringer Nick Zinner, a cautiously optimistic figure is left staring at the sea, crying out “On the shore/ I’ll be waiting.”
“It’s the oldest kind of love song,” Tamaryn says of the song’s focus. “It’s the type of song that women have been singing all the way back to Viking days: women being left on the shore while their men go to sea.”
Though the narrator of “Ashore” is left in the lurch, Tamaryn followed her artistic passion out to the West Coast, where she’s writing with current musical partner Shelverton.
They’d first met in the late ’90s while Shelverton was on tour with his old band Vue— a decadent, Stones referencing blues-punk act— and the two managed to keep in touch over the years. Sending each other mixed CD’s and song ideas, the pair slowly realized they had to work together. With Tamaryn having been artistically unfulfilled in NYC, and Shelverton attached to his current outfit, Bella Vista, the move to the Bay Area was inevitable.
“I always thought I would find somebody to start the perfect project with,” Tamaryn says, reflecting on her time in New York City. “And then I realized that Rex was that person the whole time. I decided to make the move to be closer to him.”
Though Tamaryn has only spent a few months in San Francisco, the new environment has already made an impact on the musician. “I don’t think I’ll make some California, Byrds-type record all of a sudden,” she insists of the coastal shift, “but I can say I am inspired by the Pacific Ocean, or the way people practically live in their cars out here.”
Despite the latter fixation, neither Tamaryn nor Shelverton feel up to the crunch of life on the road. Playing out of town every now and again is a possibility, but the duo are more focused on crafting a bigger body of sensuous goth-pop.
“I’d definitely like to play some major cities and maybe go to Europe, but I don’t see myself getting in a van and playing in Arkansas,” Tamaryn explains, adding, “Rex likes to surf every day and go bike riding. He’s about having a good life here, not eating road food and hanging out at bars.”