Eleven weeks ago, the Sasquatch Music Festival lineup was released to much fanfare. Like all festivals, some hated the lineup while others loved it. For the more levelheaded, it appears to be a very balanced lineup with a deep undercard. From here on out we will be underscoring the lesser-known Sasquatch artists by highlighting a different artist each week. Beyond delving into each artist’s bio, sound, etc., we will attempt to give some insight into what will make their performance at Sasquatch so amazing.
tUnE-yArDs is the creatively-capitalized alias of musician Merril Garbus. (Hey, at least she didn’t leave out the vowels, right?) Hailing from Connecticut and currently based in Oakland, Garbus is full of surprises, musically and otherwise. She’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard before, and it works. Garbus possesses an incredibly powerful and unique voice, and this gift provides the pedestal on which she constructs her musical skyscraper. The vocals in her music have been compared to a cross between Aretha Franklin and Yoko Ono. Her range is unbelievable, varying from a deep, almost masculine grumble to a high soprano wail; she can sound convincingly assertive, angry, carefree, peaceful, contemplative, and celebratory all in one album. Her influences are drawn from Afro-pop, funk, R&B and folk, but there’s something else there. Garbus throws in a stylistic dexterity that is irreproducible and astounding.
The components that comprise her music-making technique are simple, but they merge to create something elaborate, almost labyrinthine. In addition to providing her one-of-a-kind voice, Garbus also plays the ukulele and dabbles in a variety of percussion. She uses a loop pedal to overlap the different elements of a track as she builds the instrumentation. As she told NPR’s All Things Considered back in April 2011:
“[The loop pedal] is this really wonderfully simple device that is somewhat of a limitation. I love to see how I can stretch using that limitation to its farthest reaches of musicality.”
tUnE-yArDs also throws in snippets of recordings of ambient sound, conversation and spoken statements. It is the amazing variety that makes Garbus’ music so incredible. From track to track, her style progresses through stages of emotion and musical form, like a long walk through many distinctive neighborhoods, all housing entirely different groups of people, but together comprising a diverse and vibrant city.
In June 2009, Garbus self-released tUnE-yArDs’ first album, BiRd-BrAiNs, on recycled cassette tapes. BiRd-BrAiNs was recorded using a handheld voice recorder and mastered somewhat crudely by Garbus using Audacity mixing software. In July of the same year, tUnE-yArDs signed to 4AD, and re-released a remastered version of BiRd-BrAiNs in November 2009 containing two new bonus tracks.
In April of 2011, Garbus released tUnE-yArDs’ second album, w h o k i l l. The album was produced by Garbus, but engineered in a professional studio. For this album, Garbus added bassist Nate Brenner to her lineup, and this change played a central role in the progression of tUnE-yArDs’ sound in their second release. w h o k i l l is the perfect departure from the lo-fi quality of BiRd-BrAiNs, while continuing to surprise us with incredibly elaborate sound. This newfound clarity in Garbus’ work makes the album an entirely different type of experience, but her style certainly benefits from the added professionalism present in w h o k i l l.
Aside from her recordings, there has been quite a bit of focus in the blogosphere upon Garbus’ talents as a live performer. Again drawing from her chat with NPR back in 2011, Garbus describes her incredible stage presence, self-confidence, and passion for performance:
“I’m confident enough to grab people’s attention and say, ‘Hey, I’m up here. Don’t be chattin’ into your beer. I’m right here, and this is what you want to be looking at.'”
We eagerly await her Sasquatch set. As an artist who based so much of her origin and style upon the ability to function as an individual in a live setting, creating a multitude of layers all stemming from the simple functions of a few instruments, tUnE-yArDs will surely put on a fantastic show. Chances are, it will be unlike anything else you see at Sasquatch, and that is a draw in and of itself. tUnE-yArDs will be performing at the Bigfoot stage on Saturday at 7:30; don’t miss out.