This past December 16th, The Kitchen put on an event called “Synth Nights” organized by Matthew Lyons. Featuring performances by buzz-worthy girl duo, Penis, white rapper Champagne Jerry and Swedish, Berlin-based Tami Tamaki, the evening brought together these artists merging the performative with pop music. Mostly known for being a performance art venue, The Kitchen and those present, came alive as most of the seats remained empty for the duration of the evening. In particular, Tami Tamaki was able to draw the crowd close, inducing pogo-ing, swaying and even a bit of gyrating as she worked her magic only accompanied by an electronic mixer. Tall in height but with a slight silouette and shy smile, Tamaki performed her set, with minimal movement except when twisting the nobs of the mixer and tapping what she has deemed a ‘musical strap-on’. Watching the performances, specifically the latter, I was reminded of shows I attended years ago at Webster Hall for Bat For Lashes and Fever Ray, yes, Tami Tamaki is that good. With catchy lyrics like “Strong hands on my hips, is the first thing I remember” from Strong Hands, to danceable beats and an enticing presence, Tami Tamaki is one to keep an eye, or rather an ear out for. Either way, she’s got the beat and our dialogue based on a recent conversation, is below.
Katy Diamond Hamer: Why don’t we start with the most basic question, when did you get started in making music?
Tami Tamaki: When I was 13 I started playing in a skate punk band for some years, we changed band name often but my favorite name we had been “horny five”. It was terrible! We played covers of blink-182 songs. When I was 18 I got to borrow a computer from my mother’s lover and I got a tracker program for, a very basic music program. Since then I have been making electronic music, but it wasnt until eight years later that I actually started releasing or performing anything. I’ve played in some bands with different arrangements, but that was a long time ago. I often don’t like collaborating with other musicians. Sometimes though, I miss that special communication musicians have while playing together. However, I am very fortunate to get to work with choreographers and dancers occasionally and the communication I have when playing with them is very much like playing with musicians. What they do influences what I play, and what I play influences how they move. It’s a very special thing.
KDH: You performed last month at The Kitchen as part of “Synth Nights“, the final act following openers Penis and Champagne Jerry. The event was organized by Matthew Lyons and after a slight lull, the crowd really came alive during your set! What was the experience like for you performing there?
TT: I was actually a bit worried before that performance! I had heard that there would be seats and I really have a hard time performing for a seated audience. I want people to dance! But I was so happy that people were dancing in the designated stage area instead of sitting down. It felt very intimate with all the people surrounding me as I performed and I really had a good time.
KDH: How did you first discover your sound? Was it a lot of trial and error or were you instinctively drawn to vocal distortion, dance beats, and intimate lyrics? Speaking of lyrics…do you write all your own songs?
TT: At the age of 26, I had a really bad period of my life. I was working in a factory production line in Gothenburg and didn’t have an output for my creativity. I always had a dream about performing music and so I decided to really give it a try. I took as many overtime hours I could at the factory to save up some money, after that I quit and moved to Leipzig where I spent two months locked up in a room trying to figure out exactly what my sound was and how to perform it live. Before this I didn’t really have a specific sound, it was a bit all over the place, but after those months I found a sound I was happy with. It’s a dance friendly pop that often focuses on lyrics, and yes, I write all my songs. I write, record, produce and mix the tracks myself. I really enjoy every single step in the birth of a song, from idea to finished product.
KDH: You have such an amazing stage presence. With limited physical movement, you are still able to share, giving so much to those present. In one of the songs performed, you use a unique instrument that mimics the shape and form of a dildo. I saw a short video clip on your website about the making of this instrument, but would love if you elaborate further?
TT: Thank you! I call it a musical strap-on, it’s my invention and I am very proud of it! It’s covered in rhinestones and I can play notes and chords by touching or drumming on it, like some kind of phallus percussion synthesizer that I wear it in a rope harness. In my show at The Kitchen I premiered two arrangements for this instrument and I’m very happy about how it turned out, I think it sounded quite beautiful.
KDH: Sexuality is prevalent in your lyrics. It comes across both directly, “I never came this hard, this long before, but then again I never fucked a boy like you before” from I Never Loved This Hard This Fast Before and rather sweet such as in the intro to Fancy Hotel, “You’ve gained some weight since last time we met, I think I’ve lost a pound or two ’cause I’ve been having trouble eating ever since you left.” Would you say these are your feelings and experiences or have they been created for performance purposes?
TT: The only way for me to write lyrics, is to write honest lyrics. I love details and have always thought that songs about very specific moments are more relatable for a listener. Even if they haven’t experienced the same significance, I prefer to be sincere in my songs, especially when compared to songs that describe moments or feelings in a more general manner. And yes, I tend to sing about relationships and sexuality, it just happens for some reason.
KDH: Some people tend to draw a line between art, performance, and music. You seem to blur this line, not necessarily fitting into any specific category, however perfectly blending into all three. What element is the more important for you (if possible to choose) the aspect of art and performance or music?
TT: Music is by far the most important thing for me! When I am playing live, I like having aspects of performance too, which is why I experiment with how to perform electronic music in an interesting way. But I would gladly let the performance aspect suffer on behalf of the music but never vice versa.
KDH: What do you have lined up next? I really enjoyed your show and hope to see you back in New York (or Berlin!) soon.
TT: On January 28th my new single “despicable”, a pop song about a disgusting ex, will be released along with a video (still above). The whole process of this single is a reaction to a lot of collaborations I have been doing, including working with record labels, producers and film makers. Some of these collaborations have fruitful and will result in future song releases. At the same time working as part of a team made me miss working alone, so this song is all me again. I also shot and edited the video as well. My plan is to not let anyone even hear it until it is released. I like this because the song becomes my secret that I one day share with the listener, a direct communication without any intermediation.
There is a chance I will be back in New York later this year. I really hope so as I miss the New York and the bagels! I have upcoming gigs in Gothenburg, Berlin and Brussels, all booked. This spring I will compose music for two dance performances that will be performed respectively, in Berlin. The best way to stay updated on my happenings, events and shows is to follow my Facebook page.