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Laetitia Tamko digs into a grain bowl at Honey Hi in Echo Park, and stares thoughtfully out the window across the busy Sunset intersection before responding. “I think I’m asking fans to be on the journey with me, not with an album,” she comments. “Songs are the ways I feel most comfortable connecting to myself, so that connecting point is what puts all the music under the same umbrella.” She’s responding to a question about the different textures, sounds, and sonics that inform her second full-length release as Vagabon, a self-titled album that follows up her independent, lo-fi debut, 2017’s Infinite Worlds, and does so with eagerness between bites of veggies and rice.
Tamko’s debut record was recorded when she was working her full-time job as an engineer, and made with a couple hundred bucks at most. The album struck a nerve in the indie world, was heralded as one of the year’s best releases, and earned her offers to open for the likes of Tegan And Sara. It also yielded Tamko a whole host of label deals for a second album. Armed with plenty more resources, and instinctually taking the songs that she wrote on guitar to synths and digital software, Vagabon is a strange and billowing album, soaring where Infinite Worlds dipped, and revealing Tamko’s considerable skill as a producer, too.
As we sat down at that busy cafe near Echo Park Lake on a recent sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, Tamko walked me through some of the early steps that led to the writing process for this new album, breaking free of traumatic cycles, and how she’s slowly but surely coming into confidence and the many versions of herself. Read a condensed, edited portion of our conversation below.
You’re on a new label for this album, Nonesuch Records. Let’s start with that transition.
After Infinite Worlds being a larger success than I could’ve thought, I knew that whatever I did next, I’d need more resources. For the debut, I did it all by myself. And I feel really proud of what I did on Infinite Worlds, but I knew if I could dig in a little more and not have to work at my engineering job… then I could explore a lot more of what my music could sound like.
I was fortunate to have a lot of offers, and sifting through all of them I wanted to find a place that was really about artists. Because I get it, it’s a business, everyone wants to sell records, but I want people who have that, of course, because I don’t think I could have the resources without people who are invested in how it does. But I also wanted to have creative control, who would trust my creative vision, and help me see it through, instead of telling me how I should be and what I should make. All those talks are so court-y sometimes, and Nonesuch was the least like that. It’s such a label of artists, career artists. Thinking long term. I know there’s a lot of labels I could be on that are like “cool” and I respect those labels, but I wanted to think long game. I wanted to pick shoes I could grow into, not shoes that were tight for me after one album.