Tamaryn’s Glamorous, Staggering Synth-Pop Reaches A Peak On ‘Dreaming The Dark’

Philip Cosores

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On Tamaryn’s fourth full-length album, Dreaming The Dark, an undercurrent of aggression crackles through nine songs of glittering noir-pop. Those familiar with the previous work of the Los Angeles-based musician, born Tamaryn Brown, will sense a shift in her sound and tone on this album, toward a darker, harder, and more assertive expression. After several years of working with former collaborator, Rex John Shelverton, within a vocalist and guitar player dynamic, Tamaryn decided to shift instrumentation and production for her latest release.

“A lot of people started to see the project as a band called Tamaryn, people didn’t even know it was my name,” she explained to me over tea in Beachwood Canyon recently. “I really liked that and leaned into it because it felt unlikely to pull that off at the time. When you’re a female musician, you come out and people will be like, ‘singer, songwriter, girl, goth, musician…’ But this felt like, ‘Oh, no, this is a band. Like, My Bloody Valentine!”

Still, after a couple of years off following her 2015 release, Cranekiss, she was ready to move in a new sonic direction. Shelverton and Tamaryn very amicably parted ways for Dreaming The Dark — “Rex and I are still good friends, we go camping, and he’s so proud of me and supportive,” she offers — and began to work extensively with Jorge Elbrecht (Violens / Lansing-Dreiden) instead.

The result is a stunning, layered song cycle that spotlights her molten voice like never before, and pushes Tamaryn to the forefront of a wave of modern artists repurposing the signifiers of ’80s pop for their own ends. Even in the beginning of her career, when she was leaning more into a gauzy, dream pop sound, there was a bite in her vocals, an unshakeable power that came through even on the wispiest of melodies. That element is weaponized here, to face down the darkness in the songs, and bring some of the heavier content full circle in a personal way that Tamaryn describes as “prophetic.”

After meeting up on a rainy day in Los Angeles earlier in the month to talk about the shift in tone and sound for her latest album, we also got into how Jungian archetypes and elements of the Tarot fit into her new videos, and her shift in thinking toward creating art for its own sake, regardless of audience. Read a condensed, edited version of our conversation below.

Visual work is obviously such a huge part of your artistic sensibility, especially leading off the album with “Fits Of Rage” and the subsequent video, which you self-directed. Why did you want to lead out with that one? From my perspective, the emotion in that song feels like something a lot of people can get behind right now.

There are a few reasons why… the first is more a musical reason, that it’s the biggest departure or the most unexpected song. It definitely has hip-hop influences, I was listening to a lot of Lil Peep and stuff like that when I wrote it. I’m not trying to sound like those artists, but there’s a subliminal thing in there. So, musically it was different, and the first song you put out ends up making the biggest impact, so I thought I’d put something out to grab attention. As far as the emotion of the song, it’s the first one I’ve ever yelled or been close to screaming on, which has been cool for me, and different. In the past, I was trying to kind of be more textural in the music, even if the emotions are similar throughout all the albums. There’s this heavy emotion that connects all the albums, even though the songwriting is changing. But I think probably this record is the most direct emotionally.

Thinking about an artist like Lil Peep, men are often free to voice those types of emotions — that are coded as negative, per se — and women not always being allowed that space in culture. So it feels like you’re taking that space back a little bit.

The entire record has this overarching sentiment, which is dreaming the dark; going into the shadow, looking into the darkness, but also imagining and focusing on it, obsessing about it. The record is pretty honest and every song is about a real experience that I went through, but there’s an aspect that’s also questioning whether it’s real or not. So “Fits Of Rage” is about… I keep saying, ‘Please, I’m not in a fit of rage,’ you know? It’s basically saying, ‘I’m not mad!’ That’s the energy of it.

Specifically, with the imagery in this video, you’re invoking the High Priestess and some other elements of Tarot. What deeper spiritual implications does the song hold for you, and what’s your relationship with the Tarot?

All of the videos have archetypes in them, they all tie together and they’re all non-linear. There’s no order to the way they’re released because, in sort of a Jungian sense, it’s like time doesn’t exist and everything is cycling. There are little secret things in each video that connect to the others; I directed all the videos and I’m editing them, and doing all the stuff for them, which has been really liberating and fun. My connection to the archetypes comes from my childhood. I was raised by Jungian psychologists in a sort of a feminist collective. I’ve said things like “cult” in the past that regret now, and in some ways I’m still kind of figuring out where I come from. It started in New Zealand, then we were actually sort of exiled from New Zealand — it was a controversial thing.

Did you come to America because of being exiled?

Yes, we relocated to the Pacific Northwest, and I lived in the town where they filmed Twin Peaks, North Bend, Washington. Later, I moved to this town Roslyn, where they filmed Northern Exposure. In the ’90s, I lived in Seaview, which is right over the bridge from Astoria (where The Goonies was filmed), and they have this Southwestern trailer park thing. We lived in that trailer park in the ’90s. If you go there, there are meditation gardens. My hippie family built those meditation gardens. So, the Tarot and the archetypes have been a big part of my entire life. I heard about them a lot growing up. But, recently, in the past year or two, I started reading Tarot for the first time. I’ve been getting Tarot readings my whole life as a form of therapy, and a psychic that I’ve been going to for over ten or fifteen years had a dream that her Tarot cards wanted to be mine. So, she gave them to me and I started reading them.

That’s why they’re featured much more prominently in these new visuals?

That’s when everything clicked. All these things I’d heard my whole life and all the archetype work that I’d always had in my records… If you look, some of my old releases there are secret inscriptions in the vinyl of things from my godmother’s archetype work, so it’s always been a part of it. But now, it’s really kind of there’s a synthesis with my whole life experience, and it’s coming through the art now. And it wasn’t even intentional. For the first video (“Fits Of Rage”), the girl who performs in it suggested she be the High Priestess. For another one, “Angels Of Sweat,” there are all these angels with swords and kings, and I didn’t really think about it, but it’s all the Minor Arcana and I’m the moon. So, it’s pretty cool that it’s just happening that way.

What I really got listening to the record as a whole was ’80s influences. Were there any specific touchstones you were writing around or from?

I didn’t set out to make an ’80s record, but the music that I was listening to for the most part is from the ’80s and ’90s. Genres don’t end, it’s just language, it’s a set of values and limitations within music that you can play with and evolve. There are a lot of great bands now that work with those touchstones and have made it something totally different or really personal. Tears for Fears is the number one influence on the record, vocally. I was trying to do those flips. It’s interesting because there’s a lot of male vocal influence on this record, but it works differently because of my body. I’ll try to sing like Jim Kerr from Simple Minds, and sound like Madonna. Nine Inch Nails was a huge influence on the record, as well as Cocteau Twins. The sound I was most interested as the glue throughout the album was probably Robin Guthrie-ish sounds, Cocteau Twins-style layers and things. There’s some Cyndi Lauper stuff in there, there’s some Book Of Love, so lots of ’80s and ’90s stuff.

This record definitely comes across as your darkest and hardest album. What were some of the elements that went into those shifts? In some of the literature about the album, there’s mention of a binary between the good witch and the bad witch.

I had these two really brilliant women raising me, and they were both really challenging characters. One of them had this very Glenda The Good Witch kind of vibe, and one of them had a very Wicked Witch vibe. I always imagined that I was in this Dorothy role. What you’re manifesting in your life, and the filters you see the world through, that’s how you define negative or positive, black or white. But to be a truly, actualized human being, you have to have the synthesis of both. You really have to go into the darkness and look at it. The record is pretty self-aware in that way, and it’s humorous in that way. I wish that I could say that the record is written, and I’m talking about something from the past, and now I’m this person that isn’t dreaming the dark anymore, but I think I’m living it as it’s happening. I wrote the songs, and some of them are prophetic, and as I’m releasing the music, I’m experiencing what I’m talking about, and it’s been a really intense experience.

The title is also related to a Starhawk book called Dreaming The Dark: Magic, Sex, And Politics. She’s the person who invented eco-feminism, or one of the first people to discuss it. She wrote the book in, I think, the early ’70s, and it’s an amazing book. I thought if people Googled the record, it would be the only thing that came up, and that would be a great thing for people to see. Because that’s what we need more of, is people talking about being the gardeners of the earth and protecting the planet and all of that, beyond the world that we live in right now, obviously.

I wanted to ask about collaborating with Jorge Elbrecht on this album. How did that come about and what is your working relationship like, especially for this record?

I was a big fan of Jorge’s music from the early-2000’s, a band called Lansing-Dreiden. When I made my first demo EP, this girl that sang in the second live edition of Lansing-Dreiden taught me how to get CDs pressed and make a cover. She’d worked with Jorge, and I had seen that he had put online that he had this production company called Static Recordings or something like that, and I was like, ‘Oh, I wanna work with that guy!’ It took 10 years. I wrote him probably a couple years before we ever worked together, and was like, ‘I really wanna make this Simple Minds/dream record, and you’re the guy!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, sounds cool.’ Over a series of communications, we agreed to do one song together and see how it went. It was a cover, and we did it for my old label, Mexican Summer.

It was just apparent from the beginning that we had a really cool, collaborative energy together, and it’s just been such an inspiring, cool experience working with him. It’s been a total honor because I really look up to him as a musician and as a songwriter, an artist. He’s got a really cool perspective of art, in general. My records with him are different, I think, than the other records he makes. He’s a great producer, and I have noticed that he doesn’t force people to sound a certain way. He really helps people blossom on their own, I think, which is really cool. With me, when we worth together, we’re like a band. He’s like the predominant instrumentalist on the records, and we co-write everything together, and it’s very much him as much as it is me.

Is there a song on this new record that you gravitate toward personally that ends up being your favorite or that stands out in some way?

I don’t, because it’s changing. I feel like the record is mostly singles or a singles collection — I was gonna call it The Best Of Tamaryn because it feels more like that, which is cool. It’s all different sort of facets of things I want to manifest and step into as a person. When you make a record, you create this thing you want to be, and when you put it out, you have to be it. Each song is like, ‘This is something I want to step into and embody.’ So “Fits Of Rage” is just a very distilled moment of self-awareness and anger and emotion and a song like “Victim Complex” is a different perspective. Or, I even have a song on the record called “You’re Adored” that’s about my dog. It’s just like a love song to my dog. I don’t know, I don’t think I can really pick!

Philip Cosores

Is there anything else that we didn’t touch on that you would like to talk about?

Yes, actually. I really do believe that it’s a privilege to create art at all, and that we live in an era, or, maybe it’s not a singular era, but it does seem like it’s a time where there’s a lot of stress to self-promote and to force yourself to think of yourself as something to monetize in a capitalist structure. I find that deeply uninspiring, and I find that this moment in time is actually really cool in the underground, musically.

There are a lot of bands that I love right now, which hasn’t always been the case, and a lot of them get no press, and they’re building these underground fan bases and playing these big shows, and doing it in a really beautiful way that has reinvigorated my outlook on how I want to do things. Because I think in the past, I felt a little bit pressured to do things I was more uncomfortable with, and now, I feel free. I feel like, beyond this record, I can just make as many songs and videos as I want, and continue to make art, whether or not people listen or not.

Dreaming The Dark is out now via Dero Arcade. Get it here.