Vagabon’s debut Infinite Worlds is a coming of age record. Across the course of eight songs — and the several years over which various versions of the tracks were honed — Laetitia Tamko literally grew up, found her musical impulses, tested the boundaries of genre, and came into her own. Following an initial EP called Persian Garden that came out in fall of 2014, Vagabon has been a fixture in the Brooklyn DIY scene, poised on the cusp of national breakout. That break has finally come, with the release of the Tamko’s first official full-length coming tomorrow.
In the two years since Persian Garden, Tamko has been consistently touring, and working upstate at Salvation Recording Co. in New Paltz with Chris Daly to hone the tracks into the versions they appear on Infinite Worlds. Several of them appeared on the EP but exist in fuller forms here, all of them easily span signifiers like folk, rock, and pop, leapfrogging back and forth between gentle strumming with an emphasis on songwriting, and towering, fuzzed-out breakdowns.
To her credit, Tamko is fantastic at building songs from a small, sweet center, and blowing them out into dark, surging rock anthems. This juxtaposition makes Infinite Worlds live up to its name, and also makes it easily one of the most interesting, diverse records I’ve heard this year. Many artists are able to experiment with genre and tone throughout various tracks on their albums — Tamko does it within the same song, but maintains enough cohesion that these songs never feel disjointed in the exploration process. We corresponded via email about her experience with her debut, songwriting process, and who else she’s been listening to lately.
A couple of these songs are reworked versions that appeared on your initial Persian Garden EP. Can you explain how and why you resettled them in the album versions?
I toured Persian Garden for two years — six songs for two years! [Laughs] So finding new ways to play these songs on tours made way for these new recorded arrangements.
Something I love about the record is the diversity of styles and sounds — there’s gentler folk overtones, prog-rock, more straightforward indie rock, etc. How do you balance incorporating so many different styles while maintaining your own personal theme as Vagabon?
I wasn’t trying to actively incorporate different styles. This album was written over a solid amount of time so my songwriting style was/is constantly changing.
When did you first have the idea to begin making music? Who were some musicians that inspired you very early on to pursue this path?
I can’t even pinpoint the time I first started making music 00 a long long time ago. The memory that comes to mind about musicians I found inspiring is when I played this show with Princess Nokia some moons ago. She was so sweet and such a powerful presence and just did the damn thing all set long and that was great to watch.
I’d love to talk about the album title — Infinite Worlds. What does that mean to you? I loved the contrast between the initial EP, named after a specific place, and the whole world of possibility in the full-length’s title. The contrast seemed fitting.
I called the album Infinite Worlds because the process of turning scattered ideas into something I found cohesive really allowed me into a lot of different parts of myself.
One track I find myself returning to again and again is “Mal à L’aise.” It is definitely one of the most unique tracks on the record. Can you talk about the process behind writing this one and what the story of the song is?
Yeah, that track is a collage of sorts. I wanted to break up the instrumentation of the record and use different textures to do so. I also wanted to give a break from the vocal heavy songs — giving the listener a six-minute track they can lose themselves in, forget what record they are listening to, cleanse the palette, flip the record, and be more willing to digest Side B. I sampled a song I loved that my friend Eric Littman made, you can hear a sample of his voice on that track as well.
When we spoke last spring you said you were working on recording the album upstate. Can you talk about the studio and who you were working with to get these songs into record format?
Yes! I recorded at Salvation Recording Co. in New Paltz. Idyllic and beautiful, near trees. Chris Daly, who runs things over there, is who I spent the most time with and I’m really proud of what we came up finished with.
What advice do you have for musicians who are on the cusp of a breakout like you were? Say, they’re still in the middle of those couple years it took you between the EP and your full-length album? I know it isn’t always easy to pull through and keep creating.
I didn’t know I was on the cusp of a breakout since the EP — I was just like ‘I’m going to make this fire ass record and what matters most is that I’m working hard and doing what I’m proud of. It was important for me to tour a lot, it can be exhausting but touring often helped me stay motivated.
One of my other favorites is “Cleaning House,” I love the way it builds from super small and intimate into a crashing sweep that feels really big. Can you talk a little bit about writing that one?
Yeah, I guess with this album I noticed how much i like to start songs quiet and build them up. The first recording of “Cleaning House” I did didn’t include drums. I practiced that drum part a lot [Laughs]. Anyway I have so many versions of that song and this one just sat the best with me in thinking of the record as a whole.
What is your personal favorite song on the record? Is there one that has a particularly special significance?
I like “100 years” but that will probably change tomorrow. It was hard to record because I wrote it way higher than I could actually sing, so it was kind of fun to work on my voice to be able to nail it.
Is there anyone else you want to shout out who you feel isn’t getting enough shine at the moment?
I’m digging Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Elaiza Santos, Aye Nako, Emily Reo, Zenizen, Felicia Douglass, CARE.
Infinite Worlds is out this Friday, 2/24 on Father/Daughter Records. Get it here and stream it below via NPR.