SINGER and multi-instrumentalist Merrill Garbus is refreshingly honest about her need for musical reinvention on Tune-Yards’ new album Nikki Nack.
Her 2011 album Whokill received almost universal critical acclaim, and saw the New England native off on a gruelling world tour. After a period of reflection, the 35 year-old realised it was time to go back to basics for album number three.
“I didn’t want to use any of the old tricks I used to,” she says. “I didn’t want to use my older methods of writing and the looping pedal. The looping pedal has very specific limitations, and although it did me well for a long time, I think I had come to the end of the road with that. So it felt like if I wasn’t going to use the ukulele like on the first album and I wasn’t going to use the looping pedal, I was back to square one or ground zero with a big question mark saying ‘how do you write an album?’ without doing it the ways I have done it before.”
Ditching the looping pedal might seem like a bold move for a musician who has relied on it so heavily, but Garbus went a step further by literally going back to school.
“I started off by taking voice and drum lessons,” she says. “It was difficult. I love being good at things, and I don’t like not being good at things, so it was very humbling to learn that I don’t know everything and realise that I can improve and learn new techniques. I took a lot of Haitian drum lessons, and it was great to admit that I had no idea what I was doing and nothing to direct me, as I had just not heard that music before. It was really challenging, but that was easier than taking voice lessons. I mean, aren’t I supposed to know how to sing? I sing for my living, so you’d think I’d know how to sing, but it turns out I have a lot of improving to do there as well.”
After experiencing the intensive Whokill tour, Garbus admits it’s difficult to not get burnt out.
“I’m 35 years old,” she says. “My body can only endure so much partying and late nights. In other words, we hardly do that at all. To me, keeping my health up and having a regular routine is important. I have certain books that I read and I have yoga and I eat well; pretty simple things. This is me trying to pretend I have a healthy, stable life, even though we’re taking that stable life all across the world. It’s pretty fun.”
Tune-yards’ upcoming appearance at Splendour in the Grass will give the band a chance to test out its new skills on an Australian audience.
“We’ll be so excited to be in Australia,” Garbus says. “So we’ll have lots of energy I hope (laughs). I’m drumming a lot more this time around, and we have another drummer who plays a very unique setup. We’ve got two very amazing back-up singers. Nate Brenner is on bass as always, also with more synthesisers. Expect a lot of fully danceable music.”
NIKKI NACK BY TUNE-YARDS IS OUT NOW. TUNE-YARDS PLAY SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.