The Curious Case of tUnE-YaRdS

[caption id="attachment_1978" align="aligncenter" width="630" caption="Photo: Anna M. Campbell"][/caption]

About five years ago, tUnE-YaRdS principle Merrill Garbus was in the throes of sadness. “I sort of wanted to die a little bit,” she tells Hive. “For me, it was a depression I hadn’t experienced before.” The admission comes as a bit of a surprise given her just-released second album, w h o k i l l, is a relatively joyful, dynamic fare. In fact, it would be music that pulled her from the funk.

It didn't start with music, however. Garbus, now 32, bounced around the mid-Atlantic, filling odd jobs in her twenties, most notably as a puppeteer at a camp in New Jersey. In 2005, she moved to Montreal to join a band called Sister Suzy; there she met Nate Brenner, whom she fell in love with. After ditching the Gepetto life, she recorded her voice for books on tape that were distributed to blind people and became a marketer of sorts as she was trying to make it as a touring musician. “I did research on internet marketing and would do it on tour or while watching headlining band I just opened for play,” Garbus explains. “It became a good source of income while doing these other things.” But Sister Suzy never amounted to much and Brenner moved to Oakland, California. She followed him west, at which time the idea of tUnE-YaRdS was formed, and eventually began writing and recording her debut, BiRd-BrAiNs, a lo-fi charmer rested within a heavy dose of looping.

Such a nomadic life has lent itself to w h o k i l l. There’s overt nods to numerous genres, most notably Bay area funk and R&B (“My Country”), along with some bloopy indie pop [“Powa”] for good measure. There’s also a childlike quality that permeates the album. For example, the second track, “Es-So,” was born from a walk Garbus took along a lake near her house when that phrase, which doesn’t mean anything, just came to her. “The lyrics often come from, whatever the meeting point is between pure sound and a big pain. Es-so is not even a word.  It’s just the sound that I wanted to make."

If Garbus' tUnE-yArDs project was born out of a death wish of sorts, w h o k i l l is certainly a rebirth. “[This album] was going back to that point in life when things were cool,” she says. “And for me, it’s that sense of curiosity and being eager to know what’s coming next.”

w h o k i l l is out now on 4AD.