We included Vagabon in our list of rock artists to watch in 2017 because we thought the Cameroon-born, New York City-based musician Lætitia Tamko was onto something special. Since hitting the city’s DIY scene a couple of years ago, her craft has blossomed — so much, that her debut album Infinite Worlds (out Feb. 24 on Father/Daughter Records) is garnering the sort of widescreen media attention that can vault artists onto myriad critics’ lists and prestigious live opportunities. This already includes an upcoming 25-date U.S. tour with Allison Crutchfield.
Tamko is inspirational and relatable, offering her personal journey in music so openly, that it literally unfolds across Infinite Worlds’ eight songs. This includes the first song she ever wrote, the rumbling, guitar-and-bass indie rocker “Cold Apartment”; she taught herself guitar in high school and, to record the album, picked up drums and bass. It also includes “Mal a? L’aise,” the last song she wrote, a hypnotic sound collage written entirely in Logic, which she taught herself along the way.
But the track we’re sharing is one written somewhere in between. A terrifying flight to Minnesota inspired “Minneapolis,” a noisy, rumbling punk rock song with — as Tamko explains — surprisingly proggy inner-workings.
So tell me in your own words how this one came together.
It’s actually the one track on the record that was very unintentional… I was just playing around on guitar, trying to be funny in my practice place and my friend was around doing her own thing. It’s also the one song where the arrangement came before the lyrics. I never write that way. [I was] just trying to make things fun for myself — doing a weird, f—ed-up stop in the middle, counting in this awkward prog time and starting all over. It’s one of those songs I don’t really know how to talk about because it was written to be fun.
My friend Eva [Lawitts] actually played bass on that. She’s mostly a prog bassist. That song is basically for her; she had a lot of fun with that one because she can shred in a lot of ways I usually don’t let people shred on my songs.
When you sing about going home, do you mean New York?
No, just the first two lines are very literal. It’s kind of trivial, but that specific flight was very f—ed. The pilot was flying like an intern, like he’d never done it before. So when I’m talking about going home, it’s not a tangible home. It’s just in my headspace.
Where do you think the feeling of dread in the lyrics comes from?
That’s a good question. I have no idea. There’s a lot of anger in that song. It’s a weird, triumphant song. When I’m writing about getting through something — something triumphant — it comes out as the opposite. It wasn’t supposed to be dread; it’s more like a “I used to feel this way, but now I don’t, so I can talk about it.”
I see. I was picking up on the dread in the lines about waking up before everyone else.
That’s a different tour journal. That’s a very literal line. I was on my third tour of the year and kind of feeling insane. In the touring party, I was the very restless… I’d wake up at 6 and the touring party woke up at 11, so I was waiting around for everyone.
Are these the people you made the album with?
No, I’ve only toured alone. My setup is just [me] playing three instruments, with a sampler. It’s usually other bands I’m touring with or other people on the road with me, but not playing with me.
So when you play live, it’s just you onstage?
All the tours have been. I try to keep it that way, even when I play in New York. Once in a while I bring in a live band to play on some songs. And when the record comes out, I’m going back on tour [in the U.S. with Allison Crutchfield] and I’ll have a live band for that. So that’ll be the first tour I do with other musicians around me.
Tamko co-produced Infinite Worlds, which is available for pre-order here.