The multi-instrumentalist reinvigorating indie rock.
“I’m pretty quiet except for when I make music, and except for when I’m doing the thing that I do,” Laetitia Tamko – aka Vagabon – says, “and so I was trying to find my footing a lot as I was making this record, as a musician. In New York that anxiety was hitting me pretty hard, and even just like, finding housing in New York, finding an apartment that you love, so this kind of came in-between me trying to find a comfortable emotional space for myself, and a physical safe place for myself, and I think that’s why it ended up with having a lot of themes of home and stuff like that.”
The record in question is the New Yorker’s stunning debut album, Infinite Worlds. An utterly captivating record exploring Laetitia’s personal thoughts and feelings, it’s a cuttingly poignant look into moments from her and her loved one’s lives. Detailed in her mesmerising voice and soaring DIY indie rock stylings, the album winds between the ballad-like and the ferocious, highlighting Laetitia’s incredible multi-instrumental talent and taking you on a journey that you’ll never want to end.
Catching up with Tamko before her performance in London earlier this month, we found out even more…
Starting at the very beginning, how did you first get involved in music?
Well I’ve always loved music. As a kid I would always sing around my parents and when their friends would be over I’d love to get in front of them and start singing. But it was really strange because I’m not very extroverted at all, so that memory is a really funny one. But I started writing songs about three and a half years ago. I was ending college and I was studying two engineering majors at the same time. And so it was very intense, and I was getting ready to graduate, and I played some songs on guitar for my friend, and he said “you should put those songs up online”. And I was like “why?” But I put them up on Bandcamp, and it kind of started this thing, it kind of realised itself for me. But I think in a lot of ways I manifested it because it was something I always wanted to do, and that small step kind of opened a whole portal of what could be done. And now I’m just in it, trying to look around at how to be.
So even when you were studying, music was always something that you wanted to do?
Yeah, I was always like “wow, I would love to.” I saw the same friend play once in New York, and I was like – which was kind of a shitty thought – I was like, “wow, that’s it? You can do it in this small basement with your friends? And if you fuck up it’s not that bad?” Like, all of the fears that I had in my head about being a performer were knocked down when I saw him play, because of the imperfections. I was like “oh, it’s cool to just figure it out?” So I just started figuring it out.
Obviously New York is known for having such a great music scene, was that helpful when you were figuring it out?
Oh yeah. I came up in the underground punk scene, and so all of my friends, whether they were in punk bands or hardcore bands or rock bands, they all used to make music in their bedrooms and sharing that and having that much access can make a person do one or two things. Either, you can use it as a source of motivation, like, I would leave shows in New York and be like “I have to go write something.” Or then there are other times, where it can cause you crippling anxiety, when you’re like “there’s so many bands, how do you get to a point where people click on your link?” And for me, I had both of those, but I resolved in my head that if I kept doing the work, someone’s going to notice. If you do good work someone’s going to notice. So my objective was just to do good work, or try to at least.
What draws you to the kind of music that you play? Have you always been a fan of indie rock?
No, I didn’t grow up listening to rock music. I still to this day don’t know a lot of bands that people say I sound like! Which is really funny ’cause the only thing I could relate to was like INXS, which is just like, people always say “this sound reminds me of the 90s”, because they had shitty equipment, and I also have shitty equipment. When I was putting up those demos, when you think about resources and access, I couldn’t make those demos sound any better than they did, so I think with time, I started to understand with the sonic sound, the way an album is recorded, how maybe low-fi it is, and all of those things kind of came out of me. I’m sure now I’m a musician – this is my job now – there will be more intentionality, I want to make sure people experience the songs in the best way. But I still haven’t found what my inspiration was. Because I think I came from a lot of different things that accumulates into whatever I end up making.
“When people check the credits of a non-male person, they tend to look for who did that ‘cool’ part…”
You’re re-issuing your debut album, Infinite Worlds. Could tell me about how the album came into being?
Well I set out to write a record and it took me, like, nine months. What it was for me, it was really important to be my album. There was a lot of people in the past who wanted to take ownership of songs that I wrote. And for this it was really important to me to not let anyone take that power away from me, and so I taught myself how to play drums and bass and synth, and learn how to record and programme beats. Like all of that. When people check the credits of a non-male person, they tend to look for who did that “cool” part, and sometimes I have men as my backing band and they’d be like “oh your tone was so sick,” and I’m there like “that was me!” And I got really sick of being belittled like that, especially when I work so hard. So this album kind of sounds like a revenge album, I guess now when I describe it, but really it was a source of healing for me. I needed an outlet to express myself, and I wanted to do it in the most care-free, vulnerable way that I could.
When you put something out that’s that vulnerable and so personal to you, is it difficult letting go and having other people hear it, or is it kind of cathartic in that way?
It’s both, I think it’s more cathartic now, and more scary when it’s about to be released. Because there are people who know things about me before I even know their names. And so that can be a little scary, wondering how your vulnerability is going to be received. But it is cathartic that songs that came from such a dark or confused place, to be able to play them with conviction. It feels really nice, like an evolution of sorts.
And what’s the thought or feeling that you want people to take away from the album?
I would hope that they love it, but especially I want them to understand this album is for the words, well not even for the words, but I wanted to kind of tap into that space and humanise me, or the person who wrote it. Because I think that often with musicians that we like, we can put them on a pedestal, which is pretty cool, like that’s fine, but I also very much want it to be like yeah, I’m up there and I can sing these songs so powerfully now, but they weren’t always that way, and I think that the record and my live set are different for that fact. My record is for listening to it and feeling it in a different way than my live set is for listening to it and feeling it… if that makes sense?
Totally. Did you ever think, when you put your songs on Bandcamp, that you’d be here?
Oh my god no, no idea at all. I pinch myself pretty regularly, like how? But it’s not impossible – it’s that I thought it was impossible, not because I didn’t think I could. There’s talented people everywhere, why would it be me? But there’s so much more to this than born talent, like I taught myself all the stuff you’re going to hear. I do think about it like “wow I’m here,” but the second I thought that this could be a thing, I went full-force, so I’m also like, “yeah, I’m here!” So it’s a strange thing of like how, and then like “oh yeah, you worked hard!”
And so, what’s the next big thing you’re working on?
I have a few things, I probably can’t say yet, but it’s really nice to be working on my next record, and I know that I’ll be putting out some really cool music before the end of the year. And I’ve just got some really cool projects lined up, like I’m going to start producing for some rappers that I really love, that’s something I really love to do. I think I’m going to just keep working, and be ready and exciting to start recording again.