Seeing tUnE-yArDs in concert is a chance to witness live song-making .
It starts with a ukulele riff or minimal percussion, which is recorded then looped. Backup vocals enter next with similar treatment. Lead singer, songwriter and ukulele player Merrill Garbus then kicks in with the vocals — harmonizing with herself as she leads a small ensemble (bass, saxophones, no drum kit) through tracks that demand dancing.
Garbus istUnE-yArDs . The DIY aesthetic and lo-fi sound of her 2009 self-produced, solo-recorded debut BiRd-BrAiNs garnered immediate attention.
She recorded her second album w h o k i l l, and released it this year in a proper studio with bassist Nate Brenner. It has a very different feel than what she produced during her days capturing sounds at home with a digital recorder. With that album, tUnE-yArDs went from niche appreciation to being a featured act on the summer-festival circuit. (The band appeared in the November issue of Wired).
On a rare touring break, Garbus took BART from Oakland to join senior editor John Bradley on the Storyboard podcast. The two discussed the surprise elements of live looping, changes in Garbus’ songwriting for the second album and the projects she’s pursuing next.
Garbus didn’t bring her ukulele, but she did talk through a few of her recent tracks (complete with sound bites) and demonstrated one of the newest vocal techniques she’s practicing.
Thanks to 4ad Records for use of the tracks “Bizness,” “Gangsta” and “Powa” in this week’s episode.