Published May 01, 2014"I've been trying to say to people that I really didn't want to make this the 'tUnE-yArDs Haitian album,'" frontwoman Merrill Garbus tells Exclaim! She preemptively illustrates this point when the topic of her trip to Haiti last year comes up, and it's an assumption that some will surely jump to upon hearing tUnE-yArDs' latest effort, Nikki Nack, coming out on May 6 through 4AD.
Last year, Garbus wrote an article about her brief time in Haiti and the drumming lessons she took up, as she explains, "so that I could have rhythm in my hands and in my feet a little bit more, because rhythm is the backbone of tUnE-yArDs."
Indeed, Haitian drum elements have seeped their way into the more complex structures of Nikki Nack, but that's just one of many influences on this new, kaleidoscopic collection of songs. She admits: "Of course, I really just scratched the surface with Haitian music."
With Nikki Nack, Garbus and bandmate Nate Brenner started from scratch after hitting a creative wall. Taking up singing and drumming lessons was Garbus's way of refreshing her skills.
"I needed to get better, and what happens on the road is that you start losing your chops," she says, regarding the mental and psychical strain the touring behind her last album, 2011's w h o k i l l took on her. "All you're doing is playing one show a day instead of practising seven hours."
She adds, "I just got back into bad habits. I think that we all agree that we all kind of deteriorate as musicians when we're on tour and for that reason — and creative reasons, because I had nothing except for a few snippets on my phone — I just felt like I needed new skills in order to reach further."
Upon returning from Haiti, Garbus wrote the song "Sink-O," a rhythmic playground of bouncing beats and interwoven parts that truly shows off the proficiency of cadence Garbus has honed in on. In fact, she almost named her album after this track, but decided against it because she wanted to continue hurdling forward with her imagination and not get bogged down by the downer connotations she got from the word. "It just sounds like sinking, it's so negative!" she laughs.
As previously mentioned, though, Garbus's music thrives on a foundation of rhythms and even her voice is considered an integral instrument in her new work. "In the past, I might've said my voice is the backbone of the music, but I think now that I have more skill in drumming, I realize how much I always did want to treat my voice as a rhythmic instrument.
"I think that every element of the song intersecting with the other makes up this puzzle of rhythms."
Read the full story on tUnE-yArDs' new album here.
Below, you'll find the new video for "Water Fountain," which centres around drum line-style percussion and chanted group vocals. The simple accompanying visuals create a warped 3D effect and punctuate some of the yelps of "woo-ha."
Also below, see tUnE-yArDs' expanded tour schedule, which includes lots of European and U.S. dates, plus Canadian stops in Montreal and Toronto.
05/01 Nashville, TN - Bridgestone Arena *
05/02 Atlanta, GA - Aarons Amphitheatre at Lakewood *
05/05 Los Angeles, CA - Masonic Lodge @ Hollywood Forever
05/07 Brooklyn, NY - Rough Trade
05/12 London, UK - Village Underground
05/14 Berlin, Germany - Berghain
05/15 Hamburg, Germany - Nochtspeicher
05/16 Brussels, Belgium - Les Nuits-Cirque Royal
05/18 Amsterdam, Holland - Bitterzoet
05/19 Paris, France - Café de La Danse
05/23 Bend, OR - Les Schwab Amphitheater ^
05/25 George, WA - Sasquatch Festival
05/26 Boise, ID - Knitting Factory Concert House
05/27 Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge
05/30 Dallas, TX - Granada Theater
06/01 Houston, TX - Free Press Summer Fest
06/03 Phoenix, AZ - The Crescent Ballroom
06/05 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theatre
06/06 San Francisco, CA - The Fillmore
06/13 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
06/15 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
06/16 Boston, MA - Royale Boston
06/18 Montreal, QC - La Tulipe
06/19 Toronto, ON - Massey Hall (NXNE)
06/21 Dover, Ireland - Firefly Music Festival
06/22 New York, NY - Webster Hall
06/23 New York, NY - Webster Hall
07/17 Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
07/19 Chicago, IL - Pitchfork Music Festival
07/20 Louisville, KY - Forecastle Festival
* with Arcade Fire
^ with the National