Tamaryn: Shadowy San Francisco duo finds clarity in their shoegaze squall

"We're rooted in mood, but good songs are what make emotional connections."

Tamaryn / Amanda Charchian
Tamaryn / Amanda Charchian
David Marchese WRITTEN BY
David Marchese

Who: "It's kind of misty," says Tamaryn, one-named singer for the project with which she shares a name. And that's a pretty accurate description of the music made by the New Zealand-born, lots-of-places-bred singer who has collaborated with guitarist Rex John Shelverton since they met in 2001. The singer left home at 13, and spent time wandering between the East and West coasts of the U.S., looking for someone to realize the dark, hazy sonics whooshing through her head. She encountered Shelverton while kicking around New York as a singer in go-nowhere bands, and it was a match made in goth-psych heaven. "He was like finding someone to date," says the Cure disciple and daughter of Jungian psychologists. "Right away he was able to create the atmosphere I was dreaming of."

To Synth or Not to Synth: On the band's hypnotic 2010 debut, The Waves, Shelverton set Tamaryn's impressionistic lyrics and breathy vocals amid blooming guitars and keyboards. On October's seductive follow-up, Tender New Signs (Mexican Summer), the duo pared back their instrumental palette. "The last record was really dense," says Tamaryn. "By eliminating possibilities, we were forced to focus on the songwriting." Sign's swooning "The Garden" and "While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming" feature sharp-edged melodies carved into walls of guitar distortion. "We're rooted in mood," she adds. "But good songs are what make emotional connections."

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Diggin' for Magic: Tamaryn credits her time working at Manhattan's famed Mondo Kim's record store for shaping her vision. "I'd go through racks of albums," she says, "and see names in the credits of David Bowie albums, or see an awesome Cure cover. I found things by synchronicity, which made discovering them more magical than finding them on a blog. I love the romance of mystery."

Keep it Hid: The band will tour the U.S. later this fall, a prospect that used to cause some angst for its spectral frontwoman. "I used to really care about how people saw us, live or in photos," says Tamaryn. "But I let go of that. I realized that the songs are the only thing that matter. Those," she says, "are the only things I can control."

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