April 6, 2011
Tearist are the racket-making duo of Yasmine Kittles and William Strangeland from LA. He, hips gyrating and head gently bobbing, on synths. She, jerking tangle of microphone wire and hair, on dramatic vocals and scrap metal scraping.
The live experience is something pretty original, with both seeming lost in their component parts yet together creating an energy so intense its at times sinister. We met Yasmine at the close of their recent European tour, to discover what Tearist are all about…
There’s a real emphasis on physicality in your live sets, what background do you approach performance from?
I’ve been acting my whole life, and studied art history. Reading Antonin Artaud I was inspired by the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’; it draws on getting into everything that’s animalistic to the point that there are no words, everything comes out naturally, you don’t censor anything. It questions why the should audience feel safe, not in like ‘I’m going to hit you,’ but for them to feel more than just as if they’re watching an art piece, scratching their chin.
What’s your desired effect on an audience?
To leave feeling something. Hate it, use it, but don’t leave without emotion. If people feel uncomfortable, for them to wonder why they’re uncomfortable. That’s what drives me, and whatever happens in the audience I immediately respond to it.
So does that mean your performance can be full of diversions, or are your tracks pretty set?
At the beginning it was very freeform, and that’s how the songs eventually ended up developing. No one knew what to expect, we had no songs, we just booked our first show. It was in a place where we wanted to make ourselves uncomfortable, a mostly Hispanic bar with locals trying to watch this basketball game, and I started singing ‘is this what you had in mind?’ At first it was to allow our songs to evolve, now they’re very set. What happens within the performance changes, but the lyrics are the same unless something strikes me in the moment.
How does the relationship between the two of you work on stage?
It’s all about response. Will always throws in new sounds, I’ll get really excited, then maybe I’ll throw in something. There’s nothing I’m doing that comes without him, that’s preconceived or not involving him. We don’t ever stop if someone messes up. It’s not the audience’s business to deal with that. Once I forgot most of a song, but afterwards people said they liked ‘the one with all the space.’ I’ve been known to kick over Will’s power strip too, so his music will go out and for a bit there’s just singing with no music.
Your vocals aren’t always possible to decipher – what narratives or emotions do they draw on?
Sometimes that’s on purpose, to hide my true feelings, since on stage I’m fully vulnerable. Some of the lyrics to the original songs (I only recently told him this) are about how much I hated Will, as we had this passive-aggressive tension between us. Others were about my inability to get close to someone, and how he was too close to me. Since I was able to get it out like that, now the songs are fun and they’ve changed so much. I’m half Persian so sometimes I sing in Fārsi if a word sounds or fits better, or I’m trying to hide what i’m saying. And one of the first songs we wrote was just being so excited about this Futurist manifesto, ‘The Art of Noise’, and reading off these freaky sounds.
Since it has such immediacy on stage, how does Tearist transfer to the studio?
With the EP we didn’t have anything solidified. We had a limited time to nail it, but didn’t know what we were nailing. Will was playing with one song that sounded so strong I didn’t want to mess it up. Live, I could make something happen, but I didn’t know how to do it in the studio. So Will stood behind me and now and then he’d shake me so I’d go ‘urrrgh’. It’s particularly different with the metal since on stage there’s so much going on, the metal’s laying about chaotically, my hair’s in my face, that I may not play certain parts. So I really enjoy the sound of it when we put it down because its something totally different. I’m just such a perfectionist I’d do take over take of sounds; I need someone in the studio to tell me to stop and take it out of my hands.
What musical discoveries left a lasting impression on how you form your sound?
I always fought musical training. In choir as a kid I decided I couldn’t sightread, I’d just try to hear and replicate, and that made me focus so much on pitch. I never reference Kate Bush, but I remember when I was 12 thinking she was the Devil, since everything out of the ordinary in America was the Devil. I was afraid of this music. Later, I listened to The Dreaming in a store and thought, ‘it can be like this? You can sing not pretty and do whatever you want?’ It’s about not comparing yourself to other people, embracing all these sounds you can make, even though they might sound ugly. Like Sue Tissue [from Suburban Lawns] singing nasally – is a music teacher gonna say she can sing? She was all wrong! But where would they be if they were following any rules?
Listen: Tearist – Closest
Tearist’s first LP, 2009-Present, a collage of rough recordings from their formative live performances, is out on vinyl and digitally on 26th April on Thin Wrist Recordings. Their friend Eric, of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, is meanwhile ‘brainstorming’ for their next music video.