tUnE-yArDs (a.k.a Merrill Garbus) is set to release her third record, Nikki Nack, in early May. Renowned for her strong voice, complex rhythmic composition, and diverse production Merrill Garbus admits that her upcoming offering may sound a little different from 2011’s universally acclaimed Whokill (or as she she spells it) w h o k i l l.
Nikki Nack was produced in conjunction with John Hill (Santigold, MIA) and Malay (Frank Ocean) which initially made Garbus feel a little uneasy. Both w h o k i l l and BiRd-BrAiNs (2008) were self produced, Garbus says she was concerned that some may attribute any success of the new record to the hired help.
Proud of her hard work, Garbus feels that her goal to, “make arses shake a little harder,” and, “broaden the sonic spectrum of the songs,” has been achieved. She overcame her, “worst fears and misconceptions about big-time producers,” and was able to add to the, “vision of the music,” with them. With her sound nurtured and flourishing she looks forward to releasing the record and touring it over the world.
Placing such great emphasis on the individual flavour of her records, we asked tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus what six albums have helped to shape her unique sound.
Marlo Thomas And Friends – Free To Be… You And Me
1972, Bell Records
Garbus’ chronological list begins with Free to Be…You and Me – a children’s album that she describes as, “really badass music…super 70s funk.” It was more than the musically sophisticated arrangements that resonated with Garbus. The record educated a young tUnE-yArDs that there are, “many kinds of people and we’re all equal as human beings.” Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack, and Alan Alda were just some of Marlo Thomas’ ‘friends’ that helped deliver this lasting message.
The interludes between the songs were also what drew Garbus to Free to Be…You and Me. This is an offbeat feature of w h o k i l l and BiRd-BrAiNs.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
“I won’t expand on that….you’ve heard enough about Thriller,” says Garbus after generously revealing that she was such a fan that she used to bandage her fingers like Michael Jackson. Even though the song ‘Thriller’, “truly frightened,” her this was the first cassette tape that Garbus owned. She listened to it as a five-year old and the impression was lasting.
Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual
tUnE-yArDs is known for her distinctive vocals and Garbus cites her adoration for Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual as she is, “in awe of (Lauper’s) her incredible individuality of the sound of her voice.” It is an album that Garbus often listens to and is especially impressed with the reworking of Prince song, When You Were Mine.
Johnny Clegg – Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World
Garbus’ aunt and uncle returned after traveling to Kenya with a gift that had a, “deep effect,” on her musical understanding. It was the first time she heard traditional Xhosa styles and rhythms incorporated amongst palatable western pop music. There are sounds tUnE-yArDs has emulated and expanded on in past releases.
The Roots – Things Fall Apart
It is no surprise to hear a hip-hop record make its way into Garbus six influential albums. Her unique rhythms that cleverly use loops are not unlike techniques used in hip-hop. She gushingly describes Things Fall Apart as, “a big freakin sonic collage,” before going a little deeper. Proving to be a musical philosopher, Garbus accounts for her appreciation of hip-hop when discussing how broad and exotic sampling can be: “Every sound in the universe is ours to make a rhythm with… every word every recorded, every sound ever recorded, it’s all up for grabs.”
She is also aware of the social message that The Roots employ throughout the record. From the cover art to the lyrics, this album, “blew (her) mind and opened a world of possibilities…music could be more than just rapid pop songs.”
Like Free to Be…You and Me Garbus is fond of the musical interludes during Things Fall Apart. The album is not just, “track track track track,” and, “brings a whole world into the album. Not just singles.”
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) / New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)
2008 & 2010, Universal Motown
Recorded in the same studio as Things Fall Apart, Garbus considers the New Amerykah volumes to be a pair of underrated albums. She believes Badu to be, “on another level with her production.” The respect for Badu is rife as Garbus reflects on Badu’s powerful sense of identity and mentions how impressed she is with Badu’s confidence in, “who she is and what that means to the world.” She is also a brilliant musician, “creating new sounds that (Garbus is) not hearing anywhere else.”
Nikki Nack Release Details
Friday May 2nd via Remote Control Records