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10 August 2016

Music Like a Tractor Beam: Tender Age Interview Part 2.

"We wanted whoever was listening to just submit, like to a tractor beam, and melt down into a pool of nothing." 

Our interview with Portland, Oregon’s colossally talented Tender Age is taken from a lengthy (and delightful) phone conversation with three of the band’s five members. Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Tauna Leonardo, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Elaina Tardif, and bassist Bryan Robertson participated. The band also includes guitarist Christopher Klarer and drummer Nick Ferrucci.

We posted Part 1 of the interview just as the project’s debut EP Disappear Here hit the streets. We became acquainted—and enamored—with this outstanding release, which we decided to review in depth separately, while we were editing Part 2 of the interview. Naturally, we started to think of questions about Disappear Here that we hadn’t originally included. So, the next part of this post consists of an additional email discussion about the backstory to the EP in which Tauna answered our questions with Elaina contributing as well. Part 2 of the original interview follows that, picking up where Part 1 left off.

Tender Age is presently on a tour including Midwest and East Coast locations. We posted the dates here.

ABOUT THE EP                            The cassette and vinyl editions of Disappear Here have different cover photos, both very striking. Where do those images come from?
Both the cassette tape and vinyl images are by a Czech artist based out of London by the name of Teri Varhol. She was kind enough to let us use her photographs for this release. We came across her work and somehow got the courage to ask if she might be interested in collaborating with us and to our surprise she was totally down. We feel really lucky. Her photographs are so beautiful. The cassette image is entitled "In Another World" [above left]. The vinyl image is entitled "Future Legends", a personal favorite of hers [below right].

The digital version has just five tracks. Can you comment on the cassette edition’s unlisted, unidentified sixth track?
It is a hidden track by design. It's also a cover of a song by one of our favorite bands and we are super bashful about it too. We wanted to make the tape like its own kind of listening experience. We for sure romanticize a time where you could discover a secret track and not be able to skip through so easily. You'd feel like you were the only one in the world who knew about that secret track cause it's usually after several minutes of silence or elevator music or something. Most people don't have the patience to get there. It's for everyone who is down for the entire listening experience of the tape that we created.

Can you comment on the decision to include a lot of bits of spoken word and
samples of speech from various media? Can you identify some of those for us?
All those samples are just random things that have been stuck in Tauna's head over years of late night Youtube wormholes. We got an interview of early pre-Live Through This Hole talking about how they might be signing to Madonna's label in there, some clips from a Rocky Erickson documentary that've always stayed with Tauna. We Klonopin'd Morrissey and Bowie. Ya know. The usual.

We’re fans of Eric Dante Sabatino from his roles in Appendixes and Cat Hoch’s band. We noticed that he's thanked on the Bandcamp page for Disappear Here. What was his role in the EP?
Eric is a Portland guy about town and also Elaina's boyfriend. On the way home from our last summer tour we had the fever and wanted to keep the momentum going and do something, maybe make a tape. Tauna had a lot of samples she wanted to use for something. The idea was super loose, we weren't sure where we'd end up, just wanted to start on something and do it real quick for fun. Eric offered to track and mix whatever crazy ideas we had in mind. While working on it we found ourselves collaborating with him musically here and there. He filled in a lot on drums, synths, bass and stuff. That was also the first time we were able to have total control with mixing and fully just experiment while tracking. He gave us space to just try all our ideas. He just let us do whatever crazy freak out noisy thing we wanted and just tracked it, so we didn’t have to worry about that or divert our attention. He was a good sport. Let us be bossy: "louder!"—"no! that's not enough!”—"take this abstract idea I can't articulate and figure it out." We wanted so much noise and treble it made him sick. We wanted whoever was listening to just submit, like to a tractor beam, and melt down into a pool of nothing, head next to a speaker. Total defeat. We pushed Eric outside of his comfort zone, he likes to say and is thankful for that. It was exciting and gratifying for us all. "Helping us" turned into a true collaboration and that's always the hope with any creative endeavor for us.


WTSH: Do you want to talk about direction? What do you see happening by way of change and progression in the band’s music?

Tauna: I was thinking about that when we recently went in to guest DJ on Mehran's XRAYFM radio show “Past Haunts”. [Mehran Azma is owner of Tender Age’s label, SINIS Recordings.] We put together a playlist where we all equally contributed to it and that looked to me like a perfect map and illustration of everything we’re influenced by right now and where we’re going. Especially rhythmically, especially Bryan’s picks.

Bryan: I'm trying to think what I picked. Early Nineties hip hop and probably like Happy Mondays, Primal Scream were the biggest. I picked Bowery Electric. They use those kinds of beats but it’s also kinda like looping. I like looping repetitive beats and we've introduced that into our new songs. 

Tauna: Nick joined about a year ago as our drummer. He’s super dynamic and like our band metronome. When he came on board we were more able to achieve so crazier sounds rhythmically. So we have a lot of stuff like that these days. Everybody was down to embrace that and excited by it so we’ve really been exploring that territory and not doing the more simplified straightforward rock beats as much. But now we’re kinda coming into a balance of both.

Sound wise, really diving into Sonic Youth land. The previous members were not into that so I always had to remain tame or something. Abrasive sounding noisey stuff did not fly as much. So when Elaina joined we just really went for it, which I feel like created a more diverse sound for us.

We incorporate both those elements, sometimes within the same song too. One of the songs we play live that isn’t recorded yet, "Aloe Vera", is an example of that. We did a KEXP session and played that there. 

WTSH: How many songs do you play when you play a set?

Tauna: We used to keep it to a strict five-song thing because we didn't want to exhaust people, and thought that was the perfect amount. 

Bryan: Yeah, we try to keep it to around twenty-five to thirty-five minutes. I feel like that is a good amount of time if people aren't generally familiar with your catalogue of music. But also it’s kinda fun now that we have a library to dig from and if we get tired of a song we can shelve it for a little bit. 

Photo by Mehran Azma
WTSH: How many Tender Age songs are there total?

Elaina: I would guess twenty...maybe more. 

Tauna: Probably more, probably like fifty.

WTSH: Do you have demos of some of them?

Bryan: Tauna has some hidden away that she won’t show anybody, haha. 

Tauna: Well, this was my first band so I wasn't ready for all that. I couldn’t stand to hear the recordings. I didn’t feel like I was achieving what I set out to do. I was so new to it all and nervous and self-conscious. I wasn't ready yet. At the time I was like, what am I doing, this is embarrassing. I listen to it now and I’m like, what, this is like so twee like Marine Girls or Talulah Gosh or something, this is great. I wanna release them sometime soon.

Bryan: I don't know if we'll do anything with the hidden demos but last year we went and recorded with Part Time Punks [radio sessions on Los Angeles’ KXLU connected with a local concert series of the same name]. We did a live session with them.

Tauna: We were gonna put the Part Time Punks session of “Always” on the Disappear Here tape, but the tape went from being a covers, rarities and demos thing to an EP. It was going so well we decided to just do some of our new songs and some cover songs we’ve been playing live over the last year or so. The Part Time Punx tracks are still sitting around in the Tender Age vault. We'll let em out someday.

WTSH: Who's doing your music videos?

Elaina: We generally shoot our own footage as best we can. We had so much footage and felt overwhelmed by it and didn't know what path to take so we asked our friend William Hart to edit our video and handed it all to him.

Mehran helped us with our photos from this year. His day job is as a graphic designer at FINE Design Group. I went to art school and Mehran went to art school. Bryan built the website.

WTSH: What's next for the project? Are you working towards a full-length?

Tauna: We have started a full length. The same label that did the 7-inch [“Get High” b/w “Always”] and EP is doing the album. Same studio as the 7-inch, with Nalin Silva at Revolver Studios, and the same guy who mixed our recent 7-inch will be mixing the album, Josiah Mazzaschi. He's based out of LA, The Cave Studio.

Bryan: He does a lot of the Part Time Punks sessions. 

Tauna: He created all the drum beats for the Psychocandy tour for The Jesus and Mary Chain. He's a really sweet guy. So easy to work with. He got our sound automatically so we're really happy to keep working with him. 

WTSH: How about any non-musical influences—books, writers, films—that have been formative in the past, or anything going on in books or film right now that is exciting you?

Elaina: Philosophy-wise I side with the existentialists but I don't want to call myself one
cause it sounds too angsty. But I do like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Tauna: How about the books we were reading on tour?

Elaina: I read Margret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale. Right before we left for tour I watched Paris, Texas. Wim Wenders is the director. We drove through Texas and it was just really like a bizarre experience after watching that film. Texas kinda looks the same as it does in that film. 

Tauna: What's that Jim Jarmusch film that takes place in Memphis with the Japanese couple? With the convicts running through the forest? Oh, it’s Mystery Train. I was thinking about that movie constantly as we were driving around Memphis. Also the Richard Linklater film, Slacker, when we were in Texas, mainly San Antonio. I'd never been to Texas so all my Texas reference points were from movies I'd seen and they kept popping in my head. There was a huge blood orange sunset, the biggest I'd ever seen before, as we were driving to our Ft. Worth show. It kept making me wanna listen to "Dizzy" by Throwing Muses 'cause she says, "It’s just that big old Texas sun, it makes me dizzy dizzy in my head" and then there’s this big sunset happening like in the song. I think I got what that line meant in that moment…or I'm projecting my own interpretation. This big overpowering sunset on such a flat landscape that could only exist in Texas. We tried to find it on our phone at the time, but Spotify would only let us listen to "Honeychain" instead, which was a happy accident and that's a big memory from tour I'll never forget and will attach to that song when I hear it.

WTSH: Who did you guys play with on tour? Are there any artists you shared bills with that you especially liked?

Tauna: We played with, surprisingly—I don't know why I'm surprised, but—we played with awesome bands every show, every city we played. Sacramento has this hidden scene I didn't know existed. I don't know why nobody knows about it, ‘cause it’s amazing. Carbondale, Illinois was the best house show ever. Seattle was like a house show right out of that party in Can't Hardly Wait or 10 Things I Hate About You. It was really surreal and uplifting for our waning tour spirit at that point. People screamed and cheered during this part of a song where Bryan has this groovy bass solo. It was cool. We also talk about that.

WTSH: Yeah, I heard there's cool stuff happening in Sacramento right now. 

Tauna: Yeah, this band All About Rockets...they are so good. 

Elaina: Soft Science!

Tauna: Soft Science are like Black Tambourine reincarnated almost. They are great. All our Texas shows we played with Pale Dīan. [WTSH interviewed Ruth Ellen Smith of Pale Dian here.] If you ever get the chance to see them live you should. We played with them like a year ago in Portland and I hadn't heard their music online and since then I listened to it and thought, well they must have a new album because this isn’t sounding like what I heard live. But when we were on tour I realized, oh, these are all the same songs as their album, they are just like really fucking good in person. A totally different experience. Amazing, really cool performers. Even when I listen to their stuff in my car it’s like, I have a speaker that’s blown out and the bass is so low in their songs that it makes it rattle, but then so live what’s happening to that speaker is happening to your body.

Elaina: Who else did we play with? We played with Stratford 4 in L.A. They are really cool and really nice and we like them. Who else? We played with this crazy droney desert psych rock band Cobra Family Picnic in Tucson. One of the best psych rock bands I've ever seen. Just instrumental. 

Tauna: They definitely own that genre. This Tucson band called Wight Lhite were awesome. I guess I didn't realize, a lot of bands just don't ever tour so you never really know about them till you investigate that town when you're trying to book a tour. Everything came together really well. 

WTSH: Anything else anyone wants to mention?

Elaina: Anyone got any good jokes?

WTSH: Let’s hear it.

Elaina: Q: What’s the difference between a dirty Greyhound station and a lobster with breasts? A: One is a crusty bus station and the other is a busty crustacean. Hahaha…

WTSH: Did you hear about the obsessive-compulsive hard rock band? They are called OC/DC.

All: Hahaha…

WTSH: And my greatest moment in joke telling. Q: What does a duck smoke? A: Quack.

Elaina: Hahaha oh god…oh my god…I'm like slapping my forehead right now, that’s ridiculous. 

WTSH: Sorry. You started it!

Elaina: I did, hahaha…I'll remember that.