Tangerine at SXSW on Non-Musical & Non-Western Influences

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Tangerine was born from shared tastes in music and movies between sisters Marika and Miro Justad and Toby Kuhn, which they list on their Facebook page as including everything from Mazzy Star and The Velvet Underground to Sofia Coppola and Charli XCX. The band hails from the rainy city of Seattle, but their self-described “dreamy, raucous, guitar-driven pop” sound feels like driving to California for the first time, complete with idyllic daydreams of laying by the beach, in the warmth and under the sun. Their sound feels like a light, sugary, and eager kind of bliss, akin to the bright 60s surf rock and Françoise Hardy French pop sound. Much like their favorite Sofia Coppola films, however, Tangerine grounds their picture-perfect feel in a gamut of emotion.

Think of Coppola’s Marie Antoinette: euphoric but forlorn, and never stagnant. With its memorable “I Want Candy” scene to its take on Marie Antoinette’s “Last Night in Versailles”, the movie finds both the lavish and the despairing parts of the young archduchess’s life in France. Much like the bulk of Sofia Coppola films—Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides—, Marie Antoinette’s extravagant sets, pastel-colored visuals, and memorable post-punk/new wave songs are grounded in the story of a young girl, full of desperation in a world she feels lost and disconnected in. A world that knows only how to use, to take from, and to ask of her, all the while never seeking to understand her.

Coppola has a distinctive talent for capturing both the daintiest and the heaviest of emotions, which she forges under layers of picturesque cinematography and affecting music; this is something that doesn’t escape any part of Tangerine’s sound. The band distinguishes creating heart music over head music, and they strive to put their listeners into well-crafted atmospheres of feeling. When writing music, Marika finds herself picturing where a song would place in a movie or TV show. “I feel like we all think that, so we all approach music that way,” she tells me. The band goes on to say how much they would love to curate the soundtrack for a film or TV show, and it’s clear why the band would thrive unboundedly doing this. Marika uses the term “tone poem” for describing Coppola’s films, telling me “I feel like she plans her movies out with the music, outfits, and color tones in advance… it just feels like everything she does is so connected.” The term, defined as “a piece of music that evokes the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other (non-musical) source” is apt for describing Tangerine’s discography—each song a vivid and rich microcosm of emotion and sensation. Sensation becomes particularly central to the band’s sound. Their music comes with a visceral physicality to it that comes through in their sensory lyrics and sound. So, when Marika describes the act of creating music as a “cinematic experience,” the connection is very clear.

Marika, Miro, and Toby first started playing music together in a pre-Tangerine band in high school, which was born in the early 2000s guitar-heavy and Yeah Yeah Yeahs-influenced garage rock sound. The three went on a hiatus until rejoining to form Tangerine in 2013. With the return of the three members collaborating in Tangerine, their sound is notably different from before, which Miro describes comes from the music scene spreading out. Along with, from what I understand, a new wave of validation for authenticity in the pop genre (read here for more on poptimism and rockism).

Marika: It’s diversified so much. Nothing feels off limits? When we were younger, I felt like it had to be rock that sounded like The Strokes or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Plague, nothing else was acceptable! And now some of my favorite influences are pop artists. I feel we can draw from whatever we feel like… Now we’re poppier.

Toby: Also I just have a special soft spot for any band that makes poppy music that you wouldn’t necessarily think about like that until someone told you “This is poppy music.” And you’re like “Oh shit. The Pixies are poppy, aren’t they?” And it’s like oh, I didn’t realize that… But I’ve loved them the whole time. It’s a really great balance to be had between writing a great pop song and not hitting someone over the head with it.

Marika: We try to walk that line.

Along with the mixing and spreading of genres in music over the past couple years, there has been a growth in the diversity of artists and their backgrounds. I mention this to them in the context of South By, where I saw performances by artists like Mitski, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, and Aristophanes who are all popular Asian female-fronting artists. Growing up in early 2000s America, Asian female-fronting artists were nonexistent (outside Karen O maybe, the band and I conclude). “Last time we were a band, it felt like a different, slightly less inviting environment,” Marika tells me.

Marika: I feel like in high school, I wasn’t always that proud to be Asian. I felt like… I don’t know how it felt, but it felt—

Miro: Different.

Marika: Yeah, it felt different. Now, again, it feels cool. It feels great. It feels like we have access to a whole other world to draw influence from.

In saying this, Tangerine has recently been incorporating stylistic aspects of Korean pop culture as a means of both guiding their artistic direction and reclaiming their Asian heritage. In my conversation with the band, they mention being influenced recently by everything from K-Pop to G-Dragon to Anime (Naruto, Akira). Marika goes on to say “It feels like a really good time culturally for music. For women and minorities. It just feels like everything’s changing. When we were in high school, I used to feel like being a girl front person was kind of a handicap almost? I just felt awkward sometimes. I wasn’t sure how to behave. Being too girly always felt like I was being too sexy. And then there’s too masculine. Now I don’t worry about that at all. Now there are so many cool girl bands to vibe with. It doesn’t really matter anymore to me.” Miro says in response, “Now it feels empowering.” She uses HINDS, “who are unapologetic about being drunk and not wearing tiny dresses,” as an example for the changing perception of female artists. “They do what they want,” she says. Marika adds, “And if they do wear a tiny dress, people aren’t gonna be like slut. I feel like women are creating a more friendly environment. And I feel like men are responding to that, and participating in it too.”

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I got the chance to sit down with Tangerine on one of their free days at South By. I met up with them as they were finishing their tacos and margaritas at Takoba, an Austin favorite for the band and a calm oasis of a restaurant in the congested streets of South By. We talked about everything from their shared love for Sci-Fi movies to growing up with a very whitewashed Indie music industry to what the differences are between Austin, Portland, and Seattle. Read the full transcript of our talk with Tangerine below:

Who are you guys looking to see at South By?

Toby: We’re trying to see George Clinton and Parliament, that’s my biggest one I think.

Miro: I think we’re trying to go to the Korean showcase, it’s called SeoulSonic. We heard about it through a friend from San Francisco, and he said this was the place to see the Korean bands.

Marika: The K-Pop showcase.

Mi: But it’s also general, it’s not just pop according to the dude? What about you?

That’s a good question wow, there are so many. Hmm… HINDS?

Mi: They’re playing the Mom + Pop showcase!

T: We’re playing with them later. We played with them last year at South By too!

Ma: Yeah, they’re good.

You’ve said that your creative process can be a “cinematic experience”, could you elaborate on that?

Ma: A lot of movies and television shows are major influences. Lyrically—and musically. I feel like a lot of times when writing a song, I like to know that I’m picturing where it would place in a movie or in a TV show.

T: One of the dream jobs would be to curate music like that.

Ma: Yeah, for like a TV show! That would be so satisfying. I feel like we all think that, so we all approach music that way.

So you guys would definitely be interested in scoring a soundtrack, something like that?

Ma: That would be so fun, yeah.

T: Yeah! Cause that kind of thing makes such a huge difference even from a big spectrum, from The Big Lebowski soundtrack to the cinematic Star Wars soundtrack. It makes the movie so much better.

Ma: It really defines the movie.

That’s really true. And I heard you guys are fans of Sofia Coppola? Her soundtracks play a really big role in her movies. I can see why you guys like her.

Ma: Totally! She almost—well I don’t know—, but I feel like she plans her movies out with the music and the outfits and the color tones in advance?

Mi: It’s almost like a music video? Like The Bling Ring and stuff.

Ma: I don’t know if people use this term anymore, but like a tone poem? It just feels like everything she does is so connected. She wouldn’t let anyone choose the music for her.

Yes! I totally agree. Is there one Coppola movie that really resonates with you guys?

Ma: Somewhere and Marie Antoinette. I like those two the most.

Mi: The soundtrack to Marie Antoinette is really good.

Ma: And she did a great perfume ad. For Miss Dior? And it had a Brigitte Bardot song in the background, like a super ‘60s pop song. And it was just like the best perfume ad possible because she combines music and visuals so well… I ended up getting that perfume I feel like.

(Laughter)

What would you guys say your favorite movies are?

T: The Big Lebowski. Unfortunately, Liar Liar is probably also one of my favorite movies. It’s a dated movie, but it’s fucking hilarious, yeah.

Mi: We like sci-fi movies a lot. I respect movies like Interstellar and 2001, a lot. But I wouldn’t put that on at home on Netflix when I’m drunk or something. Probably something shittier than that.

(Laughter)

Ma: I dunno, Interstellar might be one of my favorite movies?

T: Yeah that was really good. We’re really into the set of Sci-Fi shit, y’know? Like life is not confined to this world, man! So much shit out there!

Ma: It’s one of those things where you always have your favorite movies ready and then as soon as someone asks you, you’re like “uhhh…” I really like Romeo and Juliet, the Baz Luhrmann version? [Miro] and I both really like that. The soundtrack is amazing!

Mi: Yeah, [the soundtrack] makes the movie for me.

Ma: Visually, the outfits! We’ve drawn visual inspiration from that movie before.

Mi: Continuously.

Ma: Yeah, continuously. And then, obviously Clueless! I don’t even have to say that.

T: Mean Girls!

(Laughter)

Ma: Yeah, we can be inspired by anything from a shitty romantic comedy to an art film. We don’t discriminate!

That’s really cool though! Not knowing you guys and just listening to your music, all of those I didn’t really expect. Especially the Sci-Fi.

T: (Laughing) Yeah, we don’t make Sci-Fi based music. I guess we could make romantic comedy based music?

Ma: Maybe Clueless people would think that our music would fit in Clueless? …Buffy the Vampire Slayer is another huge influence. We love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In a different vein, you guys grew up playing music together. What has it been like developing a sound over the years? Things have changed I’m guessing since when you guys first started?

T: A lot. It’s almost like everything we did together [back then] was really good for us being comfortable making music together. But [it] wasn’t really a basis for anything we’re doing now. In developing a sound together, we kind of threw out every sound we developed before we took a hiatus. We basically created a different band… I don’t think we take any aspects of [our old band] to our current music level.

Ma: I personally see it as kind of a continuation? We were in a band in high school, and we took a break because of college and stuff. This is our second band together. It is different… When we were in high school together we had kind of a…

Mi: Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Ma: Yeah. Yeah Yeah Yeahs-inspired, hardcore, garage, and rock-inspired band.

T: Very 2000s sounding.

Ma: Now we’re poppier.

What drew you guys to that when you came back together? To the poppier?

Mi: Maybe just what we were listening to? Like bands we idolized back [in high school], there was a very specific scene we were listening to: YYYs, the Hives, with intense guitar and stuff. Then over time, I feel like the music scene has since spread out so much.

Ma: It’s diversified so much. Nothing feels off limits? When we were younger, I felt like it had to be rock that sounded like The Strokes or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Plague… nothing else is acceptable! And now some of my favorite influences are totally pop artists and stuff. I feel we can draw from whatever we feel like. A lot more freedom now.

T: And playing together in various capacities over the last 10 years has definitely affected us in a very positive way as a band. We don’t have many filters when speaking to each other about ideas.

Ma: We’re very close.

T: We’ll edit each other’s stuff and won’t feel bad about it. We’re very comfortable with each other.

Interesting—you guys say you’re very detail-oriented about working together and making music? Also something I wasn’t expecting!

Ma: Good!

T: We want it to feel very natural.

Ma: It’s like ballet, you don’t want it to look like you’re working hard. But secretly you are.

That’s true! That’s a really good metaphor.

Ma: [Miro and I] both did ballet for our whole childhood. Maybe that’s why we’re so detail-oriented? 

What was it like playing in Seattle?

T: It’s fun. It’s a great little music scene there. I feel like L.A. gets a bad rep for a pay-to-play situation. A lot of cities do that? I’ve never heard of that in Seattle. It’s very friendly for up-and-coming bands and stuff. A lot of venues.

Ma: And a lot of all-ages support for younger bands, which is great for getting started.

Mi: And having KEXP, the radio station, is definitely a huge part of the music scene that we’re all lucky to be a part of.

I totally forgot they’re from Seattle! I watch their live sessions all the time.

Ma: Super handy for local bands.

How do you guys like Austin so far?

T: I love Austin, every time.

Mi: It’s fun because we drove through West Texas. Every time we’ve driven through the wasteland—

T: We’ve had to do some version of West Texas every time… Like please (laughing) spend a whole week there.

Mi: Pulling up to Austin, it’s like—oh my god, are we still in Texas?

Ma: It’s like a desert oasis.

Mi: It feels like we’re in Portland, which is what a lot of people say. I don’t know if you’ve been to Portland before, but it’s like a lot of bars like this?

Ma: Yeah, Austin’s almost like a warmer Portland. It’s great.

Mi: Not so much like Seattle, but a lot like Portland.

What’s the difference between Portland / Austin and Seattle?

T: Young people. 20-30 year old hipsters. This place is crawling with them. And so is Portland.

Ma: Seattle is a really beautiful city, it just feels more corporate. It’s got like Amazon and Microsoft. It’s got a lot of industry.

Mi: Kind of like San Francisco.

T: It’s like the biggest issue of Seattle right now if you were to talk to anyone.

Ma: Don’t ask any Seattle musician about Amazon. They’ll spend twenty minutes talking to you about that.

Mi: It’s like one corporation has taken over the entire town.

T: It’s insane gentrification. Like the Amazon, Microsoft folk—the artists, the minorities, everyone. No one can afford to live there.

Ma: The interesting twist on that though is that Capital Hill, which is a cool neighborhood in Seattle, is more racially diverse than it used to be. Because a lot of people who work in tech are from India and Asia. But the trade-off is that they’re all in a higher financial bracket than the artists who used to live there. So that’s the conflict. It’s definitely tricky.

Mi: Whereas Portland’s more chill…

T: There’s no tech companies.

Ma: They have Nike and Beaverton?

Mi: Yeah, but they’ve always had those. And for whatever reason, their bars are just really cute. Like Austin. I don’t know why.

T: It’s also just like three dollars cheaper than everything in Seattle.

When you guys make music, you say you go for “emotional immediacy”? How do you feel creating music like that—heart music—is different from head music?

T: I feel very strongly that I like heart music a lot more. Generally, for myself.

Ma: Yeah, it’s hard to define. Because we are, like you said, very detail-oriented. I feel like when we say heart music, we’re not trying to overthink what genre it is exactly. Or how cool it is? It’s totally about what feeling do we have when we’re writing it, what feeling do we want to have come directly from us to the listener?

T: It’s kind of related to the campfire test as well: if you can play it acoustically and it’s not dependent on everything else around it in your thing, then…

Ma: So it’s not just relying on production tricks to sound like a good song. The melody’s there, the structure’s there. The chords…

T: I like that differentiation. I think a lot of music falls into both categories. It’s more just prioritizing.

You guys talk about musical influences a lot, like The Strokes. I love The Strokes. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Velvet Underground, and all that. In high school, it was a lot of me going to my room and listening to those artists. Why do you think those artists resonated with you guys so much?

T: Rough pop!

Ma: They always had great melodies. They never had filler songs.

Mi: The whole album from tip to tail sounds really good. Like each song could potentially be a single in its’ own right. It felt like they spent time on each song and cared about each song, and not just about a single. Or three singles. And then the rest [of the album] is kind of just whatever.

T: Also I just have a special soft spot for any band that makes poppy music that you wouldn’t necessarily think about like that until someone told you “This is poppy music.” And you’re like “Oh shit. The Pixies are poppy, aren’t they?” And it’s like oh, I didn’t realize that… But I’ve loved them the whole time. It’s a really great balance to be had between writing a great pop song and not hitting someone over the head with it.

Ma: We try to walk that line.

Can I ask if you guys have a favorite Strokes album?

T: Is This It! Is This It!!

Mi: Room On Fire

T: You like Room On Fire?!

Mi: I feel like [Room On Fire] was like Is This It perfected almost?

T: So you’re not like a real Strokes fan!

(Laughter)

Mi: And I don’t hate everything on First Impressions of Earth.

Ma: No, First Impressions has good songs on it.

Mi: There are a few filler tracks on there for me.

Ma: I feel like some of those songs were too long for me.

T: Fear of Sleep.

Mi: He started singing more bravado-y? I liked his cool as a cucumber vocals on his first two albums. Which he was probably sick of by the end I guess?

Ma: Yeah! His Lou Reed megaphone voice that he had on the first two albums.

T: I remember all the press releases for First Impressions. They were like, “Oh, he’s gotten much more comfortable with his voice…”

Ma: Oh, but we love you guys if you hear this!

(Laughter)

Mi: Yeah we will forever be the biggest fans [of The Strokes].

Ma: Opening for The Strokes would be like… my life would be over. I would be fine if my life was over after that.

(Laughter)

T: Apparently they played here. We missed that!

Mi: Yeah, it was apparently for the Interactive portion for some weird reason?

Ma: They have a new album coming!

Mi: I liked 11th Dimension, his solo album. I like the visuals that went along with it.

T: They have a really cool aesthetic vibe to it, their whole futuristic tron-y situation to it.

Mi: Yeah, like Neo-Tokyo… That’s another movie that we’ve been starting to draw influence from visually—Akira and all the old anime…

T: Blade Runner, and stuff.

Mi: Naruto. Like we’ve been looking to pull from that aesthetically.

Interesting! How does that translate aesthetically for you guys?

Ma: Music videos and stuff.

T: Online presence.

Mi: Logos.

T: T-shirts possibly.

Ma: Trying to embrace our Asian side.

Mi: Yeah!

(Laughter) 

Going around south by, I’ve been seeing Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Mitski, Aristophanes, you guys, and all these incredible—and also female—Asian artists coming up. And I feel like growing up I didn’t experience that?

Mi: Noooo.

Ma: No… Not at all. Not even in the slightest.

T: Karen O was probably like the only one…

Mi: Yeah, Karen O! Every time.

(Laughter)

Ma: I mean the Indie world is pretty white. I always think that… as an Asian person, people will always be like “You like Rock music? You’re acting so white.” But white people didn’t actually invent the culture that we all share? All kinds of Americans have contributed to it. Certainly didn’t invent the guitar or anything like that. I feel like what we do comes from a really genuine place of being mixed. Of being Asian and white.

Mi: It is always nice though to see other Asians in the crowd?

Ma: (Laughing) Yes!

Mi: When we open for Hip-Hop acts, it’s always the most diverse crowds. Way more mixed.

Ma: Yeah, there are a lot more Asian people when we open for Hip-Hop artists.

Mi: Which is always a fun time.

Ma: I still can’t think of like an Asian pop star on the Top 40 stations? I would love to see that. Like an Asian artist at the Grammys. It must’ve happened? But I didn’t catch it I guess. There’s that one band that did Like A G-6? Far East Movement? They were the first Asian group to break the Top 10 Billboard apparently?

C: Ooh, I didn’t know that.

Ma: It feels like a really good time culturally for music. For women and minorities. It just feels like everything’s changing. When we were in high school, I used to feel like being a girl front person was kind of a handicap almost? I just felt awkward sometimes. I wasn’t sure how to behave. Being too girly always felt like I was being too sexy. And then there’s too masculine. Now I don’t worry about that at all. Now there are so many cool girl bands to vibe with. It doesn’t really matter anymore to me.

Mi: Not only are there girl bands now, there are women working with us. Our booking agent is a woman. Our PR person is a woman. So many people pulling the strings now are women. It just feels different.

Ma: It feels way different.

T: Even from 10 years ago, yeah.

Ma: Last time we were a band, it felt like a different, slightly less inviting environment.

Mi: Now it feels empowering!

T: Tacocat, all the big bands in Seattle…

Mi: Hinds! Who are unapologetic about being drunk and not wearing tiny dresses. They do what they want.

Ma: And if they do wear a tiny dress, people aren’t gonna be like slut! I feel like women are creating a more friendly environment. And I feel like men are responding to that, and participating in it too. I feel like everyone’s just kind of movin’ on up.

T: At least in our little happy corner of the world.

[Resounding yeahs from everyone]

Ma: Seattle, definitely. I mean there’s a long way to go, but a lot has changed.

So then when you guys are starting to incorporate Korean cultural, stylistic aspects to your music. Is that deliberate? Like you want to take it and put it on an empowering stage of media?

Ma: I just got a Korean jacket that was inspired by G-DRAGON. He’s like this Korean popstar. I basically got the same jacket he has.

(Laughter)

Ma: I feel like in high school, I wasn’t always that proud to be Asian. I felt like… I don’t know how it felt, but it felt—

Mi: Different.

Ma: Yeah, it felt different. Now, again, it feels cool, it feels great. It feels like we have access to a whole other world to draw influence from.

Mi: And I feel like—not that we’ve met that many other Korean artists in the music scene—I feel like they’re all trying to help each other out.

Ma: Yeah!

Mi: Because Korea is like one of those countries that wants to be on the come up?

Ma: Yes! Reign it together, this tiny little country!

(Laughter)

Mi: Hallyu: the takeover. But that sounds really aggressive (Laughing)

T: No, it’s fantastic!

Mi: They’re all really friendly and trying to help each other and whatever. Which is why we’re going to the SeoulSonic, that Korean showcase that’s going to happen. It’d be cool to walk into a showcase where there are a lot of Asian people.

C: I totally feel you guys. Growing up it was hard, but in a really nuanced way where it wasn’t ever talked about?

Mi: Yeah.

C: And it didn’t feel subtle, but since it was never talked about you would say it’s subtle or whatever. Definitely not a time of feeling empowered in your background and identity, whatever it may be, but now just more and more so I feel like we’re coming into that. And I feel proud being Asian, being female, and I feel empowered. And of course, the world’s still changing and so much could and needs to be improved, but there’s just a stark difference now from what it was like before.

Ma: Definitely. The intersectional emphasis is more prevalent now.

All photos by Chelsea Wang

 

2 responses to “Tangerine at SXSW on Non-Musical & Non-Western Influences

  1. Pingback: Melisma’s SXSW Music 2016 Recap | MELISMA MAGAZINE·

  2. Pingback: Tacocat: Fighting Beard Rock and Gentrification in Seattle | Melisma Magazine·

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