Merrill Garbus: In the Loop
Cutting-edge music star.
By LOU FANCHER
A few years ago, Merrill Garbus was making bedroom recordings on cassettes. Two years later, Garbus and her Oakland-based band, Tune-Yards, made the 2011 Best Album lists of Time Magazine, the Village Voice, and Rolling Stone.
Whokill is the album causing the fervor, and it is the perfect backdrop for the colorful Garbus, whose creative spirit channels a Beat Generation mind-set, with Meredith Monk–style voice alterations.
Garbus is known as the “Lady of Loop” for using looping effects to experiment with rhythm and melody. She also plays ukulele and packs a voice that snarls and purrs in any register.
“I start by working with the looping pedal and experimenting with rhythm and melody,” Garbus says about songwriting. She has received considerable attention for her use of technology, a fact she takes great pride in. “Women are often the last to be asked about their grasp of technology,” says Garbus.
Garbus’ music is hard to define. To date, it has been classified as pop, rock, R&B, soul, indie, danceable, percussive, fascinating, stand-alone, cultic, and, well, weird.
Garbus’ improvisation continues onstage, where every night is different and the loops “sway” according to the mood she carries into the performance. In the editing room, she snips and mutes with “as little intellectual pondering as possible,” even ripping out visual frequency patterns and letting the sonic result remain untouched.
What won’t be sacrificed is her vision, which she hinted contains dark holes; holes she’ll now fight through in front of the very public eye of impassioned critics who love or loathe her work. Drastic change will likely always rule her world, and most recently includes additional band members and writing for a classical vocal ensemble.
“I think we’re in an age when a pop musician can also be respected in other more traditional or classical worlds. And that’s just one reason I’m very happy to be a musician in this time,” she says. --Lou Fancher