When Michi Tassey, the musician behind the moniker Nature Shots, wanted to meet at a coffee shop for our interview, I was caught off guard. It didn’t seem like the ideal place to discuss death, a topic we would inevitably get into given the subject matter of her debut solo full-length, Foreclosure. But then the plan changed. On the warmest day this winter, we ditched it in favor of walking down Newbury Street and sat on a bench in Copley Square. Pigeons crowded around the brick pathway at our feet, a teenager practiced skateboarding in an empty water fountain, and parents watched as their children trot enthusiastically through the grass. Most notably, there was the comforting toll of a bell ringing in a new hour from Trinity Church—which, in some ways, is where Tassey’s story as Nature Shots begins.
Back before purchasing buildings in Boston was a hobby for the rich, The Unification Church bought a house in Back Bay and modified it to become a proper venue for their services, complete with a modest vestibule and a wooden ballroom-turned-chapel. When she was in elementary school, Tassey and her parents would make the monthly drive down from New Hampshire to attend their church services. Apartments were soon added above the chapel. To this day, the church rents them out to various members and their families.
Tassey herself lives in one of the apartments. She moved in four years ago when she relocated to study music therapy at Berklee. It was there, at college, that she met Chris Lee-Rodriguez, a member of indie jazz rock group People Like You, who then invited her to record (and eventually join) his band—the group Tassey is most known for. But her journey as a musician began before she joined People Like You. It’s the story of her solo career as Nature Shots, which came to shape in the solitude of this apartment where faith took on a new meaning.
When she was younger, Tassey met one of her closest friends through the church. They went to church camp together. They took a gap year pre-college to do service projects together. In 2013, right after they finished the program, her friend was diagnosed with an illness. Two years later, she passed away. It was a taxing period of time, mentally and physically, and though Tassey doesn’t give too many details—her friend’s name, most notably—it’s clear it’s not for a lack of memory or vividness. It’s out of respect.
“She was a human of service, full of giving and gratitude,” she says of her friend. “She was literally an angel. And to be able to explain at shows—whether it’s prior to performing or during my performance—who this person was, what they did for the world, and how they impacted so many people is a way to spread their spirit.”
Her passing struck Tassey deeply, and she struggled to process the events. It wasn’t that she was grasping at straws to cope. Instead, she was trying her best to understand, to be empathetic even after her friend had passed — and she soon discovered that songwriting gave her a way to organize those thoughts in one medium. “It was a way to process, in real time, what was happening,” she says. “As her illness progressed and leading up to her passing, I wrote these songs. A lot of them don’t have a verse-chorus-verse structure because it was a freeform string of my thoughts. Writing took place over multiple years. I tried to recreate emotions I was feeling, observations of these experiences, and just understand.”
It began with journaling. As snippets of imagery, feelings, or conversations that were happening during the time of her friend’s illness occupied her brain,Tassey jotted them down. They were miniature sketches of spontaneous emotion. A few months later, as she was learning how this process helped her digest what was happening, Tassey’s grandmother passed away. It’s the type of back-to-back blow that would stun anyone in her position. And though her music therapist studies prepped her to deal with this, experiencing it firsthand was different. “Ultimately, writing a song about something that happened isn’t going to change the fact that it happened,” she says. “It’s not a cure. People say that music is healing, which I believe that it can be, but it doesn’t change what happened. It just helps you be able to express what happened.”
While there are pieces of what her grandmother and friend meant to her, tiny pieces of their characters, most songs aren’t about how she remembers them. They’re the raw, ugly parts of what was happening—an important part for Tassey to express. “Watching other people that I loved and connected with deeply be in pain with the human experience of death, a part of me felt like no one except for them and maybe others who have gone through it can understand what they’ve gone through, the chaos of that, the pain,” she says. “In a way, I was trying to understand what they were going through.”
The most obvious reference is her moniker itself, Nature Shots. When she was a teen, Tassey would dig through VHS videos at her grandmother’s house in Vermont, eager to find footage of herself as a child. Instead, she uncovered countless videos of her grandmother filming on the back porch, camcorder in hand and totally silent, slowly zooming into various bits of nature. She zoomed into a bush with a beautiful flower on it. She zoomed into a bird at the birdfeeder. Though comical, it was also beautiful, and Tassey’s family came to refer to those tapes as her grandmother’s “nature shorts.” Naming her solo project after those was a hopeful attempt to capture that purity and patient awareness of what surrounds her. Closing track “fickle folly” is a proper ode to her as well.
Eventually, Tassey found herself with an album’s worth of songs and the need to thread them together. During July of last year, she spent four days recording Foreclosure in Philadelphia studio the Metal Shop with Cameron Boucher of Sorority Noise. Songs that began as rough sketches were shaped into beautiful, sweeping, intimate numbers. They turned into reverb-laden lo-fi musings. As far as instrumentation is concerned, the album is relatively minimal: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, grand piano, Rhodes piano, upright bass. She filtered them through a myriad of reverb pedals and midsong manipulation. She credits Boucher as helping her try new ideas, like transitioning a piano part from one instrument to the next, but her desire to allow various parts to texturally convey her emotions drove the album.
Though Boucher engineered, produced, and mixed the album, he’s quick to credit Tassey as the force behind Nature Shots. According to him, the instrumental suggestions he offered were all to help focus on her voice, making sure each line and movement was deliberate. When finished, it made Foreclosure sound both massive and feeble, a mirror image of how Tassey felt during the grieving period.
“Michi is one of the most talented, humble, and giving people I’ve ever met,” says Boucher. “Her voice and vocal style is unmistakably unique. Once the pieces of the puzzle finally fit together on ‘Mama’ and we gave it our first listen through, I couldn’t believe how it had come out. That song is so important and Michi’s performance on it is fucking next level.”
The final product is a minimalist listen with a clear path forward. Each electric guitar echo bounces behind her as her words hang in the air, track after track. Songs like six-minute number “what is the word for when you are screaming and no one can hear?” haunt you from beginning to end. Others, like reworked People Like You song “Josephine Ave” off their 2017 album Verse, she originally wrote herself, feel full of life. Most listeners cite Grouper as an influence, but Tassey never even heard Grouper’s music until after the comparisons flooded in. Instead, she references Hospice, the gutting album by the Antlers that recounts a step-by-step loss of a loved one. Not only does the comparison make sense conceptually, but both also move chronologically and toy with recurring themes in an ambient-bent, unstructured flow.
On first listen, it’s clear that faith plays a role in Foreclosure. The music has the same massive space you would hear in a church hall. Because her parents raised her in a faith called Unificationism, Tassey couldn’t help but let it impact the way she sees the world and, ultimately, strives to be. She says it made her who she is and influenced what she wants to be for the world, for other people, and for the community. Besides that, she has taken a step back from religion, so the ties here are subtle. There’s a recurring idea in the album of, as she calls it, “faith in desperation,” namely when people who are religious turn to prayer in times of crisis when the medicine isn’t working.
“Young people who don’t have a big religious or faith-based foundation, even people don’t believe in God, will often pray when they’re desperate because eventually there’s nothing else you can do,” she says. “It essentially turns to begging, a plea of final hope. That’s normal. We can’t help but do it. ”
So it makes sense that Nature Shot’s record release show will take place in the chapel of her family’s building: a quiet, family-first, understated rooting in faith. The building’s old walls and central location are as much a reminder of her youth as they are a welcome invite for listeners to reflect more on how they tie into the world at large.
As easy as it is to view Nature Shots as a one-off outlet for Tassey to work through her experience with loved ones’ deaths, it’s not. It’s a proper solo project that she plans on returning to over time to express herself. At the very least, that much she has learned over the last few years under the moniker. Nature Shots is as much of an outlet for Tassey to work through life’s difficulties as it is a path to self-affirmation. Performing solo used to haunt her. But now, the days of dry mouth and being overwhelmed by an audience are a thing of the past, or at least over these past few months. It’s a way to qualify her strength, and she has plenty of growing left to do in years to come.
“Being a solo performer has been a lesson in learning to take up space,” she clarifies, taking a big pause. “My performance is 100 percent my responsibility. That terrified me, but it also challenged me to have a voice and express myself articulately. I have to tell people there’s merch in the back. I have to introduce songs. Carrying more responsibility has been helpful in so many ways.”
NATURE SHOTS, ANJIMILE, NOVA ONE, ANIMAL FLAG. SAT 1.27. 46 BEACON ST., BOSTON, MA 02108. 7PM/ALL AGES/$10. FACEBOOK.COM/EVENTS/1965170427136097/