When a collection of demos get to tour the States, there’s a chance they will transform from stripped-down notes to filled-in personal reckonings. That’s what happened to Laetitia Tamko. Her songwriting as Vagabon feels full of life while retaining its original intimacy, a transformation that her debut full-length, Infinite Worlds, captures perfectly. It’s a record of handclaps, gentle guitar, and thundering words, a wide-ranging assortment of songs that has thrown Tamko into the press circuit’s big leagues, getting covered by NPR, Billboard, Pitchfork, and more.
“One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is if the means justify the ends,” Tamko says over the phone. “Infinite Worlds has taken me three years, and that almost doesn’t matter to anyone but me because when we share it, it doesn’t come with that disclaimer or mill of information. ‘Mal à L’aise’ was one of the tracks that made me, personally, feel like I was making growth as a musician to do something totally out of my comfort zone, to show I’m not one-dimensional anymore.”
While on the surface this is a guitar-driven album, there are other instruments underlying here that she toys with. It’s a record of indie rock experimentation. Even beyond that, it’s a record of storytelling, and it’s not one that strictly centers around Tamko. “People seem to think every song on this record is autobiographical, but it’s not,” she says. “I understand why they would think that, though, since I’m the one delivering them. It goes back to this quote I heard Roxane Gay say: ‘Women are always expected to be experts of themselves and not have an imagination.’ That’s with any writing. It’s not something I feel angry about, but that I wish people could note that there’s more than myself in these songs.”
Tamko dug deep into each track, no matter how heavy or light the instrumentation sounds. To explore what she’s like beyond her material, we interviewed Tamko for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles.
1) “The Embers”
DIGBOSTON: If you’re at a party and there’s a bonfire outside, candles in a room, and a fireplace fire in the family room, where would you be?
TAMKO: The fireplace in the family room. I like being indoors [laughs]. When I was growing up, my parents had one, and it’s very intrinsic. It’s mesmerizing. Being able to zone out by any ambient noise, even if it’s just wood crackling, is satisfying for me.
2) “Fear & Force”
DIGBOSTON: When’s a moment where you had to use force and you realized how glad you are to be strong, physically or mentally?
TAMKO: Actually, being a musician and putting out this record. Working with musicians that are hired, knowing how to run this whole thing—I do take it seriously. I speak with strength and force, but it’s all rational. Delegating and being a leader and running my shit was something that made me realize I’m mentally strong. If I’m working with a musician and showing them something, patience is very important, but so is not deviating from your goal and vision. That’s what’s number one to me. So learning how to work with others and be a good leader, being kind and generous and patient, while not being shy about the things you want and how you will get them, was a big one for me.
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any favorite hangouts in Minneapolis?
TAMKO: Oh man, I’ve only been there one time. That’s a tough one. I was at an airport and at someone’s house, neither of which is exciting, so I guess those places [laughs].
4) “Mal à L’aise”
DIGBOSTON: Name three things that are technically petty or frivolous but make you very uncomfortable.
TAMKO: That’s a great question. There’s so many, but I want to pick good ones. When there’s more than four people in a small room that I’m in, I get really uncomfortable, like anxious.
Another thing is seeing an instrument cable that’s about to fall out, like it’s loose. Have you ever seen those annoying videos—I don’t know who even posts them—of things that make people uncomfortable, like an awkwardly cut fruit? This is one of those things for me. When you’re watching a band and something is about to fall, like a guitar or cable or anything that could ruin the song. It’s a weird thing, but it really makes me uncomfortable. Everyone in the room can see, and if that one thing fell it would be ruined.
Also, this is a very weird one, but when people clip their nails in front of others. Even when you’re at a friend’s house. Yeah, no. That would drive me insane. It’s more the sound than the act of clipping [laughs]. Oh god… Everyone’s going to know I’m weird now.
5) “100 Years”
DIGBOSTON: What century span would you want to live through?
TAMKO: I would like to live right at the hit of the new millennium in 2000. I was around to live it, but I’d like to be older in that era. I would want to be 15 in the 2000s, so born in 1985 to 2085.
6) “Cleaning House”
DIGBOSTON: Which house chore do you dread having to do?
TAMKO: Probably cleaning the bathroom. The entire thing. Ugh.
7) “Cold Apartment”
DIGBOSTON: Which would you choose: no heater but you get unlimited sweaters and sweatshirts of your choosing, no heater but you get a cordless heated blanket that you can carry with you anywhere, or a heater but you only own one sweater, one sweatshirt, and no heated blanket?
TAMKO: The last one, having a heater but only one sweater. I just stay in my zone, so if my zone is fine, then I can record there and relax. I wouldn’t need sweaters then.
8) “Alive and A Well”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your fondest historic field trip from school?
TAMKO: Medieval Times! I remember the table arrangements, actually. Everything was gray and weird plastic metal and stones. I have a fond memory of the eating experience and food placement. I was probably the kid with the arms folded. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I did any cheering. I just stayed to myself [laughs], like some kind of pouting child.
VAGABON, COVEY, BEDBUG. TUE 7.11. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 9PM/18+/$10. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM