It’s a good thing Tamara Nile decided to take a little nap before getting on the phone from home in Vancouver to chat with BeatRoute about her upcoming LP, Tingle and Spark, because this Galiano-Island-born multi-instrumentalist has some explaining to do. Though she ultimately hopes her latest independent output will “speak for itself,” Nile’s striking musical transition from blissed-out banjo-clad folkie to genre-disrupting, synth-wielding sorceress of sound commands a bit more context. As she gears up for her LP debut show in April at the Biltmore in Vancouver and the official Tingle and Spark record release later this fall (with heaps of touring to follow), Nile is ready to get real.
“When I made my first couple records, I consciously decided to narrow down my musical focus in order to fit into the folk genre because I was really keen on connecting with that community,” says Nile, “but what I was actually listening to when I was starting out was pop, metal and R&B.”
Those true musical roots stuck tight to Nile’s inner consciousness, emerging in tiny sonic trickles on albums including her debut full-length At My Table (2006)and the rustically cinematic EP Cabin Song (2009).
“It’s almost like I didn’t have the confidence to express my musical vision on my first two records because I didn’t hear anyone else making music like that at the time,” Nile says. “It was only in my head and I was scared it would be rejected.”
Eventually, that fear hit a wall.
“I got to this point where I felt like I wasn’t being authentic or real. I didn’t feel like making another record like that,” says Nile. “It’s been a while since I released a record, and that’s partly why. I was building up steam and confidence to do what I really wanted to do.”
Convert that steam to electric power, and you’ve got the shattering force of Tingle and Spark, a “whole record of pretty intense songs,” as Nile explains. Her giddy collection of influences includes the Knife, Chromeo, Siouxie & the Banshees, even Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill and ‘90s hip hop in general. Pink Floyd crops up too, notably for Nile’s longtime love for the sound of analog synth.
“Working with synthesizers makes me feel a sense of unlimited musical possibility,” she says, comparing the capabilities to “a field of wildflowers versus a vase of flowers,” a sentiment that comes alive in vibrant, twirling chords on “Burn It”. With Matt Rogers (a “brilliant, brilliant guy,”) from Vancouver-based blues duo The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer lending technical and creative prowess as co-producer of Tingle and Spark, Nile was able to pursue her “strong vision” for the record while leaving her ego in the dust.
“I believe that art is channeling,” she says. “You tap into this universal realm of creativity and you become a channel. I don’t overly identify with my creations – I channel them, but it doesn’t feel like it’s all me.”
Whatever it is, it’s fusing traditional folk instrumentation and modern EDM technology with a kind of vibrant sass you don’t hear in Canadian music too often. Let’s at least give Nile credit for those dewy vocals and the guts to make it happen.
Catch T. Nile at the Biltmore on April 10th with special guests Frankie and David Ward.
By Sarah Bauer
Photos: Rebecca Blissett