Fortress Festival Artist Spotlight: tUnE-yArDs

Written by on April 25, 2018


Photo by: Eliot Lee Hazel

The tUnE-yArDs’ sound is difficult to pin down. Consisting of loop pedals, lo-fi percussion, ukulele, electric bass, saxophone, horns and vocals, this synth driven, African inspired, indie folk sound scats all over the place, much like a psychedelic jazz song. There is a lot to unpack there. And that is where you find the heart of the tUnE-yArDs. Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner are the principal artists in this group.

Merrill Garbus, Connecticut native, student of Smith College and member of Sister Suvi, conjured up tUnE-yArDs in 2006. The band released their first album, BiRd-BrAiNs, in 2009. The medium in which BiRd-BrAiNs was released personifies the electicness of Garbus herself and this unique project.  Recorded on only a handheld voice recorder, BiRd-BrAiNs originally only released as a cassette tape. Occurring also in 2009, electric bass player, Nate Brenner, joined tUnE-yArDs. The two met as counselors at a summer music camp in New Jersey. Brenner, of Bloomington, Indiana, is also the pioneer of musical project Naytronix.

Following BiRd-BrAiNs, tUnE-yArDs debuted Whokill, nikki nack and most recently, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. “Bizness,” and “Gangsta,” of Whokill, were relegated as top songs of 2011 as ranked by Time magazine and Rolling Stone. “Gangsta” is also featured in an episode of Orange is The New Black. Merrill fulminates against her whiteness in I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, with songs such as “Colonizer,” and “Hammer.” In an interview with NPR, she shares that she cried exclusively throughout the entire writing process of “Colonizer.” She also shares that, “With all the compassion in my heart, I just want to say to white people sampling others’ music, what you’re engaging in is colonialism. Name it for what it is.”

For the unfamiliar, less politically inclined tUnE-yArDs listener, “Heart Attack” off of I Can You Feel You Creep Into My Private Life is a safe, fun entry point. The tUnE-yArDs will be at Fortress Festival the weekend of April 28th and 29th, followed by a show in Houston on May 1st.

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