Sweeping the Northwest club circuit, Tangerine has exploded to stardom this past year, both local and afar. Playing festivals such as South By Southwest, Treefort, Bumbershoot, and Capitol Hill Block Party, their acceptance as indie darlings have given them a shot at becoming major players in today’s tumultuous music industry.
Playing their first show of the new year at Neumos on January 9th, Tangerine took the stage with command and confidence. Opening with ‘You’ll Always Be Lonely’, a personal criticism equal parts pitying and seething, Tangerine hooked the crowd into grooving with smooth guitar licks, a driving pace, rocking percussion, and gentle harmonies.
As talented musicians, sisters Marika (vocals/guitar) and Miro (vocals/drums) Justad, Ryan Baker (Guitar), and Toby Kuhn (bass) know how to work a crowd into a dance party. Tapping upon influences hearkening to 80’s synth-pop, 50’s rock, garage, and much more, Tangerine’s talents lie in using an array of inspiration to craft an oeuvre. Through this catalog, Tangerine has proven themselves keen to the art of musical storytelling , whether the story is in the form of a longing ballad or jumping dance party.
Catching them in the University District’s Cafe on the Ave for coffee and sandwiches, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tangerine the morning after their Neumo’s set. I asked them to tell me about their trials and tribulations as a band, how they make music, resolve artistic differences, and to share their stories of the road.
Since it can be so different with many bands, how does your creative process work?
Marika: We have a variety of ways that we come about creating music, so one could come out of a jam session based off a single bass line, or a song that you write full bare-bones on the guitar. We all write our own parts, but debate the structure and each other’s parts as well.
Your sound is very diverse. What do you guys find yourself drawing upon for influences?
Marika: Film and television for me. ‘Cause songs are really visual, but yeah, definitely visuals from movies. There wasn’t like, a certain era, at least for me a certain era.
Miro: I feel like some of those 80’s movies.
Marika: Yes. It’s not always even an actual movie, but when we’re writing songs it’s a very cinematic experience.
You’ve been labeled as having a ‘California’ sound. Do you feel that applies to your music?
Toby: It’s not there. I think there are people who say California just because we’ve got more of a poppier sound. There’s not a lot of pop labels up here, that you can attach to. Even like, with the 80’s sound…we don’t strive to make 80’s stuff, but I find myself being inspired by some of it. Here and there, like The Cure. I love their guitar lines…there are so many lovable little things like that I guess. Who knows what it’s going to sound like in the end. We try not to think about it too much until its over.
With your growth in popularity do you feel do you feel like there are any outside forces pressuring you, your music or your aesthetic?
Marika: Everyone that we’ve worked with, or are working with, have been super supportive and cool. They’ve been like “Come to us with your demos when they’re ready. Just so you know we’re here.” You know, they don’t have any hand in the process. It’s been really nice.
Miro: We’ve been lucky. We’re working with people who kind of want to take direction from us, and want to take what our dreams are and just run with it… It’s been cool.
Marika: I think people are afraid of how they’re being perceived, because people are just savvy with social media being such an instantaneous platform. Managers and people like that, they know that bands won’t come across as manufactured as they are.
What have been among the tribulations of being together?
Miro: I think sacrificing a lot. Like dropping out of school for me and just making whatever possibilities to make it to this present moment what we’re putting everything you have to. And being broke. Doing jobs we hate, but doing this other stuff that makes it more worth while.
Marika: It’s definitely a sacrifice, but it’s not bad.
Toby: But we definitely have some artistic differences. We’re all, I’m maybe me the most, a really stubborn person: I know what I like, I really know what I don’t like. It can be annoying every once in a while. Like in the studio we spent an hour or two debating four notes. And I was like “aw man, this is ruining the song for me,” and I’d look at them…
Marika: But it was like, making the song for me!
Toby: We all have very strong opinions.
Marika: We’re just detail oriented.
Toby: Yeah, but that’s really fun.
Marika: But now you like that part.
Toby: (Laughing) I do. When I play it and I have to make it fit into the song. But it’s never a problem. It never ends in a sour way.
Ryan: Yeah, I think we’ve gone through like every form of song writing with debate, contention and collaboration. So at this point it’s like we haven’t not seen any song writing process, and even when it gets mucky in the middle it always comes out fine.
It sounds like you’ve been able to develop genial relationships among each other to take criticism and incorporate.
Marika: Yeah, we’re close enough that we can call each other out and it’s not really a big deal.
So how has touring been? How has it affected you as a part of your creative process?
Ryan: I’ve always wanted to go on tour. I’ve kind of been involved in music for a really long time but never had the chance to do it. So it was really, really fun to do that.
Miro: Of course you run into other Seattle bands out there. Running on the road in the middle of nowhere. Caravan, this like migration of Northwest people in the mid-west.
Any good stories from that trip?
Miro: I got sick, then I got electrocuted.
Toby: Yeah, that was all in the same day.
Miro: Then we played another show an hour away.
How did you get electrocuted?
Miro: It was a house show. And every time I hit my cymbal, I don’t know why, it felt like a ground to my right arm.
Ryan: And she played through the whole song.
Miro: It was like the last song, I was just like, ‘”Let’s keep it going, thirty seconds more….”
Marika: I would not have been able to do that.
Ryan: (Laughing) No!
Miro: I didn’t want to end the show like “Oh God.”
Ryan: It was a really fun show.
Miro: They gave me the bed that night.
Ryan: And they gave us Skittles, Cheezits, and beer.
Miro: Yeah, ’cause these were Oklahoma kids who saw us at South By Southwest, and threw a party for us and bought food for us. Yeah, that was one of the funnest because of that.
South By Southwest must have been awesome. How did Treefort go?
Toby: It was a really fantastic end to it all. It’s like the perfect sized town for that too. Because during South By, you’re in Austin but it’s downtown; it’s just mayhem. It’s not to say Austin wasn’t fun, but Treefort was just a little more manageable. All of the other artists were really nice too. Great food. Again, it’s like all these things; goody bags full of crap.
Marika: Yeah, good hospitality.
So what are you trying to achieve with your music, what sort of experience are you trying to elicit?
Miro: I just want to strike people right in the heart. I don’t want them to think about what it is they’re seeing, or the specific genre, just to feel it and to dance.
Marika: Emotional immediacy.
Ryan: I think we like heart music. We like head music, but we like heart music. I like to strike the line between perfect pop music and give it an edge, I guess.
Toby: What’s the best way to say it? Try to like, reintroduce a catchy melodic sound, without going all the way with it.
Marika: Plus we want people to have fun. We hear a lot of laughter at our shows. Dancing and whatever.
How do you feel working with live audiences? How do you try and capture that energy?
Ryan: I was telling Toby this last night, you get one good crowd reaction and it’s off to the races. For me if I don’t get that or have to really battle for it, I’m worried about it more, I’m like “Come on guys, have fun!”
Tavis Hamilton is an independent writer covering Northwest arts and culture. Enjoy his shameless self-promotion outlet by following him on Twitter @TavisHamilton where he will keep you updated on all things that will make you look cooler and more knowledgeable than your friends. If you don’t read his work you are passively resigning yourself to mediocrity and intellectual stagnation.