Our environment has been very female identified/oriented queer-positive spaces- A conversation with Tasseomancy
By Sarah Devine
Tasseomancy is an experimental band comprised of Sari and Romy Lightman, Evan Cartwright, and Johnny Spence. Their sound is distinctly their own, created by staying true to their own ideas and intuition. WIMA spoke to Romy to talk their newest album, Do Easy, and their process.
How's the tour been going?
Romy: The tour has been short-lived but it's been nice. I feel like each tour sort of has different characteristics to it, it's been nice touring with Mega Bog and it was cool to go out to Nova Scotia, which is where we initially started playing music, and just kind of realizing how much we've like deviated. I think that for us it's kind of an ongoing process in terms of like, finding our own music voice. This is actually our first tour we've had sound tech, so that's kind of blowing our minds a bit. Like, finally, people can hear what we've been doing. I think that it's kind of complex, the sets we're working right now, it's minimal but it's really nuanced, and there's actually quite a bit happening, so it's kind of exciting that all of those parts are coming through. I think we feel confident.
How do you collaborate together and connect your own ideas?
My sister and I are like the primary songwriters, and Johnny Spence and Evan Cartwright have a really significant contribution to the record in terms of arrangements and a lot of the composition, so it's very much a band record. For this live set that we've been touring with, it's a three piece; it's my sister, myself and Evan Cartwright, and so it's kind of like this nice triangle. Evan does a lot, it's kind of like an octopus, it's sort of amazing.
We write songs individually and then we can work on them musically, we work on how they'll be expressed musically as a band.
What elements inspired your album Do Easy?
For this record, I wrote my songs in Toronto, my sister was writing in Montreal, and I think that at the time for me, there was a couple of things happening. I think first and foremost, I was thinking a lot about my musical heroes, and thinking about how they managed to engage with the world while they were alive, which was way different than it is now. I think sometimes it's like if you're a self-taught musician, I feel a bit like my education is a bit, not inverted, but you really have to like seek out this information on your own. I don't know so much if it was necessarily about my heroes, I think like all art is just trying to you know just validate your own experience. So I think that whatever was going on at that time which was not much, I was hanging out in Toronto, and I didn't have a job, and I had these really long days, and I was going to karaoke a lot at nighttime, and just listening to a lot of, really seeing the power of pop music. Like getting people together in a room at night, singing along to songs, and I think I sort of approached this record with a lot of playfulness.
What are you pop influences?
For this record, I think I went back to a lot of childhood music that I was into, which was like the Supremes, and ABBA. I guess those are more of the pop-ier influences, but then we were really interested in like, we love Alice Coltrane, and she made some of these kind of transcendental new age records in the eighties, and had these like amazing synthesizer sounds, so I think we were pulling on some of that too.
How do you like the Toronto music scene? What do you feel could be worked on or what do you feel is good about it?
I guess it's hard to say, because my sister and I have been living in LA, we moved to California right after we finished the record, and actually like did most of the post-production there. I kind of feel like we haven't really been around, and I think that we've always kind of been sort of doing our own thing. We toured full time, we were members of Austra three years ago, and that was like, we were pretty much just on the road the whole time. I don't know if necessarily we're deeply rooted in it, it's kind of like, I think there's a lot of musicians and artists out there individualistically, that we all vibe with as a band, so it's hard for me to give a critique about the city. I think I find the state of Toronto, musically, to be very inclusive and collaborative which is really nice. I didn't train (professionally), I didn't go to music school, but I see with lots of my friends, they play in tons of bands, and so there's this kind of like, elastic mentality. Everyone really participates with each other, and I think it's really healthy.
But you know, like externally, Toronto is bananas in terms of affordability, so I just think from an outside perspective, being an artist in the city seems like a real challenge. I think about a lot of my friends who aren't really able to keep music as a full time thing, they really have to struggle to keep that going. I think that it's hard for me to comment because I haven't really been around, and I think that when we were around, we were kind of just doing our own thing.
How do you keep doing your own thing and not be influenced by others?
I think because I work with my sister and we've had this ongoing relationship since birth, I think we're sort of like able to like, carve out our own reality, for better or for worse. It's easy for us to slip into our own world, but I also think that there's just so many ways to approach making your work, and I think at least for me, it's always been this kind of deep, baffling mysterious thing that usually requires a lot of time alone and reflection. I move slow, I do like one thing a day if I'm lucky, so I try not to bring in too much outside information, like I know that sounds a bit like Grey Gardens, but it's kind of like that, in the sense that, I've sort of had to create my own bubble, just to develop authentically, but that's my approach. I've never been someone where I listen to a song and I'm like, "oh I want to emulate this band," music has always sort of been this mode of, just like validating your own reality.
I mean there's so much, especially these days, I think our brains are developing differently than even maybe ten years ago. In the sense that we're exposed to so much information and I feel like our perception of time is changing too. You know, you think about musical genres, and how like one style of music would exist for decades, and now it's like styles of music come in, and in three months it's something new. Some people roll with it, but I feel like for myself it's about keeping my own sense of time. Just being very selective about what I bring in.
Are you feminists? Do you identify with that movement?
Oh sure, I mean as with any movement, it's always defined by whoever is defining it, but yeah I think that feminism in itself is this huge conversation. And it's exciting. I think for my sister and I, we're pretty sensitive and we've always sort of been intrinsically inclined towards social justice, but it's cool to see what that looks like, because I feel like these conversations are happening more and more every day. I feel like Toronto is good for that too, like we grew up in Toronto, and I like that it's this mashup of a lot of different cultures and a lot of different ways of seeing, and there's like an irritant in that, like a social irritant. I like the discomfort of constantly having to have conversations that make you uncomfortable, and I think that's really important. I feel like I'm talking about it really abstractly, because I guess I feel that also, like for me that's part of feminism; trying to validate your own experience, while also just being really open to others and other people's interpretations.
I find there's a very feminine energy to your music, do you have a message for women in your music, or is it more related to whatever you were dealing with at the time?
I really think in some ways I really take my musical experience for granted, in the sense that I made music with my sister growing up, and then we were like, in like a queer dance band, and now we've gone back to making our own music, and I think we're pretty lucky in that sense that our environment has been very female identified/oriented queer-positive spaces. That's not to say that while living in Nova Scotia, or being in some instances that we didn't have to rub up against some of the dude mentality, which unfortunately still sort of like prevails. I guess for me, I think my experience in music is I think that for better or for worse, what my sister and I do together is it's own thing. So I feel like I just encourage anybody who is creative to try and make their own definition of what music is, like what it's all about. I feel like that requires like a certain amount of bravery, because, let's be honest, we still very much exist in a patriarchy. I think that especially when you're younger, there's the trope of that, that there's one aspect of making music, but then, in terms of like the industry, there's always gonna be an external –I don't even know if it's a pressure– but there's like a game, and we all know that there's certain tropes of being a women that make us easy to exploit, but I think that ultimately it's way more fun for you to do your own thing, and come about it in a way that feels good to you. I think that's a challenge in itself, because it's hard to come into your power.
I think that something maybe is dissipating, it's not prevalent anymore, but I feel like there's this thing called fraud syndrome, that's really prevalent among all women, in any field, and it's always like there’s this intrinsic sense of being a fraud. I think like when we look to the literary canon, or when we look to the musical canon, or artistic canon, a lot of the time, it's men, and it's ideas that don't really resonate with us. So that when you take up that position, it's like you don't necessarily feel like you're the real deal, because you know, you're not like some tall, white man with like a beard, singing about all of the women he's like fucked over, and all of the drugs that he's explored. So, in that sense, this fraud syndrome develops, because all these women, they feel like they're not, somehow within it. Like when I speak about it, I'm like, "oh you know, my sister and I we're just sort of like on the outside of things," but that really was like our genuine initiation into music. When we were teenagers, it was like the boys, they get stoned in the basement, and they got to jam, and my sister and I just had like our oversized acoustic guitars, and we just played alone in our bedroom, so it was very much like this solitary thing. And I know that that's not the case for all women or identifying females, and I think that now it's changing, and I think that's cool, like I feel even within Canadian musical structures, I'm seeing like way more of this kind of like inclusive space, I think it's diversifying in a way that's really healthy.
I think this whole idea of embracing the female gaze is what my sister and I are really into, which is something that's kind of new in it's definition, but ultimately it's like a more sympathetic experience, and it's also more dynamic. I feel like it's the same thing in the canons of like, what we were exposed to (as kids) in the books we read and the movies we watched, the women were fucking flat, you know? They were always seen as objects of desire, and it was always in the sense of like a woman is lifted, through being the choice of the man. Now, the female gaze is showing the spectrum of female and what that means, that exceeds beyond even being born as a female, it's an energy that I feel like within our society is seen as lesser. And in a way, that's kind of cool because from running around in the spaces that I partake in, I feel like the female identifying people that I know get to play way more sides. Like I maybe sometimes think about, when you're less important, you can maybe like assume more roles because nobody is putting that kind of pressure on you. So I think that when I think about the female gaze, it's just about being more dynamic, flexing more sides of what that means. I feel like my sister and I are, even though we're very very different, and we embody different spectrums of what that even entails, it's like just adding interpretations that are fresh. Because lots of times I feel like we go on tour and we play for certain crowds, and people don't really know what to make of it, and that's part of it. Any kind of creative expression can sometimes be alienating, but we're interested in having conversations with people, so I feel like this female gaze you know, I feel like we're about it, and I look around and I see that happening, now more than ever, and I feel like it's a really prominent voice, and just encouraging that idea to be normalized, which I think it will be at some point.
Be sure to see the experiential wonder of Tasseomancy live at Smiling Buddha tonight.