IT is rare discovering an artist…
who can be found on stage with a laptop and harp! There is nothing predictable, ordinary or boring about Tatyana. I speak with the itinerant songwriter about her upcoming single, Runaway, and whether there is going to be more material soon. She is based in the U.K. but has spent years abroad in Boston and Singapore – and she is half-Russian.
All of this brew and worldliness combines in her music: a rich and fascinating concoction that mixes Pop and Classical strands into something fresh and alive. I speak to her about her blossoming and evolution in music; whether she has clear plans for 2018; if the Christmas period is going to be a tranquil one – the music she loves and is influenced by.
Hi, Tatyana. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi, Sam! I’m very well, thanks.
My week was great – I got to see some old friends and my dad was in town for a few days, too.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a harpist, singer-songwriter and producer. I like to combine all of it together – running my harp through all sorts of crazy effects; adding lots of lush vocals and electronic production. I call it ‘Harp-Pop’ - a genre I don’t think really exists yet.
My background is pretty mixed-up, too – I’m originally from London but have spent the last seven years abroad in Singapore and Boston, U.S.A. I’m also half-Russian, hence my name (Tatyana).
Runaway is your forthcoming single (out in December). Can you reveal the story and background of that song?
Runaway came out of a jam with some friends from Berklee.
We were in a rehearsal and started messing around in Ableton – the main groove came from that. I wrote the lyrics that same night. A lot of my songs deal with transitions, escapism and identity. I’ve lived in a lot of different places and that means I’ve had to leave lots of good friends behind when I move.
Runaway is about taking that special someone with you into the next phase of your life.
These are early days but is there going to be more music coming down the line? What are you working on?
I’m sitting on a lot of new music that I’ll be drip–feeding my audience over the next few months. Since I left Berklee (two months ago), I’ve gone through a total creative shift which has opened me up to new possibilities in my sound. I’m keen to capitalize on that - so I’ve been working on new material that feels like an evolution from my older music.
There’s a very natural progression which I think is important for my audience to see. They can follow my musical journey on Instagram and see how I develop.
You are a classically trained harpist. When did you first take up the instrument? What is it about the harp that attracts you?
I was a Classical pianist first – and started playing when I was three-years-old. When I was about ten or eleven, living in Moscow and attending a Conservatory there, I decided I wanted to play another instrument. They only had a few options for me: one of which was the harp. After seeing it for the first time, I just knew that I had to play it. I love the harp.
There’s so much beauty there - not just in its timbral qualities, but in the aesthetic of the instrument itself. I find it incredibly calming and therapeutic to play and to listen to. There is also a rich history connected to the instrument – there is some form of a harp in every culture and society throughout time.
I think that’s really special.
The Classic sounds fuse with a dark atmosphere and modern production. Are there are particular artists, doing similar things, that inspired you to take that approach?
Electronic-Pop is having a moment right now...
There are lots of amazing artists out there who are absolutely fantastic. I find James Blake, Grimes and Kimbra are some of my biggest inspirations. They are all self-produced artists which I think we will be seeing more and more of now - that it’s become increasingly easy to make music in your bedroom.
I love having total control of my output and being able to create something exactly how I hear it in my head.
I believe you are back in London – having studied Electronic Production and Sound Design/Performance at Berklee College of Music. What was that experience like?! Have you learned a lot you are going to bring to your new music?
Berklee is an incredible place – there are four-thousand musicians in the college, which means that you’re surrounded, supported and challenged by some of the most talented musicians in the world. It was an intensive program and I got so much out of being in that environment.
Having said that; I’m quite keen on ‘de-programing’ myself now - and learning to look at music through an emotional rather than an analytical lens again. Berklee gave me many tools, including a deep-rooted love and understanding of Jazz harmony, improvisation and production.
All of the things I’ve learnt and studied will have a ripple-effect on my musical output - but we will have to wait and see as to how exactly it will manifest itself!
What is the scene like in Boston – where the college is located – compared to the U.K.? Did you get a lot of time to play whilst over there?
I’m very new to the U.K. scene, so I can’t make a comparison quite yet…
But, Boston has a thriving local music scene, as well as being a funnel into the N.Y.C. scene also. I played in a few different bands, including a staple of the Boston scene – Jaggery – an Avant-Garde/Rock-Chamber group featuring viola, double bass; harp, voice; drums and keys. Boston (specifically, Allston) also has a unique underground basement show scene - which was a lot of fun to be around and to play in. Although it tends to lean towards Rock/Punk genres, there has been a recent surge of Electronic music being showcased, too.
Some of my favourite shows I played were in Allston basements!
Often, there is a difference between being a musician and artist. Do you feel you have had to learn new disciplines to transition to a fully-fledged artist? Has it been a hard transition?
I feel like I’ve always been an artist first - it was really at Berklee that I started to take on a ‘musician’ role – from being a side-woman in other people’s bands; to playing background music gigs with the harp or working as a session harpist. I feel like in those sorts of situations your duty is to serve the music; whereas an artist’s role is to create a mythology and embody the music you create.
I’m coming back to that feeling more and more now - and I’m finally in a place to actualize it.
IN THIS PHOTO: Yaeji/PHOTO CREDIT: Lydo Le
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Oooof. That’s a hard question! Okay...
Currents – Tame Impala
I just love this album so much. It’s one of the few albums I have saved on my phone - I always listen to it when I’m travelling. Just perfection in the production, songwriting and arrangement.
Black Radio – Robert Glasper Experiment
A friend showed this to me during my very first week at Berklee - and it changed my life. I’d never heard harmony like that before. It sort of shaped my path at Berklee and opened up my interest in Jazz.
Begin to Hope – Regina Spektor
I don’t really listen to this as much anymore because I beat it to death when I first discovered it - but Regina was really my first deep musical love and a huge inspiration to me growing up. She’s half-Russian, like me, and also comes from a Classical background. I learnt how to play all of these songs and I think there’s still a (cringeworthy!) cover of Us on YouTube somewhere.
Can we see you perform anywhere soon? What gigs do you have lined-up?
For now, I’m taking some time off to reconfigure my live set; so you won’t be able to see the Electronic set until the New Year. Until then, I’m doing open mics to test out some new songs I’ve been writing. In the New Year, I’m going to Sweden to play a show with a dear friend and collaborator, Matilda Gratte.
She’s amazing; check her out, too, if you get the chance!
I can imagine your live set consist a laptop/technology with the harp. What can we expect from a live show? Is it quite a modern set-up (on stage)?
I run my harp through Ableton on my MacBook and have a couple other pieces of gear like a vocal harmonizer and some Midi controllers. I’ve got a new addition, too, which is my Korg Minilogue. I can’t wait to incorporate it into my live set-up. It also depends…I perform solo but have also performed in duo and trio configurations - which means I change up my set up to accommodate the other musicians.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Turn off your phone and focus on your art.
There are so many distractions in the world right now and there’s a pressure to be always available - but that can be a difficult environment to create in...
Without focus, it’s impossible to get better.
Christmas is not too far away. Do you have plans already - or will you be busy working
I think this will be my first Christmas at home with my family in London for a while. I’m really looking forward to it.
But, other than Christmas Day itself; it’s going to be the same old grind for me!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Shake Em Off by Syd