words and photography Lamont Abramczyk
With Romy and Sari Lightman
First of all, congratulations on the new album! What have you been up since the release of Palm Wine Revisited?
ROMI: Working on another record…yeah, we’re working on demos for a new album. What else have we been doing? We’re going to Europe in less then two weeks so we’ve just been getting ready to go to the old world.
SARI: Plus a substantial amount of hanging out.
ROMY: Yeah, lots of hanging out. We were just in Nova Scotia – we used to live there so we were there for a week for the Obey Convention. It’s a very great, very strange gathering of people.
Do you find that you have a lot more downtime now that the album’s finished?
ROMY: It’s a bit perpetual. I think that we both customize our lives so we can have a lot of time and space.
The final track from your new album, Black Milk Instrumental, was released back in May along with an ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) inspired video in collaboration with Yuula Benivolski. How did you conceptualize this project? Can you tell me about your personal experiences with ASMR?
ROMY: Yuula kind of proposed doing this project. When we first came together, we really didn’t know what shape it’d take. I think first and foremost, it was about creating this environment with black lights. We spoke to Yuula and she was expressing the therapeutic benefits she was getting from these ASMR videos. She’s a really hard working artist and she was saying that this is kind of the only thing that calms her down. She was saying it’s more of the tactile things, the ones where people are running fingers though each other’s hair. Some of the theories are that it’s a bleed-off from some of the more primitive grooming rituals. She was saying she watches these videos and they make her drool and I was like, “Wow, we should make one.” It was definitely with her experience and guidance – she’s way more familiar with ASMR then either of us.
SARI: I’d listened before, but I never had the calming benefits of ASMR. I think the whole culture of it is really fascinating, the idea that people are going online and having these relationships. They’re interpersonal, they’re distant, and there’s no interaction, yet they’re having this deep intimacy with people they’ll never meet and that person doesn’t really know them. I find that simulation of intimacy really cool. It’s definably auditory; you don’t even need to watch it (at least for me it’s more about the sounds). It’s interesting because she [Yuula] reached out to this woman, “Gentle Whispering”, and she has a huge following. I think she’s from Russia. Yuula’s going to continue on and do some collaborating with her.
Palm Wine Revisited is a very different album then Ulalume. With the addition of Evan Cartwright on percussion, and Jonny Spence on keyboard, Tasseomancy has taken on a new form exploring lighter instrumental compositions. What inspired this change in musical direction?
ROMY: I guess it’s kind of been a long time coming. Johnny and Evan are our band mates; we’ve been quietly playing together for the past four years intermittently between other projects. So I think it’s more or less we’ve found (and are still finding) our own sound.
SARI: Our own sound as a cohesive four-piece.
ROMY: Yeah, Sari and I were in Austra for the last three years and before that, we’d started music as a duo. I think both of us felt like it was important to widen musically, and the band needed to happen for us to sit within it. So yeah, I guess it was due to our time and space together.
It definitely sounds like you’re finding your own sense of musical self-identity. I remember listening to the last album, which was produced by Timber Timbre. When I listen to it, I associate it heavily with Timber Timbre just because I’m a big fan of theirs so it’s nice to hear you coming out and doing your own thing.
ROMY: Taylor [Kirk of Timber Timbre] is one of my closest friends, and a close friend of both of ours. We love him a lot, and it was a really exciting experience to work with him on that record. But I think ultimately, the end result was a lot more of a collaboration.
SARI: Yeah, when we initially spoke to Taylor he wanted to produce it, but then him and Simon [Trottier] became the backing band. This was before we got our own band together. So when I think of that record, I don’t even necessarily think of it as a Tasseomancy record as much as it is a collaboration.
I’ve also read that Palm Wine Revisited was inspired by This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End in Tears. What do you find so intriguing about this album?
ROMY: That album is particularly mesmerizing for so many reasons. There are so many reasons why I love that album.
ROMY: What I think mirrors our record with theirs is that I think that their approach (not that I have any intimate details as to what it was) felt like they were taking concepts that they had been building up in their previous project, but didn’t have an outlet for. I think that this band, and this record, were kind of an outlet to showcase all these ideas that they’re interested in. Each song really has its own presence. They’re all covers, but they all have their own feeling. There are these really beautiful, slow, psychedelic ballads and these up-down, danceable songs. It still feels like there’s seamlessness even though the songs themselves are really distinct. I think the cohesiveness comes from the really distinct qualities of the band. I think you can feel that on our record because we’ve also just been experimenting in the studio over the past few years with our songs. Also, their covers are all rooted in these folk songs but they’ve interpreted them in such different ways. I think a lot of the foundations of our songs have a folk origin but at least in this record, we’re trying to translate them into different landscapes.
Palm Wine Revisited was recorded between the Toronto Islands and the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. What drew you to these contrasting locations?
ROMY: It partially just happened naturally. We recorded half the record here – I don’t even know why we went out to Nova Scotia.
SARI: I think we were playing at Sappyfest.
ROMY: I think we also wanted to have these contrasting environments. When you get into the grit and heart of a place like Kensington Market, not that what we were doing was to a certain extent contained, you can’t help but mirror your environment. When we recorded at Bay of Fundy, it was at this amazing old house that they’d dragged up a hill and there are wild blueberries everywhere.
SARI: Definitely contrasts the studio environment in the market.
When I listen to Tasseomancy, I picture myself crawling blindly on all fours through a wheat field somewhere in central Canada. What would you describe as the ideal setting for people to listen to your music?
ROMY: I always think it’s great to be submersed in water. I don’t know if it’s bath time music though.
SARI: I’d like to listen to it really late at night in a diner. Like the archetypal diner. The lights would be really dim, maybe you’d be drinking black coffee.
ROMY: Or the highway really late at night…actually no.
SARI: No, it’s not highway music.
ROMY: Stoned…with a couple of candles.
Are either of you involved in projects outside of Tasseomancy? What do you like to do in your down time?
ROMY: I have a project right now that I’ve been working on with my friend, Victoria Cheong. She runs Healing Power (which we’re part of). It’s an electronic project called ‘Mr Vibes’ – we’re yet to play a show.
SARI: I do a lot of writing, just non-musical, verbal expression. I write short stories and poems. Romy takes a lot of photos too. She’s been amassing quite a massive collection. Not that it’d be collaborative – it’d be separate – but you [Romy] were thinking about putting out a book of your work, and I’d like to get enough writing done that I could publish some of my work.
ROMY: A little bit of film too. We’re both really interested in that. I guess in a sense, Tasseomancy has always been this…I don’t want to use the word synesthetic because I feel that I have that a little bit, but I think for both of us we’re constantly working towards creating a full sensory experience. I’m really interested in olfactory and smells – I make lots of different scented oils on my own time. I think that whole realm of things is something I’m into. There’s also been some karaoke-based projects as well. Love Songs is a naked karaoke project in collaboration with Benjamin Kameno.
Tasseomancy (or Tasseography) often refers to the art of fortune telling associating with reading tealeaves, coffee grains, or wine sediments. Have you ever had your fortune told?
SARI: That name sort of of came from us as third generation tealeaf readers. Our grandmother, and great grandmother, and great-great grandmother are all tealeaf readers.
ROMY: I don’t think they did it because we have this lineage of mysticism. I think they were trying to make a living in Russia.
SARI: It was their livelihood. I think about when our grandmother does it (fortune telling) and she says, “Oh, it looks like you’re going on a trip”. I’ve had my fortune read before, although I like to stay away from it. I don’t want to have my senses manipulated into thinking something may or may not happen. I want to see how the story’s going to end and keep it a surprise.
ROMY: Say “go see the therapist” instead [laughs]. I sometimes feel like with tealeaf readings, or any kind of “macy”, it’s more just a mirroring. It’s like the ink blots. You just look at this mess, you could even do it with a pile of ketchup, and you see what comes to you. It’s about developing your own intuition and learning to trust that. I think it’s really dangerous to have this conception of a faded existence.
If you could collaborate with any artist(s), past or present, who would it be and why?
SARI: I guess I’ve always romanticized Paris during the 1920’s, when there was this real cross section of all these artists involved in cross-disciplinary works, like Gertrude Stein who was friends with Picasso, and then there’s Hemmingway. I really like the idea of working in the days of the Salon. Maybe more then collaboration, I like the idea of bringing a group of artists together who work in different disciplines just to talk and hang out. I always find that for me, personally, when we’re on tour it’s far more interesting to meet an artist and talk to them about plants, or what they’re doing in their off-time. I find that way more interesting then talking “shop”.
ROMY: Sometimes when you get in the grind of musician-hood, I mean it’s beautiful (kind of like ships crossing in the night) but sometimes you only really get to hang out with other musicians. I think coming from more of an art background, you want to get all the company that you can.
SARI: Yeah, like funny company. People who know how to make you laugh.
ROMY: Yeah, maybe like Charlie Chapman.
SARI: I think he might have been a bit of an asshole.
ROMY: I think he was an asshole. I was thinking of saying Alice Coltrane. There’s one record we’re mildly obsessed with, Turiya Sings. I think she was a classically trained jazz musician, but she went to India and came back with this music, which was all in Sanskrit. This record has the most amazing synthesizer sounds.
What creeps you out the most?
SARI: I have this one moment I kind of return too. I was helping my aunt out, she lives in the woods in a rural area, and her house became infested with flies. I had to not only swat them, but also sweep and vacuum up all these dead flies. Whenever I think of that. I mean the slaughtering was hard but not even that, just having to vacuum up all these corpses was pretty creepy.
ROMY: You know when you have those moments when you think about how we’re living on this planet? I have this one friend who’s really into KFC, and it’s presented in this red and white striped bucket. It seems like this light-hearted snack but when you actually think about what’s inside, it’s so deeply sinister. Ultimately, it’s wrong on so many levels.
SARI: KFC creeps you out?
ROMY: No not just KFC, but when you’re confronted with it. It’s not just our state of humanity but also the way things are packaged and sold back to us.
Like it’s Friday night and your parents bring home KFC and you’re like, “Oh sick, chicken!” but in reality it’s just a bucket of slaughtered animals.
SARI: Straight out of their cages. Maybe they’ve been injected with these hormones that don’t allow them to grow wings or they’ve had their beaks burnt off. Then there’s a picture of a smiling Colonel Sanders.
ROMY: That’s creepy. Sometimes I think about all the things living in our bodies as well, just feeding off us. That’s okay with me. I don’t mind all the things living in between the crusts of our eyeballs. That feels okay, but it’s more so the denial of that. When people powder their faces and spray on perfume and pretend we don’t stink or we’re not a part of this system. It’s the denial I find ultra creepy.
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