After a period of feeling creatively lost, it was reconnecting with the blissful, bodily enjoyment of music that pulled Merrill Garbus back into the recording studio. “There started to be a shift in me – I realized that music is so enjoyable, and pleasurable,” says Merrill. “And I started feeling like, creativity is how we’re going to get out of these situations we’re in. The practice of being creative, through a time of feeling lost, suddenly felt really important.” After releasing the fourth Tune-Yards album, I can feel you creep into my private life, in 2018, she had felt sure that the time had come for Tune-Yards to retire. “I couldn’t see a future,” she remembers now. “After the last record, I felt really confused – even about how to be on stage.”
I can feel you… was an examination of Tune-Yards’ complicity in white supremacy and indebtedness to Black musical traditions, and formed a self-reflexive question mark at the end of a decade of outspoken, polyrhythmic indie music. From 2009 to 2018, Tune-Yards (Merrill and her partner and collaborator Nate Brenner) released four critically-acclaimed albums on 4AD, travelled the world relentlessly to play live shows, and composed the psychedelic score to Boots Riley’s surrealist cinematic masterpiece Sorry To Bother You.
Re-engaging with their love of music-making helped Tune-Yards grapple with the question of how to transform themselves. By making an album that blazes and bursts with pleasure, they call others in, and ask them to do the same. “There’s this real tightrope that we walk as musicians,” she says. “People come to us to be entertained. And then we also have a responsibility, I believe, to wake people up. Not to tell them how to feel – but to give them space to feel.”