Laetitia Tamko's intimate songs of solitude create community
Throughout Infinite Worlds, the debut record from New York's Vagabon, frontwoman Laetitia Tamko sings about smallness. Sometimes it's in a literal sense. On leadoff track “The Embers,” Tamko's stature allows her legs to dangle uncomfortably free and anchor-less below the seat on a bus. On “Alive and A Well” — beneath a finger-picked acoustic guitar, a light blanket of tape hiss and the occasional harmony vocal — Tamko dreams of growing taller.
Elsewhere, the smallness appears in the form a tiny nook she uses like an escape hatch. “I've been hiding in the smallest space,” she sings on “Fear & Force.”
But for 24-year-old Tamko, the best antidotes for feeling small are the songs themselves. The acts of writing, recording and performing have given her a newfound confidence. “A lot of the songs are filled with insecurity, but it actually isn't insecurity when I'm performing,” said Tamko, who will play a full-band set with Vagabon before Pinegrove takes the stage at Park Street Saloon on Tuesday, July 18. “For me to have written about it in such a vulnerable way is part of attaining security and strength and bravery. Being honest about vulnerable things is a way of performing strength.”
Infinite Worlds is an insular album, though Tamko said the songs are more about solitude than loneliness (“Loneliness implies there's something left to be desired, versus solitude, which is more of a choice,” she said). But just as insecurity has led to bravery, Tamko's expressions of insularity have led to community. “I'm a really shy person and introverted, but being onstage and performing and touring has helped me find my footing as a person,” she said. “Performing these songs is just as much about the people I'm performing to as it is about me.
“People who come up to me at shows have found community in this record that is so much about solitude. When I'm performing, we're all in that space together, and it's really special for me to see people experience it in a way that they identify with, but they're not alone. It feels like a thing that we're all celebrating.”
Sometimes fans of color approach Tamko, who was born in Cameroon, and express gratitude at seeing someone who looks like them performing onstage. “There's a shared understanding. It's nice to be able to provide that for someone,” she said, but added that she doesn't go out of her way to discuss the issue. “I want my identity and my music to speak for themselves at this point. It's not hidden or tucked away, but I don't make it a point to talk about it.”
Five months removed from the release of Vagabon's debut album, Tamko has already opened for the likes of Tegan & Sara. “They DM-ed me, being like, ‘We love your record. We want to take you [on tour],'” she said. “I feel very encouraged. There are obviously low points in doing something as subjective and fickle and relative as making music. But I don't feel like there's anything else I'd rather be doing.”