Vagabon's Laetitia Tamko is Ready to Share her 'Infinite Worlds' with You

Vagabon's Laetitia Tamko is Ready to Share her 'Infinite Worlds' with You

The prog-rock musician opens up about her new album, the sanctity of DIY spaces, and how living in different places has helped shape her sound.

The prog-rock musician opens up about her new album, the sanctity of DIY spaces, and how living in different places has helped shape her sound.

Text: Ilana Kaplan

Combining personal history with poetry, Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko is a musical force to be reckoned with. After growing up in Cameroon and moving to New York, Tamko experienced quite a culture shock; the artist relocated  just in time to start high school, four of the most formative (and often awkward) years of one's life. While she grew up around music (her mom had friends over to sing West African chants on weekends), it was a priority for her to finish engineering school before she could focus on music full-time. Those West African chants that seeped into her childhood aren’t a clear influence on Tamko’s music, though. Instead, polyrhythms influenced by them can be seen throughout her electronic collages and punk-fueled ballads. Through Tamko’s hypnotizing vocals, she seeks comfort in the spaces she sings about, and wants listeners to find solace in them as well.

We caught up with Tamko about the places she’s lived, the importance of DIY spaces and how she plans to evolve in her music career.

How did you first become interested in making music?

I guess making music of my own started about three years ago now. I always wanted to, and I finally was in the right position to do so, personally. So I got started as soon as I could. I started writing my own music at 21.

You have moved around a bit in your life and traveled to different spaces. How has that factored into your music?

A lot, actually. I love to write about things that have happened in different places I’ve been in, traveled to, and worked in. Having an overall worldview is a part of my experience and life, so it seeps into when I’m writing songs for myself. It tends to come into my own narrative often.

Do the places you reference in your music have personal significance to you? For instance, you have a song called “Minneapolis.” How have those places become a part of you?

There are some songs that have specific places in them and some songs that allude to a place that is probably not tangible, but up for the imagination to conjure up based on the imagery. It doesn’t really go beyond me writing about places I’m fascinated by or places I would like to go to, but it’s also not the point of my writing. It’s not very intentional—I don’t seek out to write about places specifically or exclusively; it just happens.

How did the dichotomy of living in Cameroon and New York affect your music?

They’re such different environments. They’re different in culture, different in the spaces, accessibility, and resources. But, they’re both parts of my identity, how I’ve grown and the kind of person I am now. They both have helped inform who I am.

I understand your mom would have gatherings with friends on weekends and sing traditional West African songs and group chants. How has that played into your music if it has at all?

I don’t think it has. I just think it’s a fond memory I have of my childhood. I don’t really think it seeps into my music now. My music and traditional West African music are very different. There may be hints of polyrhythms that are present in my music that are used in West African music, but they’re very removed, I believe.

How did you come up with the moniker Vagabon?

It was pretty random. My name is Laetitia, which is French and people often mispronounce it, so I just didn’t want to go by name to save me the trouble of correcting everyone constantly. I’m sure at the time I had some reasoning for Vagabon, but it’s kind of random.

Throughout your forthcoming record Infinite Worlds, is there a particular theme that resonates?

It’s not really themed because a lot of the songs were written at different times, but the title is inspired by a book of poetry called The Crisis of Infinite Worlds by Dana Ward. It traces back to my love for that book—it was something I was reading while I was recording. Also, this album will be my first album in that each of these songs were written at different points in my life. It encompasses different aspects of me as a person and as a musician, throwing varying genres in there: Infinite worlds within myself and infinite worlds within my music.

Who would you love to collaborate with in the future?

This is probably a stretch, but I would love to do something with Anderson .Paak. I’ve been really enjoying his music. He’s super talented and such a great drummer. I would love to be in a room with him and see what he does. I’d love to sing on a track or play bass for him. I’m listening to a lot of his music right now, so he’d be the first on my list.

What’s it been for you playing shows with Sad13 and in the DIY place?

Well, I went on tour with Sad13. It was cool and fun. Playing in DIY spaces is great. It’s great that all-ages venues exist all over the country, and you can discover a lot of incredible music and discover a lot of incredible spaces. I’m so grateful for that community and everyone keeping it alive for doing so, because I know it’s not easy and even more so because they’re becoming a target now.

What would a future Vagabon record look like?

Probably different than this one in good ways. It would be an evolution. I hope to make each of my albums objectively better than the last. A lot of the music I’m writing now is centered around electronic beats and different textures than what I’m used to and writing on bass mostly. Who knows what the future holds, but just working with different textures and evolving my musicianship [is what I’ll be doing].

What’s the message you want to put out as a musician?

That’s a difficult one. There are so many things going on right now, and I am personally trying to figure out how to get by and feel resilient. I try not to put myself on a pedestal of having a platform, but because the fact I’m even doing this interview gives me a little more of a platform than someone who isn’t. I think my message comes across organically. We’d be here forever if I told you all of the things I believe in. I want to exist, be present, and I want to open myself up to people through my music. I want to interact with them -- that’s one of my favorite things. When I get to have conversations with people who come to my shows is one of my favorite parts. What I’m trying to say is that I can do it by just doing it, rather than saying it. I think it comes across pretty clearly, I’m just here to give a sense of community for me and other people, but I’m also human and figuring it out just like everyone else.

Vagabon's forthcoming album, Infinite Worlds, is released February 24 and can be purchased now on Bandcamp.

Credits: Banner Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz

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