TATYANA paints a surreal daydream in her debut EP “Shadow On The Wall”

Writer Mica Kendall talks to TATYANA, an up and coming musician who blends the sounds of her classical harp with the futuristic sounds of electronic production.

Art by Oda Sofia

Story by Mica Kendall 

Falling under the musical realm of dreamscape alongside lush synths and ethereal vocals, up and coming artist, TATYANA, blends the use of her classical harp with the futuristic sounds of electronic production. Recently signed to Sinderlyn (Pete Sagar from Homeshake’s independent label), her debut EP “Shadow On The Wall” consists of five surreal tracks that took her only one to two days to write and record. TATYANA describes her creative process behind composing her EP as “sporadic and deriving from an emotionally raw state of mind.” 

Prior to her current residency in the United Kingdom, TATYANA attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where she began to experiment with rigging in Ableton and learning the freestyle ropes of electronic production. Everything about “Shadow On The Wall” showcases TATYANA’s talent for being a self made artist. Thematically revolving around sensibility, the EP delivers a visceral depiction of the fluctuation of romantic relationships.  

Prior to her third single release, I sat down over Zoom with TATYANA from her London flat to discuss the underground electronic scene in London, the creative direction behind her latest music videos for “Wild Card” and “Shadow On The Wall,” and how she is adapting to quarantine while releasing her debut EP. 

Mica Kendall: As a child who started with playing the piano, what intrigued you about the harp specifically?

TATYANAI was about 10, so just a kid. I’m not sure what specifically drew it to me other than it looked magical and exciting. I’d never seen one up close, so when my music school in Russia told me to choose a second instrument it seemed like a no brainer. Little did I know how hard that thing is to lug around! 

MK:  The harp is a notorious instrument for being used in classical music, but what inspired you to move into using an electronic harp and blending together the use of classical and modern day electronic/dream pop into your music?  

T:  It was tangential for a long time—I wrote pop songs and then practiced my classical. Eventually I just started writing on the harp. I remember after one of my first paid gigs in high school I decided to buy a guitar pedal with the money. The reverb, delays and choruses sounded so amazing on the harp and it felt like a real changing point. It’s just more interesting to me to explore my instrument in the context of the music I love and listen to. It feels like there’s still a lot to be done—I want to make an electronic harp album one day and really dive deep into it. 

MK: When you studied at Berklee, what got you into your current production process involving electronic beats and combining that alongside your vocals and harp instrumentation?

T: I got into production at Berklee as kind of a reaction to what was going on with what I was doing at Berklee. When I arrived there I thought I was gonna be in a rock band. I had a band for a while. It was my friends and we played some gigs together. It was me and all boys. I remember there was a moment where we were in a rehearsal room at Berklee and it wasn’t going well and I got very frustrated just because nobody was listening to me. I was like “this is my music, my project, this is something that’s important and I was like I wish I could do this by myself.”  Why is it that I have to take something I wrote at home alone that’s really special and personal and then the only way I can realize it in a bigger vision is by asking these dudes to help me figure it out. 

I’m quite an impulsive person so I basically just yelled at them “I’m done with this” and “I’m firing all of you,” but these were my friends so it was fine, we’re still friends but I felt like it wasn’t working. Sort of at the same time I was dating someone who was really into electronic music and he kind of showed this genre to me because before that I had been not opposed to it, but I just assumed all electronic music was club music and EDM. I didn’t understand the nuances or how deep it could get. It was really helpful he showed me all this music, like Mode Selector I remember blew my mind.

I had never heard of music like that. Then I got Ableton so it was like all these steps. Then me and my friends made stupid beats in Ableton and it felt like a computer game—like it’s colorful and looks like Tetris it doesn’t look like a very serious software even though it is. I slowly got into it and I always recorded myself as best as I could with Garageband. Then my very last year I decided to do another major and I did the electronic production and sound design major at Berklee. So that was like a crash course. It was very intense. I basically went in knowing nothing and I felt like I was extremely out of my depth. I was like I don’t understand what any of this means: audio versus midi, frequency spectrum, all these technical terms that seem so beyond me. I did it very quickly in a year and honestly I don’t know how much of it stuck but what did stick was just the love of production and producing and using my computer. That’s where it began.

 MK: For “Wild Card,” your first single, you attributed the meaning of the song to an imaginary first lover in which it seems like the love will last forever. Did this meaning of the song inspire the conceptual elements of your music video which is very surrealist and dreamscape centric?

T: It did! The place I was imagining when I wrote the song was this place I go to in the Russian countryside which is super rural…like very wild, there’s no running water. You look outside and everything is sort of blooming and bursting in color and greenery and life and I had that kind of image in my head when I was writing it. Originally before I met Nwaka, who directed the music video, I wanted to go to Russia to film and I still want to do that, but it just didn’t work out for that project. There’s something so picturesque about that place, like a painting, so that’s what we tried to do by making paintings. Kind of surreal, pre-Raphaelite, this kind of beautiful homage to this place even though it doesn’t totally reflect it. It’s like an internet version of it.

MK: From listening to the EP, I see what you mean when you say your music is the in between feeling of happy and sad. Thematically the EP to me is super strong and relatable to all those elements that go into a relationship or newfound infatuation with someone. Seen in your references to questioning a past relationship in “Over Again” or dwelling on where you stand with someone on “Shadow On The Wall,” did you draw on your own personal relationships and when writing the EP and what do you hope listeners take away from the EP?

T: I think I do take inspiration from my own life into some degree. The way I see it is the people who I’m involved with romantically are my muses. It’s never necessarily confessional and about them specifically, but they kind of instill a feeling in me. So something they say or do makes me feel something, like it triggers me. Then from that I have themes sort of that I write about and one of those themes is this in betweenness. Between sad and happy and past and present and future and different places. I feel like an in between person. I feel like I’m half of different things and it can be a bit confusing. But yeah I do mind my life to some degree, but I think I’m always trying to take that and elevate it to something that is more. I’m not gonna say more relatable, but more general. This is what I would hope that people can take away from listening. It’s totally up for interpretation.  I think using the specificity of my experience to talk about all these general themes and feelings that we might feel collectively relates to the universal human experience.

MK: “Shadow On The Wall,” your second single, has the perfect quarantine music video with the PhotoBooth aesthetic. Was that the original concept you had for the music video or did you have to adapt based on the current situation?

T: What’s funny about [this] quarantine is that I feel like I’ve sort of been in quarantine for a long time in a way. I can be quite a bit of a hermit. I stay in my studio alone a lot and work on stuff. Actually I made that music video at least six months ago—it’s been awhile. I’ve been sitting on it. Because “Shadow On The Wall” was one of the first songs I wrote for the EP, I just decided to make a music video at home with it. Because it always feels funny to me that we have all this technology at our fingertips and I’m fascinated by the internet aesthetic of DIY homemade things. Look at TikTok—everybody is basically making music videos at home by themselves in a way you could say. I made that pre quarantine so I was the original quarantine music video maker [laughs].

MK: On songs such as “Over Again” and “Need To Know,” there are a lot of texturized elements that go into the entirety of the song with your various beats and melodies. In your production process, do you produce the various beats and soundbites first or the vocals?

 T: I love starting with my voice but not necessarily to start with lyrics and a melody. I use my voice as a harmonic instrument a lot. I’ll sing chords. This is part of my setup. I have a piece of equipment that’s a harmonizer and it feels more intuitive and allows me to get out of my head. So singing is a great way for me to start an idea even if I’m not singing the main melody and I’m kind of just finding my way into a vibe. That’s really what I’m working towards: a vibe. Once I feel like there’s something that has a mood to it or an interesting texture that will inspire me to put words and a melodic idea down. It’s sort of a mixture of both.

 MK: Is there any specific gear you use alongside Ableton and such during your production? 

T: Well Ableton has a loop function in it and I have a new piece of kit that is a synth called a OP- 1 which I’ve been dreaming about for so long. I finally just decided to get it for quarantine and it’s been so fun. It combines all these things. I really enjoy playing drums, anything that’s textile and gets me out of my head and gets me into a flow state or situation is really profound and important for music making. I love using different pieces of gear especially if you don’t know how to use it because you can make something more interesting since you’re experimenting and mistakes are really important because you’ll stumble onto something and think “whoa, that’s cool.” 

MK: While listening to the EP, certain elements reminded me of artists such as Purity Ring and Charli XCX and I know the underground electronic scene in London was a big musical inspiration to you. Do you have any specific electronic musicians you look up to or influenced your style?   

T: I definitely hear the comparisons you made. I love autotune. It’s another way to start thinking about perfection and pour your heart out in a way and I love the way it sounds. Like with Charli, she’s a big proponent of autotune and she uses it a lot and I think that’s great. To me it does sound like the future. Humans and technology are becoming more entrenched with each other. To me it’s the sound of the future. Coming back to London I sort of was exposed to this new thing for me which was rave music and electronic music and there’s so much amazing music that comes out of the U.K. I guess someone I really respect and look up to is this British artist called Tirzah. She put out one of my all time favorite records and Mica Levi produced it. There’s something about it that’s very raw on that record and her voice is very front and center.

MK: How has life been like for you during quarantine and in one word how would you characterize your debut EP?

 T: For me what I have been enjoying and what I want to do more of is be outside. I’ve been going on bike rides and going to the beach now that some of the stricter lockdown measures have been lifted. It’s been such a source of pleasure and joy and if I can do more of that that’ll lead to a good life in my book. With the EP I’m gonna say “raw” because it’s interesting. Looking back at it, that was really the first project where I finally took all of the things I’ve been training and working on and synthesizing for a long time and actually made something finalized. So it was this total outpouring that came really quickly and it’s a little rough around the edges, but I’m proud of it because it was this first milestone for me. I did it completely by myself and it was an accomplishment that I’m proud of and it allowed me to see how I would like to develop and point to new features to explore.