tUnE-yArDs: Expanding And Grabbing Attention

Apr 16, 2011

The music of tUnE-yArDs can be deceiving. Instruments transform; recordings morph; one voice can sound like four or five. The woman behind the project, Merrill Garbus, can certainly make a lot of noise on her own. Armed with a ukulele, drums and a voice that has been called a cross between Aretha Franklin and Yoko Ono, Garbus uses a loop pedal to build songs that are larger than life.

"[The loop pedal] is this really wonderfully simple device that is somewhat of a limitation," Garbus tells Weekend All Things Considered guest host Noah Adams. "I love to see how I can stretch using that limitation to its farthest reaches of musicality."

Garbus recently expanded her band and her sound, adding bassist Nate Brenner and two saxophonists, Matt Nelson and Kasey Knudsen, to the mix. The group just released an album called w h o k i l l.

"I think for this album, what really influenced both me and Nate Brenner was performing this past year and a half for many more people than we had imagined performing for in the past," Garbus says. "The previous tUnE-yArDs album was very much a bedroom-y project, and on this one we were aware of the space that we could now take up."

Still, Garbus doesn't rely on her new bandmates to grab audiences' attention. She's been honing that skill for years, having worked as a puppeteer and busked in subway stations. Garbus says she values her past life as an unknown, struggling artist.

"They taught me really everything I know about stage presence and about being clear about what I want to say," she says. "I'm confident enough to grab people's attention and say, 'Hey, I'm up here. Don't be chattin' into your beer. I'm right here, and this is what you want to be looking at.' " Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.