In a Fast-Paced World, Dream-Pop Duo Tashaki Miyaki Like to Take Things Slow
Lingering between heartbreak and existential haze, Tashaki Miyaki’s unhurried dream pop both soothes and magnifies feelings of romantic turmoil with gauzy melodies and searing guitar. Paige Stark and Luke Paquin formed the band during an impromptu recording session in 2011 and named themselves after a mispronunciation of film director Takashi Miike’s name.
It began with two songs, "Somethin Is Better Than Nothin" and a cover of "All I Have to Do Is Dream," recorded for fun with their friend, underground producer Joel Jerome. Stark put the tracks on Bandcamp. At the time, she had another band gaining momentum, Stone Darling, with Liv Marisco, Lindsay Dawn and Mikki Itzigsohn, but internally the girls had different ideas of what they wanted and parted ways soon after their first EP’s release. Meanwhile, those two Tashaki Miyaki songs somehow caught the attention of U.K. press. Before long, the phone rang and it was Paul Jones from legendary label Rough Trade Records.
How it all came together is murky for Stark. Jones connected them with Ned Hodge from Sounds of Sweet Nothing, who would release their first EP. Then, she says, “Somehow Robert English from Converse and The Fader got involved and flew us out to play at the 100 Club [in London]. That was our first show.”
It was also the first time Stark performed as a singing drummer. Stark began playing drums around 2009, having focused all her life on voice, piano and guitar. She never imagined she would be a drummer. She says, “My dream was that I would be at a jam with amazing musicians and be able to play ‘Cortez the Killer’ by Neil Young perfectly on drums. I live in that groove.” Things happened so fast, there wasn’t time to find a replacement, but they did add bassist Dora Hiller to the band.
As demand for more music intensified, “I felt so much pressure,” Stark says. “People wanted to rush me. The band was really new. We needed to develop our sound and that needed to happen organically. The business people wanted something else. For better or worse, I said no to a lot of stuff. I wasn’t ready to put out a whole record.”
They didn’t go into hiding or anything dramatic like that. After their self-titled EP in 2011, the band followed with a single on Luvluvluv Records; a 7-inch of Everly Brothers covers on Rough Trade’s For Us Records; a single on their own label, Blonde Dog; and a tape of their early recordings on Burger Records. They also played all over North America and the United Kingdom, including a tour with The Allah-Las. Still, it’s taken almost seven years for their debut album to come together. The Dream finally sees the light on April 7 via Metropolis Records.
Even though basic tracking took two weeks, the album has been in the mixing stage for several years. “I was willing to take the time, whatever it took until it felt right,” says Stark, who produced the record. She wanted to make sure the songs were complete, adding string arrangements and overdubs and needing time to raise money for each new session. As a result, the album was recorded in four different studios, engineered by three different friends, and features more than a dozen musicians, many of whom will make appearances during the band’s Monday night March residency at the Echo.
While this is her most comprehensive role as producer, Stark has been involved in producerlike roles with several great local bands, including Cherry Glazerr, L.A. Witch and Aquadolls. “With L.A. Witch I was the invisible band member on their first EP, just overseeing, helping bring their vision to life and not step on it. With Clem [Creevy of Cherry Glazerr], it was different. She was so young when we met, 14 or 15. I wanted to protect her, help her explore and make her own discoveries.”
The importance of mentors is long-standing in Stark’s life. Starting from her grandmother, who taught her piano at age 8, Stark has always had people she trusts to help guide her. Composer Jon Brion is one. “He taught me drums. He allowed me to sit in on sessions. He taught me about engineering and recording and showed me instrument tricks.” And there’s Joel Jerome: “He was the first person in the music community to support me. When he took me seriously and said, ‘I’m going to help you,’ that was a magical turning point. He’s my soul brother. He’s taught me so much and allowed me to develop as an artist.”
As far as her music is concerned, Stark says, “I’m super inspired by pop writing from the ’50s and ’60s. I write from a personal but also universal place. If it’s too personal, listeners can’t connect their own experience. The emotions are specific but I’m not like, ‘and he has blond hair.’ Even if it’s about a specific person who broke my heart, all the heartbreak I’ve ever experienced in my life will come up and move it along.”
She’s also inspired by cinema, which influences the slower pacing and why she added string sections. “I like things that when you hear them you can picture a world. When you hear Ennio Morricone, it conjures a world. Music with words doesn’t always allow enough space for the mind to create a picture. I try to create space. Maybe that’s why it’s slower, so that the mind can create a world.”
While her voice and early Velvet Underground drumming style contribute the sweet, lulling elements, Luke Paquin’s guitar provides the razor blades and noise. “I wanted to represent different feelings in the music, especially the songs that are more cutting," Stark says. "Luke’s friends tease him and say, ‘Oh you must love this band because you’re basically soloing the whole time,’ but I really support that. I wanted really sweeping things, so his guitar is a good counterbalance to the sort of beautiful lushness, to have something to fuck it up.”
Aside from the music’s inherent dreaminess, the album title derives from a lyric in “City,” a song that references Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious: "Is the dream the beginning?"
Tashaki Miyaki perform at the Echoplex March 6 and 13, and at the Echo March 20 and 27. More info.
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