Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus 'Not Putting Pressure on Myself'

Pacing new music, getting used to festival circuit

merrill garbus
Joseph Llanes
Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards in her trailer at Coachella.
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Before her set last weekend at Coachella, during which she would flail away with sticks at a pair of hand drums, her face painted with warrior stripes, Merrill Garbus, the multi-instrumentalist who performs as Tune-Yards, was ready to make an admission. "Bigger festivals have psyched me out in the past," she confessed backstage to Rolling Stone.

Since releasing her critically-acclaimed sophomore album, w h o k i l l, last year, the Connecticut native has performed at several of the top-tier musical gatherings; she'll play Coachella again this weekend. But only recently did she decide to stop worrying about pleasing everyone in attendance. "I could ride this rollercoaster of 'Do people like me or do people hate me?’" she said. "I'm trying to get over that."

All evidence points to the music community embracing Garbus, and Tune-Yards, in a major way: w h o k i l l appeared on several year-end best lists, topping the Village Voice’s prestigious Pazz and Jop poll and coming in at number 13 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2011. For Garbus, the past twelve months have felt like a lifetime.

"I'm living a dream," she said. The singer-songwriter's humility stems from the humble expectations she had for her music career. "I came to music really out of desperation," she said. "I'm so thankful that people have been able to connect to [my music] and find some kind of meaning in it, something to grapple with."

A major drawback of incessant touring, however, Garbus said, is having almost no time to write new music. She’s not exactly in a hurry ("I’m not putting pressure on myself"), but then again, she wouldn’t mind some time to flesh out those ideas constantly poking around upstairs.

"Bands who go, 'Sorry, we need eight months in Hawaii to make our album,’ I was always like, that's fuckin' bullshit," she said. "Now I see there's got to be some separation between talking about your music and being out there with it, and getting to that place of being more internal."