Tomberlin on Religion, Prairie Dogs, and the Persistence of Female Composer Stereotypes | Music
“They thought I was their queen but I said no no you gotta rule yourselves with kindness and patience,” Sarah Beth Tomberlin (who records as Tomberlin) tweeted last week during a break. after driving with his group through the endless prairies of Wyoming. .
The “they” in question, as shown in the accompanying video, is a procession of squirrel-sized prairie dogs, each approaching her in turn, standing on their hind legs, and waiting to be hand-fed with a carrot. “I have never been happier in my life than I was just now,” added the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, whose bright eyes and cheerful smile made it clear show.
Tomberlin’s outlook is a little less cheerful on his second album I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…, released a month ago on Conor Oberst’s Saddle Creek Records label.
“Won’t you cover my eyes?” / I don’t know who to be / I don’t know what to see,” she sings on the haunting “Possessed,” while “Happy Accident” offers tongue-in-cheek lines like “I wanna burn it all down / Could I borrow a light?”
The latter is accompanied by a black-and-white video in which Tomberlin emerges from a dark forest – wearing a black hooded cape and chainmail sweater, wielding a sword, tarot cards and a handful of mushrooms – ride an eerily empty subway. car, stares wide-eyed at skyscrapers, and finds himself in a room with a dog walking backwards. Think Joan of Arc and Lord of the Rings, with a bit of Twin Peaks for good measure.
The sublimely melodic arrangements on the album, meanwhile, call to mind artists like Low, Elliott Smith and Nick Drake in their darkest moments. When you combine that with a voice that deserves comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Judy Sills, it’s easy to see why her music has over 600,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
Critics have shown no less enthusiasm, with one British publication going so far as to liken her songs to “talk therapy sessions”, a comparison she doesn’t particularly like.
“I feel like a lot of singer-songwriters understand that,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, it must be so therapeutic for you to write this cathartic confessional song.’ I’ve told a lot of other women and non-binary people about this it’s like they dumb down work like it’s not work it’s just a journal entry that I I’ve turned it into a song. I’m not saying you’re saying that, but those kind of words don’t really get thrown around, you know, Bob Dylan or someone like that. I’m still writing a song and it’s still working. I makes it and it’s helpful. It’s not like I’ve written a journal entry and I’m like, ‘Hmm, pretty good today, I’m going to do a song.’
When played alongside his mostly acoustic debut album At Weddings and his EP Projections, Tomberlin’s I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This… has a fuller band sound, with synthesizer, pedal steel, wood , percussion and guitar riffs. straight out of Neil Young’s playbook.
“Neil Young’s ‘Powderfinger’ is one of my favorite songs,” says Tomberlin, who has covered it – along with songs by Joanna Newsom, Alex G and Porches – on past solo tours. “I really want to bring covers into the current set, but it’s my first time touring with a band, and so it’s really like locking down the songs that are mine. So we’re going to be running this record for quite a while, and then it’s going to be fun to switch it up.
In the meantime, fans can go online to check out a faithful cover of Low’s “Words,” which she recorded for SiriusXM with fellow Brooklyn neighbors DIIV.
Which brings up another topic that’s been known to pop up in previous interviews: While Low’s Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk are both devout Mormons, Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist preacher who strayed from religion then. that she was still a teenager, which is not always easy. things to do.
“The church was my whole growing community,” recalls the musician, who grew up in Fairfield, an Illinois town of less than 5,000 people. “So in getting away from that, I had to find other things to connect to. People and music have always done that for me, they’ve always connected me to myself. And so, you know, it was a blessing to make music, to put it online and to have the right people to find it. And that’s why I live in Brooklyn now. It’s not because I wanted to live in New York – in fact, I never wanted to live in New York – but I live here because the community is so rich, meaningful and useful. People really care about each other and engage in things that are new to them, and that’s exciting to me.
“So yeah, sure, leaving the church created a little hole in my life, but it’s been filled. It’s kind of a wild journey to work this out on your own, and I’m grateful for all of that. You know, it made me who I am, and I’m pretty okay with who I am.