Tamko answered some questions for The Nasher ahead of her May performance at ‘til Midnight at the Nasher.
CHRISTOPHER MOSLEY: You learned to play by figuring out pop music tracks, but clearly moved into some different territory from there. What was your entry away from pop music?
LAETITIA TAMKO: I didn’t really step away from that, my scope of music and its consumption just expanded. I didn’t have anyone in my life saying, “You should listen to [blank]” or “Have you ever heard The Smiths?”
No one talked to me about music, so I only listened to the things being played on the radio and my 3 CDs. That only changed when I started making music and performing it and meeting other musicians who were constantly talking about records and albums and bands; I’m still always very unknowledgeable in those kinds of conversations.
CM: You’ve grown up in a few disparate places— Cameroon, Harlem, Yonkers. What did you take from each of them? How did each one change you?
LT: Yes, every place I have lived informs my character. Cameroon has taught me gratitude for the access I have to be able to even do this with my life. That is unmeasurable. There are much worse conditions in which to live, and I always cherish that lesson.
CM: What are some things that influence you outside of music? A particular experience, a lm, or a piece of visual art, for instance.
LT: Lately, it has been a lot of books — I’m currently rereading Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio, and a friend of mine, Griffin Irvine, just had a poetry book of his called Eye Dialect published, and I’ve been enjoying that.
CM: When did it click for you that music was going to be your full-time job?
LT: I kind of rejected the idea that I was going to do it full-time so soon. I knew when I made the decision to go full-time musician, it was a decision I refused to do too soon and down the road. I have to give up. I thought to myself ‘Well, This can’t be real, so tread lightly.’ I actually kept my engineering job until the very last second I could. I was working and coding on my 40-day tours around the country, then going to sound-check and playing the show and doing merch, then coding again before bed.
CM: You have worked as an engineer, programmer, and developer. How do those things play a role in your creative life?
LT: Technically speaking, not very much. Work-ethic wise, it’s playing a huge role.
CM: In interviewing artists over the years, I’ve heard several say there is always a key point in their live set when a moment or a lyric almost seems to make time stop for them. Do you have a moment, song, or lyric that does that for you?
LT: That moment would be when I close my set with “The Embers” and the whole crowd screams the words. That moment makes me feel so close to the amazing people who come to my shows and it makes me feel less alone up there spilling all my secrets.
CM: If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the music industry today, what would it be?
LT: Without getting too heady, I’d wave the wand and get rid of industry-manufactured competition between artists. There’s enough space for everyone to have a lane
CM: If you could collaborate with any artist working today, who would it be?
LT: Hailu Mergia.