[Q&A] Tamayo Discuss Goals, Writing Techniques & More

By: Natu Tweh

I recently had the chance to interview local Gainesville band Tamayo. With a psychedelic fusion of electronic, folk and rock, they have come onto the scene morphing the venues they play at. We talked about everything from their goals, writing techniques and experience as a young band. Make sure to catch them at the High Dive this Friday the 13th where they will open for The Supervillains.

Introduce yourselves and what you play!

Ian: What did you say?

Luis: Good start!

Ian: My name is Ian and I play guitar, all though for a while I was filling in as the drummer. I am presently the guitarist.

Luis: I’m Luis, and right now I am functioning as the multi-instrumentalist. I play guitars primarily, but I also do sampling and synthesizers. We all sing.

Hannah: I play ukulele and I do most of the vocals.

Michael: I do mostly bass and vocals. I write and play a lot of acoustic guitar too, but when we are all together I mainly play bass.

Trevor: I mostly play acoustic rhythm guitar and percussion.

So first thing’s first, your sound is diverse. At the last High Dive show you played, my friend said “I feel like I’m doing something wrong by not tripping out while listening to this.” Explain to me where your sound comes from.

Michael: A week or two weeks before that High Dive gig, I went down to Tampa to see this DJ called Mystic Grizzly, a psychedelic bass DJ from Fort Lauderdale. I went down by myself for a little R&R, and I’m driving back the next day and I call up Trevor and I told him I think I have an idea for how we can combine genres we like. We like acoustic guitars and tribal drums, those are my favorite sounds. But I also like electronic music, how can I combine those? What do those two things make me think of? Acoustic guitars and tribal drums make me think of this indigenous experience. Okay, now how can we combine them into this futuristic spacey sound? I was just thinking of like “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel. I just thought what if we made a little story of this tribe around a fire and they are visited by aliens. That was the idea, what if that happened? That’s a great way to create these sounds. I told him that and he said OK. We showed up to practice and then Ian threw down this relaxing beat, and then Luis just went BWAAHN!

Luis: It happened in a funny order, because as he thought that, that day I happened to come in with a chime sample. It was the start of all of these crazy samples. It was a very simple looping chime sample, and he already had all these alien ideas. I had the chimes and a little bit of ambient noises. I put them on a loop and then these vibes just emerged. That little chime sample gave light to all these alien things, all these synthesizers buzzing and droning and oscillating.

Ian: Have you ever seen any YouTube videos of Woodstock, when Santana came on? There is one song they played, “Soul Sacrifice,” that Michael and I really bond over. Santana is his favorite band, and Woodstock is Woodstock to me you know! I pick a lot of my rhythm from that.

Michael: Santana is my favorite band, and the idea is like can we combine those two worlds? The classic rock world and the electronic world. What do we want the base to be? I don’t know, like Latin music, travel music, that combination of African and indigenous beats that make up so much popular music. I feel like so many rock bands just ignore it, and so many electronic artists just ignore it. There is such a good foundation there of just…

Trevor: Roots?

Michael: Yeah! Good roots.

Ian: I think it’s a lot of push and pull, like I don’t even like Santana! Our music tastes are so radical. My favorite band is Radiohead! We have such different sounds, and somehow its finding this happy medium where we’re finding psychedelia but it’s through minimalism and repetition. That first song you heard at the show, the drum beat stays the same for five minutes. It’s so simple, but there is something really nice in that.

Michael: It’s really hypnotic, that’s the word you always say. This is the witch’s brew you know, and Hannah is the witch! That song is called “The Visit,” with the whole concept of aliens visiting a tribe.

Hannah: The writing is my favorite part when do a song together. It’s easier sometimes to come up with words in a song than it would be to express exactly what this concept is in other ways. We have this concept of this visit and imagine what it would be like to be in that moment and experience, to be completely overwhelmed. What would be the words to say then? We’re just coming up with a way to express that kind of energy, and I think that’s the feeling we give to the audience too. They’re overwhelmed because there is just so much weird stuff happening on the stage!

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I like that idea of “The Visit,” kind of reminds me of “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls. The song is mainly about being abducted by aliens, I don’t know if y’all knew that. It’s about this guy running away from his feelings for a girl, and then she gets abducted by aliens and he reaches out and gets abducted too.

Michael and Luis: (In unison) I didn’t know that at all.

Ian: WHAAAAT!?

Trevor: Wait, that’s crazy.

Michael: All right, no one can question us now! But our song isn’t about literally getting abducted, or about aliens visiting a tribe. We just want it to sound like that. Everyone else can make of it what they want.

Hannah: Yeah, a story with meaning behind it.

Michael: You make the meaning out if it, I just want it to sound like that! Nature is beautiful too. I love the beginning of “The Visit,” with these ambient nature sounds that Luis literally went out and recorded.

You went out and directly got those sounds?

Luis: Some of the samples I programmed, and the other half I just recorded. For example, the day before the last practice we had an initial set of samples and then a final set that you heard at the show. One of the rain samples I got the day of the practice, like right before the show. I got it hours before. I was coming back from class and it was pouring. It was part of that week when it rained like everyday. I was stopping and right by myself was a gutter and the rain was pouring into it. I just hunched over for five minutes, getting soaked by the rain and recorded it. Eventually I just put it onto Logic (recording studio software) and put a shit ton of effects on it and that’s what created that sample.

Michael: And that’s awesome because that’s what starts the song! “Abraxas”, Santana’s second album starts with a song called “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts.” It’s a setup, and the song it goes into is “Black Magic Woman.” The idea that someone can start an album with just wind and chimes is great. That’s my favorite album of all time, and when I heard that I remember thinking “I want a show to start like that.” I want people at a festival to be walking from Bassnectar, some rock concert or whatever and they just hear WOOOOO and go “what the heck is that?” I don’t want people looking away, I want them immersed.

Hannah: And then aliens come and abduct them and they are never seen again.

Michael: That’s how we exit Red Rocks! A spaceship comes and takes us away.

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So is this how your songwriting process is in general? You described how you all brought something in. Is that how it is on the daily?

Ian: On the band level it is. Someone has a jumping off point, and then everyone jumps off with them. We’re all standing on a cliff, and it’s a trust game.

Luis: Ideally yeah!

Hannah: I think they just come out of jams, and sometimes we do a song in one night. Sometimes it’ll be something we came up with a while ago like some chords. We’ll take that home and just play with it.

Michael: It’s like fun homework sometimes. We get to all contribute what we like. Some songs are written by one of us, sometimes all of us, sometimes three of us. We are all okay with just sending our ideas to each other. It takes a lot of … I can never say it but “vernurability?”

Hannah: Vulnerability.

Ian: Vul-ner-a-bil-ity. We’re all just big kids here.

Trevor: Everytime we play, there is always more to add. We always find spots. There are whole spaces in “The Visit,” and we add rad stuff in there.

Luis: Noise!

Michael: Music guys, music!

Ian: Noise is music!

Trevor: Organized noise!

Haha! So from what I’m hearing, could Tamayo exist if you guys were complete strangers, or if you guys weren’t friends?

Ian: Probably.

Hannah: I mean we were strangers before we started playing music together.

Ian: I still don’t know these people, like who the fuck are you?

Michael: A Tamayo would exist, but it would be a totally different Tamayo. It would be me with whoever I was with. Tamayo could be a bluegrass band easily. Tamayo could be a folk country band very easily. Tamayo could be a reggae band. All I want to do is play music, and write songs and express myself. Would any of our songs exist? No. Would any of our covers exist? No.

Luis: But it would still be Tamayo. We all have our solo projects, but right now we’re all melding.

Ian: I think if we were already friends, and we all had preexisting relationships that were far more elaborate than they were when we first met, then we wouldn’t have that sizzle that a lot of new groups have. “The Visit” is a clash on so many levels, and one of them is on all of our points of view on a metaphysical level. We disagree with a lot of our tastes. This guy’s favorite band (points to Luis) is Radiohead, and Radiohead can be kind of passe, and likewise for Santana.

Luis: It really is disagreement, like I don’t even like classic rock!

Michael: But the idea that like… Why I like Santana-

Trevor: He starts arguing about Santana!

Hannah: Haha, he takes out his middle-school project, a 100-page essay!

Michael: Hah! Anyway, anxiety, stress and conflict. The fact a chord can do that, that music can do that, that’s what we like about it. Us. You can throw indie rock, Radiohead noise, I don’t know what to call Radiohead rock, into this Grateful Dead Santana world that we like. You can throw them together and hear the conflict. That’s what we want. Then to hit the resolve, that chord, that symbol clash. Like a fresh breath of air.

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So with all this behind us, how did such different people meet? What’s Tamayo’s origin story?

Trevor: The origin!

Hannah: I met Michael for the first time at The Bull, which is this bar downtown. They have an open mic every Monday, and I started going to it. I saw Michael there once and I guess we heard each other, and then Trevor started coming with him too so we kept running into each other there. We became friends and we ultimately started playing music together, so that’s how it formed and people came along the way. Ian started jamming with us.

Ian: Yeah I also met Michael at The Bull through Trevor. Trevor was my first friend in this group of strangers!

Trevor: Honestly, I knew Ian from Loosey’s open mic they do on Thursday’s, “Open Mic Done Right,” hosted by Randy. That’s where we met for the first time. We didn’t realize it, we linked up later but that was where we met.

Ian: Always a lot of random encounters, shifts passing in the night. Great junctions though! Loosey’s, The Bull-

Trevor: And Hardback Cafe, where me and Michael met.

Ian: Great Place.

Trevor: We met Luis outside of Five Star.

Michael: Oh my God! Yeah I forgot that!

Luis: Oh that’s right, that’s a good story! We didn’t even know! We were both like, blackout drunk in different groups, and I met them outside and I was like, “Who are these people, and why are they talking about the Grateful Dead so much?” I was wondering when were they going to stop? I met them and they were nice and everything but I didn’t think much of it. We remet two months later and they were like “Oh come out and jam with us,” but nothing ever happened. We ended up meeting again two months ago, I met Trevor at a wine night at one of my friend’s houses and I didn’t even recognize him. Someone was making a joke about how he looks like Dave Grohl or something. We started talking and then he said that they needed a cajon player, so I came out. It wasn’t until a week later that we discovered that we had already met before, just talking about the Grateful Dead.

Wow! Well in this time that you guys have known each other and performed with each other, give me a moment where everything melded, and a moment where everything just fell apart.

Michael: We have them back to back! We’re having one right now!

Trevor: That’s a great question. We have a lot of falling out moments.

Hannah: Right before one of our shows, one of Trevor’s guitar strings broke.

Trevor: I played two songs without that string.

Michael: I’ll give you one of the highest and one of the lowest at the same exact time. The last song at our High Dive showed we played “Break it Down,” a blues song and a very professional song. Hannah and I do a duet on it. The song ends and it pulls into a jam. At the point everything just goes and I introduce the band and we enter this free-for-all. There are some points in that, about a minute or two into that where play the best music we’ve ever played. Everything is just perfect. But at the same time, we all stop paying attention and then comes this little voice that says we need to get out of here! We need to end this song and it’s like, how do we end the song!?

Luis: It’s been like 10 minutes, and I’m glued to the synthesizer.

Ian: We’re at 35,00 feet, and we don’t know how to land.

Luis: We’ve fucked up that ending so many times.

Michael: We’ll countdown to end it, and then we all end it on the wrong part.

Hannah: But it’s cool that we are cool enough to fix it and move on together.

Michael: The freedom to jam is something that people take for granted. People don’t have the opportunity to jam really.

Trevor: That’s what’s evolving our ability to do that with each other, when he’s talking about the melding. I couldn’t do that before, and playing with these guys have helped me do that.

Luis: That’s the goal, to make the whole audience meld and feel that.

Michael: Maybe not the band, but I know I want to play at Suwannee Hulaween. The amphitheater stage. I want to play a little later than this, like night time at the sunset. The haze is there, and we just show up there.

Hannah: We just show up from the mist.

Luis: I have a very different goal! I want to play an empty cathedral with 20 fog machines and no light.

Trevor: I’m down, I’ll be there!

Well then what’s everyone’s goal? We got two goals!

Ian: Madison Square Garden. I’m pretty classic.

Michael: Hannah wants to play at High Dive!

Hannah: Yeah a couple months ago High Dive was my goal, but now that we play there every week, I don’t know. One thing that’s cool about us is that we work or do something outside of music. I’m a graduate student in anthropology, and to me music is a cool hobby. Especially with the ukulele I can take that with me anywhere I go. So if I’m like, on a mountain doing research, I’ll be fine with my ukulele! So my goal is to like just show up at concerts once in a while and people haven’t seen me in ten years and just surprise them!

Trevor: I wanna see my boy Michael at Hulaween. I wanna be there. Suwannee is a magical place already, and I think that our whole entire vibe and the way our sound works fits so well there. People that haven’t heard it before will feel right at home listening to our music.

Michael: It’s not that far, and I have the sense that if we just put work into our music, if we go on our paths, the degrees of separation are very little. There are people right here that have played at Suwannee. It’s just a matter of time. What is time when you’re playing music? It doesn’t matter and it’s just gonna happen. I know it’s going to work itself out. A year ago I wouldn’t imagine this. A year ago we were all in different, hard places. We all have at least a year left in Gainesville, so we’re gonna see where it goes. For me, this is what I want to do. I’m in law school here, that takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but I love finishing my work and running the band.

So Michael is in law school…

Hannah: I study anthropology.

Luis: I’m a student, I’m a computer engineering major. So that’s part of what I try to do with the band to. Combine programming and different sounds through the path of my major and melding it into music.

That’s tight. How about you Ian?

Ian: I am a student here as well, I study linguistics.

Oh, the second person I’ve met that studies linguistics. The other person graduated a year ago.

Ian: It’s a lonely world! Gotta go on your own.

And you Trevor?

Trevor: I work in a psychology research lab here at UF. I studied psychology and philosophy. Those are my main interests for school.

Michael: He brings this philosophical context to the lyrics, which is refreshing.

Trevor: Music is so philosophical.

Michael: I think we all have the same kind of worldview. I’m very much a hippie, but at the same time-

Trevor: He wears a polo. I’m the same way.

Michael: I’m a very spiritual and natural person, I feel that we are all connected to that world, but I also know what art can be. I know that we have to do this to be successful, we have to sell tickets, we have to go up! We have to work as a team to make our music go up. That drive to be professional kind of pushes us you know. We aren’t out here to just jam, but we want people to say “That shirt is cool, I want one.”

Trevor: We are always learning, and we are very open to learning. We are doing everything on our own and learning how everything works. Through our friends in the music industry, we are learning little by little. How are we going to walk on the stage next. How are we going to work with a venue next.  We’re learning little by little on how to get this whole production running.

Thank you guys so much, I have one last thing to ask. Are you guys working on anything new? An album or anything?

Michael: Yeah we are working on an album. We are in pre-production right now. We are choosing where we want to go. I guess the two biggest things right now are choosing where we want to record, and the set list. Exactly what do we want to play? I want to come in the studio with tracks. Like this is it. We are just here to record We are ready to stick headphones on and just play. The changes in the studio will be really minimal. I feel like we can go into the studio right now with a set list that would be really good. Six songs that would be really good, and we can decide exactly how we want to do them. But I feel like right now, we need a little bit more…

Luis: Cohesion. We need to connect our set list and songs more before recording.

Michael: Yeah, but we have to start with “The Visit.” We need to start as many shows with that song.

Thank you guys so much! That was great. I’m out of questions right now. Anything you guys want to add?

Michael: Just “Tamayoband” Facebook, and then “Tamyo_band” Instagram, and catch us at the High Dive opening for the Supervillians on Friday the 13th.

Hannah: It’s going to be very spooky.

Ian: Spook city.

Luis: We want to scare the audience!

Hannah: Let’s scare them into loving us.

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From left to the right: Ian Hallisey, Luis Robayo, Hannah Toombs, Michael Tamayo and Trevor Zwaan

Links:
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Live photos by Aliya Miranda

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