Laetitia Tamko, the “one-woman empire” that is musical act Vagabon, prefers being on tour to practicing in her Bushwick studio. For her, the road feels more like home. The 24-year-old fresh face began recording and producing music as Vagabon in 2014 while studying engineering at CUNY, spending most weekend nights working late at the library. At least that’s what she told her parents, while sneaking off to play gigs throughout the city. Tamko didn’t want a “real job,” despite her parents’ failed attempts to push her into a career in engineering. Brooklyn’s underground music scene had pulled her in. “It can be hard, but it’s also all I see myself doing,” she says.
Tamko will debut her new record, Infinite Worlds, on Feb. 24, with a release show at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg. The album draws on Tamko’s varied experiences, from her childhood in Cameroon to attending high school and coming of age in New York City. West African music was a big part of Tamko’s upbringing, particularly on Sundays when her parents invited friends over to play jazz. But Tamko claims this doesn’t play into her music much.
With Infinite Worlds, she stays true to the raw, vulnerable lyrics that captivated local audiences and characterized the lo-fi Persian Gardens EP of 2014. (Billboard named her one of “10 Rock/Alternative Artists Primed for a Breakout” last year.) Still, those early demos were somewhat haphazardly thrown together in a Brooklyn basement, while the new album was produced with all the frills of a recording studio in New Paltz, NY. Tackling the “beast” that is recording was totally new for Tamko, but she came to enjoy the “very intentional process.” The result is a series of tracks that are hypnotic, high-energy, and haunting.
The album took nearly 10 months to record. With a full-time engineering job, Tamko could only travel upstate on weekends. There was also a lot of writing and recording simultaneously, fleshing out songs in the studio. Tamko likens her creative process to that of a comedian workshopping jokes, in that she uses her live shows to test what works for the crowd and what doesn’t. Two songs from the early EP have been reworked in this way, albeit organically, for the new album. A third, “Fear & Force,” was edited in house. As Tamko leads into the chorus on this track, she kills the guitars and adds synth to create an intensity that deepens throughout.
Following the release show in Brooklyn, Tamko will embark on a bicoastal tour including a stop at South by Southwest in March. Her tour essentials are several books, as Tamko has been particularly into poetry lately, and lavender oil for anxiety. The singer may love life on the road, but performing will always be a little bit uncomfortable for the self-admitting loner.
“I think that I’m a little bit more professional now in that I can be on and adapt this alter ego that is fearless and ready to be seen,” she says, “But I usually balance that out by being very alone before and after my set.”
Tamko says that she’s not so fearless in real life, but her work ethic suggests otherwise. It was drive and determination that pushed Vagabon to the forefront of Brooklyn’s DIY music scene just a few years ago. One of her first shows was a Planned Parenthood benefit at The Silent Barn, Tamko’s favorite venue. There were a string of months where she played gigs in New York every single weekend, booking them herself as opposed to waiting for invitations to play. Then “it kind of caught on,” she says, and the community has been very supportive.
Amidst prepping for her next tour, the songstress is working on new tracks for her next album and designing the Vagabon band merchandise. Tamko speaks casually of her successes, concluding that if it doesn’t work out – there’s always engineering. Well, maybe.
“It’s not really all that glamorous, you know,” Tamko comments, “Just making teas and music.”