Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards is known for pushing the limits of her voice. She sings, screams, talks and shrieks. And she’s composed music for vocal ensembles.
Garbus has a new Tune-Yards album out called “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life.” She says she made some discoveries about her voice with this album -- and it all stemmed from a study-abroad trip she took to Kenya.
"It came from me listening to myself alter my voice depending on who I was talking to," she says. "Particularly in this time that I was telling a story about traveling in Africa."
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She plays with that idea on her new album, most notably on a song called “Colonizer.”
"I wish it was not about me," she says. "Because that would be much more comfortable, if I was saying, 'I’m really making a commentary on what this messed up, racist white person is saying.' But it came from my experience."
Garbus has written about racial topics before. She even received praise for songs like “Doorstep” from the album “Whokill.” But she questions that praise now.
"I look back on 'Doorstep' and I think, 'I would never write that song again,'" she says. "It feels like trying to understand the black experience as a white woman ... Now I feel that's pretty questionable, and not my place."
When it came time to write her new album, it was a struggle. Garbus says she worried about how listeners might react to the album and some of its raw language.
"It’s very painful to confess feelings that are so uncomfortable, knowing that people of color will be hearing me say these things," she says. "I think I need to say them, and I need to say them specifically so other white people can look at themselves critically too.
"This is heavy, huh?" she adds. "Heavy album."
But despite that heaviness, “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life” is really danceable.
Garbus wrote it that way intentionally. She thinks a heavy topic like racism or climate change is easier to digest when there’s a great beat behind it.
"If I can make a danceable song out of these things, maybe we can just get more comfortable with these things, instead of pretending that they're not here," she says. "We can take action instead of feeling afraid."
And even if the new Tune-Yards record still makes people uncomfortable, Garbus says that’s a good thing.
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Tune-Yards performs April 26 at the Boulder Theater.