Just try and put Lætitia Tamko, aka Vagabon, in a box. Operating out of a scene that is, let's face it, about 99% Caucasian/male, the Cameroon-born, New York-raised songwriter makes the kind of thrillingly unclassifiable rock not typically associated with young women of colour. What's more she does it all with a natural inclusiveness so lacking in a world of indie snobbery ("How many indie fans does it take to screw in a light bulb?" goes the old joke. Answer: "You mean, you don't know?").
Lætitia's been recording as Vagabon since 2014 -- building on lo-fi demos to release her brilliant full-length album, Infinite Worlds, earlier this year -- now she's in London, performing at Electrowerkz this Thursday, and taking her show on the road to Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, as part of Dot to Dot at the weekend. If you haven't booked your tickets yet, here's everything you need to know...
Hello Vagabon, how would you describe what you do for a living?
I think I would put it under the umbrella of being a musician and a producer.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a musician. But I didn't want to be a musician in a way that was very intentional. So, I didn't say, "When I grow up I want to be a musician". I didn't tell anyone, because I felt like it was impossible. So instead I ended up being an engineer by trade.
At what point did you make the switch to music?
When I finished my engineering programme at university, I started thinking about my life differently. I spent five years working on maths, physics and circuits and, you know, how to apply the theory of calculus, so once that was coming to an end I began to have more time on my hands. I also wanted to finally lead the life that I dreamed of, or do the things that I was passionate about. It felt like the right time. One part of my life closed, and I was ready to fully dive into the next part of it.
What's the best and worst thing about growing up in New York?
The best thing is that I have so much access to so many different kinds of music, so many different kinds of people, cultures, generations, genders. New York is a vast pool of many different pockets of people. I think that's been really good for me. And I think, maybe not a bad thing, but a challenging thing, is that there are so many talented people in New York. I think it's hard to get through, to number one, the grind of living here, trying to find your place in such a vast community of artists and musicians.
What role do you think you play within the music scene?
I don't think about that very often, to be honest… I think if you ask someone who isn't me, the answer might be different. I'm sharing these songs because I would like them to speak to other people, and other people to find themselves in them. So, I think my role is just to be honest and to serve as a healing force for people who listen to my music.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I love a Chicago-based musician called Nnamdi. He just put out a record on Father Daughter Records, which is where my record came out as well. He's phenomenal. I also love an artist called Julie Byrne. There's a very small punk band in Philly called Old Maybe that I love. There's so much good music!
What do you think has been your best musical achievement so far?
Probably touring as frequently as I do and seeing all of the people that show up to my gigs, and give me their energy, and scream the words, and talk to me afterwards. Those are the moments that I really hold dear.
What are your greatest ambitions?
I have goals, but I haven't put any time restrictions on them. I would like to produce records for other musicians. I'm also quite interested in scoring for films. That's a a long term goal that I keep in mind, with no pressure or timeline.
Text Matthew Whitehouse
Image courtesy Father Daughter Records