Looper to looper
SpaceWalker and Tune-Yards discuss holding space for social justice and spirituality
My one-woman-band SpaceWalker is best known for the genre-fluid sounds I generate with my loop pedal, but I started out with just me and my guitar. I had always wanted a loop pedal but was never able to fathom how to get the sounds I wanted. The first time I thought, “Maybe I can try, after all,” was after witnessing Merrill Garbus’ funky, divine sound design via her musical alter ego, Tune-Yards. The first song I ever heard by Tune-Yards was “Gangsta” from the W h o k i l l album. The way the beat falls together and hits so hard, I had no trouble believing Garbus was from the Bay Area, but I recently learned she is originally from New England. Connecticut, to be exact. She has been residing in Oakland since the early 2000s. I was honored to chat with one of my all-time favorite musicians, looper to looper.
What was your journey like as a solo musician?
That’s so long ago now, 10 years! I was touring on my own in a Chevy. I think I needed to know what I was capable of as a woman. It was really important to know how much sound I could make on my own.
What kind of setup did you have at your first gig ever?
I played ukulele first. I was just a chick with a ukulele. Then [I got] a Line 6 and would bang on the ukulele. My style was-slash-is clearly rhythmic.
When did you meet your bassist Nate Brenner?
2006. We were teaching at an arts camp in New Jersey for children. We were friends for four years before we started dating. Nate moved to Oakland to play music with some friends. We started dating, I moved to Oakland, and we fell in love. (She speaks through a smile as I hold back a huge “AWW!”)
Do you like living in Oakland?
Of the places I’ve lived, Oakland is the most diverse as far as race, language and immigrant communities. I grew up in Connecticut. Most places in New England were vastly white communities that looked like me, but I’ve liked to find myself in places that reflect the world, if that makes sense. I’m also conflicted living there because of white privilege. Oakland gives incredible gifts and ideas with art intersecting with social justice. Infinitely inspiring!
In your song “Colonizer,” the vulnerability and self-awareness you display while bringing white privilege to light is very powerful, thought-provoking and inspiring. Would you say you’ve found a place in activism?
I see activism as people putting their bodies on the line. That’s activism. I don’t wanna compare myself to that. I have limited energy and put a lot of it into my music, but if I can feel that this art is worthwhile by working toward a good vibration for all people and getting people talking, then that could perhaps be of use.
How would you say your spiritual journey is connected to your art?
I was deeply depressed at first, and music was the only thing keeping me alive. It’s a driving force. Made me understand what life is worth, its mystery and its meaning. Music manifests that energy.
I definitely agree. Anything to add before your upcoming show?
We’re gonna have so much fun! It’s the very first show of the tour. Sacramento is such an important place in California, and a lot of great things happen there. I’m really excited! This is definitely an appropriate place for our first show.