Avant-pop act tUnE-yArDs have released their third album, Nikki Nack. STEPH MARKS reports.

For their third album, Nikki Nack, tUnE-yArDs sought out the help of two of the industry’s most respected producers to refine the band’s earlier sounds.

John Hill (Rihanna, M.I.A.) and Malay (Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys) taught frontwoman, Merrill Garbus, and her long-time collaborator, Nate Brenner, how to get people moving.

“I wanted to make a dance album,” says Garbus. “I wanted to make people shake. The reason why we brought in producers for help is because they have the inside scoop about what makes dance music and radio pop work.”

The tUnE-yArDs’ sound definitely has the ability to get people up and out of their seats. Listening to tracks featuring layers of repetitive drumming like the personality packed Water Fountain, it’s almost impossible not to want to throw shapes wherever you are. “Nate comes from a jazz background and I come from a more DIY background. We learnt about the really deep synth and sub harmonic sounds and drum machines and some other really technical tricks of the trade,” says Garbus.

Even with the help of some big-wig producers, Garbus has her own ideas on how the process of making her version of pop music has developed since tUnE-yArDs was born. “I think for me of course it’s hard to have perspective on what I am doing sometimes. I’m just following my nose, but I’ve been told that it sounds crisper and more refined. I still like to think that it’s got a lot of rough edges – an abrasiveness that’s intentional. It’s gone from being a really low fi project to having the lower-fi elements being a part of the overall sound and we have been lucky enough to record with amazing engineers, too. I feel more like a composer now. The early years were pretty simple and I feel like I have a broader confidence now.”

But it’s not only their music that has undergone a transformation, as Garbus opens up about the personal challenges she’s dealt with on a parallel to her music. “You know I used to wear all black? I think as part of tUnE-yArDs, I’ve really enjoyed coming into my body more. My body was always a source of pain and shame for me for a lot of my life and it’s been great to become bolder.”

A common thread throughout their music videos are colour, movement and energy – three elements that she exudes perfectly in her own personal style. “I looked in the mirror the other day at this crazy clashing outfit that I had on and thought, ‘That just make me happy; it gives me energy looking at it’. And that’s the bonus of being a rock star. I can get away with anything.”

Although tUnE-yArDs are in the midst of an exhausting touring schedule, they try to remember that this lifestyle won’t last forever. It truly seems that Garbus has full grasp on just how amazing this opportunity is. “Being at home and writing an album for a year has really made it clear what a privilege it is to be able to travel internationally and be witness to other people’s lives first hand,” she says. “For me, that is really priceless information.”