She might be reluctant in front of other people, but Vagabon's making music without compromise
When Lætitia Tamko begins to speak, she does so softly but firmly. “I’m really shy,” she insists, but when talking about her music, her cadence quickens and her voice brims with an articulate enthusiasm. Confidence and a strong sense of self beam through the introversion.
Tamko’s music, which she records under the name Vagabon, works in much the same way. ‘The Embers’, the leading track on Vagabon’s debut album, ‘Infinite Worlds’, opens with gentle chords and the admission, “I feel so small.” But it grows into something tremendous; a guitar-driven anthem in which Tamko proudly announces, “Run and tell everybody Lætitia is a small fish.” Originally titled ‘The Sharks’, the song calls out predators and naysayers in defiant fashion. However small a fish she may be, Lætitia Tamko is prepared to face whatever comes her way, and channelling that spirit, ‘Infinite Worlds’ is a powerful and promising debut from one of the most exciting new artists indie rock has to offer.
Shyness is far from a rare quality in musicians, especially in Vagabon’s genre. What sets Tamko apart is her determination and diligence. In conversation she continually frames her experiences in terms of challenges met and new ones lying ahead. Consider the album’s title, which she drew from Dana Ward’s The Crisis of Infinite Worlds, a chapbook of poems she would read on her two-hour commute to the studio in New Paltz, New York, where she recorded her debut. “I love how it was challenging me,” she says. “At the time I was doing these very challenging things, and it taught me patience at a time when I really needed patience.” When most people say, “I want to constantly be challenging myself,” they sound like they’re offering platitudes for a job interview, but when it comes from Tamko, you don’t doubt her for a second. Her sincerity is plain, and she has a record that speaks for itself.
When Tamko was 13, her family moved to New York from Cameroon. Though she has sung casually all her life, her musical narrative began in earnest during these high school years when she started playing guitar at 17. Teaching herself the fundamentals through instructional videos, she mastered the instrument and then put it down to pursue a degree in engineering from the Grove School at the City University of New York. Though music took a backseat to school for a few years, she began to write songs seriously around 2014. Those tracks would eventually become Vagabon’s debut EP, ‘Persian Garden’, a lo-fi six-song collection rooted in fuzzy guitars and Tamko’s wistful voice. Then, things took off.