Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Tami Hart Talks Social Life, Tri-connector Helmets, and Making Friendz

Written by Niina Pollari
 Active Image From the first e-mail Tami sent me I noticed the signature line at the bottom: the space that's usually reserved for users to show off their fancy gadget phones instead proclaims “Sent from my pizza!”—and this proclamation immediately set the tone for our interview.

From the first e-mail Tami sent me I noticed the signature line at the bottom: the space that's usually  reserved for users to show off their fancy gadget phones instead proclaims “Sent from my pizza!”—and this proclamation immediately set the tone for our interview.

Tami is friendly and open, but also acutely aware of rapid-fire media, the strangeness of modern technology, and the profound influence of the networks of every kind that we build around ourselves. It is the perfect platform for us to discuss her new album, The Social Life—a joyful  nineties dance-pop album with a nod-and-wink to social networking—as well as the ways in which she has come into her own as an artist and human.

Tami Hart has been on the road, playing with MEN on their European tour, but thanks to the magic and the immediacy of the Internet, she and I found some time to coordinate a chat.

Niina: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me from the road. What's the most random tour experience for you so far (on this tour or ever on previous tours)?

Tami: My most random experience? Probably wearing a tri-connector pink helmet on my head every night for the entire month of March! It was the show opener for the US MEN tour. It was very Devo and very cool looking, but kind of a nightmare every night.

Niina: Do you get stressed on tour or is it pretty laid-back? What do you do to keep yourself focused?

Tami: I'm kind of a Sims addict! I'm a nerd! It's not so much stressful as it is lonely though. When I was twenty and wild and crazy it was perfect, but the road isn't the best lifestyle choice when you're thinking about marriage and starting a family. I miss my partner a lot and try and talk to her as much as possible.

Niina: How did you celebrate the dropping of the Making Friendz album, Social Life?

Tami: To celebrate the "coming out" of my album I played several gay pride parties in New York City. I'm very excited to have my album come out around pride. There's a Deee-Lite feeling about it. A gay nineties NYC!

Niina: It feels to me like a laid-back, retro, dancey summer album. How does it differ from your previous work? And is it indicative of the direction you'd like to head?

Tami: When I was sixteen, I had started writing songs for what would be my first solo record. It was real teen-angsty. And very influenced by my favorite music at that time: Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith, and Nirvana. I had been playing in punk bands as well, but the solo stuff was my first ticket out of South Carolina, as Mr. Lady Records wanted to sign me. I ran with it, but I have always been interested in R & B and pop music, as well as more noisy post-punk and no wave sounds. I tend to play whatever I'm in the mood to play at the time, and try not to limit myself. I've written a whole other record at this point that is completely different, softer, more Neil Young and Yaz influenced. Can you imagine such a thing?

Niina: “Situation," the first single from your album, has an amazing video. It's got a bit of occult, fitness kitsch, and lots of body gross-out, and it had me thinking of the 1990s, of "Black Hole Sun." Tell me about the making of it and the inspiration for it.

Tami: These guys Wildwood pitched it as an ode to Nickelodeon. I loved Double Dare and You Can't Do That On Television, so I couldn't say no. It's also a dig on douchey white people culture—the person so unaffected by the slime because the text they’re writing is far too important!

Niina: You're exploring genres, which is something reviewers say "young artists" do. People have also called you "eclectic." Does being a "young artist" (despite the fact that you've been working since your teens) feel limiting or freeing?

Tami: Am I allowed to say I'm young still? Because I'm thirty, and in this music video-less day it seems like once you’re eighteen, you're out! I've always explored genres—I'm a Sagittarius! Ha-ha. But honestly, if I could advise younger artists I would tell them not to care what other people say. Try to stick as close as possible to the noise in your head. Or maybe I should start lying about my age!

Niina: Ha-ha, I didn't mean to imply you were old! I'd be calling myself old too if I did that. Just that often people conflate young artist with "new" artist and label accordingly.

Tami: I thought you were implying I was young actually, which got me excited!

Niina: Do you remember the first time that music ever made you stop and go "what is this?"

Tami: I remember the first song that my body had an unavoidable reaction to was Heart's "Alone." I wanted to be a singer right then and there! Sleater-Kinney was the band that had that effect on me in high school. I was still pretty much in the closet when I found their record Call The Doctor. I locked myself in my room all night listening to it over and over and over again. And I came out of my room a raging homo.

Light Asylum does that for me now. And Robyn! Robyn puts on the most amazing live show!

Niina: Agreed on Robyn! Is it rarer to have that heartstabbingly awesome oh-shit moment with music when you have a technical knowledge of it?

Tami: Never! It only makes it more exciting, because then you can apply those ideas, or get those instruments!

Niina: Sleater-Kinney is the perfect band for that moment you describe. They feel like such a shared experience for so many people. Music is kinda how we find our tribes. What was your support network in high school, when you were coming out and otherwise realizing your identity, and deciding what you wanted your life to be like?

Tami: My sister and I really sought out our culture because we grew up in a southern town that didn't allow us the privilege of going to see cool bands. We also weren't allowed to watch MTV, but would wait for our dad to fall asleep and sneak into the living room and sit as close to the TV as possible and watch 120 Minutes. We learned about so many amazing girl bands that way. Then came the Internet, which made it easier to reach out. That's how I found Mr. Lady Records! And Chainsaw Records!

Niina: I read somewhere that you really liked playing a certain show because the area didn't really get a lot of queer bands.

Tami: Oh! El Paso! It was amazing! It just feels so good to play for people who, like myself, didn't grow up in a town where bands came through. It was like that the very first time I went on tour with the Butchies. We went to Florida , and it was a really amazing experience. It means something to people. Playing music has a lot of power. It can bring a lot of change.

Niina: Describe your ideal collaboration. Doesn't have to be, but can be, a musical collaboration.

Tami: I'll probably catch a lot of shit for this, but I've always wished I could clone myself! Ha-ha. It's also a dream of mine to someday make a record with my sister. She's such an amazing songwriter! We played in bands since we were kids, and I would love to see her make a record.

Niina: Sounds like you're really close with your sister. Has your relationship always been like that, or did it evolve?

Tami: My sister and I pretty much battled it out until junior high. That's when we both realized shit was fucked. We would sneak in the woods and smoke cigarettes together. We had the same best friends. We listened to punk and played in a punk band. We smoked pot in the school parking lot. We got suspended together too. And we ganged up on a teacher together and were threatened with spending the rest of class in detention . . . it was a guitar class!

Niina: A bit of a multi-parter, but between the name "Making Friendz," the album's title, and the incorporation of texty 2s and Zs into words (i.e. “Sexual Forestz,” “All I Wanted 2 Do” ), I feel there's a bit of lighthearted commentary on the way we behave and interact in the Internet age. Is that at all accurate?

Tami: Absolutely. I am addicted to the Internet first of all, and Facebook. There is a ridiculous race to keep up with trends, and I fall in that trap constantly. It's unavoidable, especially if you're in a band. So much pressure to "make the scene," but really you're just trying to embody the commodity you've become.

I'm just in a mind-set right now where I'm through being "cool" or "punk." Does it mean anything anymore?

It feels selfish to want to make a living this way, when people need things, so many other things. I'm honestly psyched that the huge music corporations are crumbling. I'm feeling very socialist about it all I guess. Everyone should have a band or be able to sell and make music, and that seems like the real next wave. And now at thirty, after I started life on the road as a touring musician fresh out of high school, I'm starting to think about college, and trying to help and reach people in other ways.

Niina: What are you interested in focusing on in college? Is there a non-music career path that you could see yourself following in an alternate reality?

Tami: In my fantasy, I run a little store in the south . . . but maybe nobody wants to hear about that. I'm driven and inspired by the lack of health care for women and [the] mentally ill. I'm driven and inspired by wanting a family and a selfless life as well.

Niina: In general health care is just really dismally misogynistic. Are you interested in the activism side, in advocacy, or actually in health care itself?

Tami: I'm interested in all of the above. I'm interested in being as helpful as possible. To move past sweeping people who need care under the rug. How many homeless people do you see that are clearly mentally ill? Probably most.

Niina: How do you identify with the word feminist?

Tami: The same way I identify with the word homosexual these days: equal. I feel as though to be a feminist is to just know you are a man’s equal. And to be a queer means you aren't second-class to straight people either. I'm so tired of the "radical" notion that to want to be able to be gay and get married makes you a heteronormative assimilationist. Please. I'm not selling myself short. I want my rights.

Niina: Absolutely. At the same time, you said you're not interested in being cool, but you've also mentioned Deee-Lite, Devo, and NYC Pride. The thing all these have in common is performativity. How does the idea of characters and performance personas apply to you?

Tami: Well, yeah, look at me. I'm a thirty-year-old, two hundred and ten pound lesbian. Is the joke on me? Or is it on you? Do you think I'm smart and pretty, or stupid and ugly? I like to make fun of it. I like to perform in my sports bra and pat my belly. People can laugh or they can realize fat women are sexy too. Or they can just enjoy themselves. I think that's a big point Deee-Lite was trying to get across—everybody has their own opinion, but right now let's just enjoy ourselves and each other!

Niina: "Enjoy ourselves and each other" feels like a perfect mantra for this album. The joke is on anyone who tries really hard to be in on some joke.

Tami: Ha yeah! I always wanted this band to try and blur the line between being a joke and taking yourself seriously . . . so that it was close to impossible to tell what was actually happening. Then maybe people would just listen to the music.

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