LÆTITIA TAMKO’S musical origin story sounds familiar: Inspired by the sudden urge to channel herself into something external, she speedily wrote, recorded, and released her cathartic debut EP, Persian Garden, under the moniker Vagabon in 2014. But the result of this common exercise was something wholly new; in the EP’s six folksy guitar-rock confessionals, she turned her insides out with searing, radical vulnerability.
“I started to play guitar when I was 17. My first guitar came with an instructional DVD that I watched and learned all the major chords that were on the video,” Tamko says over the phone. But after this preliminary instruction, she put down the guitar until her junior year of college, when she began making music as Vagabon.
Now the producer/multi-instrumentalist is getting ready to release her debut full-length album, Infinite Worlds, on Father/Daughter Records in February. Several songs on the album are reworked versions of Persian Garden originals, including “Cold Apartment” and “The Embers.” The latter pushes the hardcore intimacy of Tamko’s vocals to the forefront, bringing a rush of power to the lyrics “Run and tell everybody that Lætitia is a small fish/I’m just a small fish/And you’re a shark that hates everything/You’re a shark that eats every fish.”
“‘The Embers’ is about having humility and it being taken for fear, or lack of knowledge, or inferiority,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you don’t know what you want. I’ve been writing about those themes as someone who’s very insular, analytical, and very introverted. [About] how I’m perceived, maybe, and how that translates to other people.”
Infinite Worlds incorporates elements of folk, punk, indie rock, electronic, and the music of West and East Africa, but no moment on the record ever feels limited to a single genre, and the whole is united by her tender but bristling voice. For instance, the majority of standout “Fear & Force” (which features backing vocals from Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos) is centered on Tamko’s soft vocals over gently plucked acoustic guitar, which collapses into skittering electronic production and hand-clapped percussion during the chorus, later ripping into an urgent, blistering guitar riff. On Infinite Worlds Tamko continues to pry herself open like a clam, and these higher-fi instrumentals are the perfect accompaniment.
“I’m just giving people who listen to my music a very deep understanding of who I am as a person,” she says. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m way too transparent about this,’ or like, ‘I’m way too open about some things.’”
Tamko was born in Cameroon, and moved to New York with her family as a teenager. French is her first language, but nearly all of the songs she writes as Vagabon are in English. “Mal á L’aise” is the only one she’s written that’s entirely in French. It’s also the record’s most electronic-tinged track, with spacey production warping a Steve Sobs sample and rich dream-pop synthscapes.
“The lyrics speak a lot about how discomfort can be good, how discomfort in the past has driven me, and battling between how much discomfort is too much, and how much is healthy and productive,” Tamko says. “It kind of makes sense to call it ‘Mal á L’aise’; discomfort doesn’t have to be bad, but it can stifle you in a way.”
There’s an unavoidable discomfort in ripping yourself open and showing everyone your seams, but Tamko does it with astonishing grace. Her music pulses with pain, fear, love, and power—these songs sound alive, likely because she’s so present in them.
“Not all the songs are about me, but [with] the ones that are, I feel like I’m really opening myself up,” she says. “That’s the only way I know how to do that.”