WE ALL LIKE things to sound just a little off, just a little fucked up," says Corrina Repp of Tu Fawning. "We definitely have an opinion about those things, and it seems like we all kind of meet in a similar place."
Hearts on Hold, the first full-length record from the Portland quartet, certainly has its share of off-kilter moments. The songs generate a foreboding and musty energy, derived from darkly percussive drums and pulsing, murky drones, often the result of Joe Haege's antique-like loops. "They're kind of carnivalesque and circus-y," says Liza Rietz, "and that alone is a little otherworldly and ominous."
"There are certain things that I've always cherished, and one is that weird nod to old, forgotten music," says Haege, who also took on the mantle of producer for the record. "I don't always know how I want to do that, but it's a kind of music that all of us kind of relate to. When I was pushing [Hearts on Hold] in certain directions of some stuff sounding intentionally not so hi-fi and having [the rest of the band] say, 'That sounds cool,' that made me feel like there was a unified opinion."
Tu Fawning acquired a distinct shape in 2007 after Haege and Repp had collaborated on previous projects, including Repp's solo work and releases from Haege's band 31knots. Once Tu Fawning had an identity, the pair brought on multi-instrumentalists Rietz and Toussaint Perrault and released the Secession EP in 2008. Secession had a couple conventional rock-sounding songs, but Hearts on Hold occupies a different place entirely. It's a gorgeous, rickety, slightly terrifying collection of parlor songs—on some, Tu Fawning sounds like spirit mediums summoning ghosts from beyond, while on other tracks they sound like the ghosts themselves.
"There are bands that are trying to be retro and sound like the past, and then there are bands that want to sound like 2010, or the cutting edge," says Perrault, who can be seen onstage beating an enormous bass drum or playing a long, pipe-like herald trumpet. "We all want to take those sounds—not even retro sounds, but in some cases ancient sounds—as a basis and propel it into the future, into this unknown territory. If it turns out that people in 2010 like it, then that's good. But a lot of it is making something that maybe we think people in the future will like as well, and that's also a weird artifact of the past. Taking elements from the 1920s, and also the 1520s, and pushing it with contemporary technology, somehow pushing it forward."
The band is careful not to put any restrictions on themselves, either musically or lyrically. "In my solo days, writing lyrics was very personal," Repp says, "but when we started playing together, I was really enjoying writing lyrics from not really a personal place at all, but more so from a musical place. There are definitely a handful of songs on the record that are very visual, more an exploration of an idea as opposed to an emotional feeling. Playing in Tu Fawning, I've gotten more excited about making and writing music as opposed to writing songs."
Haege continues, "It ties into the whole thing that all of us are mentioning, wanting to almost keep it abstract—even to ourselves. And not think about it too much or try to get scientific."
Rietz adds, "Anytime there's a mystery and there's not a guideline, it can be liberating—as much as it's frustrating."