Simin Tander: Softly, As In A Morning Dew
Tander's improvisations are striking and her impassioned interaction with Nillesen on "Gallery of Remembrance"-a live tour de force-begs the question as to whether Tander feels more in her skin improvising or singing lyrics: "When I play live I go much deeper into improvisation than what you hear on the record. I've always loved to improvise and sing without words. But I can't say that I like it more than just singing a simple song with lyrics-something I love more and more the older I get," she clarifies. "I like combining the improvisation-my own language- with the more concrete song form."
Tander's unique "language" is better heard than analyzed, but it's something that has been a part of her for a long time: "I had it at a very young age," says Tander. "I always played around with sounds when I was a child." In a live setting-where Tander goes deeper into her personal language-there is greater adventure, and with greater adventure comes greater risk, occasionally, of losing her way: "Of course it happens that you are in the middle of something and you suddenly ask yourself where am I?" admits Tander. "That's the moment where you're thinking again; where am I? How can I get back? When I'm thinking, it can happen that I find myself out of the zone."
Tander doesn't resort to fallback phrases with which to rescue such situations, nor does she vamp: "I've learned sometimes just not to do anything, to be silent and wait to see what happens," she says. "It's easy to overdo things. I did that more when I was starting out but I've learned to be silent and wait for the moment to enter again, when I'm not thinking."
Seven of the ten songs on Wagma are Tander originals, suggesting that song writing is something that comes as naturally to Tander as singing, though she quickly dispels the notion: "I need a lot of time for writing," she says. "I know what I want but it's not always that easy to get it. It was always something I wanted to do but I started writing quite late. However, I love writing and I want to do it more. It's another challenge."
The three interpretations to which Tander brings her very personal touch on Wagma are Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind," Pedro Flores' "Obsession" and Nick Drake's "Riverman," songs that reflect the diverse range of Tander's influences: " 'Obsession' was a song that I sang when I just started singing," explains Tander. "'The Windmills of your Mind' I chose for my final exam for my Masters, as a kind of encore. I had started to develop an interest in more simple songs and part of me just wanted to sing lyrics and beautiful songs. I love Nick Drake and I love the lyrics, which have a sort of mystery behind them. Somehow I felt it belonged on the album."
The subtle use of electronics throughout Wagma seemed instinctively like the right move for Tander: "I talked with the band about how we were going to record this music and I had the idea to add some extra flavor and maybe play around with electronics a little, so in that sense I conceptualized it but Jereon [Van Vliet] was the one who chose the sound and experimented with it in his studio." Not all the electronics employed, however, were carefully orchestrated: "'Closed Eyes' was left very open, very naked," explains Tander. "I knew the atmosphere I wanted and we just improvised with that." There's nakedness, too, about the mostly spoken-word "Purity," a poem set to minimalist music. Tander takes up the thread: "The lyrics I had already written several years ago," she says. "It's a song I haven't performed a lot live because despite it being very simple it's also very subtle. The sound live has to be perfect because it's very delicate."
Sound is clearly of paramount importance to Tander, whose singing is often very subtle. Perhaps then, it was inevitable that she had a hand in the production of Wagma alongside Phillipp Heck-who also did the mixing-a working relationship that Tander recognizes as essential to the final sound of the recording: "It's a relationship almost as important as that with the musicians. You have to trust each other and you have to speak the same language. I can know what I want, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's interpreted in the way that I mean it," she expands. "There are a lot of ways to interpret things sound-wise; it's always an adventure. But I am very happy with our collaboration. I am very thankful for Phillipp Heck's work; he did a fantastic job," she acknowledges.
Listening to Tander's singing on Wagma, it's difficult to discern any obvious influences in her approach, though Tander recognizes the importance to her development of Portuguese singer Maria João: "I started listening to her when I was 19," explains Tander. "I listened very intensely for about two years. I really get completely into someone and I absorb it a lot until I feel, okay, it's time to let go of that; I love what she does but in the last years I haven't listened to her so much."