Tirzah: Slow Motion
The sun is starting to stoop in the evening sky, and on the top floor of London’s Metropolis Studios, Tirzah is shielding her eyes from the beams streaming through the window. Micachu – the moniker of Mica Levi, who also happens to be Tirzah’s omnipresent best friend – offers her a pair of sunglasses as the night’s heat beats off her back.
Sitting opposite each other – warm and affable, if a little nervous – neither of the musicians seem particularly keen on the spotlight. Having released a number of albums with her experimental pop project Micachu & The Shapes, Levi first teamed up with Tirzah to create lo-fi dance music. Appearing on the south London scene as a collaborative duo – Tirzah as the vocalist and songwriter; Micachu on production – they released two EPs together, 2013’s No Romance and I’m Not Dancing, which were teeming with strange, shy electro-pop.
Things are a little different now. Four years down the line, Tirzah has been in the shadows, working on occasional features and bootleg tracks with other artists, as well as a slew of other low-key projects. Meanwhile, Micachu has made the impressive ascent from Peckham nightclubs to the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards, gaining praise for her work scoring celebrated films like Under the Skin and Jackie, yet refusing to give in to the lure of celebrity status. These days, she wears hiking boots to award ceremonies while her peers wear dress shoes and stilettos.
“My album came about naturally when it did. I just didn't feel the pressure”
After a long radio silence, one that left fans of her work contemplating if the two might ever make music again, Tirzah is poised and ready for her return. This time, she’s armed with the Micachu-produced Devotion, her debut LP of lustful, hardy and heartswelling love songs.
“I’ve had a day job, and Meeks [Micachu] was busy in the thick of doing what she was doing,” Tirzah tells me, when I ask why her debut album has taken so long. “It came about naturally when it did. I just didn’t feel the pressure,” she smiles a little, her slightly gappy two front teeth appearing from between her lips. “There was no rush.”
Arriving four years after the No Romance EP dropped, Devotion is a languid and unhurried lesson in lovestruck R&B. It’s unambiguous, stripping back the bullshit to pierce the heart of Tirzah’s take on desire and the complexities of relationships. But it’s still burrowed beneath Micachu’s perceptive and unpredictable production. From the pared back beauty of the lead single Gladly to the grungy, endless layers of vocoder vocals and distorted strings on Guilty, a track on which Tirzah repeatedly asks “Did I let you take the blame when I should’ve been faithful?”, it’s a rare debut that’s affecting, melancholic and loyal to its singular sound.
“There was a lot of stuff,” Micachu admits, reaching back into her brain to when the first song for Devotion was written. “We’d done a lot over the years and there were some songs I was still in love with.” Tirzah chimes in – it’s something, quite endearingly, the two do a lot of. “We were trying to take a block of one flavour and make it work [next to] another,” she says. “It took a lot of editing – backwards and forwards.”
The club-friendly production Micachu once laid under Tirzah’s vocals has, for the most part, been retired. Compared to cuts from her two past EPs, the tempo has dropped, but her subject matters – relationships, love, sadness, and loyalty – are still the same. We touch on the idea of how the live show was shaped by fans’ love of those dance-led numbers, a perception of her music she might not have known she had
The announcement of Tirzah’s comeback show at London’s Bermondsey Social Club earlier in the year caused a ripple of excitement, and it sold out straight away. But Tirzah is happy for the live show – which she performs alongside Micachu and fellow lo-fi Londoner Coby Sey – to take on a new life. “It didn’t feel like a performance – more of a karaoke-slash-DJ set, because I was there with the mic and Meeks was doing the mixing!” she says. “I found it hard to be out front performing it, because these didn’t feel like songs I could carry in that way. They’re quite insular; to be up at front of a stage, muttering and mumbling, felt a bit weird.”
© Yis Kid
Micachu wants to ask a question. “Does [performing live] make more sense, now you’ve got the album?” Tirzah nods in response: “All the songs are clearer now.”
A few minutes before Tirzah and Micachu head back downstairs to record, Coby Sey shows up. The younger brother of Devotion’s co-mixer and producer Kwes, Sey is a producer and NTS host, who also plays alongside Tirzah, Micachu and Brother May in the experimental project Curl. Having hung around the studio, his voice, almost without him knowing, wound up being the only feature on Devotion’s titular track. “I was really ill the day we recorded those vocals,” he reminisces, speaking quietly from the far end of the table. “So I really didn’t expect my inclusion on it. I thought we were just bangin’ about and chatting through music. I did have any sort of inkling that it might be used for something!”
Tirzah’s ability to slip off the face of the earth has allowed her to live a quieter life as of late. Six months ago, she gave birth to a beautiful, doe-eyed daughter. You might assume her child’s arrival had an impact on Devotion’s emotional direction; perhaps some of these songs were not about romance, but familial bonds instead. “I don’t think any of it, in the end, was [recorded while I was pregnant],” she claims, “Some of the songs we tried to re-record to see if it gave it a different feeling – but that just convinced me into thinking it was changing my pitching!”
“Apparently, your brain shrinks when you’re pregnant,” Micachu adds – “A lot of shit happens when you’re pregnant!” Tirzah butts in. “So you wind up being more primal with your decisions – no rationality.”
Neither of them seem too fussed about emphasising how great a record Devotion is. “You do feel proud to have achieved something that’s comprehensive, and that gets things off your chest,” Micachu admits. “[But] once it’s out, it’s nothing to do with you anymore. You can’t do anything with it.” Tirzah, nodding gently, agrees with everything her best friend just said. “Over the years,” she adds. “It’s all made sense somehow.”
Photography: Yis Kid
Devotion is out 10 August via Domino