Sometimes, I feel an unprecedented urge to stare into the void of emotion and laugh at it. Kam Tambini’s new solo effort (he is also a member of band Glass Gang), the self-titled TAMBINO EP, satisfies this itch for me. Combining elements of urbano, DIY punk, New York’s vast and multicultural art scene, shoegaze, and cumbia, TAMBINO, 31, creates a genre and lane all his own—one that delights as quickly as it challenges our ear.
There’s something to be said for the power of non-obvious music, how it exists to rebel against our reductive need to qualify and understand, how it pushes us to feel and connect instead of break down and appraise. TAMBINO’s EP exists as a quietly explosive force meant to take the listener deep within themselves, to understand their youth culture, and to think about the passing of time. Genre be damned; TAMBINO is all emotion.
“I think my friends and my girlfriend might tell you—I’m the type of guy that doesn’t talk too much about his emotions,” TAMBINO admits over the phone, calling from Colombia. “I know it is not the healthiest thing. I’m trying to be better about it. It comes out in the songwriting or the music.”
For all the vocal retakes, TAMBINO feels perfect. The lyrics strike a particular and unexpected chord. TAMBINO reminds me of driving to the shore in pitch winter darkness with barely any cars on the road. It reminds me of nights spent sitting on abandoned lifeguard stands, watching waves lap up against the shore in the wintertime. On the standout selection, “5AM SPIRIT,” the Peruvian artist who split time growing up between Peru and Colombia forlornly sings, “I can’t be without somebody here,” and I’m taken back to moments in my youth shivering beside someone I once loved on the sea-foam-soaked jetty. TAMBINO thrives off memory, and for that reason, it is a top listen of the year so far.
“What brings me the most joy from the two singles is I’ve seen young Latin kids reacting to it a lot in Lima, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires,” TAMBINO says. “That’s what made me the happiest, seeing these young, Latin, skater, misfit kids that remind me of myself at that age, getting into it. That’s been nice. The times we’re in and the government we’re under, it’s an important time for brown and Black and POC music to shine even more.”
My full conversation with TAMBINO, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Let’s start with some background. What were your early, formative experiences with music?
TAMBINO: I was born in Peru, and I grew up across Peru and Colombia. At first, it would be what my mom was playing at the house. She would play a lot of Peruvian legends like Chabuca Granda, and there would be a lot of Colombian stars played also. I moved to the US at a younger age, and I spent my teenage years there. DC is where I got into the punk scene and heavy into hip-hop music. That’s where the blend of styles happened. I first got into hip-hop through Black Star, MF DOOM, and Madlib. Then, I quickly got into early JAY-Z, Big L, and eventually discovered Young Jeezy. Then got into Lil Wayne… It’s a big blend depending on where I moved to or where I was based.
What genre—or album—was the real gateway to your love for music?
If I had to map it all out, it would be a Dischord Records album. They’re this punk label from Washington, DC. An album would be hard, but I would pick Fugazi’s 13 Songs, which is the first Fugazi album on that label. It showcased a shift in the hardcore punk movement, going into a more post-punk era.
The just-released TAMBINO EP borrows from punk DIY, New York’s art scene, and even some touches of urbano in the percussion. How do all those things influence you as a creative? And how do you balance your influences?
That’s a good question! The honest answer is: I don’t know. With every song I write, I try and make sure everything can be stripped down to a simple core that is usually played on acoustic guitar. If a song sounds good stripped down, it’ll work once you add all these different elements. Whether it’s an 808 kick, a shoegaze guitar texture, or a cumbia rhythm. The influences come from… Growing up, I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of different cultures. I’ve played in a lot of punk bands beforehand, and that’s come into play.
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Would you be fulfilled if you were limited to one genre?
It’s funny you ask that. I used to just play more guitar-based punk music, and, no, it didn’t end up fulfilling me in the end. You get a bit bored with one particular style or genre. For me, it’s important to keep things exciting and keep exploring. That was one of the reasons I started messing around with all these different sounds and influences.
The cover of the EP is evocative, how it captures blithe youth and angst. What was the intention there?
You hit the nail on the head there. The cover is a photo of myself at 13 in Washington, DC, at my mom’s house. It’s at the peak of that era where you’re starting to be a bit more rebellious. You’re getting into things that might shape you as a person later in life. That’s when I was getting into skate culture and punk music. Skateboarding was my way into a lot of the music that shaped me. I got into punk music [by] watching skate videos and hearing bands like the Ramones being played. The cover showcases that time in one’s life when you’re being shaped. Nothing was edited! That’s actually my room.
I feel like skate culture, punk, and hip-hop have a lot of similar base themes. How did that mesh of themes influence you?
I [got] into music seriously through skateboarding and watching Baker videos. That’s where I learned about bands like the Pixies and the Bad Brains, and they also had a lot of hip-hop in those videos. Project Pat was in those videos. That mesh of cultures influenced the sound of this project.
There are some lightly tortured moments on TAMBINO (“SHADOW”). Your vocal is emotional and strained—how do you step into that world without succumbing to it?
Interesting… I hope I’m not stuck there! These songs are mainly melancholic, but I always try to have a little drive and beat behind them, so it’s not just a sad boy singing a sad song. Most, if not all, of these songs were written late at night in my apartment in Brooklyn in those twilight hours. No one’s awake, or your friends are out, and you don’t wanna be out, or you’re coming back from the bar, and you’re kind of over it, so you sat down and wrote these songs. A lot of them have to do with that too: the need and want to go out and be social, and also questioning the meaning behind that. That’s tied in with New York and how a lot of my friends see New York. I’ve lived there for over 10 years now, and the culture of going out a lot seeps into you. But also, you get over it kind of fast.
TAMBINO seems to emphasize stewing in emotion until you’ve understood it from all sides. Is that how you typically cope and create?
I think my friends and my girlfriend might tell you—I’m the type of guy that doesn’t talk too much about his emotions. I know it is not the healthiest thing. I’m trying to be better about it. It comes out in the songwriting or the music. I think over the lyrics a lot. I was recording this with producer Michael Beharie, who produced the whole EP. I think he would wanna kill me because every other session, I’d come in with different lyrics for something we already recorded. A lot of thought comes into the lyrics.
As you let this EP out into the world, who, ideally, is TAMBINO for?
The EP is for everyone, and I know that’s a boring answer. What brings me the most joy from the two singles is I’ve seen young Latin kids reacting to it a lot in Lima, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires. That’s what made me the happiest: seeing these young, Latin, skater, misfit kids that remind me of myself at that age, getting into it. That’s been nice. The times we’re in and the government we’re under, it’s an important time for brown and Black and POC music to shine even more.