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Sinéad Glee­son

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

VERY DAY, one of the things I dreamed of once upon a time, ac­tu­ally comes true.” Mer­rill Gar­bus, breath­lessly march­ing up a hill in search of cof­fee on a sunny Cal­i­for­nia morn­ing, can’t quite be­lieve the year she’s had. Rewind 12 months, and her tUnE-yArDs project was in its in­fancy, play­ing shows in peo­ple’s base­ments on a tour she fi­nanced her­self.

In Septem­ber, she sup­ported The Dirty Pro­jec­tors in Dublin and the post-gig con­sen­sus was that she had al­most blown her hosts off the stage. Not bad for a woman pos­sessed solely of a drum, a ukulele and a blus­tery voice that dips and weaves like a kite.

“The stage part of what I do comes from my back­ground in the­atre. How I am on stage is a big part of what peo­ple re­spond to. The first al­bum was made be­fore this live show re­ally ex­isted, so when I started out, it was just me qui­etly loop­ing my ukulele. Now I’ve added a bass player, which al­lows me more flex­i­bil­ity about what I can do. I ac­cess a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment on stage now to the one I used to use in pup­petry.”

Gar­bus stud­ied the­atre for four years, and one project, a solo pup­pet show called Fat Kid Opera, pro­vided some­thing of an epiphany about the di­rec­tion her love of per­for­mance was head­ing in. “It made me re­alise it was the songs that had the power – and that maybe I didn’t need to be fid­get­ing with all this other stuff. Some­thing I’ve kept from my pup­peteer­ing days is a sense of de­mand­ing that an au­di­ence not only pay at­ten­tion, but get in­volved in the per­for­mance.”

Grow­ing up in Con­necti­cut, her fam­ily back­ground had a strong mu­si­cal slant. Her mother, a pi­ano teacher, gave her lessons un­til her early teens and her fa­ther taught her how to play the fid­dle (in­clud­ing sev­eral Ir­ish tunes). Sis­ter Ruth plays drums with Sub Pop band Happy Birth­day and is a mem­ber of Feathers. Gar­bus ad­mits that de­spite such prox­im­ity to mu­sic, it “kinda drifted away” from her for a while, but she never lost touch with it. “I al­ways thought mu­sic be­came a side thing for me back then, but in ret­ro­spect, I was still very in­volved. I was al­ways in choirs and was in an a capella group in col­lege.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing to hear that at a time when Gar­bus con­sid­ered her­self slightly alien­ated from mu­sic, the projects she was in­volved in

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