PLAYING DETROIT: Tammy Lakkis Fuses Songwriter and DJ Sensibilities on Debut Single

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This week, Detroit-based producer, songwriter and DJ Tammy Lakkis released her debut single, “This is How It Goes,” a mesmerizing meditation on the cyclical nature of life. Lakkis fuses her background in more traditional songwriting and her love affair with Detroit’s electronic music scene, honing her original demo with the help of Assemble Sound resident Jonah Raduns-Silverstein (who produces his own music under the moniker Jo Rad Silver).

Lakkis’ crystal clear vocals are a welcome and surprising pair to the track’s droning bass line and punchy percussion. “This is How it Goes” has the cadence and repetition of the dance track Lakkis spins as a DJ, but her poetic lyrics provide a clear narrative that’s normally not found in most electronic music.

We spoke with Lakkis about making the track and how being in Detroit has shaped her music.

AF: Can you talk a little about your background in music? How long have you been producing? Where did you learn or did you teach yourself?

TL: I’ve been singing since I was a toddler. I picked up guitar when I was 13 and started writing songs a few years later. I was briefly in an alternative rock band called Tammy and the Enemies that formed in 2016 and that’s when my songwriting started taking most of its shape. My segue into producing was getting a drum machine and a looper pedal and making loops of my voice, guitar, and other sounds (like flicking water bottles, scratching the mic with my nails, hitting things against each other, etc.) and just exploring. That led to getting Ableton and later a sampler and that’s mainly how I make my music now. I was lucky to have friends around me I could learn from. I try to keep it fresh and use a variety of electronic and analog instruments and sounds with each new track.

AF: How does being a DJ influence your songwriting/production?

TL: I’m in the midst of a musical identity crisis because I used to primarily be a singer-songwriter but now I find myself making dance tracks on my sampler and my answer has been to fuse the two worlds together into more of a trip-hop vibe. DJing has added another dimension to music-making: now when I write songs, I consider how they speak to the body in addition to the mind and soul. Also, I’ve learned storytelling through DJing and going to DJ sets. It’s made me consider the context around individual songs and what story that context tells.

AF: Were there any artists in particular that you were listening to a lot when you wrote this track?

TL: Björk, Stereolab, and Portishead!

AF: What was your process for writing this song?

TL: One night in my garage in the spring of 2016, I laid down a basic beat on a drum machine and started making creepy loops of my guitar on a looper pedal and drank a Soft Parade and sang over the loop for hours and hours and hours. The main lyric of the song: “This is how it goes, it goes and goes and goes” kept coming back. So I spent a few weeks building around that. The final track is pretty similar in shape to what I originally came up with in my garage that summer but with less guitar, more electronic elements, and a much more refined and gritty sound. It’s mainly electronic besides the guitar, vocals, and me and Jonah’s clapping.

AF: What was the collaboration process like with Jonah?

TL: We did mostly sound design stuff and some arrangement stuff. We replaced my original recordings with analog drum machine and synth sounds and really spent time dialing in the exact sounds we were looking for. We did a complete rehab of the guitar, bass, and drums and it added so much to the complexity of the sound. We went through and honed in every sound in the track. It was a lot of work but it really paid off. I had been a little stuck before working with Jonah since I had been working on this song for so long and could no longer see it clearly and lost direction of what to do next. Jonah also mixed/engineered the track, so I learned better ways to make different sounds fit and be more accommodating of each other.

AF: How does living in Detroit influence your music / DJing?

TL: Living in Detroit is like having an endless stream of inspiration to tap into at any time. I go to shows several times a week and inevitably recycle the stuff I hear out in my music. Whether or not I’m making dance music, all the music I make is deeply inspired by dance music (primarily house music). Detroit has made me ditch my acoustic act and become an electronic artist. I am very inspired by all of the music coming out of Detroit and all the people here making sounds.

AF: What is this song about, to you?

TL: The transient nature of things. The inevitability of change and growth and moments turning into other moments turning into other moments turning into other moments, etc. I think, anyway. It may have subconsciously been a spinoff of Ruth Stone’s poem “Train Ride.”

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