PREMIERE: Tender Creature Filter Loss and Identity Through Queer Lens on Debut EP ‘An Offering’

Photo Credit: Emilio Mendoza

On their debut EP An Offering, Queer New York-based indie folk duo Tender Creature provides a raw glimpse into some of life’s most difficult experiences, from losing loved ones to coming out to navigating relationships. But members Steph Bishop and Robert Maril tell these stories with beautiful melodies, playful instrumentation, and relatable lyrics that provide hope for those in the midst of such travails. Relating stories Bishop wrote about specific events from their life, the group mixes folky vocals and a variety of instruments with electronic effects that make for a collection equal parts fun and contemplative.

Bishop and Maril met in 2011 and initially played together in the queer country band Kings, then spent some time making solo music on their own before reconnecting in 2018. Their goal with the new EP was to meld their traditional folk singer-songwriter styles with electronic techniques like beats and synths, taking advantage of Maril’s newfound knowledge of digital production and dance music. “We had worked on a previous project together, and we had a certain style we were used to writing and performing in,” says Bishop. “I think one of the goals for this EP was to sort of break out of that box a bit and try something new.”

During the production process, they alternated between in-person sessions and independent work, where they’d record parts of the songs and send them back and forth to each other. They incorporated a variety of unfiltered instruments, including electric guitar, cello, and ukulele, careful not to alter their voices or use too many effects. “When we were arranging these songs, it was a very conscious decision not to filter the instruments or put them through a bunch of processors,” says Maril. “It’s very rich, organic, wooden-sounding instruments sitting in this soup of digital beats.”

The groups sites Arthur Russell and Joanna Newsom as their biggest influences; they were particularly inspired by Newsom’s use of vintage synths, as well as the beats of bands like Pet Shop Boys. Their music also emanates old-school indie folk vibes in the vein of The Weepies or The Finches.

Thematically, An Offering reflects on loss, identity, and learning from the past. The title track and first single is a poetic depiction of Bishop’s experiencing losing their grandmother: “Black dirt in my hands, this is where I leave you/The sky on fire, the static on the radio/And I don’t understand, but I don’t need to/The birds on wire will tell you when it’s time to go.” Meanwhile, “If Anyone Asks,” is a catchy, upbeat account of reclaiming oneself in the midst of a dysfunctional relationship. On “The Quietest Car,” Bishop sings against mournful cellos about the death of a former student. “Count to Five,” the last song on the EP, is a dreamy, ukulele-driven love song.

The members’ queer identity is also a big part of the EP and of their broader musical mission. In the slow, harmony-filled “Climbing Trees,” Bishop reflects on someone they knew during childhood who received a lot of backlash for coming out. Although it’s written from the perspective of someone who is now out, it shows compassion for the subject of the song, who ultimately went back into the closet: “Oh, I felt it/Your breath as you held it/The winds as they warned you to stay.”

“It’s [about] the brave choice of coming out and then the choices you have to make based on your surroundings to stay safe and stable,” Bishop explains. “The people around him weren’t ready for it, so he had to make his choices in that way, but it was hard to watch as a young queer person.”

Through their music, Bishop and Maril hope to help people who may be in situations like this. “A kid struggling in a place where maybe it’s not such a safe or a positive environment in which to come out, it’s something that a queer person can listen to and sort of hold on to as representation,” says Bishop.

“We’re so starved to see our experiences reflected in media,” Maril agrees. “We really don’t, and so for us, there was really no choice but to be out and make music for queer people. I mean, we make music for everybody, but we write from what I see as a queer perspective — kind of an outsider’s perspective. So I hope other people feel a connection to this music and feel like this is for them.”

Follow Tender Creature on Instagram for ongoing updates.

LIVE REVIEW: The Overcoats @ The Red Room

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The Overcoats play The Red Room in Boston. All photos by Suzannah Weiss.

While I was planning a visit to Boston, a friend invited me to see The Overcoats at the Berkelee College of Music’s Red Room. I knew nothing about the group or the venue, but the first few songs Spotify pulled up were catchy enough. I accepted without further research. I felt like being surprised.

I entered to music that sounded like a more upbeat, less repetitive Band of Horses. And damn, could the singer dance. I soon learned that this was Adrian Galvin’s project Yoke Lore and that The Overcoats discovered them at SXSW (despite the fact that both bands hail from NYC). Like me, they were immediately charmed and invited them on tour.

Galvin, who also played the banjo alongside a percussionist, provided witty and endearingly vulnerable commentary on each number. “Hold Me Down,” he explained, is about “needing to be encompassed sometimes. I feel like I’ll float away if I’m not held down by the ones I love.” His set included equally clever lyrics like “I wish I could see stars. They say lights keep me in the dark.”

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Adrian Galvin of Yoke Lore.

After Yoke Lore left the stage and the Mai Tai I’d consumed an hour prior began wearing off, I was getting cranky. That changed once The Overcoats came walked on stage, clad in white clothing and sparkly platform shoes.

JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion hugged before beginning “Smaller Than My Mother” to wild applause. With a third member manning a drum machine and extra synths, they slowly swayed until the song’s electronic beat began to pulse. Then, all at once, they busted out dancing like friends in a club (but like those cool, stylish clubbers everyone wants to be friends with). Mitchell, whose rich, soulful voice harmonized gorgeously with Elion’s, ended the opening number with a wink.

They kept that energy up through the earlier portion of the show, running through fan favorites from their recently-released debut, Young. Right before “The Fog,” Mitchell announced, “the future is intersectional feminism.” The soul-folk duo also performed a new song called “Sirens” about “women holding each other up.” Yup, I definitely wanted to be their friend.

Having played their most popular songs in the beginning, the middle of the set lagged a bit with slower, less distinctive-sounding tracks. The Overcoats are still relatively unknown, and Yoke Lore is even more obscure. But if both acts’ energetic stage presence or the rowdy, packed room they entertained are any indication, that obscurity won’t last long.


ALBUM REVIEW: Chords of Truth Remixed Project


Singer/songwriter Jason Garriotte released his folk flavored acoustic EP Reflections of Reality this last February 2012.  The album is supported with folk guitar stylings, his own vocals and sparse acoustic piano riffs.  One year after the release of this EP, Gariotte announced the release of his two disc electronic folk project Chords of Truth Remixed.  Garriotte teamed up with a slew of electronic music producers from around the world, and the result is a series of genre bending songs.  The remixed album covers electro, industrial, dubstep and acid rock styles and hybridizes these genres with folk aspects.

As I wrote in a recent article for Audiofemme, one of my top electronic albums of 2012 was Re:Generation, a remix project that involved heavyweight electronic music producers who were challenged to work in a genre outside of their comfort zone.  That same spirit of collaboration resides in Garriotte’s remix project, and I commend him for re-envisioning his music and embracing a production style outside of the boundaries of traditional folk music.  Chords of Truth Remixed defies typical categorization, but may land somewhere in the realm of “folktronica.”  With 14 different electronic music producers on board, the texture of each song varies, yet the ultimate vision of re-inventing Garriotte’s folk brand remains present throughout.

The most prominent aspect that anchors these songs to the folk tradition is Garriotte’s inherently folk influenced vocal style.  He has a storyteller’s delivery and a unique vibrato effect that bring character to his voice.  His lyric choices touch on material that bring listeners back to a time of singer/songwriters of the 60’s who sang of journeys and self discovery.  Garriotte’s collaborators mined his songs for his most iconic folk style riffs and vocal lines, and set these ideas to club induced beats, bass wobbles, side chained synth pads, and many more classic house, techno and electro sounds.  The repetitive club beat of songs like Tune Your Mind (Momentum Folkhouse Remix) lend themselves to the dance floor, and manage to transport Garriotte’s folk sounding vocals into a modern, refreshing context.

The collaborators on this album vary in their ability to inspire with creativity.  The Power to be Alive (LORDBRET Progressive Remix) feels like a generic attempt at progressive club music, and does not capture the raw energy often associated with this genre.  Moments (Oopoe Electrofolk Remix) on the other hand revels in the stripped down nature of Garriotte’s style, and enhances his musical ideas with subtle reverberations and an intuitively fitting beat.  This album appeals to a variety of listeners who can appreciate a wide range of electronic styles.

Garriotte’s lyrics encourage listeners to search for deeper self awareness.  The lyrics ask for an intellectual or existential interpretation at times, and typically, the lyric themes include questions about truth, history, and ideologies about existence.  I appreciate Garriotte is searching for truth within his lyrics, but I find them too heavy handed at times.  As the album progressed, I found myself wishing for a greater level of abstraction in his lyric writing.  The lyrics at times are so literal in their explanation of the artist’s ideology that he leaves little to the imagination.  The song Pop or Soda departs from the typical heavy subject matter to poke fun at colloquialisms and shows off Garriotte’s lighter side.

Jason Garriotte says of the project that “it is truly amazing how a different perspective on even a song can change almost every aspect of the experience. Imagine the impact a different perspective can have on our life/habits/beliefs if we just keep an open mind and consider the possibilities.”  Reflections of Reality (Remixed Double LP) is due for release March 12, 2013.