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.