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Tune-Yard's unique sound built from diverse sources

Merrill Garbus

Merrill Garbus Credit: Merrill Garbus

Singer-songwriter Merrill Garbus' band Tune-Yards is one of the most unlikely success stories of last year.

Driven by electronic beats, vocal loops, ukulele and horns, the group's second album, "Whokill," combines Afrobeat, indie rock, dance music, folk and jazz into something unique.

As if the group's music weren't thought-provoking enough, Garbus' lyrics tackle issues ranging from sex and body image to violence and politics.

amNewYork spoke with her as she prepared for what she said would be Tune-Yards' final New York appearance for some time.

"Whokill" has been out for over a year. Are you working on a new album? I've been working on a bunch of different projects, but nothing that looks like the new Tune-Yards album yet. It doesn't seem like there's any reason to rush another album. I want to create something that feels really innovative. My brain needs time to keep brewing the ideas I'm having.

A lot of indie bands shy away from addressing big issues the way you do. Why do you think that is? Mostly, it's hard to do well. For me, it's been hard to walk the line between writing a political song that has a message, which is something I'm not at all interested in, and a song that wraps its tendrils around political and social issues.

After your last New York City concert at Lincoln Center, you occupied Columbus Circle with some fans. What inspired that? Certain things about that show made me uncomfortable. I felt a tension between Occupy Wall Street, which I'm excited about, and this concert that was financially prohibitive to most people. I wanted to bring some of the show into the street.

Why do you build your electronic loops live onstage rather than use prerecorded tracks? Too much music these days is press play and go. If that's my show, why not stay home and press play on the CD and I can come over to your house sometime and dance around? I want to evoke excitement and possibility, something that could only happen in a live setting. It makes every show different and allows the audience to be part of the creation of the music.

If you go: Tune-Yards are at Terminal 5 at 8 p.m. Friday, 610 W. 56th St., 212-582-6600, $30.


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