Merrill Garbus began performing as tUnE-yArDs in 2009. Two years later, her second album, “whokill,” made her one of the most acclaimed performers in indie rock. After touring the world, Garbus took a year off and tried to forget everything she knew about songwriting.
The result is her new album, “Nikki Nack,” which contains everything from Haitian rhythms to sing-song chants to ’80s R&B, all wrapped up in Garbus’ off-kilter pop sensibility. amNewYork spoke with Garbus.
What did you get from taking 2013 off?
It really was crucial. I learned what I needed as a human to survive. I was 33, and it was time to think long-term suddenly. I reflected about what I wanted out of this. If you don’t assess what you want, you can get into a troubled place down the line.
How was the writing process for this album different from “whokill?”
I tossed my looping pedal. I used it primarily to write on “whokill.” On my first album, it was the ukulele. I didn’t allow myself to write on either one this time.
Was it harder writing knowing that people had high expectations?
I actually think “whokill” was far more daunting in terms of the pressure because the leap from [2009’s] “BiRd-BrAiNs,” which was me in my bedroom with a tiny voice recorder, to a record label and an international release felt like a really big leap. I understood the expectations that were there this time, but I also understood what the experience would be of tuning those voices out. Nothing can kill creativity more than worrying about what people will think.
You’ve talked about the need to be constantly moving ahead. How do you continue to do that?
That was my question to myself. … The first way was to get rid of all the old crutches. That was a scary process. The second was to take lessons in what I thought I knew how to do — singing lessons, drumming lessons, dance lessons. I knew I had room for improvement. Like an athlete would train with someone, I wanted to be taught how to use my instrument and my body better.