Tomberlin talks New York, her community, and a new record at Pitchfork

Interview and photography by: Makenzie Creden

Sarah Beth Tomberlin started off day three of Pitchfork with a soft, intimate performance on the green stage. Tomberlin was added to the lineup, as she’s touring with Andy Shauf who also plays the festival, after Cassandra Jenkins dropped. She opened her set with a new song and played from both of her releases.

Tomberlin was kind enough to chat with WLUW for a bit after her set, and this is what she had to say:

I know you’re originally from Kentucky, but where are you at right now? I see you bopping around between LA and New York.

You’ll be the first to break the news! I live in Brooklyn now.

I lived in LA for only a little over a year. Some friends were going to New York because of the west coast fires were happening, and they were like, “Come with us for a bit!” I lived in a friend’s guest house in LA and they ended up selling their house while I was gone, so I just ended up staying [in New York]. I didn’t know that I was going to stay… I actually always kinda thought that New York was too overwhelming for me to want to be there, but I actually have a really good community, kinda better than I’ve ever had. I feel the happiest I’ve ever been.

That’s so good!

Yeah [laughs] very unexpected, but I have a car, thankfully, so I drive upstate and hide out in the woods a lot.

How has that change of scenery, from west coast to east coast, affected your creative process, if at all?

Definitely! It inspired some new songs on the record. I was in the middle of writing the new record when I visited, but a lot more songs came out after I was living there and staying there. You know, pandemic… I was just walking around, that’s all that I could do. I didn’t take the train, so I would just walk from like Chelsea to Greenpoint like in Brooklyn across the Williamsburg bridge. It was just like, headphones on taking it in…

I would just say there’s an energy in New York. It is overwhelming, but I think assimilating during the pandemic, when it’s been a bit calmer, has been good for me because I just kind of walked around and took in the sights and got to know what was up.

The city is very inspiring, there’s a comradery spirit… but also everyone’s on their own sh–, but also if you see something, someone’s going to help out. It’s good.

Yeah, that’s great! Who are some of your influences?

Hmm… Johanna Newsom, Grouper, Bill Callahan, Sufjan Stevens… I don’t know, I think everything I listen to influences me. Adrianne Linker is such an inspiration to me, her work ethic especially. Joni Mitchell… The Carpenters… The Beach Boys? I don’t know [laughs] anything with good harmonies and good songwriting… I’m a fan.

I like that! So the last EP, you produced that with Alex G, what was it like working with him?

It was fun, so those guys are really good friends of mine at this point. I knew that I was going to do an EP and kind of told Alex while we were on the last tour, and he was just kind of like “Send me some songs!” or whatever. So I did after the tour, and he emailed back and was like, “Should we do this?”

I was going to have a different producer for each song, just like have fun with it… but then I was like, “Well why don’t I do this with my friends?”

So I went up to Philly and we recorded in Alex’s apartment. It was me, Sam, Alex, and Molly (Alex’s girlfriend and also an amazing violinist). It was dead of winter in Philly, just making music…. And eating take out… [Laughs]

[Laughs] that’s a good vibe!

Yeah, they were sweet, and it was just fun. It was just, like, us having fun.

And you’re touring with Andy Shauf! What are you looking forward to on that tour?

Honestly, just more buds. Andy and all the guys in his bands are all friends. This is my first tour back since COVID, so honestly, it’s really nice to do that with people I already know.

Andy and I have already toured before, so it’s just nice to be around friends. I’m a very big community person- that’s what’s important to me, so it’s nice to have my first run out with them.

And this is your first Pitchfork…

Yeah, ever.

How was it?

It was great! Everyone’s so sweet. It was really fun. My mouth was very dry from the wind… [Laughs] I was licking my lips a lot, so I probably looked really weird [laughs] but it’s really sweet. Really chill vibes.

Was it nerve-wracking joining the lineup last minute?

I think it was kind of better that way! I didn’t have as much time to fret over it.

Oh yeah that’s such a good point. I get that, my brain works the same way.

Yeah, I don’t like making plans… I’m always like, “Will I feel like it in two weeks?” [Laughs].

Is Pitchfork your first show back?

I played my first show back on July 30th in Brooklyn. It was amazing. It was full band, so it was with a lot of good friends and master musicians. It was really fun. Then I opened for Lucy Dacus two days later and that was fun. Yeah, and now I’m on tour!

We need a Tomberlin headlining tour, you’ve been opening…. but it’s time.

[Laughs] I know, I know.. It’ll probably come with the new record, but I’m just kind of waiting… seeing how COVID stuff happens… I’m sure I’ll headline closer to the record.

Yeah! You played new songs!

Yes! I played a couple! I’m very excited about the new record, it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

So it’s all recorded?

Yeah! It’s all done.

Oh wow! So can we expect that soon…?

Well, depending on vinyl… The vinyl COVID delay is messing everyone up, but I think probably spring of next year.

If you missed Tomberlin’s Pitchfork performance, you can check out the livestream here.

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