When Tasha made her debut album, 2018’s Alone at Last, she had only been writing songs for a couple of years. Though she was still figuring out the kind of songwriter she wanted to be, the Chicago-based musician’s wondrously gentle meditations on the self brimmed with confidence and a rare kind of intimacy, both qualities she has retained and cultivated on her newly released sophomore full-length, Tell Me What You Miss the Most. This time, however, she pays closer attention to the language of each song and its place in the context of the album, making for a listening experience that is not only warm and inviting but also richly rewarding. She brings in a full band and explores new territory on songs like the invigorating ‘Perfect Wife’, showcasing a musical growth that mirrors the personal journey the album relays, swaying from a wistful loneliness born from heartbreak to a peaceful, dizzying kind. One through-line between the two albums is the presence of “bed songs”, which bookend Tell Me What You Miss the Most and represent the symbolic resonance the object holds for Tasha. Take the time to check in with yourself in those quiet moments before the start and end of each day, she seems to say, and see where dreams take you.
We caught up with Tasha for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her songwriting journey, her new album Tell Me What You Miss the Most, and more.
This new album has been like a warm companion to me now that the weather is getting colder. I feel like it’s the perfect time for it to come out. Could you start by telling me what your relationship with the seasons is like? Are you consciously aware of how they affect you mentally or creatively?
I’m coming to realize that I think the seasons do really affect me or change the way I move through the world, and I think the way that I am creative. Because I’m not really someone who’s always writing or always recording, it’s just not the way that I operate; I never know when it will happen. But I think that I found colder months to be a little bit more inspiring to me. And I’m not totally sure why that is, but all of the songs on the record were written between October and February, except for one.
‘Burton Island’ was written later in the year. It was written in September, in the middle of us recording.
It’s still not in the summer then.
Yeah, I don’t think the summer is inspiring. [laughs] I think in my life, the way that I move through the world, it can be inspiring, but when it comes to writing, I rarely feel the urge to sit and write in the summer. And then something about when it starts to get cold – I think it maybe really brings me inside myself. I was nervous for whatever reason about the album coming out this late in the year, but I think it’s becoming clear that maybe it’s the perfect time for it to come out.
How does it make you feel more connected to yourself?
Well, if I think about specific moments when the songs came to life, for many of them, it was like at night, sitting alone in my room with the radiators kicking. And I think maybe colder months bring about a solitude, because when it’s warm you’re hanging out and you’re busy, and the winter really gives me an excuse to stay in. One thing that was different about this record, too, is I went on a little writing retreat in January 2020 because I specifically wanted to go somewhere and write some songs. I was in this house in this little studio in Michigan, just surrounded by snow, and I was going in there five days in a row to write and play guitar. And I’ve never done that before, but that was incredibly inspiring. Again, I think it’s something about the retreat that happens when it’s cold, and inside of that retreat, I don’t have anything else but myself.
Before we talk more about the album, since we’re on the subject of inspiration, I was wondering what it was that originally inspired you to start playing music and writing in general.
I’ve always been really interested in writing since I was a child. I would write stories for little writing competitions when I was in elementary school and middle school, and I loved doing that. And then in high school, I wrote a lot of poetry and I really loved to sing, but for whatever reason, I never considered myself a songwriter when I was younger. It didn’t come so naturally to me. And then through college, too, I was playing guitar and singing a little bit, but mostly, like, picking up a guitar in someone’s dorm but not really spending any time with it. It was after college around 2015 and 2016, I really don’t know what it was, but I think there was something that made me decide that I wanted to try writing songs.
My community at the time of musicians and the way that my life was, I was listening to a lot of like neo-soul and R&B and that world of music. And I had this friend who sent me some beats and I just wrote kind of silly little songs to these, like, lofi beats. [laughs] I feel very shy and kind of embarrassed about it now, but it was my truth at the moment. And then it was around 2016 when I started playing guitar more, and I think it kind of changed my life as far as the way that it made me want to write songs. I started teaching myself more songs on guitar, like covers I loved, and me being someone who could play guitar and sing and write songs, it became more of a reality as I started to just do it more and realize it was possible.
Do you mind sharing some memories of you enjoying music at an early age?
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the music I used to listen to when I was young. When I was like 10, 11, 12, before it became, like, something I did to be cool, which was kind of how I related to music in high school. [laughs] But I was listening to the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow, and I was thinking, I was listening to all of these really amazing women musicians and women songwriters and guitar players. And I think that while I maybe didn’t realize it at the time, I’d like to think that maybe it had a really strong influence on me, looking up to these very badass, beautiful, talented women. I loved their music so much, and I can recall birthdays and Christmases when I would ask for CDs of theirs and then just play them loud on a loop on my CD player in my room. And I used to call my mom and my brothers in to watch me, like, perform, which was just me singing along to the song. I would just press play and sing along. [laughs] Maybe it has something to do with where I am.
Is that something that you feel nostalgic about or that you find yourself missing?
It is. I feel nostalgic about it, and I also think about it in a way to remind myself that the thing that I’m doing now really is a dream come true. It sounds a little bit corny, but when I play on stage, it feels like that – it feels kind of indulgent in a way, but it feels so good to sing in front of people. And for it to be song that I made, it feels like such a treat. It’s my favourite thing. It brings me that same giddy feeling, of like: I am so excited to share this thing that I worked on and I really hope people like it. Being in that moment, that sense of power, I think is a similar kind of feeling.
It feels like there’s this arc that Tell Me What You Miss the Most goes through – it comes together more like a story than little vignettes. I was wondering if that’s something you were conscious about in terms of conceptualizing the album while keeping it honest to your experience.
I love that you asked that, because honestly, it wasn’t until the album was almost finished that I found all of these connections between the songs that I didn’t even really realize were there before, which felt really magical. The sequence of the album was very intentional, and as I started finishing writing songs and looking at them all, this story did start to take shape a little bit. To me, the arc it is partially the story, but it’s also the feeling, I think. I really feel like there’s a feeling that you get travelling through this record. All of that was really intentional, but it wasn’t clear at the beginning. I didn’t write the songs knowing what kind of story I would be telling or how they would be connected. But I had this sense of the feeling, and it really wasn’t even until it was finished and as I was listening to it through and I was reading through all of the lyrics that I was even discovering these points of connection.
I feel like the songs on the album are essentially about love, but more as a means of tracing your relationship with your own self. And I think that sort of self-awareness becomes an especially useful tool on a song like ‘Sorry’s Not Enough’. Could you talk about the making of that song?
That song actually had a really interesting life. That was when I went away for this little writing retreat I did, that was the very first song I wrote, like the first day, and it came out kind of quickly. If it’s not clear from the song, I was really sad, but I was also, I think, apart from the love-related turmoil I was in the midst of, there was a shift in self-awareness that was happening at the time that I started writing the songs. My view of myself was changing in this kind of dark way. I think up until that point, I had really been inclined towards, like, joy and hope and whimsy, and while that is inside the record too, I think this was me trying to understand a way to write and see myself in a lens that wasn’t so sunny.
And then the interesting thing about that song is, the second half of it, the “I’ll try again in the morning, I’ll be okay at the end,” I had a completely different part written for that. It was really loud and honestly really dramatic, and it was a little bit too on the nose and honest about what I was going through at the time. It was very bleak. And it was really satisfying initially when I wrote it, and it stayed that way for a year. We tracked the guitar and we tracked the drums, and it just didn’t feel quite right. When I write songs, I usually write them start to finish, and they pretty much stay that way, I don’t do a lot of editing and moving around. And so I hadn’t experienced this feeling of like, I think I need to change something but I don’t know how. I really didn’t like the song for a long time because of that, I didn’t feel connected to it and I didn’t think that we could make it sound good. And then one day with Eric [Littman, who co-produced the album], we put that section on a loop and took out the vocal part, and I just tried to come up with something different. And it took it took a long time, I tried different melodies and different lyrics, and I think I couldn’t have realized it without all of this time passing that I did want something more hopeful. I wanted there to be that moment of like, mostly for me, No, it’s okay, you’re gonna be okay, Tasha. You’re good.
Yeah, I don’t know if it would sound the same if you had tried to force that sense of hope without letting it breathe for some time. I think it’s sort of emblematic of the arc of the whole record, because it feels like when you tap into that darkness even a little bit, hope starts to take on a different shape. I feel like with this record, the idea of self-care and self-love is still very important, but because it goes into these darker places, they take on new meaning. So I wanted to ask, what has self-love and self-care come to mean for you?
I like that you noticed that. Because I’m older now and living is much harder and my relationships are more complicated, both romantic and with my friends and my family, and my responsibilities are more complicated and the world is more complicated, that inevitably brings more work that I have to do to care for myself. There’s just so many more variables at play as far as my general wellness. I think my self-care is more rooted in figuring out [her dog sneezes] – sorry, that’s my dog. [laughs] One second. [sits with her dog on her lap] It’s like, much more rooted in a responsibility to others. I don’t think in a bad way, I think youth just gives one the luxury of being able to be a little bit like more self-centred. And again, in a very positive way, but there was more luxury to think about everything that I needed. And I was growing, so I was like, How do I take care of myself? And now, it feels more rooted in, How do I care for myself in order to care for the people around me? How do I make sure that I am doing the work I need to do to be a good person to the ones that I love?
And ultimately, that means being good to myself as well. But it feels more serious. I think I had this sense that I would care for myself just because, and now I’m like, Wait, if I don’t care for myself, I’m like, not a good person. [laughs] This is necessary work, because I don’t know how to be a good person if I’m not doing the work to figure out what that looks like.
I think it brings a sort of newfound appreciation for things, not just other people but just the world in general. That’s something I think this record beautifully captures, from like, the seagull’s call to the blueness of the sky. I feel like lyrically, as you put more focus on yourself as a person, you begin to take note of those things around you.
That’s so cool that you noticed that.
I was wondering if you could share one thing that recently brought you joy that maybe wouldn’t have in the past or that you wouldn’t have paid attention to in the same way.
That’s a good question. What’s bringing me joy… Man, I feel like it shouldn’t be so hard for me to answer. I feel like a lot of things bring me joy. Let me think about it for a second…
I mean, this isn’t the most interesting thing, but this dog is actually my girlfriend’s dog, and I’ve been taking more care of him since we moved in together. She was out of town for a couple of days the other week and I was taking care of him alone, which I’d never done before. And we went on a long walk this one day, and I’ve never really gone on a long walk with him by myself, only us together. And it was actually really special. I’m not someone who – I like to walk, but it’s not something that I often choose to do, and I’ve never particularly liked it that much. [laughs] But this walk was really special, and it was one of the first chilly days we had here, and there was something about it that made me really happy. It put me in a really, really good mood, and I don’t know if it was me having this new responsibility for this little dog and being the only one who could take him out every day, I’m not sure. But now we go on a lot of walks, I’m taking him out around the neighbourhood all the time, and I wasn’t really doing that before. There is some kind of new appreciation I think I have for being out walking that I just didn’t have before.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.