Nine Songs: Theresa Wayman
From first-loves, deathly dreams and the sampling monopoly, nothing is off limits in the songs that inspire Theresa Wayman.
When it comes to the building blocks of Wayman’s musical psyche there’s a lot to unpack.
Inspired by songs that resonate with her both musically and emotionally, her choices, from the love songs of Al Green, Hope Sandoval’s wondrous vocals in Mazzy Star and Portishead’s groundbreaking trip-hop tell the story of her journey from high school to Warpaint and now her solo work as TT.
Away from the hustle and bustle of London’s Oxford Circus, Wayman sits nursing a tea within the calm confines of a Soho hotel bar. As she unpicks the songs that inspire her she explains the selection process as “I was thinking of songs that have stuck out in my mind, that have inspired me and how they’ve connected to this album I’ve just made.”
The album in question, LoveLaws, is her debut solo outing. Taking the electronica elements of Warpaint but playing the majority of instruments herself, Wayman has created an album that like her alma mater holds an incredible number of layers. The vocals wrap and wind through pulsating electronica and delicate instrumentation, planting Wayman and the listener in a world of her design. Similarly, the pivotal songs in Wayman’s life are just as intricate and reflect the musical moods that led to LoveLaws’ conception, from the emotive lyrical content that leaves no stone unturned to the DIY musical attitude.
Wayman identifies another underlying theme to these songs; several of them are the sounds of musicians putting their first musical flag in the sand. “A lot of these are actually on debut EP’s and albums, which is interesting, I don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting!”
“I actually have a love/hate relationship with Major Lazer. There’s some stuff that I absolutely need to listen to a lot and there’s some that I'm just not a fan of at all. I saw them live at Coachella and they were incredible and when they collaborate with certain women in particular they just hit the nail on the head.
"'Get Free’ is such a feel-good song, it just has this light, airy, dancing feeling - like you’re getting free - and then at the same time it’s liberating in what she’s talking about, she’s calling out these things about being oppressed. I love the lyrical content and I love the melody, it’s amazing when a pop song, or a more mainstream song, has this connection to a bigger picture and it also has an interesting melodic choice which you don’t often get. Most of the time pop songs are good because of their simplicity.
“I’m constantly trying to walk that line of making something accessible and open that has clarity, and the underground that’s different, unique and that’s not necessarily been done before, especially with what you think the listener would prefer as well. To do that I think takes more artistry than doing anything else.
"I could easily make an art song that went to any place it wanted, with dissonant chords that I could make however I wanted, or go in the complete other direction, with a pop song that has clarity, there’s a formula and you can do it. But to find that middle ground and to have it connect with people, to me that's just so fascinating.”
“This is a song that I always go back to and it’s one of my favourites. Lil' Kim is so brash lyrically, there’s often times when I’ll play this song to people and when they hear the instrumentation and the intro they’re really into it, but then she does her thing and it’s not necessarily for everyone. She says everything pretty rough, so that hard edge sometimes puts people off, but what I love about it is the texture and the feeling of the beat and music, that’s the main thing.
“I love that at the time she was doing this she was putting it all out on the table and that’s what was happening in hip-hop, especially with women. Missy Elliott and I think others, like Salt-N-Pepa, people like that, were exploring being more open and Lil’ Kim really went there. She didn’t have to crossover into some kind of pop place either like Salt-N-Pepa did, it’s like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj, but she was the first to do that. There was probably someone lesser known before her but she’d been pretty ballsy there lyrically, and then there’s the music.
‘Queen Bitch’ was produced by people who don’t even have Wikipedia pages basically, but it has that feeling of all the beats that Junior M.A.F.I.A. were making at that time. It’s warm and fuzzy, it feels really analogue and has the perfect combination of sounds, which happens for a bar or two and then it continues.
“And those were probably the golden days too, where they didn’t have to pay a tonne for samples. Nowadays with an artist like me, I have lots of beats and samples that I’ve made and I’ve always ended up having some issue where I use my original sample because I’m not Kanye and I can’t pay $80,000!”
“I listened to Mazzy Star a lot when I was in my teenage years. I put ‘Five String Serenade’ on here because it’s a perfectly sad song with a beautiful voice and it creates the landscape of your moment so well. It makes me remember that time, it brings it back to me and I think I attempted to do that because I feel it comes naturally to me, I like being in that space. I definitely attempted to do that with my album and I think it does that. It’s also the simplicity of having a really beautiful vocal and the music is carrying it through with the chords and an ambient feel, but it’s mostly about the incredible vocal.
“It’s funny, I used to listen to that album So Tonight That I Might See a lot and I can remember falling asleep to it one night and I had this dream, a very vivid dream. I was in a car and it was on the edge of an icy cliff and the car fell. I was in the car going down and I had the panic of ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die’ and then I heard this song on the radio and I had this feeling of ‘whatever’s coming, I surrender to my death’. And even in the car crash, I actually went all the way but I didn’t die. I don’t know what happened and after, as I woke up, I hit the ground three times and the song skipped in my dream. It was so vivid! I think maybe it was skipping on my CD player possibly, maybe that happened? And then I woke up and I never died, but it was intense.
“Mazzy Star and I have been through a lot! This song helped me through this process in my dream. The music itself is serenity, it’s floating.”
“I like emotive songs. I think I’m much better at emoting than I am at describing emotions, which makes it difficult for me to say why I like songs sometimes, but ‘Simply Beautiful’ is a quintessential love song. That’s something I’ve been writing about a lot, there’s a lot of that on LoveLaws and this is an example of what you want to do when you write a love song. If this song was about me I would just melt and probably be a very happy woman, just knowing that I could evoke that kind of beauty.
“‘Simply Beautiful’ is infectious and I could listen to it forever. It’s been one of my favourite songs since I was fifteen; I first heard it when it was on a mixtape by this guy. I was a freshman and I played soccer and there was a guy who was the star forward on the varsity team. He seemed like he was a man basically, I hadn’t really been into boys - well I had been into them but I hadn’t really explored them and they hadn’t tried to pursue me. Anyway, he flirted with me and basically nothing ever came of it at that time because he was much older, but he flirted with me and he stoked my fire a little bit. He made me a mixtape and this was on it.
“I didn’t love it just because he put it on the mixtape, he had really good taste in music and turned me onto that, it was so cool actually and I wish I still had that tape. That’s the good thing about being a mother, you can tell your children ‘Oh, don’t forget to save that thing’ and help them out. Another song I really love and that has been a soundtrack to my life is ‘Into The Mystic’ by Van Morrison and I think that was probably on there too.
“So I would sit around and daydream about Josh - that was his name - listen to ‘Simply Beautiful’ and pretend that he felt that way about me.”
“King Krule makes music in a way that I can really relate to and I love ‘Bleak Bake’. It’s just having that combo of dubby, lo-fi, 808 and his vocal - that deep voice - and feeling like it’s from the ‘50s or something. It’s a really great combination of different eras and sonically it’s really satisfying. There’s nothing that you could not like about this song, it’s very smooth.
“He’s doing it without samples and he’s doing it with his ability to reach back to himself. He hangs out with a lot of trained jazz guys, I don’t know what training or schooling he has, maybe he has experience with different styles.
“I feel he understands the concept of mixing genres and influences without being too obnoxious about it. It’s not a throwback, it’s the opposite, it’s bringing it forward and King Krule has that innately. You can train yourself over time through your own ear and your own taste but he has the ability to be tasteful and that’s not something you can really train.”
“This song was from Balam Acab’s first EP and he actually didn’t release anything for a while after this until recently. I haven’t heard his new stuff, which just reminded myself that I need to. He’s a really interesting, low-key guy and an American, which surprised me. I thought it sounded very English and I think he’s one of these American producers that are influenced by English production.
“Maybe I’m associating him with England because an English person, Romy from The XX, showed him to me back in 2011 when we opened for them. We became friends and she has amazing musical taste and just so many good songs. I put this on because again it’s a version of electronic music that feels organic, which is also what I feel about King Krule. I love listening to music like this and also it’s another set piece, or a room piece, it’s like a fire that makes the room feel good. I think that’s a similarity between many of the songs here.
“It’s a quintessential, made in a home studio song. It was made in a bedroom studio and it came out in an era when that was really becoming something that could then be put out online. I think it was 2010 when that was all changing and now it’s more and more common and happening constantly. You can mix it as well and slap all kinds of things on it through plug-ins and make it big. There’s songs on Kendrick Lamar’s album that were made on iPhones.
“It freaks me out when people do it with iPhones, that’s a new level I have to adjust to, with the ease of accessibility and Apple making it really easy for you, or whoever made the app. I don’t want to go too far into that realm but at the same time if you make something that sounds good and you can string some amazing chords together, then that’s on you and no one else can do that. That’s all that matters.”
“The album For Emma, Forever Ago was really eye-opening for me, because it had a very simple approach yet it feels entirely new. The way he affects his voice is somewhat alien and forward-thinking, but he’s playing folky guitar and just writing songs.
“Bon Iver put himself in a rocket ship to another planet, where he was then able to go and progress even further into different things and this is the beginning of that. That whole process is really inspiring and this song is flawless. It’s so catchy and beautiful and moody and it inspires me to write songs. Whenever I hear this song ‘Skinny Love’, it makes me want to go write a song on a piano or on a guitar and just go back to basics. It’s all about the emotion.”
“When I first heard this song, Clams Casino had already started producing rap artists in the mainstream and I loved that he was being brought in for them. That gave me hope for the world, because his stuff is very textualised, it’s very dark and has this lack of clarity that hasn’t been distilled so many times that it feels like nothing or has no feeling.
“I’m really happy I have my old programs I started on and the programs that I used to make this stuff with when I was just discovering. I have all the sound and sample banks of whatever I’ve created and continuing to use those would actually be a really smart thing, even though my computer is stuck in 2012. I can’t upgrade the operating system but I want it to stay there, because people quickly move away from their original sound. They have success with that first thing and then go to studios and want to explore and that’s fine but as a listener, you miss what they first started with, you don’t really hear people doing that.
“So I think Clams Casino is a really interesting hip-hop producer, which is what he is now, or he does a lot of that at least. He started off in this really obscure way - he’s also another bedroom EP person - and that’s another theme running through these songs.
“Portishead have definitely been an influence on me for a long time. They helped to move hip-hop into something that wasn’t hip-hop, where people who maybe don’t want to hear rappers will enjoy listening to it. It has the same elements, where it’s often electronic beats and loops and they build a song in that way. It’s a track on a computer as an amoeba, as opposed to ‘we’re a band and I play the guitar line etc.’ It’s the same thing, but their approach is so different.
“Not every rapper raps about the important things, has something to say, or has the ability to do it well. There’s a lot of rap and hip-hop songs where I love the beat but I’m just not into what the rapper is saying at all, even Snoop Dogg does that to me sometimes and I love his voice. I’m a huge fan of Doggystyle and that whole era, I love it, but sometimes it’s ‘what are you even saying’? It’s like ‘I wrote this down’ and it becomes about the music at that point.
"That’s where Portishead took over - ‘Oh, this is a really cool way to make music and add a woman singing over it from a different angle’. I think it suits me very well, I like to write like that and I think I’ve done some of that on LoveLaws.”