Salmon is the freak-folk musical project of Oberlin College student Sanam Tiffany. Salmon’s debut full-length album, Way Yonder Far, is a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal exploration of all the anxieties and pleasures involved in growing up. The album is out now on Danger Collective Records, and can be streamed and purchased here.
Somi Speaks: “Way Yonder Far makes me feel like a wind-up toy soldier, reaching the end of my march. There is a sweet, worn-out wistfulness about Salmon’s voice, textured into a delicate yet guttural garble. There is an organic touch to the album’s lo-fi sound, a homegrown heartache. Listening to the album made me remember music class in elementary school, a room of kids tracing nice symmetric patterns on a xylophone. That touch of innocence, combined with how I imagine sirens sing to passing sailors, creates an experience akin to gently setting an object down to stow it away.”
Some image associations with Way Yonder Far:
(Interviewed by Joey Shapiro)
How long have you been making music for?
I played classical piano for 10 or 11 years and had assumed my life was going to follow the Juilliard-to-concert pianist trajectory but I started to get really absorbed in the concept of learning as many different instruments as I had the means to. I started writing my own music – like, complete, fully realized songs – when I was probably 13 though.
How long has this album been in the works?
I wrote maybe 3 songs a little over a year ago and just kind of wanted to save them away for an album I could be proud of. For the past couple months I’ve been coming up with little banjo pieces and stitching them together but most of the songs got fully fleshed out during winter term, since I had devoted that time to really turning the bits and pieces in my head into an album.
What are some of your musical inspirations/influences for this album?
I definitely thought a lot of Dirty Beaches, Fog, Helvetia, and Cocorosie. All of those artists do such a great job at creating these beautiful vocal textures that are generally pretty uncomplex but really captivating at the same time.
A lot of the songs on the album (especially the Fugazi cover) feature really unique instrumentation. What instruments were used on this album aside from the acoustic guitar?
Lots of banjo, some omnichord, a stylophone, and musical saw. All the percussion was just different objects being struck against different parts of the mic stand (mainly a variety of different pens). Everything else is just vocal overdubs and amateur production wizardry!
Is there a certain song on the album that stands out as your favorite?
I think I like Little Electric Lamb or Apology 2 most because to me they’re the sweetest. I’m prone to writing primarily sad-sounding songs but those two are both really celebratory in a lot of ways. Little Electric Lamb is about me falling in love in a happy healthy way and how exciting it was to realize that it was something I deserved. Apology 2 is in itself just one big apology to myself for not being caring enough, or appreciative enough, or loving enough to my body and mind, which felt very good to write and accept. My friend Lucas Brecher also made a killer music video for it that has just made me super proud of its collective outcome.
How did you come up with that distinctive echoey lo-fi sound? Did you envision that sound in advance or did it just come about organically during the album’s production?
I didn’t have a laptop until I was 16 so I used to record on an iphone 4-track app that in its nature was just super low quality (and by proxy, low fidelity) and then I would do super simple edits on them on my mom’s computer. Besides that, I realized very quickly that reverb is my best friend. My voice is kind of abrasive sometimes and I guess for me using a lot of reverb and using lo-fi production was a way to draw some attention away from it, but over time I got attached to this concept of sounding like I was being backed by a band of lil ghosts and ghouls. Now that concept is just an installment of my music (at least my freakfolk stuff) and I feel like I write my songs keeping in mind that the sound I want in the end is a little whispery or eerie.
This is a very intimate and confessional album, with many lyrics that pertain to heartbreak, leaving home, and growing pains. Did you find the songwriting process to be cathartic? Was it difficult to write any songs because of the emotional baggage surrounding some of the lyrics?
Writing music has always been very cathartic for me. I’m a very introverted and anxious person and sometimes my anxiety makes it really hard for me to clearly communicate the way I’m trying to (even to my own self) and writing music is the easiest way for me to organize my thoughts and feelings and hopefully communicate them. They were all emotional to write in that they all required really intense reflection on whatever feelings or memories I was writing about, which was sometimes very sweet and sometimes very painful but ultimately beautiful and really healthy I think. I think there were some things, like my break up or my relationship with my parents, that were definitely emotional to write because I was thinking about things that I maybe hadn’t fully worked through or communicated and so in that I was starting to learn things about myself as well, mistakes I have made or ways that I have
Can you recall the point in your life when you first fell in love with music (or, if not, then with making music)?
I started playing piano when I was 4, apparently because I was SUPER persistent about it as a toddler, so I guess it was a natural interest for me. I don’t remember there being a turning point, I just remember always loving music and being really invested in it, both sonically and historically. Outside of real ‘music’ too, I have always been really drawn to sounds in themselves, whether naturally occurring or synthesized, so I think I’m just meant to analyze or make noise in some way.
What direction do you see yourself going on future releases, in terms of your sound? Do you want to continue in a similar freak-folk vein or push yourself into new genre territories?
I definitely think I will inevitably keep writing freakfolk for a long while but am definitely trying to explore new genres at the same time. I’m starting to make electronic music (I just performed a 25 minute piece of video game-inspired music on WOBC) and I’d generally just like to make synth-ier, dancier stuff with a lot more electronic influence, which I guess is in some ways on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’d love to experiment with mixtures of the two as well and also maybe start to do soundtrack and/or soundscape work. I’ve also always really wanted to be in a metal band, though I don’t know if that dream will ever be realized because I suck at playing with a pick.
You’re a freshman at Oberlin College, which is host to a very active student music scene. How has being surrounded by other musicians on campus influenced your music and the way you make it?
It’s definitely made me want to start playing in a live band again!! I’ve been playing almost entirely solo for the last 2 or so years and I really miss playing music live with other people, so I’m definitely going to be trying to find some people who would be interested in playing in a salmon band. I’m going to be playing guitar/bass in a couple upcoming projects with fellow Oberlin students that I am super stoked to be apart of too.