The Musician Making Love Songs for London Club Kids – New York Times
When the British musician Tirzah Mastin talks about the act of creating, she makes it sound as easy as inviting a few friends to hang out and seeing what happens. Skyping from her flat in South London, the 30-year-old seems surprisingly relaxed ahead of the release of her first full album, “Devotion,” due out Aug. 10. “It’s a bunch of decisions about what you want,” she says with an easy shrug when asked how the 11-track lineup came to be. “At the end we tried to go for songs that we thought were strong enough on their own, instead of fixating too much on the entire body.”
Over the past five years, Mastin has made a name for herself — as Tirzah — in the London music scene with the seductively off-kilter pop that she makes with her close friend, the composer Mica Levi. Mastin (“Taz,” to friends) takes on vocals while Levi (a.k.a. “Meeks”), who is known for her cerebral, boundary-pushing film scores (including those for “Jackie” and “Under the Skin”), produces the loops and beats. The pair met as young students at the prestigious Purcell School for Young Musicians, in Watford, England, where Mastin was studying, of all things, the harp. “I went to a concert with my mum once and she said, ‘Do you want to try that?’ So I was like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ ” she recalls with a big laugh. She soon left her home county of Essex to devote herself to musical studies, at age 13. “When you’re a kid, you don’t really think about or question things too much,” she says.
The 11-track-long “Devotion,” out Aug. 10, is Tirzah’s first full-length album.
Mastin and Levi, a fellow Purcell boarder studying violin and viola, started experimenting outside their schoolwork, with Mastin singing vocals over various beats that Levi conceived. When Mastin eventually enrolled in the London College of Fashion to focus on fashion and textile design, the pair’s friendship and musical collaboration remained as strong as ever. Their tracks began popping up in London clubs, but there was never any plan to put out a record. “It was this thing that we did, like a ritual,” Mastin says. “Meeting up, making music, catching up, and that was it.”
That all changed in 2013, when Greco-Roman, the London- and Berlin-based electro-pop label, approached the two about putting out an EP. The result was “I’m Not Dancing,” a spare, sinuous collection of four songs that became an underground favorite. (Another EP, “No Romance,” followed in 2014.)
Tirzah’s upcoming album, “Devotion,” moves into tender, R&B-inflected territory. Mastin and Levi also recruited friends, including the ambient-minded musician Coby Sey, to contribute to select tracks. The result is a thoroughly modern set of love songs that explore the warm highs and sometimes maddening aspects of romantic relationships. On “Gladly,” a soulful piano-led ballad, Mastin’s vocals address the pure happiness of emotionally surrendering to a lover. “If you are sincere, then that’s how it comes across,” she says of her intimate subject matter. “We tried to keep it simple and not complicate things.”
It’s been a particularly productive time for Mastin, who recently gave birth to a daughter with her partner, the electronic musician Kwake Bass; she’s also a full-time designer at a print agency. Her day-to-day activities now have “more to do with making up meals for my baby than making music,” she says, but she’s also planning a series of tour dates in the United Kingdom and Europe for this fall. Although the stakes are higher than ever for Mastin and Levi, the underlying dynamic between them remains much the same as when they were teenagers. “She brings this chaos, this unraveling to the project,” Mastin says of their decade-plus collaboration. “She says that I bring the calm.”