Erin K and Tash burst onto the UK music scene in 2009, and without so much as an EP, have headlined London's Anti-Folk Festival twice now, inspired a small cult following: One of their songs is even featured in a national ad for Google Japan. It's not hard to see why. The pair toe the line between the profane and the profound with relative ease. Though not at all above broaching taboos and making them LOLable, their musical end product is a pithy blast of dark brilliance. It's confrontational, hilarious, and obviously twisted. Enough to capture the attention of former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, who tweeted the following in August:
Palmer's tweet led to my own discovery of Erin K and Tash’s whimsical, acoustic enchantment, encapsulating a tongue-in-cheek, bedroom-fi stance and a smattering of absurdity—as witnessed by their unapologetic lyrics and fetish for rubber horseheads. For a taste of their delightful irreverence, check out their video homage to casual sex: "Jiggy Miggy."
In any case, I recently connected by email with this dynamic duo, who regaled me with talk of horse heads, Dennis Rodman encounters, "gooches" and "choads," and how they might find their way in a zombie apocalypse.
Mother Jones: Okay, explain the horse-head thing. Is it because you're so blindingly hot that wearing a rubber horse head when you perform is actually lessof a distraction?
Erin: Yes, this is exactly the case, very observant of you, Anna. No, really, I used to live with a group of people in East London and the horse head was used as both an icebreaker and also as a way to look cute or funny whenever I pissed off one of my flatmates. But where it really blossomed, was during a trip I took with my ex-lover to Miami. He took loads of bizarre shots all over the city of me in my horse head. We'd fill the car with outfit changes and then set out into the city to find strange photography locations. I remember laying on an old rusted train track at one point and some man approaching my ex as though he were my pimp and asking, "How much?"
Anyway, the boy and I split, and I took the photography project on to other locations around the world and now have an unusually large portfolio of horse head photographs. I was even hired by Nokia for a photoshoot at one point as Horse! We have a song called "The Horse Head Song," and Paul [Durbin] wears the horse head whilst playing the drums. The lyrics are really strange and—embarrassingly—mostly true. Although I've not had sex with a horse head on (yet).
I also have pretty bad stage fright and thought that maybe I could avoid dealing with that by wearing the head. Unfortunately this did not work out very well with the microphone. It's also very hot in there, so I'm sure sweating would be an issue.
Tash: Paul is the only one who wears the horse head when we perform—and I wouldn't say he was blindingly hot—but I did wear it playing guitar in our "Jiggy Miggy" video. It's fun because it attracts a lot of attention and makes you feel like you can get away with anything. I wouldn't normally go around humping my guitar—at least not in broad daylight.
MJ: You wrote a song called "Clippety Clop" that mentions a "choad." I didn't know what that was and had to Google it. So my question—which is actually an accusation—is why did you do that to me? Also, are choads a myth or do they actually exist?
Tash: I apologize to you and to the people reading this who have just Googled it, too. I thought it was common knowledge. I've heard that they're a myth. I haven't actually seen one—that lyric was an embellishment—but it was certainly choad-like. Some people use it to mean the same as taint or gooch, but that's definitely not how I learned it. Plus, how many words do we really need for the area between your front and ass? Oh, and I think I should end with apologizing in advance to anyone reading this who has an actual choad! I hope choad isn't a derogatory term. If so, do find us on Myspace and let us know, and we'll start using the medical terminology.
MJ: On your iPods, do you have any secret musical shames that the world should know about? Mariah Carey's Christmas album, William Shatner, etc.?
Tash: I have so many, some of which the world should never know about. I do have three Hilary Duff albums, including a Best Hits one, which I swear came out right after her first album and is just the same tracks in a different order. I also own a lot of early Britney because I was obsessed with her when I was 11 and I don't mind some of her old-school stuff. You don't understand, my bedroom was like a shrine to her, so she will always hold a special place in my heart. Oh, and this is a good one: I have some tracks from Catherine Zeta-Jones's ill-fated '80s pop career. I think I'm her biggest fan.
Erin: Fortunately my iPod currently only contains a few playlists that I put together recently and nothing shameful there! I do however, have a group of songs from a CD called The Corporate Selection that I listen to from time to time in the flat. They're intended as background music for motivational speakers…left over from my art school days. I like to talk about random subjects over them sometimes to see how exciting they become with the music. I'll attach one for you so you can try it!
MJ: You’ve written about a cheating blowup doll, ("Olga, the Lesbian Sex Doll"), your judgmental cat ("Crazy and Insane"), and white guys who only date black girls ("Sorry I’m Not Black"). Is there a topic you’d never write a song about?
Erin: I can't really say there is. I never thought we'd have a song that would encourage a room full of people to chant "Rape the Killer Whale" as a chorus, but we do—and I love it! We also have a song called "Anorexic Girl" which is pretty un-PC I guess. That said, yes, I tend to avoid writing sad songs about relationships that have hurt me. I've written a few, but I don't really sing them live very often, as the songs I write are usually an immediate reaction to an event and I wouldn't want to elevate anyone who has really let me down by giving them a song. I'm all up for sharing the sad moments in my life, but I prefer to sing to a room full of people about the bizarre ones instead.
Tash: I would write a song about anything. But I couldn't really poke fun at something I thought was particularly depressing. A lot of times, too, we might feel wary about a certain topic in case people miss the point, but we always end up taking the risk. That killer whale song is a ukulele song about interspecies dolphin gang raping, called "The Duman Song"—right now, that's probably the one that's had the biggest proportion of people taking offense. At the time of this interview we've played it twice, and one of those times we had a rape counselor in the audience, so 50 percent of the time it has upset someone. There's nothing funny about rape. There isn't even anything funny about dolphin rape. We're not telling people to rape people or whales, like dolphins, who do both. I'm sorry, I think I went off on a tangent.
MJ: One of the things I love about you guys is how you turn awful situations into hilarious ones—breakup revenge, eating edamame that had shit on it, running out of condoms—is music cathartic for you?
Erin: Absolutely! I spent a great deal of time, prior to making music, creating paintings and installations that had very little of myself expressed within them. Songwriting has always been cathartic for me. Even when it's not necessarily expressed directly through the lyrics, a general mood is often expressed within the melody or beat of a song. It's amazing how easy it is to move forward after a strange or upsetting experience by expressing it through an art form. And the wonderful thing is that, at the end of it all, I have this little creative piece to reflect on it with.
Tash: It really is for me, especially when I'm ticked off at someone. Even if they don't ever hear it or get it, it makes me feel like I've gotten my annoyance off my chest, like when girls bitch about each other behind their backs. My first pissed-off song was about my flat near the river which was infested with spiders. I'd complain about it to people, but could never evoke how horrible it really was. So in the song I got to explain how they were dangling from the oven, having sex in the toilet with me in it, and how they all came running out of the vacuum cleaner when we changed the bag. People tend to listen and sympathize with funny, self-deprecating songs much more than they do random whining.
MJ: Did Dennis Rodman really ask for your phone number, as implied by the lyrics in "Sorry I’m Not Black"?
Erin: Dennis Rodman did ask for my phone number, yes. Well actually, he asked one of his entourage of girls to get it for him after we'd been chatting on top of this rooftop pool bar in Miami last December. I remember getting a text later that evening inviting me to some party. I woke up the next morning with a bad cold and recorded, "Sorry I'm Not Black." It's nothing really to do with Dennis, but he's featured in the song, as he was on my mind at the time.
MJ: You refer to yourself as anti-folk. What does that mean exactly?
Erin: I get asked about this a lot, and I'm not entirely sure I know exactly what it stands for. My understanding is that it's an alternative folk music genre, often untrained and experimental, both lyrically and instrumentally. Some people describe it as being politically charged as well, although I do not feel we fall into this category. I'm pretty sure it first emerged out of New York City from the support of people like Lach, and encompassed bands such as The Moldy Peaches and Michelle Shocked. Our involvement in the scene came about through a close friend of mine called Tom Mayne (from David Cronenberg's Wife). He immediately embraced what we were doing and has put us on at a number of the UK Anti-folk Fests here in London. It's a great crowd and definitely the place where we showcase our stranger material. I love playing to a crowd where anything goes. It's both challenging and liberating.
I do not, however, reject conventional folk or any other genre of music for that matter. I'm still very much discovering myself musically. I have a wide range of tastes and so hope to experiment within a wide range of genres. I like to tell stories, and whatever medium or genre of music best presents them will hopefully be the one that I can engage with. Tash and I are currently working on a collaborative project with a producer from the States that is very much outside of our comfort zone. It is for this reason both engaging and exciting.
MJ: If there’s a zombie apocalypse and all of life is obliterated except for a few survivors (including you!), what would your job be in this brave new world? And you can’t say "musician."
Tash: I would get really buff (think Michelle Rodriguez) and be a renegade enforcer of justice (with big guns), who'd police society before we ended up like Lord of the Flies. I say this because whenever there's a predicament that requires some kind of badassness, something inside of me makes me butch up and act like I can take care of it. I don't know how many times I've offered to carry heavy furniture and take over when the delivery guy is struggling with it.
Erin: I like to turn over rocks to find out what kind of organisms are lurching beneath, so I'd probably do something involving bugs. Ideally though, my job would be to play with baby pandas.
MJ: Erin, you’re originally from Texas but live in London. Why’d you leave the one US state where you can legally bring guns to work (among other Texas perks)? Do you ever miss the States?
Erin: I left the States when I was young because my father's work brought him overseas. We did not know how long we'd be in the UK for, so I enrolled in an American school. This is why I still have an accent. Luckily, I was not from a family in the States that supported or owned firearms. It used to seem pretty normal to find a gun rack in someone's living room, whereas now I find it quite frightening. That said, I would absolutely love to shoot some tin cans off a picket fence one day!
I do miss the States, yes. I had a wonderful childhood that involved hours spent collecting things like tadpoles and lizards in my backyard and riding my bike around the block. People in America are often perceived as very one-dimensional or close-minded. My experience growing up was quite different. I find the US to be a very diverse and stimulating country both culturally and geographically (wrong word). There are many places I would like to visit.
MJ: Share a strange or moving or hilarious interaction you’ve had with a fan.
Tash: We struggled to think of any, but this is maybe a little strange: The other week, I met two people after a gig who had black moustaches drawn on their fingers—you know, to hold up to your nose. In the UK, my name—Tash, which rhymes with cash—means moustache. (I'm Dutch and was annoyed to discover that when I moved here.) We were all drunk enough to mutually agree that they were real tattoos and that they'd had them done for me. We had all these pictures taken of the Tash tats, and I will keep them for posterity, to pretend I have fans that hardcore. Which is quite moving.