Q&A With The Tambourine Girls

Tuesday May 01, 2018 Written by Sam Wilson

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The dreaded second album syndrome was clearly not an issue for NSW jangle popsters The Tambourine Girls. Their recently released sophomore effort Waiting for Pleasure – a lush, layered confection of beguiling melodies, neo-psych stylings and lyrics a Romantic poet would be proud of – is already winning them new fans. We caught up recently with Paris-based frontman Simon Relf (and non, we didn’t get to do the interview in person malheureusement).

Video: The Tambourine Girls, ‘Ignaz Semmelweis’. Editing and direction by David Greenhalgh.

Your lyrics are really literary and poetic – and you’ve mentioned that you’re influenced by the likes of William Blake, Sylvia Plath and James Joyce. Who else inspired this album?

Heaps! I think James Mercer of The Shins has a pretty interesting way of forging melodies to fit his lyrics - maybe because of his namesake Johnny Mercer - I love all that Great American Songbook stuff too! I'm a big fan of Erykah Badu and Kendrick Lamar, even though I know nothing about Compton. I haven't even seen the movie. There are too many to mention really. Some lines just knock you out every time. I love that Courtney Barnett lyric: "The paramedic thinks I'm clever 'cause I play guitar, I think she's clever 'cause she stops people dying"... Cuts me up.

What’s your favourite song from the album?

It changes for me. You don't really know what's going on at the time, so listening back they can all surprise you. I think 'Clara' is a beautiful song, and I love the way 'Motel Blues' develops. 'I Know What Happened But I Don't Know Why' is special to me because we were all in the same room with live vocals, plus we were still figuring it all out at the time. I really love them all. 

When you were growing up, did you have one of those turning-point moments, where you heard a particular song and it changed your life? If so, what was it?

I have those moments all the time. I remember watching Crowded House's last concert on TV when I was a kid. That music was everywhere when I was young, but watching them play it was like hearing it for the first time. Then seeing The Roots live and falling in love with hip-hop, and watching The Last Waltz, which made me want to get into country music. A lot of those moments seem to come from live performances. Sometimes I think that the music doesn't really matter. What matters is that the people on stage believe in what they're doing, and they're doing it because they have to do it.

Every band has a few war stories – how about The Tambourine Girls? Any truly terrible gigs, tour disasters or crazy fan stories you’d like to share with Smith Journal readers?

I had a Flight of the Conchords moment a few years ago when our management at the time booked me a solo gig in The Virgin Lounge at Tullamarine. It was so silly. Every time a bunch of people moved off to catch their flight I could hear Murray's voice in my head saying "Oh you've lost your audience." The money wasn't bad though and I was pretty desperate. Plus Troy Cassar-Daley was flying that day, and he came up and spoke to me. He's a really good guy.

Video: The Tambourine Girls, 'You Don't See Me', Directed by Pat Harris

You’ve just moved to Paris for a while with your wife, acclaimed painter Clara Adolphs. What are you most looking forward to about your stay?

It's crazy to be here for three months, and I'm very lucky! Our apartment is in the middle of the Marais district and looks out on a beautiful garden set before some luxuriant official-looking building. The food is great, and so is the wine. I think I'm just going to walk and read a lot, plus I brought along a stripped back recording set-up so I'm looking forward to making some more music too. 

Speaking of France, name your favourite French…




Vin rouge


All of it


Charlotte Gainsbourg 

For more on The Tambourine Girls. and to buy their latest album, head over here

Photography: Edward Mulvihill