Absolutely bewitching are the best words to describe twins Sari and Romy Lightman. The Toronto-based duo have recently released the stunning, and intriguing, album Palm Wine Revisited, and after one listen I felt my imagination take flight.
Something deeply spiritual yet ominous weaves its way through PWR, and that strange vibe is intoxicating. I’m thrilled to have had the chance to ask Tasseomancy (Romy) about what brought them to this special project. And if you’re looking to be hypnotized without the aid of any substances, check out their show, it’ll do the trick. (Click ‘Showtimes’ above for details). Chaka V.
TWM: Were you both drawn to music as children? Or did one sister recruit the other into music?
Tasseomancy: I think all children, if they can hear it, are drawn to music. For my sis and I, we were really drawn to making these imaginary worlds through creating a myriad of fantasy environments that included song and dance, as well as embodying the roles of different characters. One of our favourite environments involved dumping the entire content of our mother’s kitchen pantry onto the floor and then trying to swim our way through it; we entitled it ‘Cereal World.’
TWM: What is the first thing you remember about singing together? Was it a natural experience or did you have to learn to collaborate?
Tasseomancy: My sister and I sang all of lives, but it wasn’t until angsty teenage-hood did we begin to incorporate song-writing on our over-sized acoustic guitars. Sari was the first to start playing guitar at the age of fourteen but all the boys made fun of her so she quit not long after. A few years later, we both took it up and began writing songs separately in our bedrooms, and it wasn’t the natural instinct to collaborate. I think Sari was already jamming with a friend of hers, and we are both very different and independent people, even back then. However, one day we realized that we had these natural abilities to harmonize with one another because we’re sisters and could emulate one another’s tone and sentiment, and I guess we became aware of the advantage we had for that kind of collaboration.
TWM: As twins, what are some of the challenges of working together? And what are some of the rewards?
Tasseomancy: I think there are a lot of boring, stupid tropes around twin-ship. All of our lives (especially in the music industry), people have wanted us to braid our hair together and close our eyes and match our clothes and finish one another’s sentences. That whole idea has always been kind of flat and offensive to us. Of course we are close and we look out for each-other, always. And we have shared a range of experiences, but I think we both have struggled with those outside perceptions of ‘togetherness’ and the lack of individual agency offered to us by other’s who want us to embody one body, which I personally think comes from North American’s general lack of connectedness to one another.
Twins seem to symbolize the hope for unity, as well as also getting the reputation for being telepathic and ‘Other-Worldly,’ but I think, once again, it’s just a projection; a desire for people to be less selfish and less alone. With that being said, I’m sure it’s been a real advantage for us to be an instant team; as this has allowed for both of us to focus on the things that we are more inclined to focus on rather than having to do everything by ourselves.
TWM: Why did you name this musical project Tasseomancy?
Tasseomancy: Tasseomancy was the name of the first record we ever made. It was homage to our great-great-grandmother who, at the time, we had recently come to know of. She, (our g.g. grandmother) was an orphan and a survivor of the pogroms in Russia. When she arrived to Canada she was forced to marry a distant man much older than herself and then proceeded to make many many children and have an overall, very difficult life. To make ends meet she was a tea-leaf reader, hence the name Tasseomancy, (to divine from the tea-leaves). We come from three generations of tea-leaf readers, (our grandmother today still gets down with the tea-leaves). And as for our great-great-grandmother, she was also a singer. And when I was a young girl my great-grandfather (her son), came to hear me sing in my synagogue choir and said we had the same voice. So Tasseomancy at the time was a means of some kind of cathartic creative process for our matrilineal lineage; we wanted to make room and celebrate the women whose voices were made nil over the decades. So we found the only existing photograph of her and got it digitally transferred onto a cake. We ate the cake and made the record and the rest is her-story.
TWM: The music Tasseomancy is making is totally hypnotic: it’s ancient and modern, other-worldly and folkloric. And at moments I even hear some Kate Bush in the sound. Where do you ladies draw your inspirations from?
Tasseomancy: Well I think both our brains are wired in a funny way; I think we’re maybe a both a bit synthetic, so it’s not just about the music for us but pulling from a variety of sensory experiences as well as a diverse range of creative mediums like film and poetry, literature and visual/performance art. I think as artists it’s crucial to expose yourself to as much as your guts can handle; it makes for a much richer flavour in the mix.
TWM: You’ve collaborated with incredible bands like Timber Timbre and Austra, how does it feel embarking on this new musical journey with the album Palm Wine Revisited, now that the focus is purely on your own sound?
Tasseomancy: Palm Wine Revisited feels very in the right-time. I think that both of us have this rebellious, questioning attitude towards what we do, and have been searching for meaning and depth in all kinds of exciting and unsavoury places. I think over the years touring with, and in different musical projects, made us wonder what the f*** was going on? And how often the music industry can trans-mutate its vulnerable artists into these depleted-ego-driven-machine-versions of themselves by placing enormous pressure on them to succeed by becoming commercially viable. At some point, I think it’s really easy and almost natural to slip into a state where you begin to make the music you know people will like as opposed to cultivating a more authentic sound. And what’s really the point in that when what the world needs now more than ever are those who can try to keep it real rather than enslaving themselves to what people want; as most often it’s the former that no one can really ask for because they don’t even know that it even exists yet!
Making art should be about discovering the unknown as well as the known. And I guess for us we recently looked around and realized that we didn’t have it in us to fit into the molds of what others wanted from us and that we could only really be our stinky selves. So we decided just to roll with that and have fun and form a band with musicians, (Evan Cartwright and Johnny Spence), who resonated both with our ways of being, as well as musical sense, and its feeling very fine.
TWM: What is the most exciting part of music for you both? Writing, recording and/or performing? Do you each have a favourite aspect?
Tasseomancy: I think all aspects of the musical experience can be exciting as long as the heart is in it. Over the last year I’ve been hanging out in Toronto and Sari has been lurking around Montreal taking time to write new music. When you’re deep in the process of writing new songs everything from drinking a coffee to walking along the streets can have this elated tingly quality to it, where you’re like, “ooo” and “ahhh,” and I’ll use that phrase here and there, and so forth. And then we’re lucky to have this coming together with these real musical wizards, our band-mates, who can just blast these day-dreams into more tangible realities.
TWM: If Tasseomancy could put together its own music festival, which past or present artists and bands would headline alongside you?
Tasseomancy: Tony Williams’s Lifetime, circa 1971. Sade (all-day-long-if-possible). Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alice Coltrane, Webern, Robbie Basho, Robert Ashley, R.P. Boo, K.D. Lang, Arthur Russell, Gertrude Stein (poet), Sun Ra and Moondog (as opposing duets), Terry Riley, Guillaume De Machaut (lunch-time set), Frank O’Hara (poet), Mary Margaret O’Hara, Klaus Nomi, Patsy Klein and Throbbing Gristle.
TWM: Any hints for fans—and newcomers—about what vibe we can expect from your upcoming NXNE show?
Tasseomancy: Hmmmmm… not sure what to lay-out in regards to expectations. I think we will just have to wait and see. But we’ll try to set the tone by having a good time and hopefully everyone else can follow suit.